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August 17 2012

Written in stone: the UK's best historic towns

TV historian Dan Cruickshank picks beautiful towns around the UK noted for their historic architecture and the tales they tell of life down the centuries

Our historic towns are a precious cultural treasure. I've been exploring them for decades, extracting secrets about the ways people built, lived, toiled and took their pleasures through the generations.

A particular joy is the great diversity in the building materials and methods with which towns were built. Within a few miles the very nature of the settlements can change, depending on available materials. So you find brick in much of south-east England, timber in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, limestone in Somerset and the Cotswolds, sandstone in Cumberland, and granite in much of Cornwall and Scotland. Architectural and building styles also change, evolve and survive in a most charming way, to give each town its own vernacular character.

The most beautiful and best- preserved of our historic towns are well-known, and rightly so, but one of the wonders of these islands is that many fascinating places are taken for granted or overlooked. Ludlow in Shropshire is a perfect example: rising on a plateau above the river Teme on the border of England and Wales, it was a frontier town and fortified with wall, gates and a mighty castle.

It was also a market town, so it has a long wide market square and a "shambles" of alleys once home to victuallers and butchers. But best of all is its glorious mix of building materials and styles. You find 16th- and early-17th-century timber-framed structures with late Gothic or Renaissance details – such as the Feathers Inn – jostling with sedate brick-built Georgian houses. A stroll through the city gate and up Broad Street – lined with the mansions of long-forgotten rural grandees – is a great urban experience.

Frome, in Somerset, is very different. It is primarily a limestone town, its houses built of square ashlar blocks or coursed rubble rendered with lime. Its golden age was in the 17th and 18th centuries, when it flourished as a market and coaching town and a centre for the wool industry. The old weavers' quarter, called the Trinity, dates from the late 17th century and incorporates charming and pioneering industrial housing. It was almost swept away in the 1970s but, at the 11th hour, enough was saved to remind us of what had been, and give extra character to this most rewarding town.

As with all the best towns, the pleasure of a walk through Frome is far more than the sum of its parts. The spaces, the sustained streets, the sinuous forms, the vistas framed and enclosed, the surprise as corners are turned and amazing buildings or compositions emerge, offer great aesthetic thrills. There is Cheap Street – lined with early buildings, steep, paved and with a central gutter or "canal", once a common feature in our towns and cities – the steep and cobbled Catherine Hill, Stony Street and Gentle Street with their generous Georgian houses, and the astonishing temple-like early 18th-century Rook Street Chapel.

For urban brick at its best, explore Blandford Forum in Dorset. Here the town centre, destroyed by fire in 1731, was soon rebuilt in a splendid English baroque manner by equally splendidly named local builders the Bastard brothers. The bricks are of superb quality and colour, and the way they are laid and detailed displays superlative craftsmanship and deep sensibility. Add to this the Bastards' eye for baroque styling, particularly fashionable in the West Country: facades articulated with pilasters and dressed with details inspired by the work of Borromini in Rome.

It's all amazing, and organised around a splendid baroque parish church, also designed by the Bastards. This heady combination of grand church and swaggering houses gives this little town the architectural sophistication and, at moments, the presence of a great city.

For yet greater 18th-century architectural and metropolitan sophistication in a smallish town, visit Stamford in Lincolnshire. Here all is stone-built – to the highest quality – and baroque in spirit. The building types – theatre, assembly room and elegant shops as well as large terraced houses – act as reminders that provincial towns were once the centres of their own world, places of culture, sophistication, fashion and local pride.

A walk through the streets of Stamford today offers striking contrasts. There is wonderful 18th-century architecture – the memorable George Hotel on St Martin's offers a vivid vignette of the glorious age of coach travel – and there are the more commercial streets, now too often strewn with litter and lined with bland shopfronts and chain stores.

In Wales the coastal town of Tenby, with its nearly complete late-13th-century walls, was created as a fortified redoubt of English and Flemish settlers and merchants within Wales. Much survives of this period, but there is also evidence of the town's brief time as a resort for the early-19th-century novelty of therapeutic sea-bathing. So elegant walks look onto splendid beaches that were once part of the town's medieval defences and by the Regency period were picturesque attributes of a fashionable pleasure.

Among defensible towns, little can compete with Berwick-upon-Tweed, the long-disputed border town between Scotland and England. It has Britain's only complete set of 16th-century town defences, and within these the town is mostly Georgian, including a sprawling early-18th-century barracks designed in bold and masculine baroque manner by Sir John Vanbrugh's Office of Works.

One of my favourite towns, and one often overlooked, is Armagh in Northern Ireland. Its two cathedrals, both dedicated to St Patrick – one medieval and Protestant, the other mid-19th-century and Catholic – eye each other from high ground at either end of Armagh. Because of the cathedrals and its administrative importance, Armagh was made a city in 1994, one of the UK's smallest. Both cathedrals are remarkable – the Protestant one largely because of its glorious monuments, the Catholic one because of its astonishingly ornate and colourful Gothic Revival architecture.

But for me the great glory of Armagh is its domestic and civic architecture, much of it Georgian and the legacy of an enlightened late-18th-century Protestant cleric, Archbishop Richard Robinson. He gave the town a number of buildings of fine design that express admirable and civilised virtues, including a handsome neo-classical public library, built in 1771, and an observatory, built in 1790.

More visually thrilling are the streets: the park-like Mall, lined on one side with splendid late-Georgian houses, and, best of all, the terrace on Vicars Hill, by the Protestant cathedral. The house facades have no ostentatious detail: the doors are simply marked with blocks of stone, the windows no more than holes punched in the rendered wall. But what holes! In their proportions and relationships they reflect classical design stretching back to the Renaissance, Rome and beyond. In their humility and self-effacing beauty, they are emblematic of all that is best about UK architecture.

Dan Cruickshank presents BBC2's The Country House Revealed, and Brick by Brick: Rebuilding Our Past


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August 10 2012

A David Cerny sculpture walk in Prague

Cerny's exercising bus sculpture may have delighted Londoners during the Olympics, but in his native Prague lurk many far wittier, more subversive creations. Discover them on this unusual tour of the Czech capital

Double-decker buses typically provoke an irksome reaction in Londoners. Crowded, late and plagued with chewing gum-abandoning teens, they are rarely the subject of mirth. However, David Cerny's "London Booster" sculpture – a 1957 Routemaster which does push-ups while groaning – has raised a big, transport-related smile from the capital's commuters during the Olympics.

Situated outside the Czech HQ in Islington, the wheezing, working-out vehicle is one of many tongue-in-cheek installations from the Prague-born artist. A rebellious mix of Antony Gormley and Damien Hirst, the enfant terrible is as controversial as he is amusing. In 2009, he was supposed to collaborate with 26 artists on a piece promoting the EU. Instead, he faked the names of the other sculptors and made the giant collage himself, perpetuating crude stereotypes of its member states: Bulgaria was shown as a squat toilet; Italy was a football pitch of masturbating footballers.

Subtlety might not be his strong point, but his larger-than-life social comment pieces are certainly intriguing. Many of his most famous creations lurk tantalisingly in Prague's historic crevices, providing a refreshing and quirky way to explore the capital's centre.

A perfect starting point is the middle of Wenceslas Square, inside Lucerna Pasaz on Vodickova. Here, you will find 'Horse' – a dark, bastardised version of the imposing kingly statue situated in the square behind you. Hanging, Damocles-like, from a lime-tiled dome ceiling sits Wenceslas, astride his now dead, upside-down steed. Though Cerny never comments publicly on his work, the piece is seen to be a damning attack on current Czech President, Václav Klaus – a frequent subject for Cerny derision.

Next, head down Spalena towards Old Town Square. When you reach U Medvidku beer hall on Na Perstyne, look up. In the distance, a diminutive, Colonel Sanders-esque figure dangles suicidally from a rooftop. This tiny, bearded figure of "Hanging Out" is, in fact, Sigmund Freud, casually swinging from a beam with his hand in his pocket. Created in 1997, it is Cerny's ambiguous response to the question of what role the intellectual would play in the new millennium; an absorbing sight regularly missed by tourists watching their footing on the cobbles.

Over Charles Bridge, the Franz Kafka museum immediately to the right (Cihelná 2b) harbours one of Cerny's most humorous creations. Affectionately titled, "Piss", it features two gyrating, mechanical men urinating on a map of the Czech Republic. Text a personal message to the number next to the exhibit and these chaps will happily waggle their bronze penises around to spell it out for you.

Skip past the gorgeous Malostranske namesti (Lesser Town Square) and head up Trziste, into Vlasska – a cobbled hill lined with large, grandiose buildings. The German Embassy is an imposing sight, and hidden within its huge, maze-like gardens, stands "Quo Vadis" (walk 100m past the embassy, left into a children's playground and peer through the railings). This post-Velvet Revolution sculpture, a fibreglass Trabant car on four, giant tree-trunk legs, is a tribute to the 4,000 East German asylum seekers who, in 1989, stationed themselves here until they were granted political asylum back into West Germany. Many left their Trabants behind, hence Cerny's choice of motor.

Double back on yourself towards the river and head right, along the Vltava's edge, to Kampa Island. Three giant babies guard the entrance to Museum Kampa (U Sovovych mlynu 2). These crawling, Lynchian creatures, with imploded slot-machine faces, are part of Cerny's "Babies" project – a commission to make the notoriously ugly Zizkov TV Tower more attractive. Look beyond the museum into the distance and you will see the result: swarms of these weird mutants scaling the futuristic eyesore, with atmospheric red and blue neon lighting them at night.

For the last stop, head south past the funicular railway, and turn right up Holeckova street. A brisk 10-minute walk and you'll reach Futura, a contemporary, free art space (Holeckova 49, Wed-Sun 11-6pm), which hosts the permanent Cerny installation, "Brownnosers". Weave through the underground vaults to the tiny garden at the back to find it – two giant pairs of legs bent over and moulded into the wall. Viewers are invited to climb up the ladders and stare into the fibreglass anus. Inside, a video of Cerny's old adversary President Klaus is shown, in which he and the Head of the National Gallery are spoon-feeding each other slop to the sound of Queen's "We Are The Champions". Crude, unsubtle, comical, it is yet another example of Cerny's displeasure with post-revolution democracy; the fates of the Czech people, he feels, rest uneasily in the dictatorial, money-grabbing hands of inept politicians.

A fitting, relaxing, antidote to the day's walking would be to catch a band at Cerny's very own club, Meet Factory (Ke sklarne 15). Part music venue, part gallery, it is a converted glass warehouse in the Smichov district, with two melted red cars nonchalantly hanging on pegs outside ("Meat"). The club regularly hosts electro and indie, and you can regularly find the floppy-haired man in question, David Cerny, beer in hand, enjoying the bands.

• EasyJet (easyjet.co.uk) flies to Prague from London Gatwick from £52 return


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July 27 2012

London's top five architecture walks

Check out 1,000 years of London's history written in stone, bricks, mortar and steel

Hackney Wick

To understand how the Olympics is changing London, rather than visiting the Olympic Park, walk around it – through Hackney Wick, Bow and the thrusting new landscape of Stratford. Start with coffee at the Hackney Pearl (11 Prince Edward Road, thehackneypearl.com), and the surreal sight of a tree growing in the middle of the road. Head past industrial goods yards and artists' studios. At White Post Lane drop into The White Building (thewhitebuilding.org.uk), London's newest arts centre. Since the towpath across the canal from here has been closed for the Games, pick your way through one of London's last light-industrial landscapes to Dace Road, where Bridget Riley and many others have turned these Victorian warehouses into an artists' enclave.

