art

London: Bruce Nauman @ Tate Modern

Was Bruce Nauman an artist whose work I could have identified before seeing this exhibition? No, but my quest back in October was to pack in as many exhibitions within walking distance of Waterloo on my two journeys into central London as I could (both to minimise my time on public transport and to build up a bank of posts, since by the middle of October, I strongly suspected we would go into lockdown again, and look, I was right!), I looked to see what was at Tate Modern, and here he was. Given a choice between what I could see of his work on Tate’s website, and the Andy Warhol exhibition, I chose Bruce, and after seeing the queue for Andy Warhol, I think I made the right decision.

 

You had to prebook to visit Tate Modern, even if you were just there to see the permanent collection (though those tickets were free), but there were still plenty of slots available for Bruce Nauman when I booked it the night before, which I suspect would not have been the case for Warhol. Tickets were £13, or £6.50 with Art Pass, and the procedure at Tate Modern was that you joined a queue upon entry for whatever you were there to see (Bruce had no queue, so we could breeze straight through, but Andy’s stretched the length of the Turbine Hall), someone scanned your ticket and told you where to go, and then someone checked your ticket again at the entrance to make sure you were there at the right time. There was also no queue at the entrance to the exhibition, and we could go straight in, but the queue for Andy was very long indeed (yes, I am quite smug about this, first of all because I don’t even really like Andy Warhol, and if I did, I know there’s a museum in Pittsburgh that I could easily visit any time I go to visit my family in Cleveland, though who knows when that will next be).

 

The exhibition was spread out over 13 rooms, and since most of Nauman’s pieces were installation style, there were only one or two semi-immersive pieces per room, making it easy to socially distance (and of course, face coverings were required inside). Bruce Nauman is an American artist (from Indiana) who has been active since the 1960s, and is probably best known for his neon sculptures and video installations, though he has dabbled in a range of media, including more traditional sculpture and photography. He’s the type of artist whose work you have probably seen without realising it’s his work. (And yes, that is Nauman’s butt and face in the above pieces.)

 

I could definitely see some of the pieces here as being the reason some people hate modern art, like “Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square”, which is exactly what it sounds like – though we got the excitement here of looking at the square he had taped out on the floor and a plank of wood leaning against the wall, we couldn’t actually walk in an exaggerated manner ourselves, since it was behind a rope.

 

Nor could we go inside the “Double Steel Cage,” which is meant to provoke feelings of “anxiety and entrapment”, though since Nauman’s intention was that the door be left open so visitors could go inside and experience anxiety for themselves, I think this was probably a Covid-related decision made by the Tate. However, we could try out the “Going Around the Corner Piece” where we literally walked around a corner to try to catch a glimpse of our own backs on a TV monitor as we were being filmed on the opposite side of the wall, which was quite fun.

 

One of the reasons I decided to see this exhibition was because of Nauman’s clown pieces, since this visit took place in October when I was in full Halloween mode (as opposed to the partial but still enthusiastic Halloween mode I’m in the rest of the year), and I thought clowns were appropriately creepy and Halloweeny. This series of videos was called “Clown Torture” and filled the entire room, and was very creepy indeed. Nauman finds clowns very menacing, and this really came across here. There’s a clown screaming “no, no, no!” in one of the videos, and another where he keeps repeating the children’s rhyme, “Pete and Repeat sat on a fence. Pete fell off, who was left? Repeat. Pete and Repeat sat on a fence…” and so on, which I definitely remember reciting to irritate my mother when I was little (along with “The Song that Never Ends” from Lamb Chop. I was an annoying child), which made this installation very much an assault on the senses, as was “Anthro/Socio”, which is the piece pictured at the start of this post, with an actor shouting “Feed Me, Eat Me, Anthropology” and “Help Me, Hurt Me, Sociology” again and again whilst his head spun around on a video monitor.

  

Nauman also finds many children’s games quite sinister, as reflected in his “Hanged Man” neon, which was my favourite piece here (I mean, he’s not wrong about Hang Man – what a weird children’s game!). This was definitely not child friendly, as the hanged man goes from being alive with a flaccid penis, to dead with a huge erection, as you can see above, based on the old myth about what happens to hanged men (which maybe isn’t a myth? I don’t even know).

 

I liked the neons here generally – the coolest one was probably “One Hundred Live or Die” which is a grid of one hundred different declarations that light up in turn, such as “Live and Piss” “Die and Shit” “Smell and Live” etc. Unfortunately, I do not have a photo of it because it was impossible to photograph, so you get to look at “Human Nature/Knows Doesn’t Know” and “Black Marble Under Yellow Light” instead, and it is probably self-explanatory which is which.

 

There were also a couple more video installations; one featuring a mime (also creepy), and another showing sleight of hand tricks close up and various people falling, all shown in the RGB colour spectrum. Honestly, one of the coolest parts of the exhibition was all the huge period video monitors and projectors, mostly from the ’80s and ’90s, which reminded me of the technology we had elementary school.

 

Tate had a couple more of his installations scattered throughout the museum, including one on the wall of the cafe, and a sound installation in the stairs we used to exit. I think they have a couple pieces of his on permanent display too, but we didn’t attempt to go in the permanent galleries. Considering I’m not usually the biggest fan of modern art, I surprised myself by enjoying this quite a bit, since it was quite immersive – my only complaint would be that it only took us about half an hour to see the exhibition, even with lingering in some of the rooms, which is a bit light for a £13 exhibition, but since we only paid £6.50, I didn’t mind so much. 3.5/5 for Bruce Nauman – definitely worth visiting after lockdown if you’re in the area and don’t feel like spending your day queuing for Andy Warhol! It’s currently meant to run until February, and they might extend it further depending on when museums are allowed to reopen.

 

Bath, Somerset: “Grayson Perry: the Pre-Therapy Years” @ Holburne Museum

I finally visited a proper museum for the first time since March, and certainly not without trepidation. But in light of the fact that I thought I might have to return to the office in September anyway (which has fortunately been postponed til October), I reckoned I should take the plunge and see how other museums were handling opening in the age of Covid. Because I am still apprehensive about taking public transport, I was actually more comfortable with visiting a museum two and a half hours away in Bath than one in London, since at least we could drive there, and because Holburne Museum’s Grayson Perry exhibition was one of the places I was planning on visiting right before lockdown happened, I thought it was fitting that it was the first museum I visited after lockdown.

  

Holburne Museum advised pre-booking (admission is £11, or £5.50 with Art Pass, which you better believe I used after not getting the opportunity to for most of the year!), although they didn’t have timed slots available; you just had to book for the day you wanted to visit. Since I’m new to the socially distanced museum experience, I had thought that pre-booking would mean we could skip the ticket line and just go right in. Nope, there was a whole lot of queuing just to get in the door. Normally I wouldn’t care so much, but we were booked to see an exhibition at the American Museum at 2:30 and would have to leave the Holburne by 2:15 at the latest, and it was already after 12:30 when we arrived, so when we saw the sign saying it would be a half an hour wait from the point where we queued up, I was anxious we wouldn’t have time to see the exhibition before we had to leave. Once we got inside, the reason for the queue became clear – there was a one way system in place, and since only one set of staircases was open, they were sending everyone up in the lift, one group at a time, so you had to wait for the group ahead of you to go up before you were allowed into the ticket area. So there was absolutely no point in pre-booking since we had to pass through the ticket desk anyway, and they didn’t seem to be limiting numbers so much as just staggering entry. Considering I paid a £2 booking fee to book online, I think it’s worth knowing that it’s unnecessary!

