A Day Trip to Leeds

I took myself off to Leeds recently, my first time there and part of a post-lockdown plan to visit new places.  The atrocious traffic on the way and ferocious wind when I arrived nearly combined to make it a dismal day out.  But once I found my way to the Henry Moore Institute and the Leeds Art Gallery, which is right next-door, all was well again.  

The Portable Sculpture exhibition at the Institute was the main focus of the trip, my interest having been piqued by my own fold-up and boxed installations. But whereas my impetus is aesthetic and to some extent anti-monumentality, in this show the work reflects the personal circumstances of the artists, some of it linked to the tragedy of fleeing from war and extremism, or of having been prevented from returning home because of it. 

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Mohamad Hafez, A Refugee Nation

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Marcel Duchamp, Boite-en-Valise

Mohamad Hafez, for example, has created miniature worlds in battered suitcases, which detail the decimation of his native Syria.  And Hannelore Baron’s box constructions are a response to her traumatic childhood when she fled Nazi Germany – as are those by Louise Bourgeois, her Personages representing the people she left behind.  Marcel Duchamp also began making miniature museums of his work when it became apparent that he too would have to leave occupied France.  It was intriguing to have a close look at one of these Boites en Valises, which I’d never seen before, only images of them.  Here, it was the Green Box with one of his typically enigmatic titles, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even.  It included a miniature version of his infamous urinal.

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Charles Hewlings, Valley Suitcase

But as this show demonstrates there are many reasons for an artist to make portable work.  Alexander Calder designed his mobiles as flat packs way before the now ubiquitous Ikea ones for practical reasons, i.e. the air they occupy would have necessitated an inordinately large crate.  I particularly enjoyed Charles Hewlings’ Valley Suitcase, which had echoes for me of a 3-D Mondrian.  And of course there is digital work, which has become the ultimate transportable artwork.  Barry Flanagan was ahead of the game with his films of Hole in the Sea from 1969 and the Pythonesque Bollards Project a year later.  This still makes me laugh.  How did he get from such innovative work to hares?

One of the largest works is a customised caravan, Andrea Zittel’s A-Z Escape Vehicle.  Another is Claire Ashley’s huge inflatable Clown (Laughing Stock).  Neither of these stayed in my mind as long as the simplicity of Veronica Ryan’s hanging pillow cases, imbued with her own family history of sewing and containing a few hidden mango seeds that may germinate and emerge through the fabric.

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John Skeaping, Woman & Bird

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Brian Griffiths, Some Flowers

Next door in the Leeds Art Gallery there is a terrific variety of sculpture on display, though they comprise just a fraction of the 800 objects in the Gallery’s collection.  It was a treat to see a John Skeaping alabaster figure almost as soon as one enters the magnificent building – his Woman and Bird, c.1928.  I also enjoyed Brian Griffiths’ Some Flowers, made out of everyday discarded materials, and John Davies’ Three Heads made of wood, metal and plaster, which are so small they could easily be part of the portable exhibition.  Meanwhile, the mass display on one wall of portrait paintings contained works by some of my favourite artists, among them Keith Vaughan and Leon Kossoff.

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Portrait Wall, Leeds Art Gallery

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John Davies, Three Heads

A revelation to me was the Art Library, which I wandered into via the Gallery.  It was a few minutes before I realised that this was no ordinary public library but one dedicated entirely to art.  It boasts around 15,000 books available to loan, covering all aspects of art and design, fashion and graphic arts. There is also a large reference section that includes rare books as well as magazines, exhibition catalogues and sales guides.  By the time I stumbled across it, I wasn’t able to stay long enough to enjoy it to the full.  But it is inspirational and I will definitely plan to return during the dark days of autumn/winter, of which there is already a whiff in the air.

