Richard Warren

"Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Cold War irony

Visiting the National Cold War Exhibition at the RAF Museum at Cosford today, I was delighted to discover that the customer facilities have been playfully Sovietised: a gigantic statue of Lenin towers above the souvenir shop, thrusting forward a carrier bag, while – even better – the snack bar has been made over as a mock-up of Checkpoint Charlie, complete with decorative barbed wire and floodlights.

Lenin at the souvenir shop
Lenin at the souvenir shop

Muffins and barbed wire
Muffins and barbed wire

Here, to a backdrop of Russian posters, visitors may scoff their muffins at tables set between striped wooden barriers. In fact, the whole thing forcibly reminded me of an Edward Kienholz installation – specifically, Portable War Memorial of 1968 (which I remember vividly from the extraordinary Kienholz show at the ICA in 1971), right down to the Coke machine. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was inspired by it. Though this is better, as you can actually buy real Coke.

Kienholz, 'Portable War memorial', 1968

Kienholz, ‘Portable War memorial’, 1968

Excellent. The only slight disappointment was that the toilets, which I then visited expectantly, seem to have escaped the brush of communist chic.

I recommend the Exhibition, too. More military aircraft than you could possibly absorb, but quite nicely contextualised with little displays and video presentations on Mutually Assured Destruction,  the Cuba Missile Crisis, etc. In the latter, kids ran around carefree while those of us old enough to remember looked on more soberly.


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