The value of cultural learning, sparkling jewellery and life in the workhouse..

A month into the new year and time is flying by. This is the first chance I have had to write a new blog and to visit museums!

Cultural learning alliance: Imagine Nation: The value of cultural learning

This is a really interesting read. This article, written and researched by the Cultural Learning Alliance (CLA) explores the social, educational, economic and personal value of the arts. In a way it would be easy to begin reading with a prejudiced view – the numerous ‘Dames’, ‘Lords’ and ‘Doctors’ putting their signatures to the findings puts a distance between the research of the arts’ effect on low-income families and the phrase ‘what would they know?’ into the reader’s head. But the facts cannot be easily disputed. The knowledge and empowerment an understanding of the arts can give an individual and in turn the wider community (through festivals, gaming, volunteering etc.) is huge – with ‘students from low-income families who engage in the arts at school … 20% more likely to vote as young adults’. With cuts to the arts swinging left and right, I think it is important to remember the value of culture and the sense of understanding and belonging that comes with it.

Winston Churchill and the arts

The above article put me in mind of one of Churchill’s more famous quotes: ‘The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them… Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due’… A rather dramatically put sentence, but one I wholeheartedly agree with.

The Vestry House Museum, Walthamstow

I walk past this building at least once a week and have often wandered what might be inside. On a wet and windy day in January, I decided to take a closer look and dragged my sick boyfriend along with me. Once inside, it is easy to feel disorientated with its low ceilings and rickety staircases taking the visitor on a historical journey from the Victorian era to today. Upstairs features a brief history of toy making in Walthamstow, which showcases old children’s games and photographs of employees working in the old factories. Downstairs explores the history of the building – once a workhouse, police station, private house and finally museum – and looks at the lives of those children who would have worked there. The museum’s current exhibition, situated towards the rear of the building, looks at the lives of those who bought Warner houses in Walthamstow and still live there today. The visitor can listen to oral histories, read documents and view photographs of lives lived in East London during the twentieth century. I would describe it is a small, but perfectly formed museum – the perfect visit for someone who has no particular agenda and would like to see something a little different.

Anish Kapoor banned from purchasing the hottest pink

To ban Anish Kapoor from buying the world’s pinkest pink, as a response to Kapoor purchasing the rights to the blackest black is somewhat childish… but inspiring.

V&A – Lockwood Kipling and  glittering jewellery

A trip to the V&A always proves to be an interesting visit. There are always multiple exhibitions to go and see at this museum, and we happened to come across one on Lockwood Kipling. This fascinating exhibition looks at Rudyard Kipling’s father’s life in India and the eclectic possessions, photographs, paintings (and even a video of the arts university he founded in India and used today) on display give colour to such an interesting life. I get excited when I see anything to do with the Pre-Raphaelites, and I immediately clocked the Edward Burne-Jones decoration adorning the top of a piano – a family relation through marriage to Kipling. There are intricate textiles that are rich in earthy tones  and portraits of the famous Kiplings to take a closer look at. I knew nothing of Lockwood Kipling and I walked away feeling a little more enlightened on such an interesting character. The jewellery collection is also something to behold. Sparkling and glittering, the range of on display is wonderful – from tiaras and earrings to belt buckles and swords – definitely worth a visit!

Dry January

I have just completed one month’s abstinence from alcohol and although I would have to admit to not feeling any different then before – it was a good opportunity to make the most out of the new hobbies I have started this year. I have taken up running (well, jogging to be more precise!), pottery and joined a netball team – all of which have been wonderful in their own way. It was actually quite an enjoyable experience and one I will definitely be doing again in the future!

Quote of the week:

‘Arts learning is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. It’s really the air many of these kids breathe. It’s how we get kids excited about getting up and going to school in the morning. It’s how we get them to take ownership of their future’.

Michelle Obama, Honorary Chair, President’s Committee on the Arts & the Humanities, 2009-2016

Christmas decorations over the past 400 years, ‘Trump’ art and exciting archaeology…

Christmas is around the corner and as I’m going to be travelling round the country seeing friends and family, this may be the last post I do before the New Year…Merry Christmas!!