 

Of Barnacles and Statues

In all the time I have spent walking Crosby Beach in the company of Antony Gormley’s iron men, I hadn’t noticed that a few of the 100 figures were missing; no, not stolen, but keeled over and sunk deep into the black, quicksand mud, their concrete plinths having decayed.  Powerful metal detectors had to be used to find them, as they were no longer in the same location of their original GPS coordinates. When they were pulled from the mud, they looked more like the images of preserved bog men from centuries ago.  But these iron men have only been in place for 16 years, though Gormley hopes they will still be around for at least a thousand years, gradually eroding to resemble Giacometti’s skeletal sculptures.

smartThey were recovered during recent maintenance work, in which 50 of the figures at the Port end of the beach were removed so that new plinths could be made.

When the figures are in situ, especially those far out to sea, they can give one a heart-stopping moment as waves crash over their heads.  We are hard-wired to immediately think someone is in trouble. Even being familiar with the presence of the iron men, it can sometimes take a few seconds for the scene to be understood.  smartA similar human response to the figures came on seeing so many of them laid out flat on their backs.

This time the emotional disturbance was because they resembled bodies lined up in a makeshift morgue; laying them flat had dissipated their power – something iconoclasts have always known and a current example of which is the Edward Colston statue, toppled last year during Bristol’s BLM protest.  It now lies supine in the M Shed Museum in Bristol while its future is decided.

Gormley himself has been in Crosby overseeing the restoration of the figures and whilst not wanting to disturb him for too long when he was busy doing something very important with a theodolite, I did manage to ask him a couple of questions – whether it was just the plinths being replaced and whether all the entropic effects on the steel were to be retained? “Oh yes”, he confirmed, “every barnacle is precious. Only the plinths are being replaced”.  In the The Guardian interview he contradicted this but not to worry, barnacles are tenacious creatures so they’ll soon be back if they were cleaned off.smart

Whilst all the work was going on, pillars were placed to mark where each figure smarthad stood and it was interesting how these temporary objects seemed to retain some of the presence of Gormley’s men, like sentinels guarding their positions.  This also has an echo in the story of the Colston statue in that the empty plinth resonates with its history – recent and past.  People come to see it, recognising its emptiness as a symbol of an historic moment, in the same way as thousands queued to see the empty space where the Mona Lisa had hung after it was stolen from the Louvre in 1911.
Meanwhile, back on Crosby Beach, all 100 of the iron men from Another Place are now back in place, all facing West, all at the same horizon plane, all waiting for time and tide.

 

 

 

Italy in London

In between the lockdowns and the tiers I managed a day trip to London a few months ago, meeting up with a couple of friends to go to one of my favourite galleries, the Estorick, whose collection is made up entirely of modern Italian art. It was in fact the last actual exhibition I saw and the memory of it to has helped me through these art-starved months of Lockdown 3.  Even the claustrophobia-inducing masks and the social distancing couldn’t dampen our pleasure as we made our way round the exhibition, Italian Threads: MITA Textile Design 1926-76.

Estorick - Italian threadsWe learnt that MITA was a celebrated Italian textile firm, which collaborated with the country’s most talented artists.  This collaboration encompassed the avant-garde movements of the day from Futurism to Abstract Expressionism, with work by artists such as Arturo Martini, Amaldo Pomodoro and Gio Ponti.  Many of the artists were unknown to me and yet it was interesting how familiar were the designs and colours.  I thought this was perhaps largely due to the on-going appeal of retro furnishings, particularly from the inter-war years.

The firm had a remarkable output and the Gallery has managed to convey a sense of this diversity without the rooms being over-crowded.  The exhibition features original works, designs, swatch books, rugs, carpets, printed fabrics as well as other work by the artists involved.  One of the intriguing destinations for the firm’s fabrics was the luxury liner market, which one artist described as “floating art galleries”.

 

smartOne of the pleasures of being in the Estorick, is that the exhibition programme is always complemented in other rooms by works from their permanent collection.  It is a wax and plaster sculpture that always lifts my heart.  It was made in 1893 by Medardo Rosso, entitled Impressions of the Boulevard, Woman with a Veil.  One can find detailed biographies of all the Estorick artists on their website and the one for Rosso tells us that in his work he attempted to “capture fleeting expressions” and “to establish a new relationship between the figure and its environment, endowing ‘empty’ space with tangible form”.  To my mind this is all dramatically achieved in the Woman with a Veil.  I particularly love how from the back you can see the hollowness and the negative form of the plaster cast.

smartAn artist whose work I hadn’t seen before was Emilio Greco, whose dynamic ink drawings I found really appealing.  There was also a large sculpture by him, which at first glance looked as if there was the head of another person behind her.
But it turned out to be a large ‘bun’ of her hair.  smartThe hands are also sculpturally unusual in that
they are quite flat, as if they are pressed into her flesh.