Smithfield

This is a taste of ancient London. There has been a meat or livestock market at Smithfield since medieval times, and it still operates today, despite attempts by developers to redevelop it as offices. There are pleasures to be had either side of the grand Victorian central market building: to the north on Britton Street is the Jerusalem Tavern (stpetersbrewery.co.uk) and the tiny Museum of the Order of St John on St John's Lane, (museumstjohn.org.uk), while to the south is the church of St Bartholomew the Great, parts of which date back to Norman times. Around the church, in the narrow alleys and passages off Cloth Fair, for instance, you can feel the atmosphere of the medieval city.

Southwark's backstreets

Three parallel streets between Waterloo and Southwark combine, in their modest way, to create one of the jewels of south London. Whittlesey Street is almost theme-park London, a perfectly preserved brick terrace from the 1820s that is used endlessly as a location for Victorian period dramas. A block to the north is Theed Street, which doglegs round to meet the saw-toothed pitched roofs of Roupell Street, a block to the south. These few blocks, with their secret gardens behind brick walls, are a microcosm of a London that no longer exists.

O2 to the Thames Barrier

Turn your back to the former Millennium Dome, look east and imagine that you're going to walk out of London. This would be the way to do it, and before you're too far along this river path you will smell the sea. But the route starts with the capital's newest addition, a cable car across the Thames to the Royal Docks (tfl.gov.uk/emiratesairline). From here on, you're in London's industrial hinterland. On the north bank is the Tate & Lyle factory in Silvertown, while on this side you negotiate a cement factory. In the early evening, the great pleasure of this walk is the silence – except for the odd plane landing at City Airport.

Hampstead

If Hampstead retains a bohemian air, despite being an enclave of the super-wealthy, it is because its picturesqueness muffles all else. Any number of routes will reward a stroll, but do head down Flask Walk and then Well Walk to number 40, where John Constable lived in the 1820s when he was painting his cloud studies on the Heath. Then amble down Willow Road to two more famous houses. One is at number two, the home that the modernist architect Erno Goldfinger built in the late 1930s to test his ideas. The other is just around the corner on Keats Grove, the Regency house where the young poet wrote Ode to a Nightingale.


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Crowd-free places: My perfect London day out

For calm contemplation during London 2012, the author of Quiet London suggests peaceful galleries, an art bookshop, a life drawing class – and a visit to William Blake's grave

I'd start my perfect day with a bowl of muesli, eaten in my swimming costume, ready for a gentle swim at the Golden Lane leisure centre, a small, quiet pool near the Barbican . Next I'd walk up City Road to two art galleries: the Parasol Unit (parasol-unit.org) and Victoria Miro, (victoria-miro.com) both in beautifully converted old buildings on Wharf Road. I really like the architecture around here – the exterior of Trevor Horne Architects (trevorhorne.com) round the corner on Micawber Street is my idea of heaven in a building. With its huge gabled roof, this would be the blueprint for my own house and studio.

Still eager to see more contemporary art, I'd wander back down to Iniva (iniva.org) the Institute for International Visual Arts), a culturally diverse organisation on Rivington Place which is also an education and research centre. Its exhibitions are thoughtful reminders that quietness and excitement are perfectly compatible. It would be tempting to spend a few hours in its library, too, but I'd probably be hungry by now. I'd walk through leafy Bunhill Fields, the former dissenters' burial ground, passing William Blake's grave, to Carnevale (020 7250 3452, carnevalerestaurant.co.uk). This quiet vegetarian restaurant and deli has a small patio room at the rear and I'd invite a friend to join me for tabouleh and roasted red peppers.

Afterwards, I'd try out an awareness through movement class at the nearby Open Centre (opencentre.com) on Old Street then follow my gentle exertions with a leisurely browse in the fascinating BookArtBookshop (bookartbookshop.com), 10 minutes' walk away on Pitfield Street. It's one of the best places to find limited edition artists' books in London.

My perfect day wouldn't be complete without doing some drawing, however, so I'd quickly walk back down Old St to the Prince's Drawing School, for a life drawing class (princesdrawingschool.org). In addition to drop-in classes, which start from £16 (£5 for young people), this is also a good place to see perceptive, intelligent drawing by current students. After doing a few charcoal sketches I'd treat my husband to a meal at the urbane Searcy's Restaurant in the Barbican (020 7101 0220, searcys.co.uk/barbican-centre). Together we'd watch the sun set over the peaceful, inner city lake.

• Siobhan Wall is an artist and author of Quiet London (Frances Lincoln, £9.99), a guide to London's more peaceful side. To buy a copy for £7.49 go to guardianbookshop.co.uk


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March 28 2012

Steel the show: Anthony Caro at Chatsworth House - video

Jonathan Jones takes a tour of a retrospective exhibition of Anthony Caro's abstract steel sculptures in the grounds of Chatsworth House



Anthony Caro sculptures go on display at Chatsworth House

Commonly regarded as Britain's greatest living sculptor, Caro has put 15 of his enormous steel works on show at stately home

Sir Anthony Caro once famously said that he preferred his sculptures to be viewed in an enclosed space. Yet on Wednesday, Caro, commonly regarded as Britain's greatest living sculptor, put 15 works on show in blazing sunshine in the spectacular grounds of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.

At the opening of the exhibition, Caro said there was "a strictness" about the setting that had made him reconsider his view. "I'm trying to stand up against the Romantic, pastoral thing. What I really mean is that one should really look at the work and not see it as part of the garden or something, and that's happened here because there's enough space to do it."

The enormous steel sculptures at Chatsworth, which was built between 1687 and 1702, rest on the grass around the 287-metre-long Canal Pond – Caro made art history in the early 1960s by abandoning the plinth. The exhibition includes two of Caro's early, brightly painted sculptures, but much of the work dates from the 1970s, when the artist was experimenting with rusted metal. The most imposing work is Goodwood Steps, which is 6.5 metres high and 33.5 metres across, almost blocking the view of the house.

"I don't think [ … the sculptures are] a challenge to the house but they're more like architectural things than pastoral things," said Caro. "The big one works with the house and I'm surprised it does."

Speaking at the launch, the Tate director, Sir Nicholas Serota, said that the work had "never looked better" than juxtaposed with Chatsworth's baroque splendour. He added that Caro was "in a certain sense a living legend … he took sculpture to a totally new place."

Peregrine Cavendish, the 12th Duke of Devonshire, who lives at Chatsworth, said that it was "a dream come true that this great artist should spread his work around our pond". Though Chatsworth has exhibited contemporary sculpture in its grounds for the past six years, and has a collection including pieces by Richard Long and Lucian Freud, this is the first show by a single artist.

The works were all loaned by Caro, who said they had been retrieved from a barn in Yorkshire where they were "covered in goo – this is the first time I've seen them pristine for years". He said that Goodwood Steps, which was originally commissioned for the Henry Moore Studio in Halifax, had to be fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle after the marks instructing how to do it had been lost.

"There was two foot of snow when they were installing it – hard to think of that today," said the duke. "The sculptures without any plinths, just growing out of the grass, look wonderful. We've had to cut the grass with nail scissors round it because obviously we can't use the strimmer but we'll deal with that."

Though admission to the house and grounds costs £20 per adult, the duke said he thought this was "very good value". The house has recently undergone an extensive restoration programme, including the re-gilding in gold leaf of 42 large windows.

Though the duke said he expected visitors to come from all over the world to see both the exhibition and Chatsworth House itself, he added that he enjoyed looking at the sculptures on his own – "at least once a day".


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March 14 2012

The rise of the seaside art gallery

Can art galleries save the British seaside? As yet another opens, this time in Hastings, Steve Rose finds out why it has so angered local fishermen – and asks if these regeneration projects really do any good

On Guy Fawkes night in 2008, the effigy on the annual beachfront bonfire in Hastings was not a person but a building. It was a mockup of the new Jerwood Gallery, which opens this Saturday. The effigy said plenty about what those opposed to the gallery expected: it was a rudimentary portico, like a mini-Parthenon, bearing the words "ART GALLERY". Between its columns were images of flying pound signs and a white elephant. The crowds cheered as it burned.

This was not an entirely accurate reflection of the East Sussex town's overall feeling, though, as counter-protesters came out in support of the gallery the next morning. But it's a scene that's been replayed, in some form or other, across coastal towns in recent years. The decline of the traditional British seaside summer holiday has left once-glorious resorts in states of grimness and depression. And culture is now the cure – or at least the prescription. Over the past decade, a wave has been crashing on coastal towns not from the sea but from inland, in the form of new art galleries and other cultural initiatives, particularly in the south-east. But there's invariably a local contingent who see "regeneration" as gentrification by stealth: poncy urban types imposing their own sensibility on people who'd rather spend their hard-earned on something other than art.

You can almost read the tension in the landscape around the new Jerwood. It's located on the Stade, a strip of land between the sea and the town centre mostly given over to a brash jumble of seaside stalwarts: crazy golf, fish and chips, penny arcades, go-karting, a boating pond, mock pirate ships and a giant fibreglass tomato. But at the far end, in contrast, is a picturesque cluster of exceedingly tall, black-painted wooden huts known as "net shops". Considered a defining part of Hastings' identity, these striking 19th-century structures are still used by fishermen. The Jerwood sits bang in the middle of these two extremes. The opponents' chief complaint was the fact that the Jerwood was replacing the coach park. So instead of daily deliveries of fish-and-chip-eating, crazy-golf-playing daytrippers, the fear is they'll now be receiving a trickle of snooty, miserly culture-spotters instead.

The building itself does its best to negotiate this charged landscape. Designed by HAT, a new architectural practice, the £4m gallery is thankfully nothing like its effigy. Its language is utterly contemporary: sharp-edged blocks pierced by big squares of glass. But the exterior is clad in pewter-black ceramic tiles, which helps it blend in with the net shops. The tiles give the building a pleasing, oily lustre and an air of robustness. Nothing poncy going on here. The unassuming scale helps, too: if you were looking at Hastings from a distance, you'd barely spot it. Inside, the galleries displaying the Jerwood's permanent collection, over two floors, feel intimate and domestic, in keeping with the paintings, while a larger room for temporary exhibitions on the ground floor is more industrial. Rather than anonymous white boxes, the gallery is a sequence of distinctive spaces, given character by various sources of natural light, views outside, subtle changes of scale and direction, and a glass-walled internal courtyard.

There's something slightly unsettling, however, about the balcony of the first-floor cafe, which overlooks the beach right where the fishermen moor their boats: a clutter of nets, small huts, fish stalls and beached trawlers. It's an earthy, working landscape to sip your cappuccino over and feel like a gentrifier in action. Are the fishermen being turned into an exhibit? "You could say we weren't all that excited about it, yeah," says Ben, as he hoses down his van beneath a "NO JERWOOD" banner. "We've already got art galleries in Hastings – and no one goes to them. Why do we need another? And why's it got to go here? The coach parties used to come down here and buy our fish, but now they won't."