Christmas Past: 400 years of Seasonal Traditions in English Homes, The Geffrye Museum

This was the first time I had visited the museum and after hearing so much about it, it was lovely to see the rooms at their best: dressed for Christmas. The museum showcases how people lived over the past 400 years, displaying what the interiors of houses looked like from the 17th century to today. If you like programmes such as Location, Location, Location or Changing Rooms like me, then this one is for you…! It was quite strange to see a 1990s Christmas presented as ‘the past’, but you can certainly see a change from over 20 years ago to now! The Victorian Christmas looked to be one of the more festively decorated rooms when compared to earlier practises. Of course, this may have to do with the way Christmas was conducted in Germany, with certain traditions and celebrations coming over the seas with Prince Albert. Downstairs, there was an exhibition on how people in the 21st decorate their bedrooms, conveying personality and creativity. It made me reflect on the decor of my childhood/teenage bedroom and how I really was not a rebellious child at all!

Donald Trump and art

There are so many articles about Donald Trump and his attitude to artwork on artnet news. It is also interesting to read and see the reaction of artists to Trump’s presidential win – Annette Lemieux turned her artwork upside down, reversing people’s fists punching the air to arms and fists pointing downwards. I have attached a link to this particularly unusual article which I’ll let you decide on…

TimeOut exhibition suggestions

I often use TimeOut as a guide to point me in the right direction for choosing exhibitions. Here are a few that I think would be great to see – if you have the time that is.

Museum of London: Archaeological Archives in Angel

I applied for a one day a week volunteering position for a cataloguing project in the archaeological archives of the Museum of London. With 45 people applying for 8 positions, the process was a continual eye-opener of the competitiveness of the industry when applying for jobs and volunteering roles. I didn’t have high hopes as I could only do two out of three weeks, but I thought it would be an interesting day so I decided to go and see what was on offer. Tucked away next to a post office near Angel, the museum of London’s archaeological archives is an unexpected surprise. It claims to be the world’s largest and once inside, you are confronted with thousands of cardboard boxes each with their unique codes. A personal highlight of the day included getting to hold a charred brick from a pitch store on Pudding Lane which may have caused the great fire of London to reach the dizzying heights that it got to in 1666. The purpose was to convey the importance of cataloguing even seemingly uninteresting objects, as it can often provide a larger context and thoughtful insight.

Moomin fun!

I thought I would end this week’s blog with a nod towards a bit of fun – if you liked the Moomins growing up then this is for you!

Quote of the week:

‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year’.

Charles Dickens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A ‘dramatic’ exhibition, showy shows and #Turnerprizedrama

This week contains a lot of theatre based content. *Breath* here’s breaking a leg…

#Michaelgoveknowshowtoputhisfootinit

So. I have to write something about Michael Gove. While some newspapers agree with his prehistoric view that the Turner prize was awarded to something deemed ‘modish crap’, it is bitterly disappointing to hear those words from someone who could make such a positive difference to the art world. Through a series of tweets Gove implied that the work awarded the prize did not compare to artists such as Ruskin or Holman Hunt – but I would argue that it never intended to be. Contemporary art should be encouraged and explored, not deemed as a lesser ‘art’ then others. You may not agree with some contemporary artwork, as you may not agree with ‘classic’ art. The whole point is that it is subjective and shouldn’t be left to privileged, tactless politicians to decide what is worthy and what is not. Full stop.

RADA Technical exhibition 2016

I received an impromptu invitation to have a look around the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) ‘Technical Graduate Exhibition’ which took place earlier this week. The exhibition was curated in the large main theatre at RADA and displayed work from last year students. There was a range of finished props to have a look a closer look at, such as a polystyrene wedding cake and a full grown tree, which was an unexpected surprise. A favourite piece of mine was a life-size ‘Bo’ door from Monsters Inc. complete with scare cylinder and red light. It was also great to be able to have a look at the exhibition from a variety of angles and heights – as visitors could enter the theatre from the upper gallery level and see from above – as well as getting up close to the objects themselves. I was told that most things were for sale, with one student fetching £10,000 for their work last year. If I was able to afford these pieces and have the room to store them, I would be the first one there! Not only were there props, but also a recorded sound performance that visitors could watch on a screen and listen to via headphones. The exhibition was perhaps a little on the small side (which reflects the small size of their annual intake of students) as I was left wanting to see more. I guess I will just have to go and watch their plays in the New Year and see the props in their natural environment…

Guys and Dolls, The Assembly Rooms – Tunbridge Wells

Having never seen, read or even heard the songs from Guys and Dolls – I was a blank canvas waiting to be inspired. One of the first things that struck me was how big the cast was. This gave the show the impact of a big and colourful production, and the many voices added to the sense of it being performed on a large scale. Although there were a few ‘dud’ notes from the male lead, the overall performance was funny at times and extremely engaging.