 

At any rate, at least everyone was wearing masks, including all staff members (which made a nice change from some of the shops I’ve been in – looking at you M&S Food Hall), and people were practicing social distancing for the most part. There was one member of staff who was solely responsible for sending people up in the lift, and she was spraying down the lift buttons between each group, though I imagine there was still some risk just from breathing in the enclosed air in the lift if the group ahead of you had coughed or sneezed in it, but if I spent too much time dwelling on that thought, I’d never go anywhere, so best not to think about it really. Honestly, it felt safer to me than a supermarket since we weren’t touching anything and people were generally being respectful of the rules. And now (finally) to the exhibition itself!

 

I had never been to the Holburne before, but I get the impression from the reviews I had read of the exhibition before lockdown that it had been moved into a different area in the museum, as it was originally meant to have been in quite a small space, but the space it’s in now was reasonably open, with rope barriers set up to make sure traffic only flowed through one way. I also think only some of the museum was currently open to the public, and that the Grayson Perry exhibition was in what were normally permanent galleries. And honestly, I really liked some aspects of the new museuming experience, such as the fact that the staggered entry meant that there weren’t many people in the gallery, so we didn’t have to wait around to look at things like we normally would in a special exhibition; we could just flow through (at least until we worked our way up to the slow moving group in front of us, and had to wait for them to finish since we couldn’t go around them, but we were fortunately near the end of the gallery, so we didn’t have to wait for long).

 

I also liked Grayson’s art, which was in his typical irreverent style – in fact, probably even more irreverent than some of his later work, as there were penises (penii) and sacrilegious imagery aplenty in here (I especially like Charles I hunting with his dong out, above right)! The works on show were from early in Perry’s career, from the years 1982-1994, and this seems to have been before he started using tapestries and other media, since nearly everything here was pottery. These were also the years when Perry was beginning to explore cross-dressing and was in the process of developing his Claire persona (if you’re not familiar with Perry, he sometimes appears in drag as his alter ego Claire), so a lot of the works were explorations of masculinity or depictions of middle aged women that he was using as inspiration to develop Claire.

 

Some of these pieces were genuinely laugh out loud funny, and though I could have done with more text in some places (although conversely, I would say some of the pieces themselves had too much text. I think Perry got a little text-happy when he was churning out pieces quickly since it’s clearly easier to stamp text on than do an actual drawing, and he admitted himself that it was a period in his life when he was just trying to make money), I think there was a good balance in terms of providing a decent amount of background, but not giving people so much to read that they couldn’t pass through in a timely manner (except the people in front of us, of course, but that’s always the way). The exhibition filled one medium sized gallery and flowed across the museum into half of another permanent gallery, with seventy items in total to look at, including a short film. Although I was worried we wouldn’t have enough time, since we didn’t even enter the museum until 1, we actually managed to see the exhibition in good time and take a quick look around the rest of the museum because only a small amount of it (I’m assuming, since I don’t know how big it normally is, but there were definitely areas we couldn’t enter) was open.

 

The Grayson Perry exhibition was on the 2nd floor, and we were asked to make our way back down via the stairs (though I’m sure they will take you back down in the lift if needed) to make the one way system work. The other galleries contained a few portraits (seemingly mainly by Gainsborough) and a collection of ceramics (though no delightful Staffordshire murdery ones, I’m sad to say. These were much more boring than that) and I was speeding through them so we had time to see everything before I realised that’s all there was! Clearly the main focus right now is Grayson Perry, since the exhibition is only temporary, though it has been extended until January 2021 to give people time to visit.

 

Since it was a long drive from London, despite doing my best to avoid using public toilets, I didn’t really have a choice, so I did nip into the basement to avail myself of the Holburne’s facilities. And I was definitely impressed! I was the only person in there, and I could tell they had just been cleaned, since they were spotless and well stocked with plenty of soap and paper towels (and hand sanitizer, but that makes my hands feel a bit gross. I’d much rather use actual soap and water if it’s available!), and a cleaner popped in right after I had finished, so honestly, museum toilets (at least at this museum) are definitely preferable to those in a service station or something. On the whole, I enjoyed my visit to the Holburne, mainly because it was nice to visit a museum again after so long! Although it would have been nice if they’d made it clearer on their website that pre-booking really wasn’t necessary, once we got inside, I could tell they were doing everything possible to ensure a safe experience for their visitors. I do think £11 is a little expensive for the exhibition, but I was perfectly happy with my half-price admission, and I know they must be in need of money, so I really can’t begrudge them trying to get everything they can right now. Having seen both now, I can say that I prefer Perry’s later work to his earlier pieces, especially the excellent exhibition I saw at the Serpentine a few years ago, but if you like Grayson Perry’s style, you’ll like his early stuff too, just maybe not quite as much. 3/5.

London: Aubrey Beardsley @ Tate Britain

Another week, another disclaimer. I visited this exhibition a few weeks ago, right after it opened  – obviously museums and most other things are shut now, but even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t be venturing into Central London or anywhere else for that matter, other than the supermarket when we run out of staples (which are almost impossible to find now anyway thanks to asshole hoarders). I hope by blogging about this that I’m giving you the opportunity to view something you would otherwise have missed, rather than upsetting you by showing you something you probably can’t see now, though I realise Aubrey Beardsley’s life and work isn’t exactly a boost of positivity unless your sense of humour is as dark as mine.

 

Aubrey Beardsley might not be an artist you know by name, but it’s more than likely you’ve seen an example of his work. As soon as I saw the image they were using to advertise this exhibition (the one of the woman holding a severed head, above left), it lit a spark of recognition in me and I thought, “Aubrey Beardsley, of course I need to see that!” but in retrospect, that may be more because of how Beardsley’s work obviously influenced Edward Gorey (of whom I am definitely a fan) rather than because of much prior knowledge of Beardsley himself. (The two pieces below are the only ones not by Beardsley in this post, but they are drawings of Beardsley, and I included them so you could get an idea of how others viewed him in his lifetime.)

 

The Aubrey Beardsley exhibition at the Tate was originally only on until 25th May (no idea what’s going to happen now), and at the time it opened, I could see which way the tide was turning (though I didn’t expect it to turn quite so quickly), so I went to see it immediately to make sure I got the chance. And clearly I wasn’t the only one being eager (or maybe blasé, in retrospect), because the gallery was pretty full, mostly with older people, since it was the middle of the day on a weekday. I’m positive this was the same gallery where we saw the Van Gogh exhibition, but they changed the orientation of the space so the entrance was now the exit. No matter, it’s still a large gallery, and it wasn’t anywhere near as packed as Van Gogh was (which could only have been a good thing, considering).
 