A totally unexpected treat was a display of small etchings by Giorgio Morandi, all showing his exquisite attention to the detail in humble objects.  I hadn’t known that printmaking was such an important part of his practice and in my ignorance had only thought of him as the master of still life painting.

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Days after my visit, the Gallery had to close again but when it re-opens (hopefully in May), the Italian Textiles exhibition will still be on as it has been extended until 20 June 2021.  More information can be found here The Gallery has a beautiful garden and a good café, plus a small bookshop.

 

 

Cherry Picker Sheltering from the Rain

It looks here as if I haven’t written anything for months, so I thought I’d add this link to a piece I wrote for Art in Liverpool, which tells something of my time spent during lockdown. It focuses on my daily walks to Crosby Beach in the company of Antony Gormley’s iron men – Lockdown Walking to Another Place.

Meanwhile, much more exciting, at least to me, is that the outside of the house where I live is being painted. Today, rain stopped play, as they say, and the large “cherry picker” brought in to reach the gutters and the top windows, was temporarily grounded.  smartThe decorators used all their dust sheets to cover it, seemingly to hide it in case a passing somebody might decide to take it for a joy ride.  

The result of the disguise is, I think, visually brilliant – straight out of art history’s draped sculpture tradition.  I love that it looks as if there’s a whole crowd of people sheltering under there, or anyway, definitely not practising social distancing.  Often in ancient draped 1st century Roman alabaster draped female torsosculptures of the human form it was only the tips of the feet that were visible, and here, as if to emulate that, you can just glimpse one of the machine’s wheels.  

A few years ago a 1st century Roman alabaster draped female figure, part of The Geddes Collection (left), was sold at Bonham’s London Auction House for £27,000.  I don’t think my cherry picker will quite reach that amount! The tradition of draped figures continues with modern sculptors such as Henry Moore and Ralph Brown – whilst the artist, Alison Watt, has produced exquisite huge paintings of the drapery itself, sometimes enlarging a small detail of folds from a work by an Old Master.  I was fortunate to see one of these frequently when I lived in Edinburgh – it is called “Still” and is on permanent display at Old St Paul’s Church, just near Waverley Station.  

The church itself was built as a memorial to all the young men from the Parish who died during WW1. Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh, describes the painting thus: “There is a sense of latency and loss in the painting; but it also establishes a feeling of hope, a sense that, against all hope, hope yet remains”. And in these strange and unsettling times of the Covid 19 pandemic, hope is definitely something to hold onto.

Sand, Sisyphus and Sculpture

Sisyphean TractorOn Crosby Beach there is a tractor driver whose job it is to scoop up the sand that has encroached on the coastal paths and deposit it back on the beach.  Each day the wind and tide move it inland again.  Every time I see him at work, it puts me in mind of the Greek mythological legend of Sisyphus, which is, of course, a metaphor for the futility of so many things in life.  He was condemned to repeat into eternity the task of pushing an immense boulder up a hill, only for it to roll down again when it nears the top.  The parallel of trying to hold back the sand on the beach is obvious; and yet, as with a lot of daily chores and tasks that have an endless cycle of repetition, without them being carried out chaos could easily ensue.  And I suppose that at least this one has the benefit of being carried out in a beautiful location.

Manchester Sculpture GeneralAway from such philosophical musings, I recently had the pleasure of going to Manchester’s City Gallery for the first time.  It is another of the majestic buildings, in which the North West of England is so rich.  I went to see a sculpture exhibition, Out of the Crate, which turned out to be a real gem. 

The aim of it is to provide the viewer with an opportunity to investigate sculpture through access to stored collections andCrated Sculpture archival material.  It has been set out over three rooms so that it is part exhibition, part storage room and part research space.  There are works in a wide range of materials, including marble, bronze, wood, glass, ceramic and paper, in a variety of sizes and shapes and different techniques of making.