Kinky Boots, Adelphi Theatre – London

Probably the most fantastically camp production of a show I have EVER seen. Sequins, ten inch high heels and dance moves that make you want to get up and join in, make this one of my most enjoyable trips to the theatre ever. The whole show had an element of not taking itself too seriously, which won even the sternest members of the audience over. The only slight negative is that the songs are not hugely memorable (although perhaps that’s a good thing!) but I definitely felt in the mood for some dancing after watching it!

Summerfolk, RADA Theatre – London

An interesting performance, full of energy and emotion. What was also striking was the unusual layout of the stage – a circular front and rectangular back. Real trees were cut down by the technical team and made into a scenic backdrop as part of the set, which added to the sense of being outside. The actors were last year students, so the performances were on the whole very strong and believable. I will definitely be returning in the future to see more shows at RADA, as they put on a variety of plays throughout the year…

Arts attendance in the ‘real’ world by children

I had started reading a more recent article in the Guardian about the position of the government towards the arts (Michael Gove being a bit of an arrogant whatsit blah, blah, blah…) when I came across this little gem. Philip Pullman is one of my all time favourite authors and, perhaps as a consequence, I am more inclined to be interested in what he thinks about children’s exposure to the arts. He makes an intriguing point that as part of the national curriculum, children should go to the theatre. It would be great if this could be put into place, as I think it is important to share and explore the arts from an early age.

Quote of the week

‘There will never be a substitute for approaching new art with an open mind, unencumbered by rancid clichés. As long as the Turner Prize facilitates such engagement, the buzz surrounding it will remain a minor distraction.’

– Richard Cork (Art critic)

Flaming June in December, the ‘art’ of contemporary botanical art and the return of the Art History A-Level!

Another week, another blog! This week looks at a trip to the decadent Leighton House, Kew’s Flora Japonica exhibition and the return of the much loved Art History  A-Level…

Flaming June: The Making of an Icon, Leighton House

Having studied Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic art for my masters, I was very keen to have a look around Sir Fredrick Leighton’s (1830-1896)  – a prominent artist in the late Victorian era – London residence. I had read and heard about the opulence of Leighton House and was mildly surprised to find it on a very unassuming residential road in Kensington. Tucked away, but by no means any less imposing, the house on first glance looks like a large red-bricked mansion. The inside of the house is by no means a traditional Victorian home – oh no no no. Bright blue tiles, stain glass widows and a huge dome that has an enormous gold chandelier dangling a storey length of the house are what greet you in the main hallway. A mini square fountain, surrounded by Middle Eastern carpets and an intricately cut dark wooden gallery look-out are just some of the spectacular sights inside. The dark and moody lighting creates an exotic atmosphere, with peacock designs adorning the walls (a common animal featured in Aestheticism). Leighton was clearly influenced by Egypt and his travels to distant countries and this is reflected in the architecture and furnishings of the house. Flaming June is perhaps his most famous painting which is on temporary loan to the museum and is displayed amongst four or five other famous Leighton artworks. Multiple sketches and a build up to the story of Flaming June’s creation make seeing the painting all the more poignant. The deep juicy orange of the dress and aesthetically pleasing layout make it a joy to look at. I was pleased that the words used to describe the colours of the painting were not exaggerated, because (as the title suggests) that is the most striking part of the piece. Other key paintings on show include Twixt Hope and Fear (1895) and The Maid with the Golden Hair (1895) which have been uniquely brought together in a one off exhibition. Although I am used to having a look round historic homes and building, visiting Leighton House felt distinctly different – quite an unusual experience.

Highlights from Christie’s Classic Week

If you want to buy some interesting decorative art, have a look at some of Christie’s prized possessions on sale during their Classic Week

Art History A-Level ‘saved’ at last minute!