Admission was £16, but we got in for £8 with National Art Pass. I booked online shortly before we arrived just to save myself the faff of standing at the ticket desk (I will avoid human interaction whenever possible, which turns out to be serving me well in these times). The exhibition was divided up into fifteen sections, though some rooms held three different sections, so it wasn’t actually fifteen rooms, but it still took us a fair while to walk through them all. The advantage of having such a large space was that even though certain displays had quite a few visitors in front of them at once, the opposite wall would usually be empty, so I could just go look at something else until they cleared out, a boon for anyone who hates waiting as much as I do (and seriously, look at it, take a photo if you need, and move on. You don’t need to stand there studying a picture for twenty minutes when other people are clearly trying to look around you).
 
I suppose I should actually tell you a bit about Aubrey Beardsley at some point, so here goes: he was born in 1872, and contracted tuberculosis at the age of 7. Being that there was really no effective treatment at the time (unless you count the mountain cure, the prairie cure, or whatever other supposedly healthier air the owners of various sanatoriums were peddling), Beardsley always knew he would die young, so was determined to pack as much as possible into his short life. He was very close to his mother and sister, who supported his talent for drawing, which was evident from an early age. He mainly created images for publication, so not many people viewed his original sketches during his lifetime, and because he favoured the lewd and grotesque, many of his drawings were censored prior to publication, so this exhibition was an excellent chance to see the originals.
 
Beardsley, although probably not actually gay himself (he seemed more asexual than anything) fell in with a crowd of decadents that included Oscar Wilde, which would have profound consequences for Beardsley’s career after Wilde’s trial for gross indecency, as publishers didn’t want to do business with anyone who was associated with Wilde. Still, for someone who was effectively only working for seven years (he died at the age of only 25), Beardsley still managed to have an incredibly impressive output consisting of thousands of drawings, including the illustrations for an addition of Le Morte D’Arthur, Oscar Wilde’s Salome, and various magazines, including a stint as art editor of The Yellow Book.
And as I’ve already mentioned, and you’ve probably already seen from the photos, Beardsley had a fascination with the grotesque, and you can clearly see the influence his work must have had on Edward Gorey and other modern illustrators. He had a fetus motif running through many of his pieces (no one knows why), and did some excellent caricatures of both friends and enemies. The ones of Oscar Wilde (especially the one of him a couple of paragraphs down where he’s struggling to translate his work into French, a language Beardsley was fluent in) and Whistler, above left, (and Whistler’s wife, above right) made me laugh out loud. (He seems to have particularly had it in for Whistler, who he once admired, but Whistler snubbed him, which triggered the caricatures. An excellent revenge, I think.)
 
He also, though expressing no obvious sexuality himself, liked to do vaguely pornographic drawings, and these were kept in their own special “adults only” room of the exhibition (though I didn’t see any children in the exhibition anyway). They were primarily illustrations for a privately printed edition of Lysistrata, a Greek play by Aristophanes where women attempt to put an end to the Peloponnesian War by denying their husbands sex (I had to read it for a class I took on Eros and Love, and it wasn’t the worst thing we read in that class by a long shot. That honour goes to Wuthering Heights. Blech), and there was, to my great delight, an illustration depicting a fart cloud, and a whole lot of giant erections. He also tried to sneak sexy bits into illustrations intended for more mainstream publications, like a tiny erection he stuck on a drawing on John Bull for The Yellow Book, which was sadly discovered and removed prior to publication.
 
Obviously I loved Beardsley’s work, and I think we could have definitely been friends (we have the same big nose, and I can relate to the pain of that caricature at the start!). His work was popular in his lifetime, but then forgotten about until the 1960s, when the Tate held an exhibition of his work that prompted a revival of interest (though they claimed exactly the same thing in the Van Gogh exhibition, so maybe it should be taken with a grain of salt. I really don’t think the Tate is solely responsible for people liking Van Gogh), and there were some examples of ’60s art at the end of the exhibition so you could see the way his monochromatic style influenced a lot of artists, including the artist who did the cover of the Beatles’ Revolver (but I’m just including more of Beardsley’s work, because I love it so much. The guy wearing the crown of vine leaves in the picture below right is meant to be Oscar Wilde. So many great caricatures).
 
Sadly, the shop didn’t have postcards or prints of his more erotic work (no fart cloud print for me) or his caricatures, which were basically my favourite things, but we did get a few postcards of other pieces. £16 is a lot of money, so even though it was a big exhibition with great content (and just the right amount of text), it’s hard for an exhibition to live up to that, but I definitely think I got £8 of enjoyment out of it, if not a bit more, and considering it was one of the last exhibitions I got to see for who knows how long, I certainly have no regrets. 4/5.
 

London: “Unbound” @ Two Temple Place and “Mushrooms” @ Somerset House

The title of this year’s exhibition at Two Temple Place is “Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles.” Sounds marvellous and wild and free, doesn’t it? Well, unfortunately it’s still Two Temple Place, so it had the usual crowd of stern biddies staring us down to make sure we didn’t accidentally brush up against anything. I know the photo above makes it look as though there were interactive displays, but what you can’t see is the rope barrier that ensured you couldn’t actually get anywhere near those fun looking yarn balls.

 

Anyway, even though I’m less than enamoured with the atmosphere of Two Temple Place, as well as its last few years of exhibitions, I do think it’s a fabulous building, and it is free to enter, so I normally pop along at some point to see their annual exhibition, which runs from January-April (this year’s ends on 19th April). This year’s theme was the work of seven women, five of whom were roughly contemporaries born in the mid-late 19th century, and two modern women, all of whom were involved in collecting textiles. Most of these women, as is typical of collectors, were fairly wealthy and had the time and funds to devote themselves to their passions, and I’m sure they must have had interesting lives, though unfortunately those stories didn’t always come across in the text. However, I did note some tidbits on Louisa Pesel, who travelled extensively, taught shell-shocked WWI soldiers embroidery to help with their convalescence, and designed the cushions for Winchester Cathedral. Another of the collectors (whose name escapes me), bought her pieces mainly from street markets in London, which apparently had beautiful 18th century garments on offer for cheap back in the 1920s and ’30s (sounds way nicer than the piles of cheap knock-off shoes and handbags they seem to primarily sell today).

 

As always with Two Temple Place, there were some really lovely artefacts here, but the curation felt lacking. Instead of providing a narrative, the signage was basically: short biography of a woman and a brief description of a handful of objects she’d collected, with no attempt to tie the pieces together in some cohesive way. The text panels were all quite dry, and I found my eyes glazing over as I tried to read them to the point where I had to read some of them several times because they were too boring for my brain to absorb the content (I used to have the same problem during lectures – no matter how much I told myself to pay attention, my mind would start wandering, I’d look up, and it would be the end of class and I’d have absolutely no idea what was discussed), which is why I can’t recollect which woman collected which things. In an exhibition that was meant to be about the pioneering spirit of these women, I think they could have tried a bit harder to make them stand out as individuals, though maybe that’s partially my fault for being bored so easily.