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Seated Youth by Alfred Stevens

Like most galleries and museums, the City Gallery has a large collection of works that have rarely been seen this century.  Less than 3 percent have been on display but with this exhibition there is a chance to see a quarter of the 500 sculptures in the collection.  It is like being given privileged access to the storeroom.  Objects are displayed on industrial racks, in glass-fronted cupboards, on pallets and in open crates. They are grouped according to size and/or material and weight.  This is in contrast to the conventional gallery display when the curators are more usually guided by themes or chronology.  

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Nude by Henri Gaudier-Brezska

One of the first sculptures one comes upon is Rodin’s Portrait of Victor Hugo.  It is almost more powerful to see it contained in a crate, heavily strapped in, as if it were the only way to control its immense energy.  All the big names are here, ranging from antiquity to the present day.  There are also works by several sculptors I hadn’t heard of before, among them Alan Lydiat Durst, Elizabeth Andrews and Maria Petrie.  The latter’s Portrait Study was one of my favourites, but if I’d had to choose one to take home with me it would have been Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s Nude, a beautiful small study in white marble.  

There are several excellent examples of work by Alfred Stevens, the British sculptor born into the 19th century but who lived through modernist era to 1970. Barbara Hepworth’s Doves are touching in their simplicity and tenderness and reminded me of the pair of collar doves that frequent my garden. One of the most affecting scenes was to see one of them put its wing around the other as if in a loving embrace.

The research room has been set up like a detective’s cold case crime scene, with sculptures about which little is known under investigation.  The public’s help is sought here in helping the gallery find out not only the provenance of the pieces but in some cases the artist and/or the sitter. In opening up this research process more publicly, the aim is also to consider how a public gallery and its users can care for and use collections. 

I spent so long in this exhibition, thrilled to find such an eclectic collection of sculptures on display, that I only had time for a quick look at the rest of the gallery.  Ho hum.  I’ll just have to go back, which I can definitely say will be no great hardship.

 

Transit of Venus

Amongst the many historic Liverpool “firsts” listed on the towering wall in the city’s Central Library are the words “Transit of Venus”.  I wasn’t entirely sure what lay behind these three words but discovered that they point to the story of a young man from early 17th century Toxteth who shook the astronomy theory of his time with his accurate prediction of when the planet Venus would move across the Sun.  His observations led to him being known as the founder of modern astronomy on a global scale. The young man’s name was Jeremiah Horrocks and nearly 400 years since his prediction, a crowd funding campaign has begun to erect a life-size statue in Liverpool that will celebrate his achievements.

The impetus for the statue has come from a Liverpool sculptor and artist, Philip Garrett, whose art practice focuses Jeremiah Horrocks Maquette copyon neglected, important figures from the city’s history.  No known image of Horrocks exists but Garrett has already made a maquette that represents him as a young man, dressed in the clothes of the time and holding a cross staff, the instrument he used to help make his calculations.  Garrett says Horrocks is worth celebrating now because he would be inspirational for young people of today: “He was only 22 when he died, yet in his brief life he changed the course of Science.  A statue in the public domain would inspire future generations and be a reminder that someone from a humble background achieved greatness and influenced the rest of the world”.

Astronomical Historian, Dr. Allan Chapman, of Oxford’s Wadham College, is also enthusiastic in his support of the initiative: “Jeremiah Horrocks was one of the founders of British science, a true pioneer of astronomy as an accurate, instrument-based science.  His observation of the 1639 Transit of Venus, with his Salford astronomer friend, William Crabtree, would serve as a model for precise telescopic observation, and interpretation. All his brilliant, original work was being done between the ages of 15 and 22 – ages which today, would be spent gaining GCSE’s and doing an undergraduate degree. Horrocks was the Einstein of the early 17th century”.

It is well documented that sculpture has the power to transform the site where it is located and can act as a catalyst for social interaction, that people connect better to a place when it contains a work of art.  A statue of Jeremiah Horrocks would do this and also inspire those who see it to believe that great things are possible whatever one’s background.

