Thursday, 16 August 2018

Royal Academy of Arts (2)

Piccadilly W1J 0BD
Friday August 10  2018

More return visits? Yes and no. We included the Royal Academy three years ago – it is of course an institution which holds ‘special exhibitions’, often two at a time, based on single  artists or themed  by country or materials –‘bronze ‘  for e.g.  Probably it is most famous for the annually held ‘Summer Exhibitions’  and  that is what we posted last time

Three years down the line we decided to take a look at this year’s offerings but also to take the opportunity to visit the Royal Academy’s new and newly opened  extension

 This year’s show  was co-ordinated by Grayson Perry (everyone’s favourite modern potter and commentator) and he asked several of his fellow academicians to curate or co-curate each of the rooms. Inevitably they choose each other’s works so instead of the usual habit of clustering the recent works of say Ken Howard in one place they are scattered throughout. Each room is a glorious and colourful mixture of works and mediums (media?) from traditional oils and pencil sketches through to installations, videos and what one might loosely term sculptures. There is the usual room of architectural models both projects and familiar completed works. 

The downstairs of the Academy building has nine (?) large galleries grouped round a central octagonal room with several openings.  Upstairs were later opened the newer Sackler galleries – a more intimate space for smaller works and exhibitions. During the summer show this is largely for the open submissions – that is works sent in by the general public. To be honest the ‘hang’ (‘When did this become a noun?’ asked my linguist friend) is so dense it is somewhat off-putting and you would need to know what you were looking for to linger here…

The ‘new’ building is what I remember from the dim and distant past as the ethnographic and anthropological collections from the British museum. The only visit we made was on a rainy Sunday in winter when you could still park free and we plus two small children had an underwhelming and forgettable afternoon. Evidently the British Museum closed its ‘branch’ down and the building stood empty for some time.

The Royal Academy has therefore acquired a vast space, which must more than double its capacity.

Obviously there is additional space for toilets cafes, shops and meeting rooms for the Academicians and an impressive lecture hall. The staircase and stairwell is the size of a not so modest house.  The exterior has been cleaned and this work was still in progress. It will be interesting to see how the spaces will be used.  

The two buildings are connected by a tunnel and a bridge (lifts are provided for the short flights needed here) and the underground space – very crypt-like – is now cleaned exposed brick.  Currently this tunnel/corridor displays  the various statues and bodies ( some of them ‘flayed’ to expose the underlying musculature)  that the academy’s School has  used to teach ‘Life Drawing’. There will also be a space for the current students to display their work.

As you cross over you pass over a small bridge over a courtyard and enter into the next gallery so as to minimise the ‘break in continuity of the viewing experience.  If you then go down you can appreciate the full size of   the new acquisition.

So there you have it – a new museum/gallery for London.

The photos include some from the building and a very few of the most eye-catching pieces from the Summer Show – this year’s has been a good visit (it closes this weekend) as ‘there is something for everyone’ especially children as it offers variety rather than a serious themed contextualised educational offering.  Let’s hope the RA follows Perry’s example in future  Summer shows.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Horniman Museum & Gardens

100 London Road
Forest Hill
London SE23 3PQ
Friday August 3 2018      
                                                                                                                                                                   The  more alert amongst you will have noticed that
  1. We have not blogged for a while due to  holidays and hosting overseas visitors various and
  2. We have visited here before

However today’s visit was to look at a new feature in the Gardens – the Butterfly House – and the newly restored/re-opened World Gallery. 

The Butterfly House is  near the top exit and where the head groundsman’s house and garden used to be is now a glasshouse filled with temperate and tropical plants.  As you can imagine entering this when the outside temperature is already in the low thirties was just short of madness so we would advise a visit when the weather cools down. Brightness is helpful in order to see some of the more camouflaging species. There is a cost which can be combined with other attractions, such the Aquarium in the main building (also highly recommended), and a family ticket is the best value at £13-50.

For much of the visit we had the space to ourselves plus a few hundred butterflies – there is   always a very friendly and knowledgeable staff member on duty; today they were working in hourly shifts because of the heat but it is well worth speaking with them. While it was quiet we enjoyed the gentle sweep of the butterflies who seem unafraid of the human presence. These of course are tropical species and both larger and often more colourful than our own – there are plates of succulent fruit and they often pause to draw nourishment. Obviously – because they flit – it is quite hard to capture with a standard camera (not helped by the fact that my camera was reacting to the heat by going on periodic strike action).

Information boards explain the metamorphosis process – caterpillar to pupa to butterfly – and identify the dozen or so different varieties.  There is also an open cupboard where the ‘imported’ pupae hang.  Some of them (mainly the browner species) look a little 'moth-eaten' round the edges (nibbled) and do fall victim to both ants and an intruder mouse. Apparently they have no pain receptors so are not distressed by losing the edge of their wings but of course would die if they can no longer fly. The life-span is about three weeks (as a butterfly).  The staff keep a rough count by the number of corpses which they rescue before the public come in. Also they were able to indicate which caterpillars prefer which species of trees and we could see by the nibbled leaves what was popular – the butterflies are also quite tribal so keep to their own 
This was a strangely soothing yet interesting experience and one can but wonder at nature’s ingenuity and range. Among others we saw some Red Postmen, Blue Morphos, Owls (so aptly named) and Malachites – unsurprisingly the greeny ones.

We emerged through the double doors and headed downhill to the Main Museum. Since our last visit the World Gallery, which has been in the Victorian era main hall since Mr Horniman opened his ethnographic objects and stuffed animals to the public, there has been a makeover. To my best knowledge this is the third remodelling of these particular exhibits; when we first came to this area in the Seventies they were , I suspect, very much as he had left them, slightly dusty and lacking much context.  The Millennium saw the museum being extended and there was an emphasis on the African exhibits which were displayed more sympathetically and attractively.

The World Gallery only re-opened last month and to much acclaim and now brings together these African artefacts and others from round the World – the cases, which reach to the ground  so even crawling babies (and we tripped over one)  can see, are arranged both by continent and by theme accompanied by film variously of the objects in use, people speaking of their memories  of them, the personal significance of them plus films of the modern cultures which continue to use them. In short you can absorb as little or as much information as you wish. It was also reassuring to see some old familiar objects masks/puppets/ scrimshank  spruced up and given a fresh angle for the visitor to contemplate. Though not as famous as the overstuffed walrus, who at one time had his own website, there are several significant items that long time visitors to the Horniman would miss if not on display.

The Museum likes to emphasize the creativity and adaptability of  people round the world  and we particularly liked the old tins re-purposed as oil lamps,  and the advice not to worry too much….
However whether you are a regular or a first-time visitor you are sure to find something to entrance and interest you.