 

Still, despite my short attention span, I did take an interest in some of the artefacts, especially the Georgian dresses, the traditional straw dollies, and Yinka Shonibare’s reimagining of the slave ship The Wanderer, a voyage made well after the slave trade from Africa was banned (shown above right). In Shonibare’s version, the slaves managed to take control, hence the colourful batik sails. I wanted to like the Balkan textiles more, but without much description of how the objects were used and what the patterns meant, they all got a little samey. One plus side of the rather dour atmosphere was that it managed to work magic on the group of schoolchildren that were visiting the exhibition at the same time as us. I know I’ve complained about unruly children at various places lately, but these ones were completely silent, to the point where it was almost eerie. I can only assume one of the stewards terrified them into submission. We were done with this exhibition pretty quickly (though I made sure to use the upstairs toilets before I left – they’re fabulous!), and though I enjoyed it more than that awful molester Eric Gill exhibition (how could I not?!), it definitely wasn’t great. 2.5/5.

 

Since we were only a short walk away, we then headed to Somerset House to see the intriguing sounding “Mushrooms: The Art, Design, and Future of Fungi,” a free exhibition that runs until 26th April. Even though I am a vegetarian, I loathe mushrooms (in my experience, many other vegetarians do as well, so it escapes me why some places offer mushroom risotto as the sole vegetarian option (not really an issue in London in this day and age, but I still encounter it at weddings, in smaller British towns, and in Ohio, which is mostly not down with the whole vegan thing)), so my only real experiences of willingly eating mushrooms are the few times I dabbled with the magic variety in my younger days. But I still think fungi are weird and interesting, and provide exciting possibilities in terms of being a sustainable material, so I was keen to see some mushroom art!

Even though the exhibition space was much smaller than that of Two Temple Place, I think Somerset House managed to cram quite a bit more content in, as each of the three rooms was jam-packed with art on the walls and display cases on the floor. There was a guy who had collected mushroom stamps from all over the world, which filled up an entire wall, and some excellently bizarre collages by Seana Gavin. I also loved the William Morris inspired mushroom wallpaper designs above the previous paragraph, though I think I’d prefer a different colour scheme – maybe blues or greens?

   

I thought the Infinity Burial Suit was really kind of awesome – it is woven from thread implanted with mushroom spores, and the idea is if you bury a body in it, the mushrooms will feed off the body as it decomposes and eat up any contaminants to prevent them being released into the environment. I’m not sure that I prefer it to a traditional body-shaped coffin lined with velvet, and massive statue of myself either reading or looking sassy (or both!) on my grave, but by the time I die, I suppose it might be one of the only options available, depending on how much Earth has degraded by that point (which is more depressing than the thought of my own death). And on a lighter note, given the nature of mushrooms, of course some of the art was amusingly phallic, particularly the 3D pieces.

 

The text contained brief descriptions of how mushrooms had been viewed throughout history, from being treated with suspicion by medieval Europeans, who thought they were used by witches (I have never personally used a mushroom in a spell, though I’m sure they must have some useful medicinal properties) to becoming kind of adorable in the Victorian era, thanks mainly to Lewis Carroll. The little shop had some neat mushroom themed products, and apparently I could have had a free mushroom facial, though I presume the appointment slots were booked up by the time of my visit. Overall, I enjoyed this much more than Two Temple Place, and I’m definitely glad I stopped in to check it out and see my name written in fungi. I still won’t be eating a mushroom any time soon, but I respect their aesthetic! 3.5/5.

 

London: The Museum of Neoliberalism

I know I’ve had a lot of angry posts recently, but I hope this will be more of a fun post on an angry topic, if that makes sense. The Museum of Neoliberalism has been around since November, but I only heard about it in mid-January when Time Out posted about it on their Instagram. Because it is a pop-up and it wasn’t clear how much longer it would be around, I immediately planned a visit for that Saturday. It is recommended that you book a time slot on the museum’s website to ensure that the museum will be open when you get there (entry and booking are both free, and you only have to book one slot regardless of how many people will be attending), but I reckon if you live locally, you can probably just drop in on a weekend. The museum is in Lewisham, near Lee Railway Station, which I had never heard of before (Lee, not Lewisham), so it was definitely not local to me and turned out to be even more of a palaver to get to than I was counting on because I didn’t realise that there were no South Western Railway services on my line on the day of my planned visit, so I had to get a bus to Putney to even get on a train to Waterloo, and then get another train from Waterloo East, and any journey that involves taking a bus just to get to a train is never a good time (and seriously, what is South Western’s problem? I took a train the week of the closure, but I swear they never announced it. They probably put a sign up late Friday night to announce no trains on Saturday. I know I said I wouldn’t be too angry in this one, but they’re so shit). Still, I only get every other Saturday off work, and I wasn’t going to waste a perfectly good Saturday not doing the thing I had been planning on all week, so I persevered.

 

And my efforts would not go unrewarded, as the museum, though small and located in the middle of an ordinary high street (easy to miss unless you’re paying attention), was instantly eye-catching and fun, presenting us with a display of free Jeremy Corbyn coasters when we walked in (obviously they pre-dated the December election), and was done in a bold graphic style reminiscent of the exhibitions at Banksy’s Dismaland, and for good reason – Darren Cullen and Gavin Grindon, the artists responsible for the Museum of Neoliberalism, also contributed to Dismaland. In fact, we bought one of Cullen’s prints there, so I was already a fan of his style, and was pleased to see more in that vein. His work is cynical and pessimistic yet hilarious at the same time, and being a pessimist myself, I can definitely relate. If you live in London, you may well have already spotted his work appearing on bus stops and other locations (not entirely legally).

It was a museum of neoliberalism, but most definitely not a museum that was pro-neoliberalism, in case the signage hasn’t already tipped you off. In case you’re not sure what neoliberalism entails (I wasn’t entirely clear before visiting this museum; the “liberalism” in the name threw me), its current meaning is basically a form of free market capitalism that takes Adam Smith’s laissez-faire ideas to extremes. In the UK, it is associated with austerity, and is the form of government practised by both the Tories and New Labour, so essentially is the shitty system that has gotten us into the mess we’re in. It means tax cuts for the wealthy, little to no spending on social services, antagonism towards unions, attempted privatisation of the NHS, etc, etc.

 

For such a small museum, it managed to pack in an awful lot of text, and was very informative. Ever the skeptic, even though I essentially agreed with the politics of this museum, its creators clearly have a strong bias, so I did some research on some of the material presented here, and it mostly checked out. If you already bemoan the current state of affairs, this museum will just enrage you even more, but at least it manages to entertain whilst doing so, with the above parody versions of railway games that made me laugh out loud (I’ve been that person sat on the floor next to the toilets), and objects that included a bottle of urine produced by an Amazon worker who didn’t have time to go to the toilet because of their ridiculously high targets, and the ultimate horrific dystopian accessory: the tracking device patented by Amazon that monitors an employee’s work at all times, and allows a manager to yell at them when they’re not working fast enough (although I can’t find confirmation anywhere that Amazon have started using them, just that they exist). I don’t have the space or energy to go into PFIs here (the subject of the above “game”), but they waste an incredible amount of money that should be going to the NHS directly, and reading about them is enough to make my blood boil.