Liz Gilmore, director of the Hastings Jerwood, sympathises to some extent. "I think what they're describing is just change," she says. "When any new cultural venue comes into a place, there is an osmosis effect, a shift in the kind of people that come. We're building a different kind of appetite for a different kind of cultural activity, but I think there's a great deal of overlap."

Gilmore has seen this before. Prior to working for the Jerwood Foundation, a private charity that supports visual arts across Britain, she was with the Arts Council, and witnessed local opposition to the new Turner Contemporary Gallery just around the coast in Margate – another striking new gallery in a blighted town. Designed by David Chipperfield, it opened last year. "People don't necessarily fear change," she adds, "but I think they fear the unknown. Often, people are much more vociferous at the beginning of a project, when they don't know what's coming, than they are at the end."

In fact, the south-east coast now has a network of such galleries, which Gilmore describes as a "string of pearls": the Turner Contemporary; Folkestone's Triennial; Bexhill's De La Warr Pavilion (a fine example of restored 1930s modernism); Eastbourne's Towner (opened in 2009); and Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. This string of pearls has come about by coincidence as much as design, but credit should also go to a government initiative called Sea Change, run by the now-defunct Cabe, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.

Sea Change's mission was "to use culture to make a difference to seaside resorts, contributing to sustainable, social and economic regeneration". Brian Quinn, a former Cabe advisor, elaborates: "Seaside towns are the end of the road. So they have half the hinterland of inland towns. They are 180-degree towns rather than 360-degree ones, so they're inherently less robust. And with declining tourist numbers, many have been left with an excess of leisure facilities, and have failed to come up with alternatives."

Between 2008 and 2010, Sea Change directed £37m towards 34 cultural improvement projects around the coastline. In the south-east, Sea Change has complemented the new galleries: improving the setting around Bexhill's De La Warr Pavilion, for example, and embarking on a major restoration of Margate's Dreamland, an amusement park from the seaside's golden age. In Hastings, it helped turn the rest of the Jerwood's coach-park site into a new public space and community centre, using an additional £5m of public money. Sea Change has also made smaller but strategic interventions, such as Littlehampton's World's Longest Bench – a delightful piece of street furniture in the shape of a charm bracelet by Studio Weave.

"It was about enhancing the existing fabric of places," says Quinn, "but it was also about changing their identity to say, 'Fun radical things happen round here, which could help stimulate other activities.' People have got something they're very proud of, something they can take visitors to, rather than feeling like they live in a clone town."

Has Sea Change worked? Yes, found a recent study on Sea Change's results. An estimated 700 new jobs were created; every £2 spent was matched by £3 of private investment; and there's evidence it has catalysed wider regeneration programmes to the tune of £276m. Added to which, visitor numbers have invariably exceeded expectations. The Towner in Eastbourne has had its public funding doubled when others are having theirs cut, and the Turner Contemporary hit its 12-month target of 150,000 visitors within three months.

Whether this means culture can really fill the gap in the long term is a different question: wherever you look right now, there are economic gaps in need of filling. But a judicious piece of new architecture, or a rundown landmark brought back to life, does more than just create money and jobs. Done well, as in Hastings, it can also knit together the existing townscape – if not all its townsfolk – and provide a focal point to the region's artististic community.

That's the other thing: the art itself. Between them, the south-east's new galleries piece together a history of the past century in British art that was previously all but invisible outside the major cities. The Turner Contemporary has Turner, of course, and local heroine Tracey Emin, who will have a major show there in May. The Towner has most of Eric Ravilious's work and a trove of postwar and contemporary British art in its collection; and Folkestone's streets and beaches are now strewn with world-class public art thanks to the Triennial, while Pallant House has a fine collection of British pop and postwar art, from Peter Blake to Frank Auerbach.

The Jerwood fits right in. Its first temporary exhibition is by Rose Wylie, an idiosyncratic Kent-based painter now enjoying national recognition in her late 70s. The Jerwood's own collection, about a third of which the new gallery can exhibit at any one time, is expanding, fuelled by its annual drawing prize. It currently includes works by Walter Sickert, Ben Nicholson and Stanley Spencer, as well as previous Jerwood prize-winners such as Patrick Caulfield and Maggi Hambling. It's not a stretch to imagine the gallery inspiring even the sceptical locals. The Old Sailor Dreams of his Past, for example, was painted by John Bellany, the son of a fisherman.

Will the fishermen of Hastings go and see what's inside? "Oh yeah, probably," says Ben. "It's there now. We might as well make the most of it."


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December 15 2011

Stay in your very own Frank Lloyd Wright house

Three of Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic houses can be seen on a day trip from Pittsburgh – and there's even the opportunity to spend the night in one of them

Frank Lloyd Wright was coming towards me in his trademark pork-pie hat and opera-goer's cape, frosty eyebrows raised, when I woke up. As a rule I don't dream of world-famous architects – never, so far as I recall, have I dreamed of Frank Gehry or IM Pei – but there were extenuating factors. I'd nodded off over a biography of Wright, reading about how he'd arrive unannounced at a house of his design to see how its owners were treating it. And the house where I lay, the Duncan House, an hour south-east of Pittsburgh, was an actual FLW, one of only half a dozen where Wright-lovers can stay the night.

Left in sole possession, my wife and I struggled that first evening to make ourselves at home. To begin with, we tried going for a walk. The house is at the end of a mile-long private driveway, set amid a 125-acre wooded estate. In October the trees were in their autumn finery, spanning the spectrum from deep red to palest yellow. Climbing a hill, we looked out over the rolling Laurel Highlands, one of Pennsylvania's prettiest landscapes and a favourite getaway for Pittsburghers, before following a trail to a secluded pond. On our return leg, we looked in on the estate's two other houses, both designed by a pupil of Wright's and bearing his influence.

Back at home base, we tried walking around the single-storey house, considering it from every angle: the horizontal bands of bleached mahogany, the gutterless eaves, the stonework of the chimney, and the carport (Wright hated enclosed spaces like garages, attics and basements). Inside the house was a vintage 1950s American kitchen, like the set of Happy Days, but instead of cooking we made a picnic at the living room table. This was our favourite space, the heart of the house with its cathedral roof and fireplace, and the expansive windows that allowed us to sit warmly inside without missing the magnificent foliage. It wasn't until we were ready for bed that we noticed another typical FLW feature – no curtains or blinds on the windows.

So, up at first light, we made the 40-minute drive south through the Laurel Highlands to Fallingwater. Wright built Fallingwater in the 1930s, when he was pushing 70, and such was its impact that he never again lacked for commissions. People have been visiting, photographing and writing about the place ever since but it still has the power to startle at first sight. The family who commissioned Fallingwater, owners of a Pittsburgh department store, anticipated something more conventional: a weekend cabin with a view of the falls. What they got instead was a bravura exercise in modern architecture and engineering – the core of the house resting on boulders with terraces of reinforced concrete cantilevered out over the falls. To their credit, they were content to foot the bill, which, in true Wright style, never ceased to climb.

Seven miles from Fallingwater and now under the ownership of Lord Palumbo, Kentuck Knob is another FLW favourite. Crowning the brow of a hill and shrouded by trees, Kentuck Knob is built around a hexagonal kitchen and its angles just keep getting odder. Wright hated the dark, Victorian houses of his childhood, calling their rooms boxes within boxes; one of his abiding aims was to break down those boxes and blur the line between inside and out. Built for local ice-cream barons, Kentuck Knob achieves these aims with considerable charm. Adding to its appeal, the house and grounds are dotted with modern art – works by Claes Oldenburg, Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Serra – from Lord Palumbo's collection.

Having toured these two houses, we returned for a second night at the Duncan House and found ourselves looking on "our" FLW with fresh eyes. Now that we'd learned a little about Wright's methods and motives, certain things made more sense: the absence of decoration (Wright abhorred "inferior desecrators"); the narrow gallery leading to the bedrooms (a mere passing-through space, to be minimized as far as possible); the built-in shelving; and the division of the house between living areas (spacious and open) and private spaces (smaller and darker, places to sleep and take shelter rather than for living).

FLW houses try to teach their inhabitants how their paternalistic designer would you to live: together, around the fireplace; in harmony with nature; simply and without clutter. If Americans have largely ignored his lessons, holding on to their garages and basements, preferring to live in bigger and bigger boxes on sub-divided estates, that isn't Wright's fault.

The Duncan House is no Fallingwater. In common with the other five Wright houses where you can stay the night (all in the Midwest), it's a Usonian. Usonians, designed and built in the last decades of Wright's life, were prefabricated houses that could be assembled according to one of a dozen blueprints. They were meant to be affordable, bringing good design within reach of middle-class America. (Though affordable was always a very relative term with Wright.)

The only way you'll ever get to experience Fallingwater is on a guided tour. Staying at Duncan House felt a bit like being able to take a Rembrandt home from the gallery – not a major work, a sketch, but a Rembrandt all the same.
We certainly got to like the place and were sorry to leave – perhaps, if we'd been allowed to stay, we'd have become better people! Lingering on our last morning, I took time to flick through the comments book. In the couple of years since the Duncan House opened, Wright aficionados from all over the world have stayed there, adding an extra, personal facet to their FLW tour. It's not cheap but very few were complaining. 'The dream of a lifetime' wrote more than one.

The Duncan House, 187 Evergreen Lane, Acme (+1 877 833 7829) costs $425 per night (two night minimum); the house sleeps up to six – extra $50 per night for fourth, fifth and sixth guests. Fallingwater, 1491 Mill Run Road, Mill Run, (fallingwater.org; book tours several months in advance). Kentuck Knob, 723 Kentuck Road, Dunbar (kentuckknob.com; advance bookings recommended). Flights from London to Pittsburgh with various US airlines start at around £340, if booked via kayak.co.uk.


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December 09 2011

Mexican folk art in Oaxaca

It's worth bringing a spare bag on a trip to Oaxaca in Mexico to bring back some of the beautiful traditional folk art still made in every local village, from colourful rugs to rare black pottery

The fashion designers and interiors stylists who have hijacked the Mexicana aesthetic probably have little idea of its origins. Zig-zag stripes, cacti and silver; eagles, skulls, and skeletons ... these motifs, which currently appear on hipster T-shirts, and on Aztec-patterned Pendleton blankets in Urban Outfitters, define the traditional arts and crafts of Mexico. Bright and beautiful, skilfully made, often intricately beaded, woven or carved, the country's folk art is a vibrant link to its pre-Hispanic indigenous culture. Symbols and animals represent gods and food sources (even the armadillos), colours derive from natural plants and minerals, and every item, from pots and weaving to ritual masks, once had a practical use dating back hundreds, and often thousands, of years.

The relative rarity of Latin American crafts and influences on this side of the Atlantic, compared with the Asian and African handicrafts now so prevalent in British homes that they have been rendered rather naff and studenty, means they hold the same exotic appeal that so tantalised the Spanish conquistadors, at least to a magpie-minded hoarder like me.

