art

London: Hogarth and Europe @ Tate Britain

Here’s another one of those early modern exhibitions I was talking about in my previous post, and this one is firmly in my wheelhouse: Hogarth and Europe: Uncovering City Life at Tate Britain (which runs until 20th March 2022 and costs £18 to enter, or £9 with Art Pass). I absolutely love William Hogarth. I took a course on Restoration and 18th century literature as an undergrad, which was my first real exposure to the long 18th century from a non-biased perspective (the American 18th century history that you learn in school tends to be mainly about the American Revolution and the evils of the British), and I completely fell in love with the Georgians. They were just so fun compared to the boring Puritans of the 17th century (and the dour Victorians, but their obsession with death is what I love about them, so I’m not going to rag too much on that), and the cartoonists of the 18th century, including Hogarth, were a huge part of what makes them fun, so I was pretty excited to see this exhibition and enjoy something a bit lighter than the predictable but sad end to the Elizabeth and Mary exhibition at the BL I’d seen the week before.

 

However, Hogarth, though he included comic touches in many of his works, was more than just a satirist. He was also a moraliser, and this exhibition dwelt on not only his political and ethical views, but also the relationship between Britain, Europe, and the transatlantic slave trade. When looking up the exhibition to refresh my memory in order to write this post, I stumbled upon some newspaper reviews, and man, they were not happy at all about the slave trade angle. Part of me can kind of see their point, since Hogarth, as far as I know, had no direct involvement in the slave trade, other than enjoying a higher standard of living as a result of the increased range of products and wealth available because of forced labour in the colonies, which was true of basically everyone in Britain at that point, but another part of me absolutely gets what the Tate is trying to do. If you’re talking about an artist and how he fits into the wider world of the 18th century, it only makes sense to mention the slave trade, since it played such an integral part in shaping society. And you do see the physical marks of slavery in Hogarth’s paintings in a very direct way. He often depicts Black servants with a silver collar around their neck, which was a direct mark of ownership, and deeply disturbing once you start noticing it. Honestly, I thought the commentary on slavery was interesting and it was not anywhere near as distracting or obtrusive as many of the professional reviewers seemed to find it, but I do write purely for my own enjoyment rather than to push a specific angle, so I can be as honest as I like. I can’t say the same for journalists working for right-leaning publications.

 

I also don’t think it detracts from Hogarth’s work to point out examples of his hypocrisy. Yes, he was flawed, but who isn’t, and learning about his personal beliefs adds even more dimension to his work. I think Hogarth is fascinating because of these contradictions. He called out the ills of society and the class system whilst being firmly Establishment, particularly in his later years. He seemed to be somewhat pro-women’s rights, through his pointing out the evils of forced prostitution and arranged marriages, but he also painted pictures that played into horrible Georgian ideas of women enjoying rape, particularly his racist portrayal of a Black sex worker “luring” men into an orgy. He seemed to have an affinity for the lower classes, often portraying them sympathetically, and fostering a number of foundling children with his wife, but also mocked people he saw as members of the non-deserving poor, i.e. alcoholics or the “idle”.

 

But that’s enough about the politics, let’s get down to the paintings and the engravings! The main reason to love Hogarth is for his work, and there were some great pieces on display here. You can view most of his famous engravings at various museums in London in print form, and of course I’ve seen them many times before, but I always enjoy an opportunity to look at them again because the level of detail means I’ll pick up things I’ve missed in the past. Usually, it’s whatever is going on with the background figures, which pretty much always includes a dog or cat (or more depressingly, an enslaved person), like the dog in the picture above left, who is dressed up like a human and standing on his hind legs. I also love Trump, Hogarth’s pug, who was a pug back before pugs had been bred into the completely flat faced things that struggle to breathe that they are today. He’s also probably the only thing named Trump that you will ever hear me speaking affectionately towards. Trump appears in one of Hogarth’s most famous self-portraits, but you’ll also spy dogs that look very much like him hidden in the corners of some of Hogarth’s other works.

 

Hogarth was also known for the deliberately uncomplimentary way he approached portraiture of the rich and famous, and it was trendy amongst the upper classes to have their portraits painted by Hogarth just to see how unflatteringly realistic he would make them. I particularly like the reverend with devil horns and an ass’s ears. His most famous moralising works were here too, including Gin Lane and Beer Street, Marriage a-la-Mode, The Rake’s Progress, The Harlot’s Progress, and many more. These are all great, but I actually prefer some of the lesser known (and less moralising ones) like The Enraged Musician (I wrote a paper on it for my MA), which was here too (the print, not my paper, obviously).

 

I was clearly very keen on the Hogarth parts of the exhibition, but I was less enthused by the Europe bits. These were meant to show how Hogarth influenced and was influenced by various European painters (to make him seem less of a John Bull type, which I guess can happen when you spend a lot of your career painting offensive caricatures of the French), but most of the other artists didn’t do a whole lot for me, save for the Dutch guy (whose name I can’t remember) who painted a bared buttocks with a face on it being hung out of a window (so my type of low-brow humour!). I did like the giant maps in the section on various European cities, including Amsterdam, Venice, Paris, and London, though London is really the only one of those cities I know well enough to have been able to make comparisons between the 18th century layout and the present day. Overall though, I don’t think the “Europe” part of the title added much value to the exhibition, and I would have preferred if it had been on Hogarth alone with a more in-depth look at 18th century British society, which would also have made the role of slavery in the British Empire a more natural inclusion.

 

Simply because I love Hogarth and his work so much, I did slightly prefer this to the Elizabeth and Mary exhibition at the BL, though speaking as someone who is well-versed in the period, and contrary to the opinions of the professional critics mentioned earlier, I think they could have dug even deeper below the surface with their analysis of many of the pieces on display here. There are many details in Hogarth’s works that would have been obvious to his contemporary viewers, but aren’t easily apparent to modern ones, and I think the exhibition could have done a better job of pointing these out. Some of the works didn’t have any real interpretation at all other than commentary from a modern artist saying what they thought of the painting, which isn’t massively useful when it comes to understanding Hogarth’s work. The work itself though: *chef’s kiss*. Great selection, and I could absolutely have looked at this stuff all day if there had been fewer people waiting their turn (still nowhere near as crowded as Paula Rego though). 4/5.

 

London: Hokusai The Great Picture Book of Everything @ the BM

If you’re like me, you probably mainly know Hokusai from The Great Wave, but he also produced a number of brush drawings, which are featured in the British Museum’s Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything exhibition, running until 20th January 2022. The exhibition page on the British Museum’s website made it look like there were lots of demon and animal drawings involved, so I decided to head out to see it, despite it being held in the dreaded Room 90, which is very probably the farthest spot away from the museum’s entrance. Be prepared to climb LOTS of stairs (I think there probably is a lift somewhere, but I’m clearly a glutton for punishment)!