The launch of the fund raising campaign is to be held in the Hornby Room of the city’s Central Library on 30 November 2019 at 14.45.  Guest speakers include Dr. Chapman and the Author & Film Director, Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Updates and more information can be found on the Campaign’s Facebook Page

 

Yorkshire Sculpture International

The approach by road to the Hepworth Wakefield goes through an unpromising industrial area. But once there and you start up the walkway to this 2017 Museum of the Year, it becomes obvious why the location was chosen.  The contemporary concrete and glass design by David Chipperfield Architects sits on the city’s historic waterfront overlooking the River Calder.  The positioning of the building stunningly exploits the vista from both outside and in.

Until the end of September 2019, the Museum is one of four venues making up the Yorkshire Sculpture International, the others being the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Henry Moore Institute, and Leeds City Art Gallery.

So far I’ve only been to the Wakefield and the work that appealed to me the most was by Iranian-born, Nairy Baghramian,Hepworth Wakefield - Nairy Baghramian 2 who lives and works in Berlin.  Here, she combines four material elements: large, rough sheets of raw aluminium casts, pastel-coloured wax forms and lacquer painted industrial clamps with cork.

Hepworth Wakefield - Nairy Baghramian 1The way she uses the braces to lean two contrasting slabs towards each other evokes a figurative, human tenderness. I spent ages in this gallery, enjoying how she uses space and light in the forms, as well as the contrast and juxtaposition of the edges – the softness of the wax nearly touching the ragged edges of the aluminium casts.  The apparent permanence of the wax form is an illusion because, of course, if the polishing were repeated ad infinitum, the form, despite its size, would eventually disappear.

Repetition is a key element in Wolfgang Laib’s installations; he regards it (repetition) as “the most beautiful thing that exists.” This idea is connected to the Buddhist and Hindu philosophy that there is no beginning and no end, that there is an eternal recurrence of the same.  Laib sees his work as a process of participation with his materials, which are usually organic, living substances – beeswax, milk, pollen, and rice. As sculpture, he says, they make a “field of energy”, concerned, as is all his work, not with creation but “the search for an entrance or a passage to another world.”

In Laib’s new installation at the Wakefield, Without Space – Without Time – Without Body, rice is the key element that Laib wants to act as the conduit to this other realm.  Hepworth Wakefield - W. LaibThere are hundreds of little mounds of it laid out in a grid that fills the gallery, interrupted by a few pieces of roughly hewn, ash-covered granite, that have echoes of ancient tombs.

I was looking forward to seeing this installation, being drawn to some aspects of Buddhist philosophy and also to minimalism in visual art.  However, I realised once I stood before it that I am ambivalent about food being used in art.  Perhaps because of this I couldn’t quite believe that this work lived up to Laib’s creed that art is a form of “transcendent spiritual healing and sustenance”.  That said, it has set me off on a path of examining the history of food and art, of exploring the morality of it and of attempting to understand the artists’ motives.

This Museum is named after the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, who was born and brought up in Wakefield.  It is a magnificent space for her work, with even the largest of her pieces having room to boast its monumentality.  There are also dedicated galleries exploring Hepworth’s art and working process.  Plus, the Museum is home to Wakefield’s impressive collection of works by other modern British artists, among them Ben Nicholson, Patrick Heron and Henry Moore. In addition, it has works by significant contemporary artists such as Frank Auerbach, Maggi Hambling, and Eva Rothschild, all of which are frequently on show, some permanently.

It is a joy to spend time in this Museum at any time but especially so for the next few months with this rare opportunity to see such a wide range of sculpture, some of it specially commissioned for this Festival.

Finding a way through the hype

One of the critical thinking tasks we were set at Art College was to write a review of an artwork that was the antithesis of what we liked.  It was a useful exercise because it forced us to look at the piece beyond personal taste and to focus instead on everything else: its context, the artist’s intent, the subject matter, the medium, the choice of materials, and so on.  