 

Perhaps rather ironically for a museum with such an anti-capitalist bent, there is a shop, which was staffed by Darren Cullen himself on the day we visited, and was genuinely the best museum shop I have ever seen. Mainly filled with Cullen’s art in the form of prints, postcards, stickers, and t-shirts, I wanted everything in here, but settled for two prints, a handful of postcards, and two pin badges (if you’re unable to visit the museum in person but would like to look at Cullen’s art, most of it is available online). Although small, if you’re of a liberal persuasion (or even if you’re not, as long as you’re open minded) or just like art, this is a must-see. I’m glad I made the effort, even on a shitty no-trains day, and I’d go sooner rather than later if you would like to see it as well, because I’m not sure how much longer it will be there. 4/5.

London: Play Well and Misbehaving Bodies @ the Wellcome Collection

I felt like I had just been at the Wellcome Collection, but unless I was and didn’t blog about it (unlikely), it seems my most recent visit was in May or June last year, which is apparently enough time for everything to have changed. Well, not everything, but a lot of things! I came specifically this time to see “Play Well: Why Play Matters” which runs until 8th March. Despite the seemingly child-friendly name, this exhibition is very much aimed at adults, which is probably why they had to put a disclaimer on their website about the limited interactivity of the exhibition. There were still more children inside than in a normal Wellcome exhibition (which usually, blissfully, has almost none), but nowhere near as many as you’d get in a normal museum.

As you might expect, this exhibition was about the psychological and physical benefits play can bring; however, it wasn’t a particularly playful exhibition, for all that the layout was allegedly designed by children. It began with the history of the kindergarten movement and the work of Friedrich Frobel, who designed a series of 20 “gifts” meant to aid a child’s development from infancy on up. All these gifts were collected together in the cases that dominated the first section, but there was no explanation of how the toys were used, how children were given these gifts (did parents have to buy them? Were they provided by schools?), or really anything, other than the name of each gift. I did, however, find it interesting that the kindergarten concept started as literal “kinder” gardens, where each child would tend to their own little plot of land in order to teach them life skills, as you can see in the photo above.

 

There was also a lot of information on the development of nursery schools in Italy, and on playgrounds in the UK (there was a photo series of children in the Gorbals of Glasgow, a notorious 19th and early 20th century slum, playing in the cemetery as it was the only bit of green space available to them), and the importance of allowing children to take risks in their play. There were a handful of interactive things, but they were primarily computer games that looked to be circa 1980 (we had a computer from the late ’80s onward, and the games I played on it as a kid were more advanced than these ones) and were so text heavy that they weren’t even fun. The only interactive bit that looked vaguely entertaining was a sort of soft play area built into a wall (confusingly, it had a sign saying it was not a soft play area), but I wasn’t clear on whether it was aimed at adults or children, and it had a set of rules that included taking off your shoes, which left old no-socks-Jessica out in the cold again due to not wishing to startle people with my foot odour.

 

The most charming objects here by far were the actual toys (on display, not to be played with), that had been owned and loved by children, especially sweet little Pumpie the elephant, who was wearing a handmade suit, part of an apparently extensive wardrobe. His owner even posed him in formal portraits that I thought were the best thing ever (even though the picture of Pumpie staring out to sea makes me quite sad). I also liked the story of a teddy that had been operated on by its owner (gently, in order to find out why its growler had stopped working, and carefully stitched back up afterwards) who grew up to be a vet. If the exhibition had more personal stories like this, I would have loved it, but this was only one small section. I heard people outside the exhibition talking about how great it was, and I do not agree. Except for Pumpie and co, it was a bit boring and not particularly appealing to children or adults. 2.5/5.

 

We headed upstairs afterwards because I wanted to see what they had done with the Medicine Now gallery, which was notable mainly for its life size sculpture of a man made up totally out of fat lumps, as I knew they had replaced it with a new gallery called Being Human, but I also unexpectedly encountered another temporary exhibition I didn’t even know about, this one called “Misbehaving Bodies,” which ended shortly after my visit. It featured the work of two artists, Jo Spence, and Oreet Ashery. Spence’s pieces were about her diagnosis and subsequent treatment for breast cancer (unsuccessful, she died in the 1992 at the age of 58), and Ashery’s were about confronting mortality. In spite of the subject matter being obviously more depressing than “Play Well,” I actually found this exhibition much more engaging.

 

Ashery’s pieces were in the form of videos, which were set up at comfy viewing stations throughout the room (they had giant teddy bears in them you could lean on. So cosy!) showing interviews with real people living with life limiting conditions, as well as a fictional narrative about a dying woman named Genesis (I have to admit I didn’t watch all the videos, so I kind of missed the whole Genesis thing and just saw the real people).

Spence’s pieces reflected the less high-tech world she lived and died in, and were mainly photographs and collages about her life and experience of cancer treatment in the NHS, and though I’ve fortunately never had to deal with any kind of serious illness, I have had to seek treatment for a number of minor but chronic conditions, and I could relate to her frustration with the system. I do think the NHS is a wonderful thing in theory, but in practice it is completely overstretched (not at all helped by the Tories being in power for so long), and has a number of overworked, unempathetic, and sometimes downright incompetent doctors working for it (though based on my experience, I think you find doctors like that in every country), with systems that are outdated at best. Spence was told she had breast cancer by a young doctor who simply drew an “X” on one of her breasts and told her the whole thing would have to come off. Awful! My own, much less serious but still irritating saga, involves seeking treatment in a specialist, but still NHS clinic (because my GP wouldn’t take my problems seriously and misdiagnosed me just to get rid of me); and finally being prescribed a medication that did help, but told to get refills from my GP, who refused to give it to me because the clinic doctor never sent a letter, and apparently the different branches of the NHS are not joined up in any way. I had to make three trips to the clinic to get them to write the letter, and am now on my third appointment with the GP just to try to get a repeat prescription so I don’t have to keep making appointments every month, because the last time I went I had to see this awful locum who didn’t listen to me at all, and not only gave me a refill of a medication I didn’t want or need, he gave me the wrong dosage(!) of the one I did need. I don’t know how people who have serious illnesses have jobs, because if I didn’t have Mondays off, I would have had to take off of work at least four times just to be able to get the medication that I was prescribed in the correct dosage.

 

Anyway (I seem to be going on a lot of rants lately, don’t I?), even though many of Spence’s pieces were text heavy, I thought her life was really interesting, so I read them all. I’m glad I got to see this exhibition before it finished, since it totally escaped my radar until near the end. I also did check out the Being Human gallery, which is perfectly fine, but not the sort of thing to which I will feel the need to make frequent return trips (unlike their Medicine Man exhibition on Henry Wellcome, which is endlessly fascinating). There was a lot of modern art and not nearly enough interactive elements.

The other thing I was surprised by was that the toilets at the Wellcome have completely changed, and though surely it must have taken months to do, I seemed to have missed the entire transition period. They have changed the male and female toilets into self-contained unisex stalls, which is fine, except I didn’t realise they had changed when I first went in and was a bit taken aback to see a guy standing there. I never eat at the Wellcome’s cafe (I had cake there once and it was not good), but I’m glad they have moved the pastries away from the centre of the cafe, where everyone could sneeze and cough all over them, and put them under a sneeze guard by the tills. You’d think a medical museum would understand the importance of keeping germs away from food! A somewhat disappointing visit, except for “Misbehaving Bodies.”

Columbus, OH: Wexner Center and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum (Again!)