  

Having braved the security shed and the many flights of stairs (not always the easiest feat in a mask – I’m very pro-mask, but does anyone else find when that when you exert yourself and try to take a deep breath, the whole mask gets sucked into your mouth and makes hard to breathe? I find the same thing happens when I get excited and talk too fast, so I’m probably just doing something wrong), we arrived at the exhibition. I don’t think the British Museum strictly requires pre-booking anymore, but I’ve gotten in the habit and have just carried on. Tickets are £9, or £4.50 with Art Pass, which is relatively cheap for the BM, but I’ve been to lots of exhibitions in Room 90 that were free, so I think it’s a bit pricey given the size of the space.

 

The exhibition was mainly centred around the walls of the gallery, which meant lots of queuing, or if you’re me, getting annoyed and just going around the exhibition in non-sequential order by popping over to wherever I saw a gap. Layout aside, the drawings themselves were actually pretty great. This particular collection was produced between 1820 and 1840 for an illustrated encyclopaedia called The Great Picture Book of Everything, but the book was never actually published. I’m not sure how these drawings were saved, since the exhibition implied that drawings of this nature would normally have been destroyed after the woodblocks had been completed, but the British Museum somehow acquired them, and here we are.

 

As I was hoping, there was indeed a large selection of animal drawings, and I particularly liked the elephant and the camel. Though there were a few wordier display cases that talked about the techniques Hokusai used to create his works, there wasn’t quite as much text under each individual image as I would have liked, some simply stating what was in the picture rather than an explanation that provided context.

 

This was especially noticeable in Hokusai’s drawings of ghosts and demons, which I loved, but I’m fascinated by folklore, and I couldn’t help wanting to know more. “The head of Meijian Chi springs from a boiling cauldron and takes revenge on his enemies,” which was under the image on the left, above, was simply not enough for me to go on. I want to know the whole damn story!

 

I was also disappointed by the small scale of the exhibition – I get that it was only meant to be in Room 90, but there is actually another room attached to Room 90 that is part of the same gallery. I have definitely seen this utilised in other exhibitions, but on the day of our visit, it held drawings of Switzerland (to be fair, I did enjoy these, especially the comic ones, but I felt like they should have been using the space for the paid exhibition).

 

I suppose because it is by far Hokusai’s most famous piece, there was a small display on The Great Wave at the back of the exhibition that discussed the woodblock printing process used for Hokusai’s work, and how experts can tell when each copy was created by the degree of detail remaining in the woodblock. This was interesting, but didn’t have much to do with the rest of the exhibition, and felt more like an attempt to flesh it out more than anything else.

 

I loved Hokusai’s drawings, and I think the exhibition made an interesting point about how his work, which often featured people and animals from other countries, showed that Japan was less insular in this period than previously thought, but I just don’t think there was enough here to justify the price tag. Better to have made this a free exhibition or only charged about a fiver (which to be fair, is about what I paid, but only because I have an Art Pass). 2.5/5.

Chiddingstone, Kent: Chiddingstone Castle and Village

After years of visiting Perryhill Orchards Farmshop every autumn to stock up on their russet cloudy apple juice (still not as good as apple cider, but the closest I can manage to find ’round these parts), I thought I had already seen almost every attraction the surrounding area had to offer, but I was wrong. Chiddingstone Castle and Chiddingstone Village were just hiding away, silently chiding me for not visiting (this is a bit of a pun, as you’ll see).

  

Chiddingstone Castle is located in west Kent, and apparently has been there in some form or another since Tudor times, but the current building is mainly Victorian. It was the home of the Streatfeild family (looks like it’s spelled wrong, but it’s not) until they could no longer afford the property taxes/upkeep, and it was purchased in 1955 by the eccentric Denys Eyre Bower, who was a collector and attempted murderer, but I’ll get to that later on. The house is owned by a trust, since the National Trust didn’t want it (they rejected the museum I work at too – maybe if they weren’t so picky they’d have a more varied portfolio of properties), and costs £9.50 to enter (no Art Pass discount here).

  

Bower seemingly had a wide range of interests, but most of the pieces he collected were Japanese, Ancient Egyptian, Tudor, or Stuart, and he was a practicing Buddhist (except for the attempted murder bit, which doesn’t feel very in keeping with Buddhist ideals), so also collected some Buddhist objects. The collections are mainly segregated into their own rooms now, though apparently when Bower lived there it was more of a crazy mishmash with stuff everywhere (also very much like the museum I work at – I wonder if the owners knew each other, since they were roughly contemporaries).

  

We started with the Japanese room, which ended up being one of my favourite sections. I love Japanese armour (and medieval armour for that matter – I think I just like armour!) and the cool demon masks, though I have to say the most interesting and creepiest things here were the fully articulated models of various insects and animals. The dragon and peacock were really cool. The rest creeped me out, especially assuming they moved like their insect counterparts when you picked them up (that centipede – ugh!), but I have to admit that the craftsmanship was absolutely incredible.

 

The Stuart collection was where some of Denys’s, shall we say, eccentricities started to come through. The reason he was interested in the Stuarts was because he believed he was a reincarnation of Bonnie Prince Charlie (I’ve seen photos, and bonny Bower was not), and so he was obsessed with James II and his spawn. He even had actual relics of James II, including a box that contained a segment of his heart, as well as a locket with some blood and hair.

 

The Ancient Egyptian collection was probably the most extensive, but I do fear much of it was obtained through unethical means, as was common practice at the time. I can’t deny that it would be cool to have a sarcophagus in one’s home, but it sure wouldn’t feel great morally. However, Bower did get swindled into buying reproduction pieces on some occasions (which the signage pointed out), so I guess there was a small degree of comeuppance.

 

The house itself was fairly unremarkable in décor, basically your standard Victorian slightly shabby country home, though I sense upkeep wasn’t particularly high on Bower’s list of priorities, especially after he got sent to Wormwood Scrubs. Yes, finally time to talk about the murder! Various interpretation panels scattered throughout the house vaguely alluded to Bower having spent time in prison, but didn’t get down to brass tacks until we were nearly through the house, when we came across a small room devoted solely to Bower and his life and finally learned some of the juicy bits. When Bower was in his fifties, he was dating a woman in her twenties, and he threatened to kill himself if she ever left him (I’ve been in a relationship like that, and it was no picnic). To drive the point home, he brought a gun to her house, where it “accidentally” went off (or so he claimed) and shot his girlfriend, who was luckily only injured, and he then tried to kill himself but failed at that too. He was eventually sentenced to life in prison for attempted murder and attempted suicide, but an influential lawyer took on his case and got him released after he served only five years, and I have to say that even when he was in prison, he seemed to have a fairly cushy time of it, as he was able to expand his book collection by a couple hundred volumes sent directly to him in prison.