So it was in this frame of mind that I went to see the Keith Haring exhibition at Tate Liverpool, the first major UK showing of his work.  From the images I had seen, his work did not appeal to me in the slightest.  Something of my hesitancy on entering the exhibition must have shown; in an unsolicited comment, the gallery invigilator assured me that it wasn’t all to his taste but that the show had rightly received critical acclaim and he was sure I would come out the other end having found something positive.

UnknownUsually, I don’t read the Tate booklets until after I’ve seen an exhibition, wanting to experience the work without being influenced by someone else’s thinking.  But on this occasion it was more of a visual dictionary of the symbols that relentlessly appear in all Haring’s work, with quotes from him about why he uses them.  This was helpful because it gave some insight into their importance to him and why he used them so consistently throughout his short life.  

The Nuclear symbol, for example, came out of his experience of living through the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis and then in 1979 the USA’s worst nuclear reactor accident at Three Mile Island, which was not far from Haring’s hometown. Haring said: “Living under the threat of possible destruction in the form of nuclear war, etc., the most important thing to me is the present”.  

These notes went someway to contextualising the many facets of Haring’s activism, but it was the films of him working that finally gave me a way in to his art.  The performative element is what is missing in the paintings, which have been isolated from their context on the gallery walls.  In the films one sees the energy, the conviction and assuredness in all the mark-making, with the performance being an integral part of the outcome.  

In one film there is a superb dancer in the foreground, with Haring energetically painting away in the background, two performances almost choreographed but with Haring’s history of spontaneity, probably not.  In another film there is Grace Jones in 1987, on very high stilts wearing a ball-gown with a huge black and white skirt painted by Haring. Another film is typical of Jones’s bravado, showing Haring painting her near-naked body.

A lot of Haring’s output was shown in nightclubs and it is these that work best in this exhibition, where the Tate has recreated the context.  There is a prescient tribute to Gloria Vanderbilt, the American artist, author, actress, fashion designer, heiress, and socialite who died last month (June 2019).  It shows Haring dancing, laughing and kissing the lens until it is smeared with lipstick and his own image obscured.  In another club reconstruction, there is a room flooded with UV light and thumping 80’s soundtrack.  The UV effect took me back to my own disco days when the lights showed up every fleck of dust if you wore black and made your skin look tanned if you wore white.

At his peak, the streets and subways of New York were Haring’s canvases; his politically-charged art was everywhere, including in galleries.  I thought he would find it ironic for his work to be exhibited at somewhere as mainstream and prestigious as the Tate.  But it seems not.  Apparently he always wanted to make money and to be famous, very much enjoying being a gallery artist as well as being known on the street. 

But over and above all were the causes he sought to highlight through his art: equal rights, anti-racism, anti-nuclear and in his last years, against the prejudice surrounding HIV Aids, which led to his own death in 1990.   Sadly, these are all concerns that are relevant today and are still in need of such activism. 

The insistent sameness of Haring’s symbols was a stumbling block for me, seeming more like a brand or a logo than an artistic expression.  But in the end what came out of this exhibition was that the art itself couldn’t and shouldn’t be separated from the issues or its context. Coincidentally, this is one of the main aims of the Haring Foundation, which supports arts and educational institutions by funding exhibitions, educational programs, and publications that serve to contextualize and illuminate the artist’s work and philosophy.

 

Exploring the arts in Liverpool

Trying to keep up with all the cultural events in and around Merseyside is almost a full-time job; a dream of a job, one might say.  There are highs and lows culturally, as with anywhere, but the diversity and range of exhibitions and festivals means there is always something new to discover.  

One highlight was Liverpool’s free, one-night arts event, LightNight.  This is an international festival when over 100 venues and organisations all over the city collaborate to create a trail of events with talks, workshops, performance, live music and more that goes on well into the night.  Thankfully, the weather behaved itself and early on when the sun was out it was relaxing being able to amble about instead of hurrying along, head down, to get out of the cold.  One of my sisters was visiting and our first stop was the Bombed Out Church on Leece Street, where an array of food stalls had been set up.  The accompaniment to our snack was a heart-warming performance by the Liverpool Signing Choir, something we’d never seen before.  It was entrancing and such an affecting coming together of deaf and hearing children and adults, using two universal languages of signing and music.  

