Pop art is a real Scream

8th November 1996 at 00:00
Venus takes a shower while David brushes his teeth. Ann Treneman enjoys a mini-masterpiece.

BOTTICELLI'S BED AND BREAKFAST By Jan Pienkowski Kingfisher. Pounds 14. 99.

When Jan Pienkowski was a schoolboy, his chemistry master used to come in early once a week to give an impromptu art history lesson. "He had a huge collection of postcards and he would arrange them with a theme every week. One week we'd have Stubbs, the next Van Gogh, say. So to me all of the Old Masters are like old friends."

Now a youthful 60, Jan Pienkowski has invited dozens of these old friends to be a part of Botticelli's Bed and Breakfast, his new three-dimensional "book" that opens up in the round to display 10 rooms and 56 masterpieces. The result is a work of art in itself: it is no surprise to discover that Jan Pienkowski has been asked to lecture on it at the Tate.

A glance around the house reveals some strange goings-on. Guests in the "honeymoon suite" include the expectant Arnolfinis while, in the attic, Mr Vermeer has temporarily taken the room of Mr Van Gogh, who has had a shaving injury (there's blood on the pillow). In the study, Whistler's Mother is watching the Da Vinci fitness programme on television. The bathroom reveals Venus in the shower and David brushing his teeth. You'll find "The Scream" in the four-poster bed while Mona Lisa is the proud mistress of the wine cellar and the Cheshire Cat surveys all with a smile.

Pienkowski cannot help but smile too. "I just love 'The Scream'," he says. "And the Chippendale Leonardo guy on the television. Do you recognise the shoe on the bathroom floor? It's from Fragonard's 'The Swing'."

Botticelli's Bed and Breakfast took four years to make. It began as a suggestion from a publisher that he devise a press-out toy theatre. "But I started playing around with it and thought I could do better than that - I could make it architecture."

And so he has and, as befits such a book, there is also romance and tragedy in its making. The romance came early on when he went to Warsaw - his home town until the war forced his family to flee when he was eight - to learn how to manipulate art on computer. "I worked in the studio of an old friend with lots of people frantically putting together a cash-and-carry catalogue type thing. It was January and the old central heating made it boiling hot. The windows were open and snow drifted in. There were all these bright young things rushing around and me sitting there, with the snow coming in, learning from them. "

The tragedy struck when his friend and long-time colleague, Hilary Saunders, died from cancer. The book is dedicated to her. "She stopped me putting too much in. I don't know what I'm going to do without her."

It is hard to imagine what else he could have put in. Every corner holds a mini-masterpiece. Under the bathroom, you'll find Rembrandt and friends playing poker (drinks are provided by Manet's "Folies-Berg re"). The bathroom towel is a Mondrian; the toilet bowl freshener is "Water Lily" by Monet. In a bedroom cupboard hangs a suit left behind by "Blue Boy". Ceilings are by Constable; beheadings thanks to Henry VIII. His one regret is that he wanted a cupboard full of Warhol's tomato soup, but could not get permission.

But is this "edu-tainment" - it comes with a guidebook plus full-colour art poster - really for children? "Everything I do is for children," says Pienkowski, whose last "pop-up" was the much-lauded Haunted House. "I think children are the same as grown-ups. They may have less experience but they are not stupid. They notice everything. When I was a child, we didn't have children's books. I remember understanding The Jungle Book at four or five. I don't think this kind of division is productive."

Now he is dreaming up CD-Rom ideas for Botticelli. A dressing-up game (inspired by "Blue Boy"), perhaps. Or, looking at the prehistoric painting behind the bed-and-breakfast basement pipes, what about "Pin the Tail on the Bison"?

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