  

I could have dealt with his other eccentricities (the reincarnation thing is harmless enough), but hearing the story of his attempted murder put me right off him. He absolutely sounds like an abusive creep. He was also married twice (before the whole murder thing) and there were photos of his wives in the museum (above the previous paragraph). I have to say they both looked much too good for him – very pretty and much younger than he was from the looks of it – so I’m glad they eventually wised up and left him. Even though I have taken strongly against Bower the man, I do admit that I definitely liked elements of his collection and the house, particularly the women’s toilet, which had a lovely wide wooden seated Victorian pullchain model that made me feel like I was sitting on a throne. I love a good toilet.

  

On the day we visited (which also happened to be one of their last open days this year. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until spring if you want to visit), they were closing early for a wedding, so we had to give the café a miss, even though I was most enticed by the toasted crumpets with honey. Love tea and crumpets. However, we did give ourselves enough time to explore the “Fields of Eternity” Ancient Egyptian grass maze, which I absolutely loved the sound of, but it was sadly underwhelming. The description made it sound like a maze that would lead you through various parts of a pyramid and the Egyptian underworld, but all it turned out to be was some overgrown grass that was so mashed down it didn’t look like much of anything. It was essentially just walking through a field with some signs in it. The grounds as a whole are nothing spectacular; there’s a wooded bit, and a grassy bit, but no formal gardens to speak of. There is an orangery, but we couldn’t go in it as it was full of people standing around the edges blocking the entrances who just stared at us when we attempted to approach, so we gave up. For the price, I do think the house is worth seeing, because I really liked the Japanese and Stuart collections and Bower was certainly an unusual man, if not a particularly nice one. 3/5.

 

Very near Chiddingstone Castle (you can walk there if you don’t have to vacate the carpark for an event like we did) is Chiddingstone Village, home to a Tudor shopping street with what claims to be the oldest working shop in Britain (est. 1453, but I have seen other places attempt to claim that title, so I don’t know if it’s actually the oldest). The whole street is owned by the National Trust (apparently that was good enough for them but not the castle), who I presume rent out the buildings to other businesses, as the café certainly wasn’t National Trust. Because we didn’t have time to have tea at the castle, and because it had started pissing it down, we decided to have tea here, but it was a bit of an experience. They were quite busy, so just ignored us for a while when we walked in before telling us to sit anywhere. There wasn’t room inside, so we went out to the covered patio, but every open table was absolutely covered in other people’s dishes and food detritus. I’m not just talking cups, but actual gross bits of food and liquid spilt everywhere. Staff members came out at various times to grab chairs or see to the other tables, but no one ever came to bus our table, so we ended up just moving everything ourselves and wiping it off as best we could with a Kleenex I found in my purse, which wasn’t ideal. I have to say that the cake was actually delicious (though I was disappointed they only had coffee and walnut (blech) and Victoria sponge (acceptable, but certainly not my first choice) after seeing the large variety advertised on their website) and they had cute crockery, but the service definitely left something to be desired.

 

We also popped in the oldest shop to buy beer from a local brewery and homemade fudge (because that’s what we do) and the woman complimented my coat, so she was OK by me. I loved the house next to the shop that was all decked out for Halloween, and the Georgian angel tombstones in the churchyard. Finally, we had to check out the “chiding stone”, which is meant to be how the village got its name. It is just a big stone where, according to legend, men would gather to “chide” their errant wives. It’s kind of a gross patriarchal legend, but I do love folklore, so I found it pretty interesting. If you’re in the area, I’d recommend popping down to check out the village, since it is quite cute and the churchyard has some good stones, but I would maybe advise getting your tea as a takeaway unless you like sitting at dirty tables.

London: Van Gogh House

I had learned quite a lot about Vincent Van Gogh’s time in London after visiting the Van Gogh exhibition at the Tate a few years ago, but one thing I didn’t learn was that you can visit one of the houses where he lived. Actually, you probably couldn’t at the time of that exhibition, because they’ve only just opened to the public following a “major conservation project”, but I spotted them on Art Fund’s website right after their reopening (due to Durham and Halloween, this is a very delayed post – I visited in early September when we were having a mini heatwave, hence my summery outfit) and booked Marcus and myself in for a visit.

Van Gogh House is located about a ten minute walk from Stockwell Underground Station, in a surprisingly nice leafy part of Stockwell that feels more like Hampstead. Due to a train mishap, we arrived about ten minutes late, which I was mildly panicking about since I hate being late, but it turned out that we were the only people visiting, so it was fine. Tickets are £5 or £2.50 with Art Pass, and they’re requesting that you book in advance, though based on our experience, you might well get lucky if you just show up. There was an exhibition at the time of our visit called “Life and its most trivial particulars.” This rather pretentiously named photographic installation by Brian Griffiths and Frank Kent runs until 18th December, and basically just means there’s a photograph in each of the rooms, so I wouldn’t rush to the house on account of it.

At the time Van Gogh lived in this three storey Georgian terrace, from 1873-74, it was a boarding house run by Ursula Layer and her daughter Eugenie, the latter of whom Vincent seems to have promptly fallen in love with, but it was unrequited. His sister Anna also moved in for a bit before they got a house together in Kennington in August 1874. So Van Gogh didn’t spend a tonne of time in the house, but at least he actually did live there, which is more than you can say for Cooks’ Cottage in Melbourne.

The house itself is quite cool, with original timbers in the floor, a lovely sunny room filled with houseplants much healthier than mine, and not one, but two toilets (even though one of them was a proper old Victorian pull-chain toilet, which I love, neither of them would have actually been here at the time Van Gogh was living here. They only had an outdoor privy back then, presumably supplemented with chamber pots). However, because Van Gogh didn’t become a huge name until quite a long time after leaving here, and researchers only discovered about fifty years ago that this was the house he had stayed in, quite a lot had been done to the house in the intervening years, so it’s not as it would have been in the 1870s. Considering the fate of the houses of many other historical figures, I suppose we’re lucky that it’s still standing at all!

Though I of course wanted to know every detail of Van Gogh’s time here, unfortunately, there’s not a great deal of information in the house. There was a small fact sheet laid out in each room containing a bit more information about the room and what Van Gogh was doing in London at that time, but that’s pretty much it. The photographic exhibition had virtually no information other than the names of the pieces. I know they were meant to be inspired by Van Gogh’s work, so if you’re familiar with his paintings, it’s not that hard to make a connection between, say, the photograph of potatoes growing and The Potato Eaters, but the connections were often tenuous at best, and it would have been nice to know more about what Van Gogh meant to the photographers, or how the photos were composed. I think they do occasionally offer guided tours, so it might be worth going on one of those to learn more about the history of the house, because you won’t get it from the current signage.