The Bombed Out Church appeals very much to my philosophy of allowing buildings and objects to reflect their history rather than “papering over the cracks”.  The website dedicated to this early 19th century church, St Luke’s, explains that it was gutted during WW2 bombing and the decision was taken not to restore it but to make it safe and keep it as a place for everyone, as it had always been.  Since 2007 it has been operating as a “managed ruin”, a multi-disciplinary arts venue with a programme of curated events, community engagement and creative learning projects.  

A request from a visiting friend to see the city’s Anglican cathedral meant that I finally stood in front of Tracey Emin’s pink neon light Emin in Cathedralinstallation, I Felt You And I Knew You Loved Me.  The location of the piece on the red sandstone wall above  the West doors gives it space and dignity and it makes an intriguing juxtaposition with the stained glass windows above.  It is an inspired response from the artist to the vast hall and an imaginative commission from the church.  Its appeal for me is that the wording is ambiguous, in that it could equally be referring to a human love as a god’s.

Antony Gormley’s, Another Place, continues to be a constant in my life with daily walks on Crosby Beach. And yet here too there is always something different to observe.  I don’t just mean the effects of the tide and weather on the figures but the way people interact with them.  This ranges from awe to irreverence to emulation.  A gallery in Crosby is selling small, cut-out rusty metal replicas of the figures and photographs of the casts are frequently used by local businesses in advertising.  One of the most amusing of these I saw recently was a removal company called “Another Place” … the slogan being “we’ll get you from one place to another”.

 

Beyoncé’s Library and Paddy’s Wigwam

Liverpool is proving to be an alluring destination for friends and family, so I’m pleased to say I’ve had a good number of visitors in the short time I’ve been here.  Sometimes they have specific things they want to see but usually they leave it up to me to give my newcomer’s tour.  This always takes in the city’s Central Library and the Metropolitan Cathedral, both of which are works of architectural art.  The response from my visitors is always the same as my own when I first walked into them – that of dumbstruck amazement, quickly followed by the words “colourful” and “joyful”.  

As the doors to the main 19th century Library building swish open, one is met with a vast, light-filled, oval central atrium extending several floors up to a roof terrace.  This spectacular design is the result of a makeover, only completed five years ago.  I love the quote from Frank Cottrell Boyce, which brilliantly sums up the transformation: “It’s like going to meet your Gran and finding she’s turned into Beyoncé”.  At a time when libraries all over the country are under threat, or have already closed, it is heart-warming to see such investment and vision of what a library can be.  On the first floor is the original 19th century Picton Reading Room, which was modelled on the British Museum’s.  This is also light-filled via an exquisite domed ceiling and there are wrought-iron spiral staircases around the room providing access to two more floors. It is the most inspiring and beautiful library I have ever been in.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral copy

Light from one of the stained glass windows floods the circular benches in the Metropolitan Cathedral (Click on image to enlarge)

Finding the Metropolitan Cathedral is not difficult but I did lose my bearings the other day and the man I asked for directions needed me to be specific given that, in the words of the late Pete McGovern’s song, Liverpool has a “Cathedral to spare” – one either end of the aptly-named Hope Street.  “Do you mean the wigwam?”  I did indeed; for this is the nickname locals have given the circular Cathedral with its external crown – Paddy’s Wigwam to give it the full, refreshingly irreverent title. It is adorned with the most extraordinary contemporary art, inside and out.  I was going to say ‘religious’ contemporary art but some of the works, especially the towering coloured glass columns outside the Cathedral, would easily transfer to a secular setting. They are by the late German artist, Raphael Seitz, who was recognised internationally as a master of colour and light.  So far I’ve only witnessed them come alive under the effect of Winter’s setting sun, so I’m looking forward to seeing them in the changing seasons.  Inside, the Cathedral manages to maintain a contemplative minimalism whilst also being embellished with a plethora of contemporary artefacts.  There’s so much art to talk about that I want to write more in the future – taking in the Anglican Cathedral’s collection at the same time; Tracey Emin’s neon installation, For You, being the latest piece.