Every so often, I have one of those posts that is basically just a long angry rant about how much I hate something, and I’m afraid this is going to be one of them. I went back to Cleveland for Christmas, as is my custom, and my mother bought us a night at the BrewDog hotel in Columbus as an early Christmas present (for Marcus, I hasten to add). We drove down early that day so we would have time to see a couple of museums before meeting up with my uncle and his partner for dinner and drinks in the evening (we weren’t going to have time to do anything the next day as we had to drive back right after checkout so I could meet Hanson that afternoon!!), and one of the museums I chose to see, solely because I hadn’t been there before and it was in a convenient location, was the Wexner Center for the Arts, located on OSU’s massive campus. I think the Wex is also a venue for film screenings and performances, but the museum is what I visited, so that is what my ire is directed towards.

I knew we were off to a bad start when we were charged $9 each for admission, despite the website clearly stating it was $8. I didn’t question it because the woman at the admissions desk wasn’t very friendly, but I wasn’t happy. The exhibition at the time of my visit was HERE: Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, Maya Lin and I foolishly assumed that HERE was merely the temporary exhibition, and there were other, permanent exhibitions. Nope, HERE is all that was THERE. The exhibition consisted solely of two rooms with words written on the walls, a room full of marbles, and another room full of tables of copies of images from OSU’s archives that you were meant to tear off and mail to yourself or a friend (it wasn’t clear if postage would actually be provided, and also this was a huge waste of paper). I was annoyed enough at having paid $9 for something that took all of ten minutes to see, but I was about to get even more annoyed.

Do you see all those marbles in the picture above left? They were all glued to the floor in some formation that was meant to look like rivers or some shit, which I guess was kind of cool, but they were just standard glass marbles of no real value, plus they were affixed to the floor, so were unlikely to be disturbed by footfall. Well, I walked to the end of the exhibition and tried to leave by stepping over the marbles at their narrowest point, which was only a few inches wide, because there was no other obvious exit. A guard ran up and started yelling at me and forced me to walk all the way around the exhibition to get out. She was accompanied by not one, but two other guards, all seemingly employed solely to guard the marbles. Although I didn’t say anything at the time, aside from a remark to Marcus about not disturbing the precious marbles, this is where I got angry. Leaving aside the fact that the exhibition probably shouldn’t have led you up on the wrong side of the marbles if you weren’t meant to step over them, or at least have a sign saying as much, I just can’t get over how many security guards this museum had working there to guard what was essentially a valueless artwork.

I don’t talk that much about the museum where I work for various reasons, and I’ve agonised over posting this, but I need to be honest about the realities of working in heritage for myself, my colleagues, and doubtless scores of other people throughout the UK. To say circumstances are not ideal is an understatement. Most of us spend years volunteering before we manage to land what will inevitably be a low-paying job not commensurate with our levels of education (and generally the bigger the museum is, the less they pay because people will settle for anything just for a chance to work there). And once we get that job, we put up with so much crap because we’re relieved that we have paying jobs at last – in my case, working in an office with horrible strip lighting that literally gives me a migraine every time I turn it on, so I have to work in the dark; getting verbally abused by mentally unstable visitors; having to stop what I’m doing fifty million times a day to direct people to the toilets that are just beyond my office (yes, we have many signs pointing the way, but people don’t look at them, and no, I’m not allowed to close my office door, so any member of the public can just walk right in at any time and demand things, yell at me, or make creepy comments); and despite the existence of the public toilets, sometimes even cleaning up after people who puke, pee, or shit inside the museum because our cleaner only comes once a week and we can’t just leave it there (I’m talking drunk adults doing these things, not children). I could say more, but I think it’s better if I don’t publicly post the rest. Now, I have been working in customer service in one way or another since I was 16 (not by choice, but I can’t seem to get a job that doesn’t involve it), so these are more or less all things I’ve had to deal with at some point in the past, as has probably anyone else who works with the public, but when I worked in retail and events, I at least knew there were always security staff on the premises if I needed help. At the museum, we are an entirely female team with no security staff, so we have to deal with any incidents ourselves. We don’t even have front of house staff – our welcome desk is entirely volunteer-run, by one volunteer at a time, and as their manager, I do my best to deal with any issues myself so they don’t have to, which means that even though I technically have an office job, I spend a lot of time in front of house dealing with any problems that occur. And despite all of this, I know I’m lucky to even have the job at all, since more budget cuts are imminent, and the future of the museum is currently very uncertain. So when I look at my working environment, and then I look at a museum that can charge $9 so they can employ three people to guard marbles, I get angry. And then I write a long rant like this one.

I’m going to end that rant there (even though I could go on for longer) but suffice it to say I definitely will not be returning to the Wexner! 0/5. Fortunately, my old favourite, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum, was there to save the day, as it is located in the building right next to the Wexner. Not only is it a free museum, but their temporary exhibitions at the time of my visit were very much up my alley. These were Drawn to Presidents: Portraits and Satiric Drawings by Drew Friedman and Ladies First: A Century of Women’s Innovations in Comics and Cartoon Art.

Any longtime readers will know how much I love presidential history, and I also love political cartoons when done well, and Friedman’s were pretty great. Not only did he draw a portrait of each president for his book All the Presidents (I didn’t buy it because it is literally just pictures of all the presidents) which all managed to be accurate yet hideously unflattering, he also drew cartoons for MAD, SPY, TIME, et al, and many of those were in the exhibitions as well as a whole section devoted to each of the presidents from Reagan through to the current President Fart (as I like to call him). I loved this.

 

I also liked the exhibition on female cartoonists, with works ranging from late 19th century cartoons advocating women’s suffrage to modern graphic novels, and everything in between. Many of them were funny, but there were also some thought-provoking and emotional cartoons, including one about a woman discovering the story of her older sister, who died when the cartoonist was a baby from a scalding accident, and how it affected her mother. I’m not going to go into too much detail on the Cartoon Museum because I’ve blogged about it a couple of times before and I’ve already made this post quite long by including that rant, but it is a fabulous little museum and I highly recommend visiting (and ignoring its neighbouring museum). The current exhibitions are great, but I’ve honestly never seen anything here that’s been a dud.

 

London: “Designed in Cuba” and “Charting Black Lives” @ the House of Illustration

I recently returned to the House of Illustration for the first time since 2016 to see two new exhibitions: “Designed in Cuba: Cold War Graphics”, which runs until January 2020, and “W.E.B. Du Bois: Charting Black Lives”, which runs until March 2020.  My main complaints about the House of Illustration on my first visit (because you know I gotta have some complaints) were that it was too expensive for the size and it had a strange layout that required you to keep hold of your ticket the entire time (rather than immediately shoving it in my bag and losing it amongst the general chaos, as I usually do), because the galleries have separate entrances that lead off the shop. As the layout remains the same, and the museum has gotten even more expensive since my first visit (now £8 instead of £7), I guess those complaints stand. Fortunately, I got in for half price with National Art Pass (sorry to mention it all the time – they’re definitely not paying me or anything, as I’m fairly sure they’ve never heard of me and I have to order and pay full price for my pass like everyone else – but the discounts are what allow me to see as many exhibitions as I do), and £4 ain’t bad.