There was another installation where a modern artist had tried to recreate the paints used in Van Gogh’s paintings, but it literally was just a bunch of stripes painted on a wall, as seen above. Again, more information than just the names of the colours would have been appreciated. I feel like I’m being quite down on the house, but I do think the house itself was nice, and I loved being able to walk in the footsteps of Van Gogh, I just wanted to know more! I think the £2.50 we paid was reasonable, but a fiver is a bit steep for what you get. 2.5/5.

If you find yourself wanting more Van Gogh after you leave, you’re in luck, because there is a lovely little “Van Gogh Walk” about a minute away from the house. Most of this area was built up towards the end of the 19th century – at the time Van Gogh lived here, he was still surrounded by patches of nature and loved going for strolls to look at the flora and fauna, so this walk was in homage to that. You can stroll this plant-filled little passage down to the bust of Van Gogh at the end, on which someone had rested a disgusting sunflower head. Yes, I love Van Gogh, but I absolutely loathe sunflowers. I find their big heads revolting, don’t ask me why, and I honestly can’t even look closely at them without wanting to gag. I also hate the thickness of their stems and they way they loom over you in a sinister way, but I’ve probably already said too much. Regardless of my issues with sunflowers, I enjoyed the Van Gogh Walk, and the plaque and quotations in it probably contained more information than his whole damn house did, so I’d definitely stop and see it whilst you’re there.

London: Paula Rego @ Tate Britain

I realise that it’s already October, when I normally try to blog about spooky stuff, but because I didn’t want to postpone the Durham posts any more, this was the only time I could squeeze Paula Rego in that would still leave time for people to see the exhibition if my glowing review convinced them to give it a go. However, some of her paintings are quite unsettling, so hopefully that will suffice until I can get to something spookier. There are still not really that many Halloween events on this year, so I’m having to scramble a bit to come up with creepy content.

I have to admit that I’ve been struggling to write about this Paula Rego exhibition for a few weeks now, and I’m not sure why, because I really enjoyed it. I also recently read an interview with her in Art Fund’s quarterly magazine, and she seems like she’s led a fascinating life, from her childhood in the 1940s spent in a repressive dictatorship in Portugal, to attending boarding school in England as a teenager and eating so many of the cakes the other girls didn’t want because she didn’t have access to sweets growing up (this was while England was still under rationing, mind, so the cakes couldn’t have even been that nice) that her mother didn’t recognise her when she came back due to all the weight she gained, to her love of fairy tales and her passionate fight for women’s rights as an adult, so it’s not as though I have a shortage of content. Maybe it’s just that I’m a bit burnt out on writing after doing a fair bit of writing at work lately and going back to blogging regularly after posting sporadically for most of the first half of this year, but whatever the reason, I’m going to give myself a break on this one and let some of my favourite pictures from the exhibition do most of the talking, with only brief captions from me. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be back to my normal long-winded self in no time!

This painting was influenced by Rego’s childhood experiences in authoritarian Portugal, and shows the dictator Salazar vomiting (vomiting was definitely a recurring theme in this exhibition!) next to what is meant to be a woman with exaggerated pubic hair (representing Rego’s belief that women’s lib was the way forward for Portugal).

 

This painting shows a young murderess-in-training practicing for her first victim, so of course I loved it and had to have a photo with it.

 

This was one of the most poignant paintings, completed shortly after Rego’s husband Victor Willing died. Rego and Willing are one of the dancing couples.

 

I was sitting on the sofa watching TV and minding my business a few weeks ago when a spider literally the size of my palm scuttled out from underneath the sofa and just stood there and stared at me with impunity until I trapped it under a tin (big spiders only ever seem to come out after Marcus has gone to bed, so I trap them under a tin and leave a note on top to alert Marcus, who puts them outside in the morning). This picture is not dissimilar to my experience, right down to the expression on Little Miss Muffet’s face.

 

These are part of Rego’s abortion series in support of decriminalising abortion in Portugal (which was illegal until 2007). They show women in the aftermath of undergoing illegal, unsafe abortions.

 

Love this powerful woman holding a dagger and a sponge (meant to represent the one soaked in wine offered to Jesus on the cross) who is meant to be an avenging angel figure.

 

The last room of the exhibition had paintings featuring monstrous beings, including this triptych with a creepy pillow-headed figure.

 

This is The Barn, inspired by a Joyce Carol Oates short story. This was just one of many creepy and wonderful paintings based on stories and fairy tales. I particularly liked the distraught faces on the watermelons.

Other than the fact that there were way too many people inside (back to pre-Covid times at the Tate, apparently!), I absolutely loved this exhibition. Her artwork is amazing, and I can’t believe I’d never heard of her until recently. Paula Rego is at Tate Britain until 24th October (£18 admission or £9 with Art Pass), so definitely go see it if you can. It gets a 4/5 from me.

London: Sophie Taeuber-Arp @ Tate Modern

Maybe everyone has heard of Sophie Taeuber-Arp but me, but my first introduction to her was a post on Tate Modern’s Instagram advertising this exhibition. If you are as in the dark as I was, Taeuber-Arp was an early 20th century Swiss artist who dabbled in a number of media, including painting, sculpting, architecture, performance, textiles, jewellery, and puppetry (and though I think her name is pronounced “tauber” I have to rhyme it with George Costanza’s description of what the Kruger Industrial Smoothing sign looked like after the “r” fell off (“k-ooger”) and think of it as “tae-uber” in my head to spell it correctly). Because I will go see pretty much anything that looks even vaguely creepy, the images the Tate had posted of some puppets she’d made convinced me that it was worth seeing, and I booked tickets for the opening week.

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The exhibition at Tate Modern runs until 17th October, and is £16, or £8 with Art Pass. The galleries were pre-booking only when we visited, and things were strangely quiet for a Friday, not that that’s a problem, perhaps because this and a Rodin exhibition were the only things on. We quickly made it up and into the exhibition, which began with a timeline of Taeuber-Arp’s life, and a video montage of her work, but there were a lot of people gathered around the video (which appeared to be in German), so we skipped it and headed straight for the next gallery.

  

This exhibition space was very large and open, which made a nice change from some of the narrow galleries I’ve been to lately, as everyone had plenty of space to social distance (I guess people aren’t doing much of that these days, but this was back in July when there were still officially some restrictions). It also helped in terms of social distancing that there wasn’t a huge amount of content in the biggest room, but it was a bit of a disappointment otherwise, because this was my favourite part of the exhibition, mainly because it contained her puppets! These were made in 1918 for a puppet show production of a fairy tale called King Stag. I’m not familiar with the original fairy tale, but this appeared to be a Dada-esque interpretation of it that was probably not aimed at children, judging by the character named Dr. Oedipus Complex (the guy in black with the hat and cape) and the general scary appearance of the puppets.