I hadn't specifically planned a shopping trip when I went to Mexico, but faced with all the beaded bull skulls, chunky turquoise jewellery, striped blankets for £5 each, skeleton earrings and painted pots, I succumbed to that giddy shopper's excitement.

Finding, in unexpected places, traditional things that you truly love and are accidentally fashionable is one of the thrills of travelling. I have found amazing leather saddle bags for a few pounds in Negombo, Sri Lanka, and nu-rave-ish bobble necklaces in Russia for £2. I lusted after some multi-coloured warrior boots from Mongolia (so cool!). But few places are as rich in handicrafts as Mexico. Every region and town specialises in certain products: Taxco for silver, Dolores Hidalgo for tiles, Michoacán for textiles and metalwork. But Oaxaca in the south-west has the most extraordinary spectrum of folk art. It is the most ethnically diverse of the country's 31 states, with 16 indigenous groups (the largest being Zapotec and Mixtec), and in a small area, there are dozens of villages making unique rugs, pottery and wooden carvings.

While anyone can turn up at the workshops, markets and stores across the state and in Oaxaca city, to unearth the best examples for reasonable prices it helps if you have a good guide.

Linda Hanna, an American expat, fills that role, offering custom tours of the craft-making villages from her folk-art themed B&B, Casa Linda, a colourful bungalow a few miles north-east of the city, in San Andrés Huayapam.

She took my friend and me there in her beaten up old banger, delivering us to her pretty walled garden with its mountain views, decorative tiles and a pyramid-shaped chapel full of strange dolls of the Virgin of Guadelupe – a celebrated amalgam of an indigenous figure with the Catholic virgin.

Inside Casa Linda, the decor erupted on to my eyeballs – long-haired horned masks, woven belts and huge painted gourd bowls hung on the walls alongside a giant Chagall-esque mural, paintings of Mexican girls, rows and rows of patterned plates. Shelves heaved with carved wooden animals, birds and dragons; cushions, rugs and blankets were layered up on every seat. The woman was clearly obsessed.

Over chicken and mole tamales (corn parcels once eaten by the Mayans), Linda outlined our options for the next few days. Hundreds of families make art in Oaxaca, specialising in about 13 different crafts, but we'd only have time to see a handful. We would have to prioritise.

Focusing first on rugs, we set off next morning to Teotitlán del Valle, the main rug-weaving village. "A lot of tour buses come here now, and it's affected the economy. Now the whole village is making rugs," said Linda. "Those on the first streets sell more, and the tour buses always go to the same ones, where they get a commission."

Linda has a more ethical approach. She doesn't take commission, and shares her clients around the best, most reliable producers, many of whom have become her friends over the 14 years she's done this.

"This family is really good at making their own natural red and green dyes," she said, pulling over at El Tono de la Cochinilla (eltonodecochinilla.com), a Zapotec workshop run by a family for four generations. "If you want rugs with more blue, I know another place."

Ernesto Maldonado González gave us a tour, demonstrating the weaving of colourful threads into a bird pattern on a loom, then showing us into a little hut to see how the raw wool is first separated into grey and white before being dyed in order to make light and dark shades. This is how we make red, said Ernesto, showing us a flat piece of prickly pear cactus covered in white fluff. He picked off the fluff and pinched it: blood red seeped out. "See? Cochineal, an insect makes this. Here, now squeeze some lime on it." It turned brighter. "Now this … " baking soda, to make purple.

The Spanish were almost as crazy for cochineal in the 1600s as they were for the silver and gold they found in Mexico. Red dye was so hard to come by that the colour was worn only by royalty and the church. A kilogram of dried cochineal still costs around $100 and only makes enough dye for two rugs. Once we'd seen the processes and work that had gone into every piece in the showroom, the $2,000-3,000 price-tags for the finest seemed justified, but I settled for a couple of lovely little ones for about £50 each.

"People here have such incredible skills," said Linda as we drove home, "but being too creative is a gamble. They would rather keep doing traditional work that sells. The time and expense involved means that even if they would find it creatively rewarding to make more unusual pieces, they wouldn't indulge themselves in that way."

The next day, however, we visited one artistic family, the Fabians, who do experiment. Rare black pottery has been made in San Bartolo Coyotepec for hundreds of years, and this family have made it for as long as anyone remembers. Now Omar, their young son, is winning awards for his lattice-like cut-out work.

As with every visit, having Linda greatly improved the experience, gaining us inside access to their studio in the back garden, and translating complex explanations of the process.

A TV pop show blared away in front of the father, son and daughter, sitting in a row and working on their own pots. It took eight days to make each.

The clay came free from a natural source 4km away, but only men were allowed to collect it, explained the father, Miguel, because women brought bad luck and made it have stones in it.

From there Linda drove us to Jacob and Maria Angeles's workshop near San Martín Tilcajete, where legions of artisans carved, whittled and painted wooden alebrijes, real and mythical animal figures that represent spirits in Zapotec culture, and hot chocolate whisks and decorative bowls that went into my bag for Christmas presents. For myself I bought a colourful woven table runner at Santo Tomás Jalieza, a backstrap weaving village where women weave textiles sitting down, with long strings tied up above them that are pulled taut at the other end by the backstrap they wear.

Between visiting the craft villages, Linda took us to fantastic cantinas and into Oaxaca city. There, in the Reforma district, we stopped at Artesanias Tali on Emilio Carranza street, run by Angela Garcia Hernandez, a sweet lady who has sourced beautiful traditional clothing and jewellery from distant pueblos for 46 years. Some embroidered clothing cost hundreds of dollars, but I found more presents in a basket of milagros, silver charms traditionally bought outside Mexican churches which are believed to bring luck and help fix certain ailments – buy a foot-shaped one for gout, little boobs for breast cancer, a baby for fertility.

It was by pure luck that our stay coincided with the village's festival. Most villages are named after a saint, and on that saint's day, every village of that name throws a party. San Andrés's revolved around the scariest fireworks I have ever seen. The whole community sat around the public square on plastic chairs, and we were urged to share trays of free beer and tequila shots that were brought round continually. At last, once the excitement had built, local boys took turns to set light to huge firework-spurting catherine wheels in the shape of different animals, worn on their heads, then ran right into the audience, sparks flying, loud bangs exploding. It was terrifying and lasted for hours, and was followed by a huge towering inferno of even bigger, louder fireworks. By the end, part of the church and a car had caught alight.

On our last day we'd planned to visit Monte Albán, the pre-Colombian site on a hilltop above Oaxaca city, but we spent so long shopping again that by the time we got there it was closed. Never mind, said Linda, there is a saying, "He who leaves Oaxaca without seeing Monte Albán, will certainly be back." "… With a bigger suitcase," I would add. By this stage mine was bursting with Christmas presents, gorgeous handmade jewellery and furnishings, yet I'd only spent a couple of hundred quid. And this was guilt- free shopping too: perhaps I'd helped a little to keep alive the skills passed down from gnarled hands to teenage fingers over generations.


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October 12 2011

10 of the best contemporary art galleries in Edinburgh

Edinburgh's contemporary galleries enjoy great locations and offer playful and challenging art, says Rosamund West

• As featured in our Edinburgh city guide

Axolotl

Dundas Street is the traditional home of Edinburgh's staid commercial galleries, places where you can go to buy a nice landscape in oils or a watercolour of some roses. Axolotl aims to change that with a commercial gallery striking a balance between the edgy and the traditional: selling paintings, drawings, prints and jewellery by figurative, early-career artists. They also like to mix things up a bit with installation pieces – either here or in their partner space, Axo, in Leith.
• 35 Dundas Street, 0131-557 1460, axolotl.co.uk. Wed-Sat 11am-6pm

Collective

Collective creates exhibitions and programmes that provide development for emerging artists, engage their audience and aren't afraid to experiment. Two of its rooms have windows onto Cockburn Street, a busy Old Town road popular with shoppers, tourists and emo kids, meaning that installations can often be viewed from outside. Throughout autumn and winter Collective runs New Work Scotland, an ever-evolving programme of solo exhibitions from selected recent graduates, as well as opportunities for curators and writers; in 2010 a sculpture student named Kevin Harman smashed one of its windows with a pole as a unique form of collaborative art, which got him arrested – albeit briefly.
22-28 Cockburn St, 0131-220 1260, collectivegallery.net. Tues-Sun 11am-5pm

Sierra Metro

It's a bit of a trek to get out to Sierra Metro if you don't have a car, as it's tucked away in Newhaven. It's worth the journey though (you can get a bus on Leith Walk) because this not-for-profit gallery has spent the last three years gaining a reputation as the place to go for well-presented work by early-career artists. Previous exhibitors have included Cara Tolmie, who's since gone on to have a show in DCA, and Caroline Gallacher whose wrestling-themed exhibition proved a critical hit. Sierra Metro also throws a good launch event, bringing in bands and DJs to ensure people make the journey.
Ground Floor North, 22 West Harbour Road, no telephone, sierrametro.com. Thurs-Sun noon-6pm, or by appointment

Inverleith House

In an 18th-century mansion in the centre of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Inverleith House has the most beautiful location of any of the city galleries. The programme can be variable, walking a line between botanically themed exhibits and the curator's inclination to use the unique space to display work by more avant garde artists. The comments book is always worth a read, as the well-to-do ladies and gents of the New Town often use it to express rage at with art which is neither figurative nor plant-related. In the last year the gallery has been swamped by Karla Black's trademark pastel powders in an exhibition which contributed to the Glasgow artist's Turner Prize nomination..
Royal Botanical Gardens, Arboretum Place/Inverleith Row, 0131-248 2971 (0131-248 2849 at weekends), rbge.org.uk/the-gardens/edinburgh/inverleith-house. Tues-Sun 10am-5.30pm

Superclub

At the top of Leith Walk on Gayfield Square, Superclub is one of three galleries which have recently sprung up in the old doggerfisher spaces. It nestles between Whitespace (a gallery which offers both art and occasional Zumba lessons) and Framed, a recent addition to the commercial gallery scene. Superclub is a studio-cum-gallery-cum-shop, set up by a collective of recent graduates as a place to work, exhibit and (hopefully) sell. Out front is the pristine gallery space recently occupied by Alex Gibbs's tranquil paintings, while at the back is a rough and ready installation space used for video projections, launch nights and the occasional gig.
11a Gayfield Square, email: info@superclubstudios.com, superclubstudios.com. See website for upcoming exhibition opening times

Embassy

Run by a committee of artists, the Embassy was set up to represent Edinburgh's grassroots creative community with an elected board whose members are replaced every two years. Its annual members show is worth a look to see the best and the worst of contemporary art in Edinburgh. As the committee changes so does the gallery's character and, frequently, location. It's currently on Broughton Street Lane and seems to have a taste for cerebral installation art. The Embassy also co-ordinates the annuale, an alternative visual art festival and counterpoint to August's more mainstream Edinburgh art festival which runs every year in early summer.
10b Broughton St Lane, email: info@embassygallery.org, embassygallery.org. Thurs-Sun 12-6pm