 

Because all exhibitions at the House of Illustration are temporary, admission covers the whole building. I started with “Designed in Cuba,” which I was intrigued to see as I’ve always been keen on Soviet art, and I wanted to see how the art produced by their communist counterparts in Cuba measured up. The pieces in this exhibition was produced by Fidel Castro’s OSPAAAL (the acronym for the unwieldy Organisation of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America) in the years following the revolution and included posters and magazines, primarily Tricontinental, which was used to disseminate communist propaganda around the world.

 

Cuban communist art was certainly much more exuberant than the Soviet variety, mixing in elements of Cuban culture as well as multiculturalism from around the world (many of the posters were for Days of Solidarity with [insert country here], and it frankly seemed like there were more days of solidarity than days in a year!), but I’m happy to report that I liked it just as much as the Soviet stuff. There was a bit of Castro themed art but most of the work here was either celebrating other Asian, African, or Latin American countries, as one of the aims of OSPAAAL was to foster cooperation between non-Western countries; or was anti-American propaganda, which made me laugh, like the evil Nixon-eagle shown below.

The art here was also noteworthy because much of it was produced by female artists, who were given a more equal standing in OSPAAAL than female designers had received in pre-Castro Cuba. All in all, I think this was a very different and fascinating perspective on Cuba and mid-late 20th century Cuban art. None of this is to dismiss the way many of the Cuban people suffered under the Castro regime, but it is interesting to look at things from this angle rather than the one I was taught at school.

 

Before heading into the W.E.B. Du Bois exhibit, I had a quick look in the Quentin Blake Gallery, which features (you guessed it) pieces of work by Quentin Blake. Though it is always Blake’s work on display, the pieces and themes change every few months. This one had sketches from his studio, and my favourite ones were the series of people talking to animals. I have definitely had some earnest conversations with birds, so I can relate!

And on to “Charting Black Lives”. This contained the infographic charts produced by W.E.B. Du Bois (pronounced du boys rather than du bwah), an African-American scholar and activist who was one of the founders of the NAACP, for the 1900 Paris Exposition. Du Bois’s aim was to prove to a world that was still deeply imperialist that black people were equal to white ones, through charts showing their improving education, employment, and ownership of property despite Jim Crow laws and other prejudice against them, particularly in the American South.

 

Because these were reproductions of Du Bois’s actual charts, some of the terminology on them would be considered offensive today, and many of the charts were in a rather “experimental” format, such as his use of bar graphs that had bars that curved around at the end to fit all the numbers in, which made some of them difficult to read. Nonetheless, they made for interesting viewing. The charts were displayed on wall mounts that you could flip through, so it was lucky the gallery wasn’t crowded, as it would have been annoying to keep having things you were looking at flipped over by someone at the other end. One of the walls contained charts specifically about Georgia, the state with the largest black population in America, and the other wall was about the US more generally, and although Du Bois tried to paint a positive picture, the effects of discrimination still made for deeply depressing reading.

Although the charts themselves were informative and interesting to look at, as were the photographs of ordinary African Americans that Du Bois displayed alongside them, there wasn’t much other context provided in the exhibition, other than explaining Du Bois’s background and why he made the charts. I would have been very interested to know what their reception was at the Paris Exhibition. Did people actually read  them? Was it a popular exhibition? Did it alter anyone’s way of thinking? None of this was covered here, and it felt like a rather glaring omission.

 

On the whole, I think I enjoyed this visit to the House of Illustration more than my first one, even though I obviously loved all the drawings of the BFG that I saw on my first visit. The nature of the Du Bois charts meant that I lingered longer reading them than I might have done just looking at artwork, and the Cuban art was visually appealing and also contained some interesting commentary, though I think this could have likewise been improved with more analysis on the signage. 3.5/5 for these exhibitions.

 

Corning, NY: The Corning Museum of Glass

Long time readers are probably familiar with the awful family vacations I used to have to go on whilst growing up, because I complain about them a lot. I suppose I should be grateful we got to go anywhere at all, as I had some friends whose families never travelled, not even to other parts of Ohio, but honestly, most of the time I would have much rather stayed home with a good book. Memorable (for the wrong reasons) trips include the year we drove all the way to North Carolina to go to a really big furniture factory outlet, and my parents didn’t even buy anything; the trip to Washington where the only museum we were allowed to visit was the Air and Space Smithsonian (the one I had the least interest in), the trip to Vegas when I was 16 and had to spend the whole time hanging out in the hotel’s crappy arcade with my then 9 year old brother, whilst getting hit on by the unattractive nerd that worked there; and of course, the trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York (known for its wineries, because 15 year olds love nothing more than going to wineries where they can’t legally drink, just like 16 year olds love nothing more than going to Vegas where they can’t legally do anything) where we stopped at the Corning Museum of Glass, but couldn’t actually go in because my father was too cheap to pay the admission fee (my policy is if you’re not willing to pay to do anything when you’re on holiday, you’re probably better off not going anywhere at all). Well, on my recent visit home, my brother and I decided to take a road trip together, minus the ‘rents, and since he travels to upstate New York a lot for work and knows the area well, we thought we’d give ourselves a redo of that Finger Lakes trip, only this time, we would go to the glass museum, and plenty of other places besides. And not a single winery!

 

Corning was our first stop, and having gotten an early start, we arrived around noon. We first headed into the quaint (albeit small) downtown for some tasty pizza by the slice and seriously one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had (if you find yourself in Corning, you must go to the hilariously named Dippity Do Dahs. Get the Butternut Toffee in one of their homemade cones, which comes with the option of hot fudge in the bottom, which of course only a fool would refuse. Don’t be a fool), and then to the museum in time for our glass blowing session. Yes, glass blowing. Having been denied the joys of the Corning Museum of Glass the first time around, this time we were taking advantage of everything they had to offer, including glass blowing! Admission to the museum is $20 (which is admittedly on the steep side, though I’m quite sure it wasn’t nearly so much nearly 20 years ago), and the glass blowing classes were another $32 per person on top of that – we booked ours in advance to be sure of a place.

There are various things you can choose to make, including ornaments and jewellery, but since we were visiting during glass pumpkin season, the choice was obvious! There are some more intensive classes where you actually learn how to shape the glass yourself, but in the class we chose, the instructor shaped the pumpkin for us – all we did was the actual blowing (ha) and we got to choose the colours we wanted to use. Although I would like to take a proper glass blowing class one day, this is a good choice if you just want a quick taster, and honestly, not that expensive considering pumpkins in the museum’s shop were at least $32, and at least this way we got to customise them. My brother and I were thrilled that we got chosen to go first so we didn’t have to hang around watching everyone else make theirs (you can’t collect the pumpkins until the next day, as they obviously need to cool down in a controlled environment, but they do offer shipping within the US if you’re not going to hang around that long). My blowing technique was semi-ridiculous, but it seemed to work fine, and I’m super happy with my purple and blue pumpkin (which survived the trip back to the UK intact!).

 

And then it was time to explore the museum, which was huge! I think there are six main galleries, with a couple extra in the outbuilding where we did the glass blowing. Some of the galleries have scavenger hunts that you can access via the Glass App available on the museum’s website – these were fun, but the museum’s wifi kept cutting out without my noticing, so I ended up accidentally using quite a bit of my expensive overseas data, which is a bit annoying.