  

This gallery also contained some of Taeuber-Arp’s photography, where she would artistically photograph herself in totally insane costumes, and I can definitely get behind that as well. Even her weird creepy Dada head (a very smooth head inspired by her woodworking background) was kind of cool, but it was mainly downhill from there. I know this is already the second time I’ve referenced Seinfeld in this post, but you know the episode where Elaine is dating that artist who makes triangle sculptures who they keep referring to dismissively as “the triangle guy”? Well, Taeuber-Arp was VERY into geometric shapes, so I am tempted to refer to her as “the square and circle woman”.

 

To be fair, she did embrace a range of techniques, and made her shapes by painting, weaving, and even glass working. The stained glasses were probably the coolest looking (they reminded me of a Catholic church my grandparents attended that was built in the 1960s and had geometric shapes in its stained glass instead of the traditional Bible scenes, I guess in an attempt to be groovy), and I’ve no doubt the weaving took some serious skill to give the shapes such perfectly pointed edges, but really, how many squares can a person look at before getting bored? Yes, there were circles too, but you know what I mean.

 

The exhibition talked a fair bit about her life and work – she married an artist called Hans Arp in 1922, which is when she began hyphenating, and they moved to a studio home outside Paris in 1929, where they remained until the Nazis invaded in 1940. They fled to the unoccupied south of France, and eventually received visas to travel to Switzerland, where Taeuber-Arp died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty stove in 1943 at the age of 53, which was rather depressing to read. Her work seemed to go from minimalist to even more minimalist, with the exception of a piece she made whilst living in the south of France, when she only had pencils to work with. This sketch of the French countryside confirmed that she was actually very artistically talented in a conventional way, but apparently opted to create shapes instead, which is not the choice I would have made, but I suppose going the Huey Lewis route (“it’s hip to be square”) helped her make her name in the art world.

 

As you can probably tell, I was pretty damn underwhelmed by the vast number of geometric shape paintings in here – I could have done with about 80% more puppets and photographs, and I can tell why Tate Modern are heavily using the puppets and photos in promoting the exhibition. However, that gives a false impression as to what is actually here. Had I known I would just be looking at room after room full of circles and squares, I would have given it a miss. At least I only paid £8, and I learned about an artist I was previously unfamiliar with, but it only took us 20 minutes to look around this exhibition, and I certainly won’t be rushing out to see more shapes anytime soon. 2.5/5.

Compton, Surrey: The Watts Gallery Artists’ Village

Even though I tend to think I’ve covered London and its surrounds pretty well on this blog, every once in a while I manage to track down a museum that has previously escaped my radar (sometimes simply because I dismissed it years ago due to it looking tiny or boring). The Watts Gallery Artists’ Village is one of those. Although I haven’t been out to Surrey as much in recent years as I had back when we owned a car, I have managed occasional excursions when we’ve borrowed Marcus’s brother’s car, and we recently had access to it for a couple of months, hence some of the recent-ish posts on non-London locales. Knowing we would have to return the car soon, I was searching for one last place to visit that we hadn’t already been that was also open on a Monday (a tricky task these days when a lot of museums are open weekends only or Wednesday-Sunday) and found the Watts Gallery. Assuming I had seen it advertised it somewhere before, I know why I would have instantly dismissed it. It absolutely looks boring, and I suspect something about it reminded me of other, creepier art collectives, like Eric Gill’s incestuous paedo group in Sussex. But then I read they had a tea room, and whilst in pre-Covid times that wouldn’t have been enough to get me to make a special trip, in this corona-world, I had not been to a tea room in bloody ages, and the idea of a pot of tea, a piece of cake, and their supposedly famous Welsh rarebit sounded absolutely delightful, especially as the weather had abruptly taken a turn for the cold again (in June).

 

I booked tickets the night before, and there were still plenty of time slots available, though it being a Monday probably helped somewhat with that. Admission is £12.50, though the main house, where the Wattses lived, is currently shut. I can’t say if it is normally more expensive, or if we were just being ripped off by paying full price and not being able to see half the property. But since we were only paying £6.25 with Art Pass, I decided I didn’t care all that much and just went ahead and booked. We arrived a bit early, as the website stated that we only needed to check in to see the gallery at our appointed time, and were free to explore the rest of the property until then. Upon pulling up, I noticed we were at least thirty years younger than any of the other visitors, and though this of course could have been because it was a Monday, I typically see at least some other people my age when visiting exhibitions in London during the week, so I suspect we simply aren’t Watts Gallery’s target audience, which was pretty much confirmed by our experience there.

 

With half an hour to kill before our admission time, we headed down the road to see the cemetery and Watts Chapel, which is meant to be one of the most important Arts and Crafts buildings in Britain designed by Mary Watts (much more impressive until you get to the disclaimer “designed by Mary Watts”). The chapel is a terracotta affair, and does look pretty cool from the outside, but unfortunately my view of the inside was initially hampered by a man with a tripod set up in the middle of the chapel. He appeared to be a professional photographer accompanied by a member of staff, and I get that sometimes photographers make special arrangements to come photograph things, so I was fine with waiting a few minutes for him to finish. But then, as he was finally packing up his equipment, an older lady who had also been waiting marched over and stood directly in front of me so she could take a few photos. The entranceway is pretty small, so I backed up to give her some room, but she just kept backing up into me, and backed me right out of the door without an apology. Then, she just stood there for about five minutes holding her phone up but not actually taking any photos with it, so that she was blocking off the chapel for everyone for no real reason. Eventually I just got super irritated and stalked off angrily to explore the rest of the cemetery. Marcus did come back after she’d finally left to grab some pictures, but I was so irritated and afraid of running into her again that I just stuck my head in for a quick peek and returned to the cemetery, which did have some interesting graves in it, though I was disappointed I couldn’t find any pet ones, as I recalled reading about a pet cemetery on their website. Maybe they were in another part of the estate? Apparently Aldous Huxley is buried in the cemetery (non-pet one, obviously), but I totally missed his grave.

 

By the time we’d waited to get photos and looked around a bit, it was time to see the gallery, so we headed back down the road. We were not allowed to take photographs in the gallery, but it contained pieces by GF Watts, who was one of the founders of the Watts Artists’ Gallery along with his wife Mary, who built the aforementioned chapel. GF Watts was a painter and sculptor who was part of the “Symbolist” movement, whatever that means, but his stuff bore a resemblance to the pre-Raphaelites, and indeed, he seemed to be kind of in with that crowd. He married actress Ellen Terry when she was 16 and he was 46, which is super disgusting, though they soon divorced and he married Mary instead some time later, when he was 69 and she was 36, though the museum glossed over the huge age gaps (I only found out about them when doing research for this post). I found his art mostly pretty meh – didn’t hate it, didn’t love it. Fortunately, the museum is also home to a collection of art by the DeMorgans, William and Evelyn, who were frequent visitors, and I like their stuff a whole lot better, even though the display was rather small. William’s animal tiles and pots are excellent, and Evelyn’s paintings look weirdly modern and New Age-y for the 19th century, with rainbows and sparkles everywhere.