Fruitmarket

Slap bang in the middle of the city, the Fruitmarket is probably the most high-profile of the city's contemporary galleries. The annual programme intersperses solo exhibitions by Scottish and international artists with group shows by guest curators. Recent hits have included Martin Creed's 2010 Edinburgh art festival exhibition, which saw the artist turn the gallery steps into a musical staircase. 2011's Narcissus Reflected exhibition has also proved to be a crowd pleaser, giving the Edinburgh audience a chance to get up close to Dali's Metamorphosis of Narcissus and Narkissos, the astonishing masterwork of San Franciscan artist Jess Collins. Summer 2011 sees the opening of the Scotsman Steps opposite the gallery.
45 Market Street, 0131-225 2383, fruitmarket.co.uk. Mon-Sat 11am-6pm, Sun noon-5pm

Stills

Opposite Collective on Cockburn Street, Stills offers the city's only dedicated photography gallery and centre. The exhibitions often include installation, video, and performance, and locals make the most of its huge technology lab, offering equipment hire, training and access to photographic facilities. In winter the nights are lit up by the projection of artist's films into their windows, while in August it usually pulls out all the stops for a major art festival exhibition – 2011's Stephen Sutcliffe exhibition was highly acclaimed.
23 Cockburn St, 0131-622 6200, stills.org. Mon-Thurs 11am-9pm, Fri-Sun 11am-6pm

Edinburgh College of Art (ECA)

The ECA has exhibitions all year round, whether that's the degree show bonanza of June, the various student shows during term time or the annual major art star's arrival in August – from Sam Taylor Wood to Anish Kapoor. The Sculpture Court is the main exhibiting space: a neo-classical indoor courtyard lined with the original casts of the Parthenon frieze, unfortunately now yellowing thanks to an over-enthusiastic paint job by an earlier restorer. They make for an interesting counterpoint to the many variations of student work.
The University of Edinburgh, Lauriston Place, 0131-221 6000, eca.ac.uk. Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat-Sun 10am-2pm

Ingleby

This is an intriguing mix of a commercial gallery and an ambitious exhibition programme. Upstairs is an airy loft space, with windows looking onto the industrial iron of Waverley station; downstairs is a smaller gallery, which hosts more intimate works: a trail of precious stones is spattered across the floor, a remnant from an exhibition by Susan Collis – and on the other side is a print room where works by the gallery's artists can be purchased. Outside, its Billboard for Edinburgh project presents special commissions by big-name artists on, of course, a billboard. Previous commissions have included Rachel Whiteread, Antony Gormley and Tacita Dean.
15 Calton Road, 0131-556 4441, inglebygallery.com. Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun noon-5pm (August only), or by appointment

Rosamund West is editor of Scottish arts and culture website the Skinny


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10 of the best museums and galleries in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has plenty to see, from Concorde and Dolly the Sheep to huge collections in the Scottish National Galleries complex. Kirsty Scott picks her favourites

• As featured in our Edinburgh city guide

The Museum on the Mound

There has long been some form of museum in the bowels of the Bank of Scotland building on the Mound, now the Scottish HQ of Lloyds, but until 2006 entry was by appointment only and the displays were limited to one room. The Museum on the Mound opened five years ago, pre-financial crisis, and there is bleak humour to be found in the displays and their accompanying text: "Not just a respectable career, it also offered an opportunity for more leisurely pursuits … See what 'high jinks' staff got up to in their free time." There are seven rooms in total, detailing how money evolved over 4,000 years. One case holds £1m in used £20 notes.
The Mound, 0131-243 5464, museumonthemound.com, free. Open Tues-Fri 10am-5pm Sat, Sun, bank holiday Mon 1pm-5pm

Surgeons' Hall Museums

In a glass cabinet in Surgeons' Hall Museums is a small hide-bound pocketbook the colour of strong tea. The wallet is made from the skin of William Burke, one half of Edinburgh's infamous body-snatchers and killers, Burke and Hare, whose victims were sold to the city's school of anatomy to be dissected. It is artefacts like this – and glass jars filled with gangrenous fingers, cancerous lungs, dried and varnished hearts – that have made the museum, tucked behind the Royal College of Surgeons, a favourite of crime writers. Look out for the silver mask, complete with an elaborate false moustache, fashioned by a doctor to hide the terrible injuries suffered in the siege of Antwerp in 1832 by a young soldier.
Royal College of Surgeons, Nicolson Street, 0131-527 1649, museum.rcsed.ac.uk, £5, concessions £3. Open Mon-Fri noon-4pm, Sun noon-4pm (2 April to 30 October only)

National Museum of Flight

Not within the city limits, but worth the short drive to East Fortune in East Lothian, this museum tells the story of flight from the Wright brothers to the present day in a series of converted hangars on a former RAF base. The big draw is Concorde, one of the 20 now-defunct aircraft, which was shipped to Scotland in 2004 for a special exhibit on supersonic flight. The child-friendly site includes 50 aircraft, and artefacts from both commercial and military aviation, including the fuselage of a Boeing 707.
East Fortune Airfield, East Lothian, 0300 123 6789, nms.ac.uk, adults £9.50, concessions £7.50, children £4, under-fives free. Open daily 10am-5pm (April to October), Sat, Sun only 10am-4pm (November to March)

National Museum of Scotland

The grande dame of Edinburgh's museums only recently reopened after a three-year, £47m refurbishment, with 16 new galleries and 8,000 objects, 80% of which are being viewed for the first time. The stuffed animals are now out from behind glass and posed with video backdrops. Dolly the sheep is here, as is a 12m cast of a T-rex skeleton and the jawbone of a sperm whale. The new displays are more interactive, covering science, technology, transport and world cultures, and at the adjoining museum on the history of Scotland, you can see jewellery commissioned by Mary Queen of Scots and listen to the chuff and whistle of a 1923 Corliss steam engine that once powered a weaving mill.
Chambers Street, 0300 123 6789, nms.ac.uk, free. Open daily 10am-5pm

The Museum of Childhood

Skim through the visitors' book and you'll find tourists returning after 20 years, delighted to find that little has changed in this four-storey building. That is the charm of the place, opened in the 1950s to become the first museum devoted to a social history of childhood. Founder Joseph Patrick Murray built up an extensive collection of toys, games, clothes, teddy bears and dolls. The carpet is well-trodden, there are small chairs for small visitors, a puppet theatre and dressing-up area, and the PA system on the top floor pipes children's voices and nursery rhymes so that the noise permeates the building.
42 High Street, Royal Mile, 0131-529 4142, edinburghmuseums.org.uk, free. Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun noon-5pm

Scottish National Gallery

One of the first pieces you will see is Titian's Venus Anadyomene, bought for the nation for more than £11m in 2003. The 500-year-old Renaissance work, described by the then director general Sir Timothy Clifford as a "very sexy lady", had hung in the gallery for 60 years on loan from the Duke of Sutherland. When he died in 2000, they were offered first refusal. A little further in are Canova's Three Graces, purchased jointly with the V&A in 1994. The ground level covers European art from the 16th to 19th centuries, the basement, the Scottish collection including Sir Henry Raeburn's Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch.
The Mound, 0131-624 6200, nationalgalleries.org, free. Open Mon-Wed, Fri-Sun 10am-5pm (August only 10am-6pm), Thurs 10am-7pm

Royal Scottish Academy

The RSA occupies the William Henry Playfair building closest to Princes Street, and is one of the UK's premier exhibition venues. This year's landmark show is a retrospective of the work of Elizabeth Blackadder, the Scots artist best known for her landscape, still life and flower paintings. Dame Elizabeth, the Queen's painter and limner in Scotland, turns 80 this year and the show spans six decades of her career. There are plenty of her trademark delicate studies of blossoms and blooms, but also lesser-known and bolder works from her many travels, particularly to Japan. The show runs until January 2012.
The Mound, 0131-225 6671, royalscottishacademy.org, admission to Blackadder exhibition £8, concessions £6. Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12pm-5pm

City Art Centre

A former warehouse and part of the old Scotsman building, the CAC has a rolling programme of exhibitions showcasing a wide range of contemporary Scottish and international artists. Past events have included the Art of Star Wars – one of several to pull in more than 100,000 visitors. The current exhibition features the work of London-based Scot David Mach, known for his large-scale collages, sculptures and installations, and the main entrance is dominated by Mach's Golgotha tableau: three giant crucified figures pinned to steel girders. The public galleries are spread over six floors, and third floor has been temporarily given over to a studio space for Mach, where he has been working on a final piece for the exhibition – a decoupage depiction of the Last Supper. Visitors can wander by and watch the creative process, and the exhibition runs until 16 October.
2 Market Street, 0131-529 3993, edinburghmuseums.org.uk/venues/City-Art-Centre, free, David Mach exhibition – adults £5, concessions £3.50, children 5-15 £2.50. Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12pm-5pm

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Split between two buildings on either side of Belford Road, Modern One and Modern Two, the gallery houses the nation's collection of modern and contemporary art. Modern Two, previously the Dean Gallery, was built as an orphanage. An austere structure, it's home to a large collection of Dada and Surrealist art, and a collection of the works of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. Across the waythe grounds of Modern One are dominated by Charles Jencks' Landform, a stepped and spiralling mound with reflecting pools. Inside, one of the more recently acquired works is The Mysterious Garden, a watercolour by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, wife of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, some of whose studies hang nearby.
73/75 Belford Road, 0131-624 6200, nationalgalleries.org/modernartgalleries, free, a charge may be made for special exhibitions, parking £1 for four hours. Open daily 10am-5pm

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Due to re-open on 1 December – public sector strikes willing – after an £18m refurbishment, and those who have seen inside the distinctive red neo-gothic building, originally modelled on the Doges Palace in Venice, say the gloomy interiors are gone, replaced by 17 new, light, airy gallery spaces and themed exhibits. The gallery is home to the national collection of portraits and the national photography collection, with studies of great Scots from Robert Burns and David Hume to Sean Connery, Alex Ferguson and Tilda Swinton.
1 Queen Street, 0131-624 6200, nationalgalleries.org/portraitgallery, free. Open daily from 1 December, 10am-5pm

Kirsty Scott is a Guardian writer based in Scotland


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August 17 2011

10 of the best galleries in Berlin

Berlin's art spaces challenge and entertain in equal measure. Bang Bang Berlin bloggers Liz McGrath and Jack Howard select their 10 favourites

• As featured in our Berlin city guide

C/O Berlin

The C/O Gallery is in the old royal post office (Postfuhramt); a stunning, elaborate brick building dating from 1881, which holds pride of place on a prominent corner of Oranienburgerstrasse. The focus is on photography; supporting young, up-and-coming artists as well as attracting some of the biggest names in the business – Robert Mappelthorpe, Peter Lindbergh and Annie Leibovitz all recently had retrospectives there. It also hosts an impressive schedule of workshops, lectures and events – people often remark upon C/O's warm atmosphere – even though it's a sprawling gallery, with more than 2,000sq metres of space. However, there are rumours that this particular space has a shelf life – regrettably, it's soon to be renovated and become luxury apartments, as with so many of Berlin's beautiful old buildings. All the more reason then to experience it now.
Oranienburgerstrasse 35/36, Mitte, +49 30 2844 4160, co-berlin.info. Adults €10, concessions €5

