I've already mentioned this on Facebook so those who read it there can skip this post. I was triumphant at having made it to the Gauguin Exhibition on the very last day, even though I could hardly see anything for the crowds. Really, people with pushchairs and small children should be given their own entry times. Small people were running around all over the place, barging into people, tripping me up and generally making a crowded situation even more difficult. One couple had three plus a pushchair with a baby in. There were two people in motorised wheelchairs and you couldn't relax and gaze at the paintings because you had to have your wits about you to see what was coming your way in terms of wheels and small feet.
For all that, I was knocked out by the paintings. The heat and sensuality simmered in his colour palette but I wasn't prepared for the dark, brooding quality that hung over many of the works, the corruption in paradise, death and the devil. In almost every painting there was a dark object or figure, something with a hint of menace. It gave an extra edge to the artist I had mistakenly thought he was.
Then, just as I had picked up a copy of the book on Gauguin in the shop, the alarms went off and the loudspeaker said the building had to be evacuated. Everyone surged towards the main exit to find staff barring our way as the escalators had been switched off and the doors locked. The fire exits were not very obvious and no staff were pointing them out.
I followed a crowd who were making slow progress through rooms, round corners, eventually joining up with another crowd pouring down the stairs. We funnelled into a dark, gloomy passageway and even even narrower, darker stone staircase. The people with the toddlers and pram were in front of me. In front of them was an elderly woman on sticks, grimacing with pain and taking her time to descend each stair. If there had been a fire or an explosion and panic had started, we would all have been goners. I have never experienced a more haphazard evacuation. It was a shambles. I felt shaken and scared by the time I got through the narrow door into daylight.
I have emailed the Tate to tell them my thoughts, and have also sent a letter to the London Evening Standard as I felt so strongly about it. Large public buildings need efficiently drilled staff who know exactly what to do in an emergency. Yesterday's lot were flapping and didn't seem to know what to do. Where were the fire marshals? Why wasn't the plan kicking in? I hope other people have complained, too, and that the Tate bosses take it on board. Something as serious as this cannot just be ignored.