   

The gallery also hosts temporary exhibitions, and the one at the time of our visit was on Henry Scott Tuke, who is best known for painting a lot of nude boys and men. He liked to hang out in Cornwall where there were lots of private beaches where his models could pose nude. I don’t know if this was a special display for Pride, or if the two just happened to coincide, but it did discuss Tuke’s sexuality, and how his adoration of underage boys is problematic today, but was common amongst Victorian gay men. I don’t know why they didn’t similarly discuss this with Watts’s apparent fascination with much younger, sometimes underage women, but whatever, I’ll just always think of Watts as a gross old pervert in my head. After the Tuke section, there was a gallery of Watts’s sculptures, but they were even more boring than his paintings. The little railroad tracks he’d built to transport pieces a few metres forward so he could work on them outside was the best thing about this gallery. The gentleman working there was having a friendly and lengthy conversation with the visitors ahead of us when we walked in, but after they left, he settled back into his chair to silently glare at me from the corner, so I didn’t linger here, even though the woman at the front desk had told us we could photograph the sculptures if we wanted.

 

The property has quite a large shop full of products designed to appeal to people more in my mother’s age bracket (I definitely saw multiple things she would have liked), and there was also meant to be a “Contemporary Art Gallery” upstairs, but it was just a collection of fairly uninspiring prints all by one artist that they were trying to sell, with not much explanation about the pieces. We quickly left and headed over to the much-anticipated tea shop to settle down for that pot of tea. They hype up the rarebit quite a lot on the menu and their website, and it certainly looked good when it arrived, but unfortunately it tasted super strongly of mustard (it actually burned my throat, there was so much mustard) and not at all of cheese, and had a horrible claggy texture, possibly from the granary bread not being sufficiently toasted. I make rarebit at home a lot, and though I do have a bit of a heavy hand with the Colman’s mustard powder (though obviously not as heavy as theirs), I also put a TONNE of cheese in it so it tastes really cheesy and lovely. The cakes were a bit better, but Marcus said his coffee and walnut tasted really artificial. Mine was chocolate fudge, which is hard to go wrong with, and it was fine, but it did taste more like those little chocolate fudge “celebration cakes” you get at Sainsbury’s than something homemade, even though it allegedly was. The tea shop is also incredibly expensive – it was almost thirty quid for two small pots of tea with no refills offered, two orders of rarebit, and two small slices of cake. Them’s even higher than London prices!

Having finished our rather disappointing tea, we finally walked across the road to see Limnerslease, the Watts’s home. It’s a mock Tudor Arts and Crafts style home, which they thought of as a small country retreat, but of course it is practically a mansion by today’s standards. As I said earlier, it is not currently open to the public, so we just stood outside and looked at it for a bit, and also checked out the terracotta cross designed by Mary to mark the part of the Pilgrims’ Trail to Canterbury that runs through their estate (after my experience with Thomas Becket’s relics at the British Museum, I was scared to even look at it in case he cursed me again, but I fortunately escaped unscathed this time). I think the buildings of the “artists village” promised in the name of the place were also on this side, but they weren’t open, and we didn’t even see where they were, so I don’t really know anything about the village and who lived in it, since I assume they were keeping all the information in the village itself. This is also probably why we didn’t learn much about the Wattsespresumably all the info was in Limnerslease. As you can probably tell, I was not impressed by my experience of the Watts Gallery, and I highly doubt I’ll be returning, even when Limnerslease reopens. I’m relieved I only paid £6.25 for admission, because I would definitely have been annoyed about the £12.50 (spending all that money on tea was bad enough, but at least we got some food in exchange). The chapel and cemetery are the best things about the property, and you can see those for free, which I would advise doing and giving the gallery a miss. 2/5.

London: “Epic Iran” @ the V&A

With a name like “Epic Iran”, you’d expect something, well, epic, right? Did the V&A’s new exhibition live up to expectations? Read on to find out (with a lot of waffle in between, though sadly not actual waffles).

I had not been to the V&A in a very long time indeed, considering how regularly I used to go. My last visit was in the last of the pre-Covid days, back in February 2020. I did try to see the “Bags Inside Out” exhibition last December when they were briefly open, but it was sold out on all the days I could visit (it’s still on, so I will hopefully make it there eventually). So when they opened slots for pre-booking in April, I hedged my bets (since we still weren’t 100% sure museums would be able to open on the “Covid road map” schedule at that point) and booked a ticket to “Epic Iran” for early June, because it looked more appealing than the Alice in Wonderland exhibition (which I’ll probably see too eventually, but I’ve never liked the book, and it looks like it will be a case of style over substance).

On a very hot day, we queued up outside the Exhibition Road entrance of the V&A (the main entrance is currently exit only) and got processed more quickly than the people who had just booked a free ticket to the permanent collections. Admission to “Epic Iran” is £18, or £9 with Art Pass, and it runs until September. It wasn’t super clear where we had to go when we first entered the building, as staff seemed mainly focussed on directing people to Alice, but we soon caught sight of some signs and made our own way there. The exhibition aims to explore “5000 years of art, design, and culture” which is quite a big ask for an exhibition space that isn’t even the V&A’s largest, but they certainly took a stab at it.

The Persian Empire got its start in the sixth century BC under Cyrus the Great, who conquered what was once Babylonia and united the region. At its height, the Persian Empire was massive and went well beyond the boundaries of modern day Iran, stretching over much of Asia, to the Balkans in Europe, and parts of Libya and Egypt in Africa. Early Persia was firmly Zoroastrian, which I remember learning about in a World Religions class I took as an undergrad. I found the religion memorable mainly for its practice of ritual exposure or “sky burial”, the idea being that to bury a corpse would be to pollute the earth, so better to leave it out to be picked at by vultures. Other than that, it seems to be your standard good vs. evil mostly monotheistic religion that Christianity and Islam both borrowed from. If you like little clay pots with animals on them, and vases of men with erect penises holding water jugs, you’ll like Zoroastrian art.

There were an awful lot of objects in this exhibition, objects that, to be fair, probably shouldn’t even be in British collections, including the Cyrus Cylinder, made in about 539 BC, which tells the story of how Cyrus the Great established the Persian Empire, and normally lives at the British Museum. Also some bad-ass animal horns and various things made from gold.

There were also some pages from a manuscript of the Shahnameh, an epic poem that tells the story of the Persian Empire through the rise of Islam in the seventh century. Like most epic poems, it involves a lot of killing, so those made for some fun illustrations. There were also early Islamic manuscripts with illustrations of various monsters and demons, which of course I loved. And brutal looking armour with pointy kneecaps, I guess so you could poke someone’s eyes out with your knees. Fun!