Berlinische Galerie

An artists' favourite, often coming top in opinion polls – when the artists vote among themselves. It is a renovated former glass warehouse, with plenty of light, white walls, white floors and cleverly designed, criss-crossing staircases. It offers a steady flow of new exhibitions, including recent shows from fashion anti-hero Nan Goldin and a retrospective of the Berlin-born Arno Fischer. The gallery also has an amazing permanent collection of work produced by Berlin artists since 1870 – which covers extremely tumultuous and varied periods in history: Expressionism, Berlin Dada, Art in the Nazi era, the New Beginning after 1945 and Positions of the 1950s. There will be Berlin artists you won't have heard of before your visit, but won't forget after seeing, such as Max Liebermann, Raoul Hausmann, Otto Bartning and Naum Gabo.
Alte Jakobstrasse 124-128, Kreuzberg, +49 30 7890 2600 berlinischegalerie.de. Adults €8, concessions €5, every first Monday of the month €4, free for visitors under 18

Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart

You'll find the gleaming white Hamburger Bahnhof in the beautiful former main train station built in 1847 – now all skylights, white walls and polished wooden floors. Its central collection is from Berlin entrepreneur Dr Erich Marx, including a vast collection of art, from Beuys and Rauschenberg to Lichtenstein and Warhol (whose iconic Mao has a permanent home here). The National Gallery also has a permanent collection here, focussing on 1960 to the present (so expect some brilliant photography, painting and video art from the likes of Andreas Gursky, Bill Viola and Marcel Odenbach). The Marzona collection is also fascinating, and a shining example of conceptual and minimal art at its best – highlights include Ronald Bladen, Giuseppe Penone and Mario Merz).
Invalidenstrasse 50-51, Mitte, +49 30 3978 3411, hamburgerbahnhof.de. Adults €12, concessions €6

Pool Gallery

The Pool Gallery has plenty of typically cool Mitte stamps: a shopfront, white walls, and almost-scarily hip staff. Curator (and artist-cum-musician) Ruby Anemic's feeling for street culture, young, modern art and cool photography makes the Pool Gallery well worth a visit. Whether it's a light installation, painting, graphic design or photography, the exhibitions are always fresh and zeitgeisty. Past shows have included works from Henrik Vibskov, Alex Flach, Benjy Russell and Mercedes Helnwein. Changes are afoot: their team is joining forces with Schlechtriem Brothers (also in Mitte) to create a new gallery in both spaces called DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, which will be opening in September 2011.
Tucholskystrasse 38, Mitte, +49 30 2434 2462, pool-gallery.com. Admission free

Sammlung Boros Collection

The Sammlung Boros Collection is shrouded in a veneer of secrecy. You can only view it on the weekends, by appointment. As a result, going to an art gallery has never felt so thrilling. Not to mention the fact this vast contemporary modern art collection is housed in an imposing second world war bunker. It was built in 1942 as a bomb shelter, was later used as a prison, then a storage depot for bananas, and latterly it was a club famed for its S&M fetish parties – until Christian Boros and his family bought it. As for the actual art collection, it is quite remarkable: currently it has 159 works from international artists using sculpture, video and installation from Wolfgang Tillmans to Tracey Emin.
Reinhardtstrasse 20, Mitte, +49 30 2759 4065, sammlung-boros.de. Guided tours only: €10

me Collectors Room

The me Collectors Room houses the personal collection of Thomas Olbricht, an esteemed art collector, chemist, and endocrinologist (a somewhat unique combination), who, over the past 25 years, has succeeded in creating one of the most extensive private collections in Europe. The diversity of artistic genre, period, and medium is extraordinary, with works from the 16th century to the present day. Expect to see a selection of macabre works (often featuring skulls, stuffed animals, and dark, ominous religious or tribal pieces) curated besides works exploring sexual or erotic themes, such as a photography series depicting Japan's sex industry.
• Auguststrasse 68, Mitte, +49 30 8600 8510, me-berlin.com. Adults €6, concessions €4, group tickets €4 (for groups above 10), free for visitors under 18

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

The KW Institute for Contemporary Art combines an ambitious artistic programme that includes workshops, exhibitions, and onsite artist studios, with regular events, screenings, and performances. Viewing itself as a "laboratory for communicating and advancing contemporary cultural developments in Germany", it launched one of Berlin's most significant artistic events, the Berlin Biennale, in 1996. It's huge, too – with four floors, a large ground floor space, and a quaint courtyard – so give yourself plenty of time to explore and reward yourself with a drink afterwards.
• Auguststrasse 69, Mitte, +49 30 243 4590, kw-berlin.de. Adults €6, concessions €4, groups of 10 or more: €5, €3 concessions, Thursday evening ticket (7-9 pm) €4

Carlier Gebauer

Founded in 1991, this is one of Berlin's most significant independent contemporary art galleries, partly due to its longevity, but mainly due to its high-calibre exhibitions. Located among Berlin's gallery district in the Kochstrasse area, it represents a stellar cast of emerging and established artists, such as video artist Rosa Barba and installation artist Aernout Mik. The 600sq metre gallery, made up of three "white box" rooms, can exhibit three solo shows at a time, as well as showcasing the latest video works in the projection area (cinemathek).
Markgrafenstrasse 67, Mitte, +49 30 2400 8630, carliergebauer.com. Admission free

Johann König

Featured in Art Review's Power 100 – a guide to the general trends, networks and forces that shape the art world – Johann König is situated in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the gallery district in Kochstrasse, making for a great stopover between the two. Detached from its neighbouring buildings and nestled away from Dessauer Strasse, the Johann König gallery is a contemporary, white-walled space that may seem subtle and unassuming at first but certainly isn't: expect a dramatic range of contemporary mediums, from sculpture and painting to large-scale multimedia installations.
Dessauerstrasse 6-7, Mitte, +49 30 2610 3080, johannkoenig.de. Admission free

Galerie Open

Founded in 2008, the gallery programme at Open represents young, unknown contemporary artists, primarily from Berlin and New York. Located near Moritzplatz in Kreuzberg, this gallery could well go on to contend with the "big dogs" of the gallery district not too far from here. Featuring a main ground floor gallery space, an over-looking mezzanine, and a basement space, the viewer can explore three levels of diverse contemporary art that changes with each new exhibition. A visit during the summer is recommended: Alexandra Rockelmann (the gallery owner) hands over her gallery space to a young curator and a selection of emerging artists during the seasonal hiatus.
• Legiendamm 18-20 (Engelbecken), Kreuzberg, +49 30 2758 2810. galerie-open.net. Admission free

Liz McGrath and Jack Howard blog at Bang Bang Berlin


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July 23 2011

Picasso's French home in the frame

Just a few miles from Cannes, Mougins has attracted everyone from Churchill to Picasso. Now, a new museum dedicated to art has put it firmly on the culture map

Where artists go, money follows. It is a law of real estate that any quarter deemed bohemian is a step away from becoming intensely desirable and valuable. And so it is with Mougins, where the likes of Picabia, Cocteau, Man Ray and Leger used to visit. Picasso came here in 1936, and to the fury of his hotel's owner painted on the walls of his room. He was instructed to cover over his work, but he returned, by then not exactly skint himself, spent the last 12 years of his life in Mougins. He died there in 1973. Now this little hill town, of pre-Roman origins – with its simple, compact buildings wound tightly into defensive circuits of curving streets – finds itself suffused with wealth.

A few miles inland from Cannes, Mougins offers more cultured pleasures than that sometimes tawdry place, while still gathering some of its stardust. It has been popular with Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor and Catherine Deneuve, and is famous for its restaurants; there's even an annual festival of gastronomy. The town is also packed with art galleries – not all as good as its restaurants, but encompassing every imaginable genre, from picturesque landscapes to teeth-grating conceptual installations. On the town's edge the five-star Le Mas Candille hotel spreads over green slopes towards an exceptional view. In contrast with the ancient buildings, the hotel is spacious and, with a sophisticated restaurant, designed to serve the pleasures of a certain kind of international moneyed class.

Mougins is part of a landscape that attracted JG Ballard, where hardy peasant buildings, a fabulous climate, gorgeous light, beautiful scenery and modern leisure make a rich-poor, new-old hybrid that is neither town nor country. Glossy 4x4s hurtle round tiny lanes made for carts. Old agricultural buildings are remade as refined retail outlets. The forms of hard productive work co-exist with hedonism. Now the union of money and art has bred a new, intriguing institution, the Mougins Museum of Classical Art.

This is the creation of Christian Levett, a 41-year-old investment manager whose company Clive Capital once lost $400m in a week, yet seemed to shrug off the loss as if it were a coin dropped in the gutter. Levett has said, as a simple statement of fact, that he was "financially very successful at a young age" and by his early 30s "had established several homes". He has also been an avid collector ever since, aged seven, he discovered an interest in coins. His greatest passion is now classical antiquities, which developed after he discovered, to his surprise, that it is still possible to buy them.

Levett has strong connections with Mougins, where he owns two of the finest and most famous restaurants, La Place des Mougins and L'Amandier, both recently revamped under the direction of chef Denis Fétisson (previously of the Michelin two-star Le Cheval Blanc in Courchevel). La Place offers a richly extravagant tasting menu of foiegras, lobster, prawns and pigeon for ¤75 a head; L'Amandier, a white-walled former almond mill with terraces commanding the view towards the perfume-making town of Grasse, is more informal.

"It is a blessing for Mougins that Levett has fallen in love with it," says a young local, adding that "he might own the whole village one day". The result of this double passion, for antiquities and for the town, is the museum, where his collection, the result of seven years work, is now on show. His collaborator on the project has been Mark Merrony, an archaeologist who became editor of the art and archaeology magazine Minerva, which Levett now owns; he remains editor-in-chief of the magazine, but most of his energies have recently gone into the museum, of which he is now the director.

Among its many busts and statues the collection includes the Cobham Hall Hadrian, bought at Christie's for $900,000 in 2008; there are vases, glassware, jewellery and coins, and an array described as the world's "largest private collection of ancient armour", including a helmet dented with a blow that was probably fatal to its wearer. There are Egyptian reliefs and coffins, and a small collection of erotica. There are also works by old masters and modern artists, such as Rubens, Degas, Rodin, Braque, Picasso – and on to Mark Quinn, Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley – intended to show the continuity of classical themes into the present. "These themes have been in the human psyche for 2,500 years," says Merrony. "That's the hardest thing to understand about humanity: the psyche."

The collection, 95% of which is on show, is packed into a plain medieval townhouse refurbished by the locally based architect David Price. The exhibits are lit against a dark background, and closely spaced, with ranks of busts confronting you almost as soon as you enter. As the lift and stairs take up a quarter of the total floor area, they are used as exhibition spaces, too – and the lift is of glass, so you can see exhibits when you are riding in it. Displays are lightly themed, the Egyptian objects arranged in a tomb-like basement. The modern works are dotted about the ancient objects to create contrasts and parallels that are striking but the sudden appearance of, say, a bright blue Yves Klein torso, or a Hirst skull, can seem a touch gimmicky.

The interior of the museum, in contrast with the rugged stone exterior, is like a pristine cave, with pieces that sometimes seem too perfect to be true. The collecting of antiquities has been a fraught subject in recent decades, with institutions such as the Getty Museum being forced to give back objects of dubious origin and Merrony is very clear that establishing clear provenance and authenticity "is the most important thing".