A couple of blogs back I talked about the decision of AQA to pull the plug on the Art History A-Level. I explained that although I hadn’t taken the A-Level myself, I felt it was a huge shame that students would miss out on the opportunity to study other cultures and discover ideas surrounding identity, self, emotion, expression, religion, politics, power and humanity (to name just a few!). The reversal of this decision is largely down to the voice of high-profile artists such as Anish Kapoor and Cornelia Parker, as well as the Association of Art Historians (AAH) and popular petition signed by members of the public. The Guardian’s article is by far the most comprehensive and detailed article on the reversal, and provides a glimpse at the goings on behind the scenes since the decision to axe the subject in October. Sadly, although art history and statistics have been saved, the A-Level Archaeology will remain ‘dead and buried’. – Lets hope that the powers of be change their mind… Again.

The best and the worst of the week in the art world

A light-heated article that highlights the best and the worst of events happening in the art world right now…

Flora Japonica, Shirley Sherwood Gallery (Kew Gardens)

This exhibition showcases contemporary Japanese botanical art in a rather unique setting. Both galleries at Kew (the Marianne North and Shirley Sherwood) display solely botanical art, with the Shirley Sherwood gallery often putting on two exhibitions a year. It is a rare opportunity to see a mix of contemporary botanical paintings and Kew’s own collection of decorative art in one place. Objects such as nineteenth-century lacquer wood displayed in carefully arranged cases provides an interesting history to the origins of botanical art and how artists have been influenced. The exhibition is curated in a way that has not been divided by date, showing the ageless techniques in how to paint a botanical painting. What is immediately striking is the amount of time and precision needed to create one painting, the necessary patience to make such an accurate representation. What is especially good about having a look around the Shirley Sherwood Gallery is that it links up by a passageway to the Marianne North gallery. This gallery solely displays the work of the Victorian explorer and painter Marianne North, who paid for the building and curated the space in the late nineteenth century. She is a remarkable woman, and one I will explore in a later blog…

Quote of the week:

‘I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way–things I had no words for’.-  Georgia O’Keeffe

That’s all from me folks… Until next week!

 

 

 

How to make Japanese lacquerware, preserving world heritage, and continued thoughts on cultural sights in Paris… oh la la!

I have had a bit of a cold this week, so have unfortunately not been able to get to as many exhibitions as I would have liked… But, onwards and upwards as they say! – this week’s blog looks at issues surrounding the preservation of cultural heritage, thoughts on my recent cultural trip to Paris and a talk about Japanese lacquerware…

The protection of cultural heritage, The Burlington Magazine

This is a difficult article to summarise in a few words. The author looks at how war has effected the landscape of countries by its direct/indirect destruction of heritage and the impact on the mindset of the population who see their cultural landmarks disappear for ever. This a historic problem, which has many endless examples such as the destruction of parts of the ancient city Palmyra and the shelling of the World Heritage site at Dubrovnik, and one that only seems to be taken seriously too late by those in a position of power…

A trip to the Luxemburg Gardens, Paris

It is always difficult to know what to do on the last day of a holiday. Despite the train leaving at 8pm, I struggled to know what to do with the remaining time. I had heard of the beauty of the Jardin du Luxemburg and thought it might be a good idea to explore this garden and look at the famous ‘Petit-Luxemburg Palace’. Originally built in the seventeenth century by Marie d’ Medici, Henry IV’s wife, it is a picturesque palace that overlooks a large pool complete with multiple statues. In fact the whole garden is dotted with statues, which came about in the middle of the nineteenth century, and they have been left there till this day. Seeing the gardens on a crisp autumn day made the experience all the more poignant and the beauty, particularly the fountain surrounded by statues just to the back of the palace, came out as I saw families from all walks of life making use and enjoying it.

Talk on the lacquerware in Kew Gardens ‘Flora Japonica’ exhibition

This talk focused on Japanese lacquerware on display in Kew’s current exhibition ‘Flora Japonica’. This was an interesting insight into the types of techniques and styles in designing and making lacquerware, throughout the centuries. Lacquer is a wood finish that comes from tree sap, of which some of these ‘lacquer’ trees can be found at Kew. The process has been used for thousands of years and became very popular – particularly in England during the nineteenth century – when objects from the orient became a fashionable curiosity amongst the upper classes. On display is an array of objects from Japan, which show the skill and craftsmanship needed to finely decorate furniture and trinket boxes. Also on show are some rare examples of Japanese learning ‘tablets’, which have the flower of the wood painted directly onto the type of wood it is depicting. Nine of these tablets can be seen in the exhibition, the only place in the world to see so many in one place.

