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Between the Shard and the Globe: the strange geometry of Andrew Logan's Alternative Miss World. Written by Ben Walters

It’s somehow apt that Andrew Logan’s Bermondsey home and studio, the Glasshouse, has a view of the Shard. And not just a glimpse from a window: through his studio’s glass pitched roof, the length of the tower bites grandly into the sky. Viewed from below, its upward thrust is balanced by an array of sculptures dangling from the panes of the studio roof: celestial objects and geometric shapes, tea-pots and palm trees, a turquoise-studded crucifix, a radio embedded in a glitter-boulder – all covered with the fragments of coloured and mirrored glass that have become Logan’s signature material over the artist’s extraordinary and unique five-decade career.

“I’m absolutely obsessed with mirror and glass,” says Logan, who turns 70 next year. “For me, it’s a cosmic thing. It’s like you’re playing with light.” A smiley face of purple resin on mirror – one of his own pieces, of course – glints at his collar as he speaks. The building outside, then, acts as a totem of a treasured aesthetic. “Oh, the Shard!” he sighs. “What a lovely building! I love the Shard!”

Logan’s airy studio is dotted with innumerable pieces testifying to his fixation with glass: cheeky, charming statues of wildlife or Mickey Mouse; large-winged Pegasuses in red, white and black; life-sized busts and outsized mirror-portraits of friends, associates and icons, including Duggie Fields, Maggi Hambling, Maria Callas and Nelson Mandela. An unfinished glass-on-canvas imitation of Van Gogh’s sunflowers sits across from a rack housing at least 96 different kinds of glitter.

Logan occupies a strange position, in many ways an outsider doing his own thing, but not without institutional or establishment credentials. Educated at Oxford, his work has been shown in the US, Mexico, Singapore, Australia and Russia, and acquired by collectors as diverse as the National Portrait Gallery, the Queen Mother, Bono and Larry Hagman.

His studio also contains an array of outlandishly spectacular thrones and a spanking new set of crown jewels encrusted with brightly-coloured numerals. These are fruits of Logan’s other magnificent obsession: as well as making art, he is the creator of the Alternative Miss World, the sensational pageant conceived in 1972 that has become an institution.

At once a grand-scale celebration of polymorphously perverse creativity and a gazette of the most exciting spirits animating London’s underground scene, it’s equal parts Dada, Warhol, Pepys and Versailles, and was inspired as much by Crufts as the original Miss World tournament.

“I call it a surreal art event for all-round family entertainment,” Logan smiles. Like his sculptures and jewellery, AMW is at once campy and sincere, glam and DIY, deeply rooted in British tradition and reaching for a brave new world. First held in Logan’s old studio, a converted Islington jigsaw factory, its dozen editions to date have taken place in venues ranging from a big top on Clapham Common to the Roundhouse; its co-hosts, competitors and judges have included David Hockney, Derek Jarman, Molly Parkin, Leigh Bowery, Brian Eno, Zandra Rhodes, Divine, Sam Taylor Wood and Grayson Perry, who co-hosts this year’s event. One time, David Bowie couldn’t get in; another, the crown went to a robot called R.O.S.A. B.O.S.O.M.

The pageant has always kept pace with the times: the last tournament, in 2009, had judges from the current alternative performance scene, including Jonny Woo and Amy Lamé, and was won by Fancy Chance. At this year’s shebang, to be held at Shakespeare’s Globe in October, Woo will provide entertainment between the contestants’ rounds.

“We’re very honoured to be in Shakespeare’s Globe,” Logan says. “It has such an atmosphere. It sucks you in: even at the top, the view is incredible. It’s very democratic. I think Shakespeare would rather have liked [AMW], actually.”

The venue’s sixteenth-century proportions do mean some of the competition’s past excesses of scale won’t be feasible: this year, contestants have been advised to keep costumes to a demure seven feet wide by nine feet high. They’ll also only be allowed one assistant backstage but some will have teams clambering from the audience to the stage. “It’s very Globe!”