A personal collection made into a museum is a recurring theme in western cities – the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston, the Frick in New York, the Soane and the Wallace Collection in London. The Mougins Museum is not quite equal to this august company, and does not pretend to be, but it still has the appeal of a private hoard made public: the individual taste of the collector, and the surprise at finding exceptional things in an unexpected place. It is unusual to find a place of old-fashioned patronage newly minted.

The Mougins Museum is also an addition to the art trail along the Côte d'Azur, where artists' discovery of the delights of the region has been honoured by permanent structures. Where once Parisian painters and sculptors might have happened on a place as a spot for a weekend trip, or to rent a cheap studio for a few months, now there are museums and monuments. In Antibes there is the Picasso museum. In Vence is the Rosaire chapel, where every detail, from stained glass to water stoup to priest's vestments, was designed by Matisse. Personally I find this work a lzvittle insipid and too pious, but I know Matisse-lovers who rave about it, and he himself said that he considered it his masterpiece. Further afield, on the edge of Nice, is the Matisse museum. In Mougins itself, arranged in a vertical series of rooms, is a little museum of photography, centred on a series of portraits of Picasso.

There is, too, the Fondation Maeght at St Paul de Vence, where you can find a collection of sculptures and paintings by artists including Calder, Miro, Chagall and, especially, Giacometti. They stand amid pines on a high breezy spot with a 1964 building by the Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert. Sert's building – a plain structure made festive with a pink-brick and white-concrete colour scheme, and sunshades in the shape of upside-down barrel vaults – slips in among the trees, making outdoor terraces where the art sits easily between buildings and nature.

If your idea of rural France is plain peasant life expressed in buildings and cuisine – leaving aside how far this now exists anywhere – then Mougins and its surroundings are not for you. They are too much infiltrated by the values of Bond Street or of Rodeo Drive. It is rather a place where extraordinary beauty, in art, climate and nature, combines with ostentation and exploitation, and considerable skill in serving the senses, especially through food. It can be enjoyed for those beauties and delights, while also exerting a certain Ballardian fascination for its extremes and incongruities. For better or worse, this is a part of what the modern world is.

Essentials

EasyJet flies to Nice from Gatwick, from £150 (easyjet.com). Hotel Le Mas Candille has rooms from €390 for two people per night (lemascandille.com). Eat at L'Amandier (amandier.fr). For further details of the Mougins Museum, go to mouginsmusee.com


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July 13 2011

10 of the best museums and galleries in Rome

Our Rome correspondent John Hooper takes the art beat of the capital - Renaissance palaces, Mussolini's cinema studio and daring contemporary galleries

• As featured in our Rome city guide

Maxxi, the National Museum of Art from the 21st century

At least as impressive as the still-modest collection it houses is the Maxxi building itself, designed by the Anglo-Iraqi architect, Zaha Hadid. Covering more than 27,000 sq metres, Italy's first national museum dedicated entirely to contemporary art is a curving, jutting structure of glass, steel and concrete. Visitors find their way from collection to collection through a labyrinth of bridges and ramps. Opened in 2010, the Maxxi is located north of the centre, in the Flaminio neighbourhood, on the site of a former military barracks. Its permanent collection includes works by the Neapolitan painter, Francesco Clemente, and the British sculptor Anish Kapoor. It was recently enriched by the donation of 58 works from the collection of the late Milanese art dealer and historian, Claudia Gian Ferrari.
Via Guido Reni 4A, +39 06 399 67350, fondazionemaxxi.it/en. Open Tue-Wed-Fri-Sun 11am-7pm, Thur and Sat 11am-10pm. Adults €11, concessions €8, under-14s free

Macro: Museo díArte Contemporaneo di Roma

The Macro on Via Nizza, which opened last December, is the newer and bigger of two spaces that make up Rome's municipal contemporary art museum. The other is in trendy-grungy Testaccio. Nestled among 19th-century apartment buildings, the main part of the museum was fashioned by the French architect, Odile Decq from a disused Peroni beer plant. Among other things, it houses an archive of the works of the postmodern painter and collagist Mario Schifano. Macro aims to be more active, daring and fun than the Maxxi: the lavatories have mirrored walls and translucent plastic sinks that flash different neon/UV colours as you use them. In the car park, you can see the remains of an ancient Roman house unearthed during the restoration.
Via Nizza 38, Piazza Orazio Giustiniani 4, +39 06 6710 70400,macro.roma.museum. Macro open Tue-Sun 11am-10pm, Testaccio Tue-Sun 4pm-midnight. Adults €10 combined ticket, concessions €8, under-18s free

Palazzo Altemps

Just across from the Piazza Navona, this Renaissance palace acquired its unlikely name when it was bought by an Austrian-born cardinal in the 16th century. Taken over by the state in 1982 and not opened as a museum until 1997, it remains one of the capital's best-kept secrets. Inside is an entrancing collection of classical sculptures. They include the so-called Ludovisi Ares, a Roman copy of a 4th-century BCE Greek original, and the Ludovisi Gaul, part of the same group as the better-known Dying Gaul in the Capitoline Museums. But for sheer technical virtuosity the most astonishing exhibit is a 3rd-century sarcophagus, carved from a single block of stone, showing the Romans fighting the Ostrogoths. From the same Renaissance collection as the others, it is known as the Grande Ludovisi.
Piazza di Sant'Apollinare 48, +39 06 399 67600, archeorm.arti.beniculturali.it/en. Open Tue-Sun 9am-7.45pm. Adults €7, concessions €3.50, free for EU citizens ages 18 to 24 and under-17s

CineCittà Studios

Mussolini founded Cinecittà because of his belief in the power of cinema. The studio and set complex, on the road that leads from central Rome to Ciampino airport, was bombed by the Allies in the second world war before rising to global fame in the 1950s when it was used to make the first in a string of budget-busting classical epics that included Ben-Hur and Cleopatra. CineCittà was also where Federico Fellini shot most of his films. The 40-hectare site is still claimed to be continental Europe's largest film and TV production facility. But its heyday has long gone. Among the few internationally distributed movies to be shot there in recent years was Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. Guided tours are available for groups of at least 20 people.
Via Tuscolana 1055, +39 06 583 34360, cinecittastudios.it. Tours must be booked in advance by calling Mon-Fri 9am-1pm, 2pm-6pm

Auditorium Parco della Musica

Along with the Maxxi and Macro, the Auditorium is the tangible embodiment of Rome's recent cultural renaissance. The architect Renzo Piano called his building a "factory of culture". The three concert halls, which stage not only concerts but also ballet and theatre productions, each hold between 700 and 2,800 people. The imposing foyer, which links them, is an exhibition space. In addition, there is the Cavea, an open-air theatre reminiscent of a classical amphitheatre; an art gallery, and an archaeological museum that displays artefacts found during the construction including an oil press from the 6th century BC. Guided tours are available, but note that an English-language tour (tickets €9) must be booked in advance.
Viale Pietro de Coubertin 30, +39 06 802 41281, auditorium.com

Santa Maria in Trastevere

The Basilica of Our Lady is among Rome's oldest places of worship, and the one that perhaps gives the most vivid impression of a grand medieval church. It dates from around 340 AD and is thought to been the first church in Rome dedicated to Mary. In the nave are two rows of columns – 22 in all – that were taken from ancient Roman sites. The basilica was rebuilt in the 12th century by Pope Innocent II and, at the end of the 13th century, Pietro Cavallini embellished the apse with six mosaic panels of scenes from the life of Mary. Together with a gilded octagonal ceiling painting by the Baroque master Domenichino, they give the basilica a memorable glow.
Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, +39 06 581 4802

Museo Nazionale dell'Alto Medioevo

Looking for traces of the "dark ages", perhaps the last place you would start is the EUR district, built as a showcase for Fascist architecture. Yet it is there, in a less visited museum, that you can gaze on evidence that the period that followed the fall of the western empire was not as dark than is often thought: finely decorated weapons; extraordinarily intricate tapestries; glamorous earrings and necklaces. Other exhibits include an ancient metal dog chain. But the most stunning dates from late antiquity: an entire hall, taken from an aristocratic villa in Ostia, adorned with designs created using a technique known as opus sectile in which coloured marble is cut and inlaid. The most spectacular show tigers and lions catching prey.
Viale Lincoln 3, +39 06 542 28199, archeoroma.beniculturali.it. Open Tue-Sun 9am-2pm. Adults €2, concessions €1

Sant'Ignazio

The church of illusions. It was built between 1626 and 1650 and dedicated to Ignatius of Loyola. The first giant trick is Andrea Pozzo's trompe l'oeil ceiling fresco which uses foreshortening to create an astoundingly realistic vision of the founder of the Society of Jesus soaring towards paradise to be welcomed by Christ (no, the Jesuits never were modest). A disk in the floor marks the ideal spot from which to experience the illusion. Further down the nave, another marker signals the best vantage point for a second bit of trickery. The Jesuits ran out of cash for the dome, so in 1685 Pozzo supplied them with a canvas depiction of what it might have looked like. Destroyed in 1891, the canvas was subsequently replaced.
Via del Caravita, 8A. Open daily, 7.30am-12.30pm, 3pm-7pm

Ostia Antica

Visitors to Rome who try packing in a trip to Pompeii often leave disappointed by the neglect and disorganisation they find there. Ostia Antica, less than 30km from Rome and reachable by train, offers an altogether more civilised (and arguably more instructive) experience. This, after all, was the port city of the capital of Europe's greatest empire. Scattered among the umbrella pines that now dot the site are a splendid amphitheatre which is still used for concerts, and the remains of schools, baths, temples and latrines, as well as Europe's oldest synagogue. Ostia Antica also boasts some unusually well-preserved mosaics and frescoes.
Via dei Romagnoli 717, ostia-antica.org. Open Tue-Sun 8.30am to 7.30pm. Adults €6.50, 18-25s €3.25, over 64s and under-18s free

Galleria Lorcan O'Neill

For those who yearn for a reminder of Hackney in the middle of Rome. If there was one event that confirmed the Eternal City was ready to be part of the contemporary world, then it was the opening in 2003 of this gallery in a Trastevere backstreet. The lanky O'Neill, who had been a friend to many of the YBAs, launched himself into Rome almost five years ahead of the legendary Larry Gagosian, who has a gallery at Via Francesco Crispi 16. O'Neill has used his Britart connections to put on exhibitions by Tracey Emin, Sam Taylor-Wood and Rachel Whiteread. He has also shown venerable non-Brits including Anselm Kiefer and provided a space for talented young Italians like Luigi Ontani and Pietro Ruffo.
Via degli Orti d'Alibert 1E, +39 06 688 92980, lorcanoneill.com. Open Mon-Fri 12pm-8pm, Sat 2pm-8pm


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June 27 2011

Fogo, Newfoundland: the world's wildest arts scene?

A dramatic community project is transforming a windswept island of fishermen off Canada's Newfoundland coast into a cutting edge artists' haven

A 110-square-mile, windswept outcrop of bald rock overlooking the raging north Atlantic, off Newfoundland, Fogo is home to 2,700 fishermen or descendants of, and a considerably larger population of gannets whose shrill cries provide a constant soundtrack.

