When I say touring exhibitions I mean an exhibition that travels to different venues. Not going on a tour of exhibitions myself!
What makes a touring exhibition good?
For me its a strong theme so you know there is content relevant to your interests. Also the opportunity to see a show that you would normally have to travel a long way to see or simply not be able to get to.
If a touring exhibition has related objects from the host museum’s collection that’s another draw for me. A bit like get an unexpected treat!
A range of souvenirs is always a bonus. Admittedly I tend towards fridge magnets because they don’t take up much space. Having a selection of linked books, prints, cards and other items does make finding something easy.
A themed exhibition
An annual treat for myself and a friend is going to the International Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition in Bristol. Wildlife photography fans will know this tours around the country. Having this available in Bristol is much closer and cheaper to get to than in London.
The show is consistently good both in terms of quality of images and addressing issues affecting wildlife. The photos have enough information on shooting them to give a connection with the photographer and an insight into their thinking. The subject range is broad enough to include contentious issues like pollution, deforestation, poaching and local jobs in conflict with wildlife preservation.
And a fine range of souvenirs across the prices range too! Sadly our favourite shot wasn’t available as a fridge magnet. It was there as a framed print at a reasonable price but I managed to resist temptation.
Touring exhibition with local collections
This second example is also from Bristol and again it was easy to get to for us. We saw Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences because we both wanted to see this work and it was easy for us to get there. Having seen the Rake’s Progress at the John Soanes Museum in the past we were keen to see how it inspired Grayson Perry.
We found the tapestries both impressive and thought provoking. Seeing this subject addressed nearly 200 years after the original was interesting in itself. What added to the exhibition was a copy of prints of the orignal Rake’s Progress on display to refresh the memory or let visitors discover it for the first time. An addition that I really enjoyed was a display of David Hockney prints also inspired by the orignal.
The Hockney sequence added to the exhibition by showing a different modern approach to the subject. It also was a very personal approach unlike the original and unlike Perry’s depiction of the Rake.
From a museum point of view
When there are touring exhibitions where I work the common response is visitors appreciate something different on show. Also an exhibiton no usually associated with our collections is popular. An exmaple of such an exhbiton was Hiroshige from the Ashmolean museum. As described above as host venue some items from RAMM’s collection were included and it meant visitors saw items normally kept in store.
Beyond the flowers
Like most people who’ve encountered O’Keeffe’s art its the flowers and sound based abstracts that stick in the mind. So it was great to see such a broad cross section of all her work from the bones to early charcoal work. And a visit to Tate Modern is always enjoyable.
In particular the New York landscapes were new to me and I liked the mix of views and times of day used. Having lived in a tower block in a city the high viewpoint of the city at night really struck a chord.
Stieglitz and photographs
Alfred Stieglitz’s photographs featured throughout the exhibition. This included personal photos, landscapes, the well known images of O’Keeffe. The photos added context to O’Keeffe’s life and works but also her relationship with someone who had a creative life in their own right. Seeing Stieglitz’s photos with O’Keeffe’s painting of the same viewpoint was really interesting. Not least because he used daylight whereas she had painted a night scene.
There was little in the way of ephemera in the exhibition but books and copies of Stieglitz’s journal Camera Club were on view. Also exhibited were some examples of his series of cloudscapes from the Equivalent series.
Better known now is Ansel Adams and his work appeared too. He travelled with O’Keeffe and shared a love of landscapes. I found it interesting seeing his large, very clear and more contemporary looking images compared to some of Stieglitz’s smaller and darker prints.
Not just cake in Copenhagen
We did visit the National Gallery for the art and not just the cafe, honest! Actually now I think of it there’s rather a good shop too…
The building itself is splendid although being January the fountain was switched off. The original building is a classic temple to culture and an easy walk from the nearest station. There are plenty of other cultural sights to tempt you nearby and we enjoyed popping in to the Film Museum on the way back to Sweden.
Finding the cafe
The cafe is in the modern extension of the museum and looks out onto the gardens. So you can have a good view with your refreshments but get there early if you want a window seat as it gets busy! The ceiling is worth a look wherever you sit as its an art work in itself. You’ll spot it as you pass it on your way to the cafe on the upper floor.
Not just tea and cake
The cafe has a full menu including a buffet and is licenced. We just wanted some tea and cake and to thaw out a bit too! I had coffee in a very stylish mug along with the Danish version of a scone. My friend had tea and cake with a magnificent teapot.
The teapot was cast iron and the server struggled with it a bit. When we tried lifting it we found it was heavy enough to almost have its own gravity field. It did a fine job of keeping the tea warm as well as being good looking.
And the gallery itself?
Full of treats is my immediate thought. Galleries are themed by place and period so there’s a clear theme to follow. Our highlights were the surrealists, not least because their work was placed in the social and political context of their time, and Danish contemporary art simply because not much makes it to England.
I also liked the placing of large sculptures in the galleries. Perhaps my favourite being a life size Victorian lady who appears to be looking at a painting of a lifeboat launch.
An unexpected piece of puppet theatre
On the way to the cafe we spotted an intriguing shed like structure. This turned out to be a reproduction of a puppet theatre. It has a performance area on one side and workshop on the other. The gallery now uses it for learning activities. Worth a look if you go there!
An old favourite revisited
I’d meant to go and see the Wallace Collection after its refurbishment for some time. A day off in May afforded the opportunity.
The collection looked splendid as ever and has something for all tastes from armour to ceramics. Plus plenty of well known works of art with Poussin’s A Dance to the Music of Time being a personal favourite. It’s the knowing expression on one of the dancer’s faces that I particularly like.
I enjoyed seeing the much photographed suit of Gothic armour. A professional photographer friend always claimed one day it would disintegrate from being photographed so much!
The new cafe
In the best museum professional tradition I tried the cafe.
It’s a lovely space in a covered courtyard and all the staff are really pleasant. I just had coffee and a croissant which was served beautifully. The jam was very impressive and came highly recommended.
Even if you don’t have time to enjoy the collection the cafe is an oasis worth popping into.
Down memory lane
While in Marylebone I went down Chiltern Street where my father had his printing business in the 1960s and 70s.
The corner shop is long gone and it’s all a bit bijou now. The biggest surprise was seeing the fire station is now a cafe bar. Apparently catering for the likes of Kaye Moss. Happily the building remains complete with its Marylebone Fire Brigade plaque.
Watching the firemen maintaining the engines and gear was a regular childhood treat!