Past themes have tended towards the elemental or the cosmic: air, fire, universe, void. (“Void was almost my favourite,” Logan says. “It was just fantastic to do an event about nothing. And it’s quite a challenge.”) This year’s theme is Neon Numbers – not words the earthy, analogue venue brings to mind.

“It’s the opposite of the Globe,” Logan agrees. “But it’s good alliteration, isn’t it? I just thought what it needed was something really vibrant so you get sucked into the event. Last time was The Elements, which were very bright, and I thought I’d like to go the next step up, which is neon.”

As for numbers – well, what have the last five years been about if not digital technology and financial jiggery-pokery? In this respect, the Shard is not just a happy totem but also a harbinger – an emblem of the massive changes underway here in Bermondsey and across London. In the shadow of the Shard, innumerable high-end commercial real-estate developments stab their way into the streets: soon, luxury flats will loom over Logan’s skylights. It’s one of the reasons, along with the expense of running the place and his love of travel, that he and his partner Michael are preparing to leave after 25 years.

“So many people have been through here,” he says. “For me, it’s one of the most beautiful places in London so it’s lovely to share it. But that of course will go. I do like the Shard but you walk 100 yards and you’ve got limos lined up, multibillionaires, the Shangri-La Hotel starting at £450 a night. What world is it? I have no idea. Capitalism can only go so far. You can only feed so much – feed, feed, feed! – then there will be changes. There have to be changes. But of course the rich protect themselves; they entrench themselves more and more. That’s what the Shard represents, really.”

The capital’s changing face has always been grist for AMW's mill, which in its way has anticipated everything from punk to the Falklands conflict, AIDS panic to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Its longevity is partly down to its simple formula for organised chaos. The locations and themes might change but Logan, wearing an outfit vertically divided into male and female halves, is always the host and hostess, and entrants always compete in the same categories.

“It has these ingredients – the daywear, eveningwear and swimwear, the cabaret, the judges, the crowning – and then that formula goes through generation after generation. You plop it into one event and plop it into the next and on it keeps plopping.”

It’s an instance of something Logan thinks our society is short of: ritual. “What do we have nowadays? Funerals and weddings. And these hen parties and stag parties, which are terrible but in a way they are a ritual. It’s marking time and I think that’s a good thing in one’s life. Otherwise you start shopping at 10 and die at 80 shopping.”

The Alternative Miss World is also unmistakably a labour of love. “It’s from the heart, most definitely," Logan says. "I walk on stage and I feel it immediately – the heart. It’s there. A lot of people contribute for free. I don’t get paid. That whole ethos of doing something for the pure joy of it is very rare. The way society’s set up now, especially for young people… Sitting in the tube or walking around here, you see these earnest faces – it’s survival with a capital ‘s’. We’re here for such a short time and life is a wonderful experience and that’s what my work is about. It’s a celebration.”

Upon Logan’s departure, probably early in 2015, the Glasshouse’s contents will go to Wales, where the Andrew Logan Museum of Sculpture has been open since 1991, near Powys Castle. He’ll spend time there and in India, which he visits often, and continue to work: having contributed public sculptures to Clapham Library and Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital, he has a new commission for a large-scale piece in Mumbai International Airport. There’s also an exhibition coming up at nearby Southwark Cathedral. And he likes the idea of experimenting with video.

Meanwhile, preparations continue for October’s pageant – as always, with more love than resources. Logan’s Auntie Olwyn recently died aged 97. “We went to her bungalow in Didcot and sitting there was this modest chair with a vinyl top,” he reports. “Been sitting there for years. I thought, ‘Perfect for Miss World!’ So that became the centre of the throne, covered in layers of numbers and [imitation] diamonds. So now Auntie Olwyn will be centre stage at the Alternative Miss World in the Globe. She’d be thrilled!”


Andrew Logan's Alternative Miss World
Saturday 18 October 2014
Shakespeare’s Globe
London SE1 9DT

Info: alternativemissworld.co.uk

Photos by Robyn Beeche (costumed images) | studio portrait by Tallulah Tallulah | Chair by Ben Walters


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