Unusual artist residencies

If you’re looking for a quirky place to paint, check out these eleven unusual artist residencies that are quite amazing…

A visit to the Sacré-Coeur

You can see this magnificent building standing proud on top of a hillside from nearly all viewpoints in Paris. It’s domed design, inspired by the churches found in Constantinople of the time, makes it pop out from the grey and white architecture so indicative of Paris. Because of its high positioning, the view outside the cathedral is almost unparalleled in its panoramic aspect. It has an un-interrupted spectacle of Paris as your eyes sweep over famous landmarks and it reminded me a little of the panoramic view from Alexandra Palace in London. Wedding photos were being taken, whether for a magazine or for someone’s actual wedding, I guess I’ll never know, and many people were managing to brave the wind on top of the hill to take it all in. A mass was taking place upon entering the building and it was nice to hear music being played whilst admiring the many stain-glass windows and paintings that adorn the walls. I thought it was interesting and wonderfully unique to see what appeared to be nineteenth-century dressed lay women and men painted on the ceilings as they made signs of worship to God. Numerous candles were also lit by members of the public to remember loved ones, which always has an endearing and sobering effect on me. It is a beautiful Cathedral and has many visually interesting objects and views to look at. 

Quick review of my National Art Pass

I have had a National Art Pass for the last few years and I am always impressed with how many museums and art galleries it allows me to get in for free or get discounts from. Even with often costly exhibitions I have been able to get half price off or in quite a few cases get in scot-free. For me it is like the equivalent of having an NUS card and I get that cheeky feeling when I proudly present it at the admission’s desk. On the downside, as I work in the arts industry I already get reduced tickets or free entry into most of the art galleries and museums… However, I am keen to support the industry in any way I can and I always enjoy reading the Art Pass’s magazine ‘Art Quarterly’ for inspiration when choosing to go and see the next exhibition.

Quote of the week:

The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.”

Lucian Freud

Next week’s blog is to be decided…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate box paintings, Mona Lisa ‘selfies’ and the gate to hell…

Having just got back from Paris last night, I start this blog with ideas and thoughts fresh from the trip…

Musée D’Orsay: Making an Impression

This was the first museum I visited and the impressive hollowed out train station that contains the museum’s collection did not fail to excite. With such a big space to explore it was important to know what you wanted to see, as it can be a little overwhelming. The museum’s collection of Impressionism is unrivalled and is always a delight to see. Degas’s ballerinas, Monet’s lilies and Pissaro’s landscapes are just some of the fascinating works on display. Impressionist artwork has in the past been referred to as ‘chocolate box’ painting, which I think is an unfair assessment. Not to diminish pictures that grace the lids of chocolate boxes, but I believe the soft pastels of Impressionism are not just ‘pretty pictures’, but vibrant and symbolic paintings. Dragging myself away from the Impressionist corner, I had a look at some of Vincent Van Gogh’s work. Before the visit I would have said that I was not a big fan of his paintings, as they have never really resonated with me. However, I was taken by his painting ‘The Church at Auvers’ (a print I bought in the museum’s shop) with its dark colours and mysterious lady walking alone in the foreground. My change in attitude may also have been helped as I remembered the painting was in an episode of Doctor Who… Another highlight of the collection is a small statue of liberty, made by French artist Auguste Bartholdi in 1899. Eerily the date on the statue’s scroll was the very date that we came to see it (albeit 117 years later) – the 15th November – which was a funny coincidence.

The transgender body in art

An interesting article on transgender art – it primarily looks at current American exhibitions and discusses the wider impact the Trump ‘regime’ may have on the LGBTQ community.