 

Coincidentally, not long before visiting here, Marcus and I had watched the Netflix series Blown Away (which I like to call Blow Master), which is a glass blowing competition that is strangely compelling. I super hated the woman that won because she seemed ultra-pretentious and kept referring to everyone else’s pieces as “pedestrian,” and since the grand prize was a year’s artist in residency at the Museum of Glass, I was really hoping there’d be some of her work here so I could stand in front of it and call it pedestrian. To be honest, I quite liked her sausage chandelier (meant to be some kind of metaphor about the patriarchy), but I called it pedestrian anyway out of spite. Unfortunately, we were a week too early to see an exhibition of work from the show (I would have planned the trip differently if I’d known), but I was glad I at least got to see one thing.

In addition to the modern glass art, the museum also had a huge gallery of glass throughout history (entitled, rather overwhelmingly, “35 Centuries of Glass”), with pieces dating back to the Ancient Romans. This was a bit too large to take in properly all in one go, but they had a paper version of a scavenger hunt in here, which was definitely intended for children, but my brother and I of course still did one, and at least it gave our visit some sort of focus. I loved the crazy intricate miniature glass tableaux, which were mostly religious in nature. I forgot to grab a picture of the captions, and can’t find them on the museum’s website, so I can’t tell you more about them other than that they were early modern European, but they were definitely my favourite things in here, and the museum had at least ten of them.

 

There was also a gallery on the science of glass blowing, and that was where all the fun interactive stuff was hiding. This included a lot of different mirrors, science experiment things where you could see the different ways glass refracts and reflects light, and even a thermal camera so you could see how double glazing helps to hold heat in (I’m always more interested to see how cold my body is compared to other people’s – my nose and hands are always freezing!). This was also the area where they gave science demonstrations, so we hung around to watch one on glass breaking (demonstrations are free and offered throughout the day) – my brother and I took strongly against the obnoxious kid who was picked to assist, and cracked up when the woman worked there kept referring to him as “Garius” instead of “Darius”, which was actually his name. We now call all obnoxious children “Garius”.

The shop, which was all we were allowed to see of the museum on our first attempt to visit all those years ago, is also really big (seriously all the glass pumpkins and gourds), though as we had already made our own glass pumpkins, we didn’t feel the need to buy anything. Since Corning is where Corningware comes from (hence the glass museum being located here), they had a whole separate section in the shop just for that. $20 is definitely a lot for a museum visit, but we spent three hours in the museum, and could easily have spent more if we had been bothered to read all the information in “35 Centuries of Glass” (it was so much information though), so I think it was a worthwhile splurge, and of course I love my pumpkin! 4/5, and I’m glad we got to remedy this failure to visit at last! I also liked that our hotel was within walking distance of the museum, as was the downtown area, so it was that rare American city where you didn’t actually have to use a car. Bonus points for that and the amazing ice cream.

 

Cleveland, OH: “Medieval Monsters” @ the CMA

I think this week is less of a stretch than last week in keeping with the Halloween theme of October. C’mon, monsters?! Scary! But obviously the Cleveland Museum of Art doesn’t agree with me, because this exhibition closed well before Halloween, on 6th October. So you can’t visit it now, but I couldn’t have blogged about it in time anyway because I didn’t see it myself until the week before it closed, what with not living in Cleveland (frankly, I was glad I got to see it at all, after longingly watching CMA post about it for months on Instagram).

 

“Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” was a free exhibition, as is the museum itself, but good luck finding parking nearby other than in the museum’s $10 lot (and public transport in Cleveland? Forget it!), but I can’t really begrudge them that income before it is such an excellent museum. However, they could have had better signage, because it took me ages to figure out where this exhibition was (I could only find paper maps, when a big mounted map somewhere would be much more eco-friendly), and I couldn’t even find a member of staff to ask. Eventually I realised it was downstairs, opposite the main special exhibition that you have to pay for (on Michelangelo at the time of my visit. I skipped it).

 

As you may have guessed from the title, the exhibition was divided into three sections: Terrors, which was meant to be about how monsters “enhanced the auras of those in power,” though I seem to recall it being primarily about saints and the ways in which they were tortured to death (admittedly, many of those pictures and manuscripts were originally owned by various kings and queens, hence the power I guess); Aliens, which was about marginalised groups in medieval European society; and Wonders, which was more in the vein of teratology, and included fabulous beasts and anomalous (and imaginary) humans.

 

The museum had also produced a rather fabulous free Field Guide to Medieval Monsters, which included images of all the monsters featured in the exhibition, with a brief description of each. This included some of my old favourites like Blemmyae (the supposed race of headless people with faces on their chests) and the Hellmouth (literally a mouth that was meant to be the entrance to hell); and others I’d seen but never knew the names of, like Gryllus (a human head on horse-like legs. Different from a centaur, because Gryllus is just a head sitting right on top of legs, no body) and the Ziphius (meant to be a horrible sea monster, but he’s grumpy and adorable! I want one as a pet. Please go look at him via the link at the start of this paragraph).

 

Even considering that much of the art was religious in nature – which is not normally my thing – because it was for the most part so weird and gory, this ending up being so my type of exhibition. There was thoughtful text in each room describing how the idea of monsters shaped the medieval world, and covering serious themes like mental illness and xenophobia, but I have to admit that I was mainly in it for the illuminated manuscripts and the promise of marginalia, and that is what has stuck with me the most when it came time to write this post. Though I probably shouldn’t, I find many medieval pictures depicting the martyrdom of saints completely hilarious, and my favourite here was the piece above left depicting St. Bartholomew keeping his chin up with a jolly grin whilst being flayed alive (and clearly the medieval church had a sense of humour just as sick as mine, because he is the patron saint of tanners, leather workers and butchers. Talk about black humour).

 

There was also some charming marginalia here, including my personal favourite, a man mooning some sort of ceremony (I forgot which) with his thumb up his butt to indicate disrespect (in case the mooning wasn’t disrespectful enough). Not quite as good as a butt trumpet, but close enough!

 

I also loved all the beasts – even the real ones like elephants and crocodiles appeared to have been drawn by someone who had never seen such things in person, and I find the naive nature of their illustrations endlessly charming. This exhibition was an absolute joy to look at, and I’m sorry you won’t be able to see it too, but I hope my (poor quality) images at least gave you a sense of what was there. My only complaint was that the postcards in the gift shop didn’t feature the best of the monsters, but I know having custom postcards made is always a bit of a gamble, so I can’t bitch too much. 4/5.

 

Whilst I was here, in addition to visiting my favourite Henri Rousseau (Fight between a Tiger and a Buffalo) and Jacques-Louis David (Cupid and Psyche) paintings, I also popped in to see their “Color and Comfort: Swedish Modern Design” exhibition, which was in one of the small galleries upstairs. Based on the name, I was expecting something IKEA-esque, but it was so much better than that. This was actually about textile design, and though it was a bit light on signage (perhaps because it had been put together by grad students at Case), the fabrics themselves were absolutely lovely, as you can hopefully see from the images below. It only took me about ten minutes to view, but it’s worth the detour if you’re here anyway. Good old CMA!