VISUAL ARTS Patrick Caulfield Waddington Galleries, London
Some years ago, the purchasing committee of the Government Art Collection bought a still life by Patrick Caulfield and sent it to be hung in the British Embassy in Riyadh. Soon afterwards, the ambassador's wife rang up to complain about this apparently innocuous little picture. The problem, she explained in a polite but steely tone of voice, lay in the sandwich placed so prominently on the plate in the middle of the painting. The problem, to be absolutely precise, lay inside the sandwich. The meat which it contained was evidently ham. Was no one in London aware that Islamic law prohibited the eating of pork? What possessed them to send such a picture to Saudi Arabia? Did they have any idea of the offence that it might cause? Needless to say, the ambassador's wife could not think of having it on the Embassy wall.
The telephone call produced some consternation in London. A still-life painting had never caused a dip-lomatic incident before, and there were no existing protocols for dealing with such a situation. The title of the picture in question did not specify the type of sandwich depicted therein. A telephone call was made to the artist himself. He pointed out that given the illusory nature of the sandwich in question, it was rather difficult for him to be precise - but, were he forced to give his opinion, the visible sliver of meat protruding from the bread resembled beef, not ham. For the sake of a quiet life he was even prepared to state categorically that it was, indeed, a beef sandwich. Consternation gave way to relief. A telephone call was made to Riyadh.
However, the ambassador's wife was still not appeased. As far as she was concerned the sandwich at...