Louvre: The Mona Lisa and Napoleon’s apartment

I usually start a visit to the Louvre by seeking out its arguably most prized possession – the Mona Lisa. I am always surprised by the size of the painting, it is not exactly small, but it is not large either. This could be due to the amount of security surrounding the painting, which puts the audience a good few metres back, and makes the Mona Lisa seem smaller then it actually is… Nevertheless, it is wonderful to look at this masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci in the flesh. The face of the sitter is one that looks set to break into a smile, and the harder you look the more you believe that it may actually happen. It has been described as the ‘the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world’ – and it is certainly well visited. The crowd of people gathered around the painting are eager to push to the front but, rather depressingly, most are more keen to have a selfie with the Mona Lisa then to actually look at it. I find it sad and a little disheartening to watch people face away and then move on without so much a backward glance at the sixteenth-century masterpiece, as it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. They are simply just missing the point. Moving on from the soft expression of the Mona Lisa, I found myself in a part of the museum I had never even heard of – Napoleon III’s apartments. These rooms contain fantastic examples of Second Empire decorative art. The splendid chandeliers and rich gilding that gleams off the ceilings and walls screams of obscene opulence and decadence. The dining room table can seat around fifty people and the seemly endless collection of furniture, jewels and ceramics are displayed in carefully curated display cases. Napoleon III’s blue highly elaborate throne chair is something of a highlight, as well as a the museum’s fine collection of sèvres porcelain.

A visit to the Notre Dame

I have visited the Notre Dame a few times, and have even sung in it as part of the school choir, but I have never been to the top to have a look at the amazing view of Paris. To reach the gallery level of the cathedral, you have to walk up a spiralling stone staircase which can make you feel dizzy and a little bit disorientated. Although the climb is a little tiring, the view from the top is breath taking. Navigating a way through the narrow viewing path, you feel as if you are one or the many gargoyles that adorn the top of the cathedral, as you look across the grey and white expanse of Paris. What a great view they have. You can see so much of the city from the great height, such as the Sacre Coeur (also worth a visit), the Arc d’Triumph and the river Seine. Quite an experience.

Book review, Elizabeth the Queen (Alison Weir)

I enjoy reading factual history books and Alison Weir is one of my favourite authors of the genre. Weir focuses on the character of Queen Elizabeth I, particularly on her relationship with her family and the men in her life. It is a huge book, which took me many weeks to read and it is utterly absorbing. Her decision to sign the death warrant of Mary Queen of Scots did not sit well on her conscience and her obsession with her image meant that she had a vast and costly wardrobe! She made sure that no true likeness was made of her after she became queen, as she saw the advantages of being portrayed as a wealthy and powerful monarch. ‘The Darnley Portrait’ and ‘Armada Portrait’ are images which a perhaps best remembered by people, but which only portray her as she wished to be seen.

Musée Rodin: Hell according to Rodin

I wasn’t sure how Rodin’s vast collection of work could be successfully displayed, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well the museum was curated. It was extremely helpful to start with an exhibition which focused on his commission to create a door inspired by Dante’s ‘Inferno’, as it allowed the audience to follow Rodin’s journey from unknown artist to famous sculptor. So much of his work was inspired from these ‘Inferno’ creations and it was easy (as well as fun!) to pick out these works in the permanent collection, which are displayed in a grand building located in the garden. Having looked at the many sketches and casts leading up to the gate’s completion, seeing it in the flesh outside was like seeing a jigsaw puzzle come together. Rodin often depicts his figures in awkward twisting positions, which contributes to his ability in creating movement in his sculpture. As the saying goes ‘so much to see, so little time’ and I will definitely be returning in the future.

Hell According to Rodin (18th October – 22nd January 2017)

Quote of the week:

“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”
Pablo Picasso

 

Upcoming to blog… to be decided!

 

 

A ‘Brief’ Exhibit, A-Level cuts and Dancing Museums

This week’s blog looks at some of London’s current art exhibitions, discussions surrounding the recent Art History A-Level cut and thoughts on a talk exploring the relationship between dance in painting…

Undressed: A brief History of Underwear, Victoria and Albert Museum

In this rather tongue-in-cheek exhibition the V&A explores the history of underwear and the role it has played in sculpting the body and establishing gender models. From the ancient-old corset to Marks and Spencer’s matching bra and pant sets, the exhibition guides the viewer through the sometimes bizarre decisions made throughout the centuries when it came to designing and wearing underwear. Despite choosing a day that was neither a school-holiday or a weekend, the exhibition was extremely busy and had attracted a cross-section of people. For most of us, underwear is an item of clothing that has become a natural part of getting ready and it is therefore an easy subject-matter to relate to. It was interesting to see the change in fashions and with it ideas surrounding sexuality, gender and creativity for both sexes. The top floor contains modern ensembles and hints towards a more fantastical and fetish approach to designing underwear. Overall, the exhibition was light-hearted when it needed to be and the short but informative labels didn’t distract the viewer from actually looking at the object – a problem I often struggle with in some of the more wordy exhibitions.