The little lion incense burner on the left reminds me of the robot devil from Futurama. He was in the section on poetry, which also featured a recording of someone reading out poems in Farsi. There were of course some Persian rugs here, but honestly they were probably the least interesting things in the exhibition. Who wants to look at rugs when you could be looking at paintings of people with aggressive eyebrows, women included? If I relinquished my tweezers, I think I would fit right in.

Obviously, most of history is male-centric, but the exhibition did have a section of the role of women in Persia. Women went from having some rights to having no rights, back to some, and then finally back to no rights again after the Iranian Revolution. In much of recent-ish (the last few centuries) history, women lived in harem-type arrangements where they were sequestered from men, and couldn’t leave the house without being heavily veiled; however, from the Victorian era onward, fashions within the harem setting changed greatly depending on the whims of the ruler at the time. I was interested to learn that skirts gradually got shorter, inspired by Nasir al Din Shah’s love of ballet, until the women in his harem were basically wearing miniskirts (in the 1870s!). Women eventually got to modernise and reclaim some rights, just in time for the Islamist Revolution to send them right back (actually quite a bit further back than) where they started.

The exhibition, having taken us on an accelerated ride throughout history, got to contemporary art by the end, and I really loved some of the pieces here, especially the photograph by Azadeh Akhlaghi recreating the 1974 shooting of activist Marzieh Ahmadi Oskuie, the photographs of modern Iranian women done in a Victorian style, and a shrine style collage piece with dancing blue lights. This was also the part of the exhibition where we encountered a pair of exceptionally annoying school-aged children who had borrowed a pair of those fold out chairs intended for people who struggle to stand for long periods and were proceeding to smash them repeatedly into the floor, much to the consternation of the gallery attendant, so it was fortunate we were spared them for most of the exhibition (it was half-term, but maybe a more child-friendly exhibition would have been a better choice for them). So this is maybe not one to bring the kids to, but as an adult, I really loved it. I thought the art was fabulous, and I enjoyed learning a bit more about Iran’s history, though obviously a seven or eight room exhibition about 5000 years of history is never going to be comprehensive. Maybe not quite “epic”, but it was certainly a good attempt. 4/5.

Mainly including this photo so you can see my apricot dress, because I ❤ it.

London: Ritual Britain @ the Crypt Gallery

I went to see the “Ritual Britain” exhibition, a collaboration between artist Ben Edge and the Museum of British Folklore, at the Crypt in Euston a few weeks ago, and though the exhibition ended on the 4th of July, I still wanted to post about it so people who didn’t get the chance to go can at least see some photos and read about what it was like.

I’m interested in folklore generally, maybe because America hasn’t really been around long enough to have developed folk traditions in the way they exist in Europe (though I guess we have urban legends that are gradually becoming folklore – it’s been a while since I’ve read Ghostland, but I seem to recall Colin Dickey addressing this very subject more extensively than I can do here), so I’m trying to fill the void with other countries’ traditions. Given all the super weird and highly regional British customs and practices (straw bears, Burry Men, cheese rolling, shin kicking, etc), I think it’s a bit odd that there isn’t a permanent folklore museum here, since I’ve certainly been to ones in other European countries, though maybe it has something to do with the legacy of imperialism and some British traditions being a bit controversial (burning Catholics in effigy springs immediately to mind). At any rate, the Museum of British Folklore normally only exists online, with occasional temporary exhibitions hosted in various galleries and museums around the UK. This was the first one I’d heard of taking place in London, so I was excited to attend.

The exhibition was free and there no pre-booking required, which is a bit novel in itself these days, but I was worried that it would get crowded on the weekends, so I took a Friday off to go (I mean, it wasn’t just for this. I also wanted to hit Borough Market, because it’s too busy on weekends and I never get to go anymore since I changed jobs and thus my working days last November, and I had to use the leave up soon anyway), and there was only a handful of people inside, so this was obviously a good plan. I’d been to St. Pancras Old Church (my computer wants me to change Pancras to pancreas so badly) before to see their awesome tombstone tree, but never St. Pancras New Church (which was built in 1819, so isn’t really that new anymore), and the Crypt is an awesome and creepy venue, as you can see from the photo at the start, which made it perfect for this exhibition, as I tend to think a lot of British folklore is vaguely sinister in a Wicker Man sort of way.

The exhibition consisted of Ben Edge’s “Frontline Folklore” series of paintings interspersed with objects from the museum’s collection. Now, I LOVE Ben Edge’s paintings (I just ordered a print of that Clown Church one for my house to go with the clown eggs Marcus made – I have a real obsession with creepy-ass clowns lately, maybe because of the clown episode of Wellington Paranormal, which literally made me laugh until I cried), but the real stuff is even scarier, and an old crypt that was full of actual stacks of tombstones was an excellent way to showcase it.

Just look at the unsettling stares of those Morris dancer dolls (designed to showcase the costumes of different troupes) or that giant corn dolly (those always make me think of that Jeffrey Ford “Word Doll” story, which I recommend if you haven’t read it). I actually took a Morris dancing class once, and it is a LOT harder than it looks, so I’m impressed by anyone that can actually do it, but I have to admit that there is something a bit off-putting about the whole thing to anyone who is a bit of an outsider, especially the sides (fortunately not many, these days) that still insist on using black face (when I went to the Morris class, I deliberately picked an all-female side with more progressive views (they dance at Pride and stuff), but I was still scared they’d hear my accent and tell me to get lost or something, and I really had to work up my courage to actually attend. They turned out to be perfectly nice, but it was still a blindingly white affair, and I can see why, if I felt intimidated about going just on account of an American accent), and I would say that Morris is actually one of the more accessible British traditions. Some of the hyper-localised customs give me Tubbs and Edward from The League of Gentlemen vibes (“this is a local shop, for local people; there’s nothing for you here.”), I guess because they seem designed to make outsiders feel like outsiders, but I suppose that’s also how places develop an identity for themselves, so maybe I’m interpreting things in an overly negative way due to my lack of exposure to these customs until moving to the UK as an adult. With all that being said, I think it is the fact that a lot of these practices are contained to one specific village or area that makes them so strange and fascinating to me.

There was a video at the end of the exhibition, made by Ben Edge, where he had filmed some of these practices in action back in 2019, including the Mari Lwyd, which is basically a skeleton ‘obby ‘oss (hobby horse) used in Wales in a sort of caroling tradition, where men carry it from house to house demanding food and drink and singing a special song in Welsh, and if you aren’t expecting it, it has to be way freakier than any carolers at your door (though I would hide from them too). He had also filmed himself in 2020 talking about the way that the pandemic and the BLM movement were changing British folk traditions, such as the elimination of black face from Morris dancing (except for the resistant troupes I mentioned earlier). It seemed really interesting, but it was also very long, and I wasn’t inclined to sit there for an hour and a half in a tiny room with strangers watching a video, so I only caught about ten minutes of it, but maybe it’s available somewhere online. They did have an events programme tied in with the exhibition that included some film screenings and Morris dancing, but I’m still not super keen on the idea of standing in a big crowd, even outside, so I deliberately didn’t visit on one of those days.

Even thought the exhibition was fairly small, I really loved it. The venue was ideal, and the stories behind Ben’s paintings were fascinating (they’re all available to read on his website if you click on the individual paintings), as were the objects selected from the Museum of British Folklore’s collection. I do wish the museum had a more permanent home, because I’d love to see more of their collection as well as learn more about the history behind the traditions. I also think a larger space would give them room to address the ways that some of these traditions have become problematic, and the ways that other customs have evolved to stay alive to the present day. I’m sorry I’m blogging about this too late for you to see this exhibition for yourself, but if it sounded appealing, at least now you’ll know to keep an eye out for any future Museum of British Folklore/Ben Edge exhibitions popping up near you! 4/5.

Churt, Surrey: The Sculpture Park

Well, it’s been a bit longer than I intended since my last post, and I see horrible things have happened to WordPress in the interim. Seriously, I hate it so much now (I could go on all day about the reasons why, but they include: that you now have no choice but to use Block Editor, that you can’t just buy extra storage space anymore but have to pay out the ass for a stupid plan, and that you can no longer view which photos are unattached, so you have to be really careful to only upload things you’re going to use so you don’t get screwed out of the now hard-to-come-by storage space) but I already have so many posts on this blog that I don’t really know if it’s worth the effort of changing to something else, which is probably just what they were hoping. Anyway, museums still aren’t reopening here until next week (which I have to admit I’m dreading more than anticipating, because as much as I like visiting museums, I hate working in the office more), but outdoor attractions are very much open, and since we are borrowing Marcus’s brother’s car at the moment, there was no reason we couldn’t drive out to the Sculpture Park, near Farnham in Surrey. I’ve been intrigued by this place for a while, especially after seeing all the photos of skeleton sculptures online, but with one thing or another (mainly Covid restrictions), we didn’t make it out there until now. The Sculpture Park costs £11.20 to visit, and you must book in advance through Eventbrite (having set up tonnes of Eventbrite events myself, I assume it’s normally £11, and they’re passing the Eventbrite fees onto the customer, hence the weird price). We visited on a weekday, and had no trouble booking a spot, but I think it gets a bit booked up on weekends.

The tiny car park was full when we drove up, so we had to park further up the road and walk down (a bit hazardous) but at least parking was free. Finding the admissions office was also a bit of an adventure – there were signs, but it felt like we walked through half of the sculpture park before getting there. This turned out to be wrong, because thanks to all the winding trails, the Sculpture Park is very big indeed. At the office, we were greeted by breast shaped birdhouses hanging from the wall (they are “tit” boxes, get it?) and a sign directing only one member of each party to enter, so I waited outside whilst Marcus got our names ticked off the list and collected a laminated map, which we were assured was cleaned between uses. You kind of need the map, because although the trails are marked with artsy arrows, it can get a bit confusing in places.

There are actually four different trails: red, yellow, green, and blue, and we started with the yellow one, which was one of the shorter trails (the red one goes on FOREVER). At this point, we had definitely not realised the extent of the place, so we started out taking pictures of every sculpture and walking at a leisurely pace. We put a stop to that real fast after discovering the length of the red trail.

I had never actually heard of any of the sculptors who made the pieces, but that’s not really saying much since I know very little about sculpture (said by someone who works at a sculpture museum, but in my defence, we only have the work of the sculptor who used to live there at our museum). However, that doesn’t stop them from commanding very high prices. We were told that all the sculptures here were for sale, and I was briefly intrigued, thinking that if we could pick something up for a couple hundred quid we could stick it in the garden, until I actually saw how much these things cost! There was minimal information provided on the signage (basically just the artist’s name and the name of the piece) but you could scan a QR code next to each sculpture to view more on the Sculpture Park’s website, including the price. The first one I scanned was £78,000 (the stags pictured below left)! Yikes. I gave up scanning after realising I couldn’t actually afford anything here except the £10 tit boxes (some of the sculptures were only a couple thousand, but that’s still way out of my price range. The most expensive one I saw was absolutely huge, and cost almost £500,000, which you can see below right, though it might be hard to get a sense of scale since I had to take a photo from far away to get it all in).

But we could still enjoy looking, and we very much did, at least until we got tired and hungry. As seems to be the nature of sculpture, a lot of these were very phallic, or bosomy, or bummy, so that was entertaining in itself (I also really loved the leaf man, below left, who was none of those things). The skeleton guy seemed especially prolific, and there were absolutely loads of skeletons here in various poses, but again, all out of my price range. The trails loop around a pond and through a bunch of woodland, so even though I don’t think the place is actually all that big, you go up and down hills and in and out of trees a lot, so it feels quite varied. Frankly, I’m not sure all of the walking uphill was strictly necessary, as we seemed to double back on ourselves a couple times, but it was all meant to be part of the one-way system, so maybe it’s not normally quite so long.

I really wish they had a café on site (maybe they do in non-Covid times, but I didn’t see one), because I was dying for tea and cake after the first two trails, but alas, it was not to be. They do have numerous picnic tables, so you could definitely take your own food, which I would probably advise doing, Other than the picnic tables, you’re not meant to touch anything, which was a shame, as there were quite a few sculptures that seemed as though they could have been interactive, like the giant piano and wind chimes. There also appears to be some kind of dark maze thing you can normally walk through that was closed because of Covid, which I’m disappointed to have missed out on. I do hope the sign outside about watching out for the scorpions and exotic spiders was meant as a joke!

I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest sculpture fan, but a lot of the pieces here were just kind of kooky, and it was fun walking around and looking at everything (at least until about midway through the red trail. That red trail kind of broke me), even though I think I would have been happy if we’d finished about an hour sooner, since I was pretty tired by the end (they advise spending 2-3 hours here, and I think we spent around 2.5 hours). Fortunately, there is an ice cream place a few miles down the road, in Haslemere, called Dylan’s, which we had been to a few times years ago, but they seemed to have improved quite a lot since our last visit, when I remember being underwhelmed. They had birthday cake cookie dough ice cream, which was really delicious. So at least that’s an option if you find yourself famished after the Sculpture Park.

All in all, it was a good day out, and almost like visiting a museum, but made me feel a bit less icky than spending time inside with strangers does right now, especially since it wasn’t very busy and we only encountered other people a handful of times, so that’s definitely a plus. I’d pick a nice day to visit, if possible (especially with the crappy weather we’ve had lately), because I imagine it would be a lot less fun in the rain. 3.5/5.