Highlights of the exhibitionVictorian whale bone corsets, modern designs by Stella McCartney and David Beckham’s H&M underwear packaging.

‘Dancing Museums’ talk, National Gallery, Monday 7th November (1 hour)

I recently attended an excellent free talk at the National Gallery (NG), which looked at how dance may be incorporated into an art gallery or museum setting. The conversation explored how the physicality of viewing artwork, the outward tilt of the head or squinting of the eyes, was in itself a performance of some kind. I had never really considered the viewer as a physically active participant when analysing artwork, and I was interested in the discussed kinship between the 2 and 3 dimensions. How a curator might arrange an art gallery was linked to how a dance might be put together – both disciplines requiring a choreographic element. It was refreshing to hear discussion of dance within an art space as a separate form of artwork and even more intriguing to hear of museums commissioning dance and performances to co-exist with their collections. An interesting question put forward by a member of the audience, however, seemed to silt the conversation a little. How can the relationship between viewer, performance and location be measured? And what is the role of the viewer in the performance? It appears that measuring the merit or success of performance art is an on-going struggle for galleries and museums, and one that is not easy to overcome.

Unusual article of the week…

How this couple thought they could get away with this, I’ll never know…

History of Art A-Level cut

The decision to axe the History of Art A-level in schools across the UK last month was a ruling that I found both surprising and disheartening. At a time when gallery attendance is for the most part increasing (see last years figures for Tate here) and understandings of culture and social motivations have arguably never been so relevant, the removal of the subject is somewhat perplexing. It is hardly unexpected that the AAH’s (Association of Art Historians) response to the culling of the subject is one of stark defiance. They are currently campaigning through interactions with the cultural sector and other organisations to secure the future of the A-Level. Having not taken the A-Level myself, an option that was not available at my school, perhaps I am not so qualified to speculate on the decision. However, I came to love the subject after I studied art history as a postgraduate. Since the decision, I have often wondered whether an art history option at A-Level would have given me the confidence to study the subject as a BA and work in the cultural sector sooner. I guess we will never know. Michael White, Head of History of Art at York University writes a superb response to the A-Level cut in an article published on the RA website – article.

A quick stop at Kenwood House, English Heritage

Situated on the northern boundary of Hampstead Heath this former stately home, which once belonged to the 1st Earl of Mansfield, contains some rather interesting pieces. The collection, now entrusted to English Heritage, boasts an assortment of artwork from famous artists such as Vermeer, Gainsborough and Rembrandt. I was pleasantly surprised to see one of Rembrandt’s ‘Self-portrait with two circles’ on display as it was not only fantastically painted, but also extremely valuable (see how much one self-portrait is estimated). Highlights of the visit include an unusual Chinese and English inspired fireplace, a shiny collection of belt buckles and a mini-organ.

Rodin and Dance: The Essence of Movement, The Courtauld Institute of Art gallery

Having just attended the talk on ‘Dancing Museums’, I headed off to view the new Rodin exhibition at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Going there was a bit like going down memory lane, a mixture of past dissertation nerves and excitement at the prospect of seeing something different. With the themes of the earlier talk running through my mind, I set out to explore the relationship between dance and artistic representation. And I was not disappointed. Rodin’s ability to capture movement and expression in a single line is truly amazing. In most of his work, if not all, it was as though the stance of the figure had not yet been fully completed and I felt my mind often trying to make the dancer reach a conclusive position. Rodin said ‘it is by exaggerating movement that I sometimes obtain a flexibility that approaches truth’. Interestingly, this statement resonated with themes discussed in the talk – the fine balance between artistic truth and fiction. His collection of photographs, particularly of famous Parisian women dancing in the late 19th/20th century, was also intriguing and gave a very ‘real’ feel to the exhibition. Although the exhibition is a little on the small size, it has inspired me to go to the Musee Rodin in Paris to seek out more of Rodin’s work whilst I am there on holiday next week.

Quote of the week:

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

Vincent Van Gogh

Upcoming next week (a Parisian feel)…

  • Musee Rodin, Paris
  • Louvre, Paris
  • Musee D’Orsay, Paris
  • Talk on Japanese lacquerware, Kew Gardens
  • St. Chapelle/Notre Dame, Paris
  • A review of ‘Elizabeth the Queen’ by Alison Weir