This is life right on the edge. Indeed the Flat Earth Society considers Fogo Island one of the four corners of a flat earth.

It's also the least likely place you'd think of finding members of a cutting-edge international art scene. But that's exactly who's coming to Fogo now.

By all accounts, traffic should be going in the other direction: for centuries the inhabitants of Fogo lived between wind and waves in search of cod – until a 1992 cod moratorium strangled their livelihood and the small island suffered as the population moved away.

But that's forgetting the enterprising nature and deep sense of home of Fogo's people. And the equally deep pockets of one islander – a dot.com success story who came back with an experiment to give Fogo a future, by using its past.

Zita Cobb, who left Fogo in 1979, returned a multimillionaire in 2006 after helping California-based JDS Uniphrase become a world leader in fibre-optics during the high-tech boom.

Cobb and her brother established the Shorefast Foundation with the idea of revitalising the community by weaving together the fundamental components of Fogo's heritage – fishing, craftsmanship, nature and tourism. Shorefast put $6m into the project, the federal and provincial governments $5m each.

First, Shorefast planned to put Fogo on the map as an international art destination, and hired Newfoundland-born, Norway-based architect Todd Saunders to design a series of artists' studios. Four of them were finished last year, three more were unveiled on 23 June.

Each studio is completely off grid. Scattered over the island, the ultra-modern constructs are jarring and dramatic blades of volcanic stone built on rock, perched seemingly precariously over the water. While radically different in appearance from Fogo's weather-beaten clapboard houses, in subtle, abstract ways they have a relationship with them. Both are built on stilts over the water and seem to cling to the shore like their life depends on it.

Each artist's studio is located in an island community – or outport as Newfoundlanders call the coastal settlements too small to be a village – such as Joe Batt's Arm, Tilting or Seldom, and visiting artists, chosen by Shorefast will embark on projects which will benefit the community.

Elisabet Gunnarsdottir, an Icelander hired by Cobb to lead the Fogo Island Arts Corporation (artscorpfogoisland.ca), says that Shorefast is guided by principles of geo-tourism. "We want to engage the community. We are trying to create a tourist destination that sustains the character of Fogo, its aesthetic, heritage, and the economic wellbeing of the residents."

For that they'll need tourists. Enter the second component of Cobb's project: the Fogo Island Inn, a luxury hotel. The five-star modernist inn, also designed by Saunders, will have 29 oceanfront rooms when it opens in June 2012. It will also feature a spa, heritage library and art gallery. Cobb says all profits will be reinvested into the community.

The inn will be filled with handmade items that reflect the character of Fogo. Guests will wake up in beds covered in quilts befitting Fogo's long tradition of community quilters. The inn's interiors are by London-based Ilse Crawford – former Elle Decoration editor and the designer behind interiors including Soho House New York and the restaurant at the Grand Hotel Stockholm – again with local materials and designs inspired by traditional ideas.

At $400 a night the inn is targeting a weathly, niche clientele. But there are less pricey accommodation options too. The Quintal house, an 1840s fisherman's house has just been renovated and transformed into a three-room B&B by Nadine Decker (+1 709-658·7829, quintalhouse.ca, doubles from $115).

If you're on the island in late July, a must see is the Great Fogo Island Punt Race to There and Back, a project to revitalise the once ubiquitous all wood punts, which is organised by Nadine Decker's uncle Pete. Local boaters row through rough open waters 10 miles and back to Change Island. In the backdrop you might be able to see remnants of the spectacular parade of icebergs and ice floe heading south in the spring.

Visitors can also photograph the rotund Atlantic puffin that land on the island in June. And hike the Turpin's Trail, a five-mile route that starts at a sandy beach, and ends at Tilting, an Irish heritage village or go partridgeberry picking with Pauline Brown who organises the Fogo Island Partridgeberry Harvest Festival.

Some might be happy just trying a scoop of partridgeberry ice-cream from Growler's Ice Cream (125 Main Road, Joe Batt's Arm). Or chowder and chatter at Nicole's Cafe next to Quintal House. And visitors can also bear witness to the slow comeback of the fishing industry thanks to the Fogo Island Cod Pod, a newly sustainable method of baited fishing.

Travelling to Fogo requires will and time. The easiest way to get there is a flight to Gander, which was once one of the largest airports in the world where every transatlantic flight used to refuel. It's then a one-hour drive on a motorway, stretches of which might be blocked by moose, until you reach the aptly named town of Farewell. Then it's a one-hour ferry crossing.

But those who make the trek will be rewarded with a unique place and unique people and a new tourism industry that could possibly be a model for other small, endangered communities.

How to do it

Air Canada (aircanada.com) flies to Gander from Heathrow via Halifax or Toronto from around £600 return including tax. There are many daily ferry crossing from Farewell to Fogo – $5.50 one-way


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June 10 2011

Countryside opens up to crossover culture

Guillemots members are among the exhibitors at National Trust's Nunnington Hall, one of the UK's most unlikely cutting-edge galleries

Two miles from the nearest B road, one of the UK's leading indie rock band members pauses, hammer in hand, below a 17th-century roof beam, and admits: "I'm scared."

"I mean, can I really put nails into the walls of a National Trust house dating back hundreds of years?" asks Aristazabal Hawkes of Guillemots, the band that has taken over the ancient manor's top floor.

Busy with his own staple gun and a tough stretch of Yorkshire oak, the manager of Nunnington Hall, Simon Lee, replies: "Sure. Bryan Adams did, and Mary McCartney. Why not Guillemots as well?"

It's an exchange that highlights the extraordinary growth of one of the country's most unlikely cutting-edge galleries, spread across miles of stately home and cream tea country on the edge of the North York Moors.

Not just Nunnington, but an entire, delectable slice of North Yorkshire countryside has joined the contemporary circuit for critics, collectors and anyone interested in "crossover culture" – musicians who paint, artists who sing, sculptors who write and many more.

"It's an exploration of the nature of creativity," says Lee, one of a string of arts commissioners who are bringing well-known names from across the world to nooks such as Nunnington and the former home of Laurence Sterne, nearby Shandy Hall. The curator there, Patrick Wildgust, hosts New York poets, South American intellectuals and European artists at the world's first Centre for Non-Linear Narrative, inspired by Sterne's erratic masterpiece Tristram Shandy.

"There seems to be something restless about creativity," says Fyfe Dangerfield, founder of Guillemots, which has been nominated for Mercury and Brit awards. He is equally busy with tape and glue as the band's exhibition goes up in a corridor and two rooms at Nunnington. "Some people argue that it can be narrow – a well-developed ear, for instance, may mean less visual awareness. But we find that music, doodling, taking photographs and making films all play a part in what Guillemots wants to do."

A noted classical music composer as well as Guillemots' lead singer, Dangerfield was talent-spotted for his drawings by Lee. After increasing Nunnington's annual visitor numbers to 65,000 with photograph shows by Adams and McCartney, as well as Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood and Andy Summers of the Police, Lee was surfing Guillemots' website and clicked on their gallery of artwork.

"I thought: this is good stuff and very much in our line of discovering other creative sides to people known for one talent," says Lee. "To put it crudely, if you cut off a guitarist's hand, what are the odds that they would find another medium to express themselves?"

Guillemots members were initially fazed by the invitation. "I thought it might be a wind-up," said Dangerfield, "but then I suggested extending it to the whole of the band, and it's fascinating what's come out."

Hawkes is exhibiting family photographs and collages of concert wristbands, backstage passes and the like; MC Lord Magrão screens a 10-minute film noir; and the fourth band member, Greig Stewart, who says his closest public brush with art was being hugged by Damien Hirst at a drunken Groucho Club bash, has clay sculpture and wall-hangings.

Visitors to the hall keep dropping in on the hanging sessions; with one demanding the "disgusting music" to Magrão's film be switched off, but others intrigued by the crossover theme. Retired teachers Judy and Eric Murphy from Sheffield chimed with Dangerfield's 'restless notion', saying: "We've always liked Guillemots and got their first album, but this looks as though it's going to tell us a whole lot more about them."

The exhibition runs from 14 June to the end of July, after which Lee will Polyfilla and revarnish his attics while planning Nunnington's next contribution to the wider countryside gallery programme.

"There's no problem getting busy or famous people to come here," he said, "because it's one of the loveliest parts of England. And they appreciate being asked. If anyone says, 'Who do they think they are?' or 'It's all rubbish', the answer is that we invited them; they didn't push to come."


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June 08 2011

10 of the best spots for art in Barcelona

There's more to Barcelona than Antoni Gaudí and the Picasso Museum. Jill Adams, editor of The Barcelona Review, taps into its unconventional arts scene

As featured in our Barcelona city guide

Prostíbulo Poético

How do you like your prostitutes? Speaking Catalan? English? Romanian? Prostíbulo Poético (Poetry Brothel) has plenty of whores for hire to give you … a private poetry reading in a candle-lit corner. This literary whoring takes place once a month in different bars. Though it's never quite the same, it usually begins with some kind of music, then Madame Eva introduces the putas, who each read some of their original work, permitting the customers to size 'em up, after which all barriers come down and you are free to pick your favourite, pay €1 for their services and retire to a corner.
• Various venues. Next event: 9pm, 16 June at Horiginal (cafè+poesia), Carrer Ferlandina 29, prostibulopoetico.com.

Esther Arias Galería de Arte y Taller

Everyone exits Metro Jaume and heads directly to the Picasso Museum via Carrer Princesa. But there is a much more attractive short cut that will take you past Esther Arias's gallery in a warm and inviting 18th-century building. Although Arias often devotes a wall to a guest artist, this is her taller (workshop) and the paintings on display are her own: enchanting, colourful abstracts with a dreamlike quality. Along with the large canvases, there are some exquisite framed acrylics on paper at a good price. This is the perfect place to begin a walk through the Born with its many art and artisan shops.
Carrer Cotoners 14, +34 93 268 2494, estherarias.com. Open Tue–Sat 10.30am–2pm, 4.30pm-7.30pm

Museu Frederic Marès

Housed in a lovely medieval palace next to the cathedral in the Barri Gòtic, this museum is often overlooked – people don't tend to flock to see walls filled with crucifixes. But many of these sculptures, painted or in plain wood, come from the 12th and 13th centuries, retaining the Romanesque separation of the nailed feet. They're quite bizarre and utterly mesmerising; one has Joseph of Arimathea clinging to Christ with a most curiously placed right hand. The wooden Madonnas are coarse rather than sweet, and the Christ child often looks old enough to be at university. The upper rooms house an astounding collection of objects, from hatpins to garters, gathered by sculptor/traveller/hoarder Frederic Marès.
Plaça Sant Iu 5, +34 93 256 3500, museumares.bcn.cat, adults €4.20, children, concessions free; free Sun 3pm-8pm; all day first Sun of the month. Open Tue–Sat 10am–7pm, Sun and holidays 11am-8pm

Galería Artevistas

The posh uptown galleries, mainly along Consell de Cent, showcase known artists with several zeros attached to the price. To enter, you must buzz, wait to be let in and it's a rather stuffy exchange, though you will find some superb art. For an altogether different experience, head to the Artevistas, which features young artists, some of whom have definitely arrived. It's very near the Ramblas but secluded from all the tourist bustle, as it sits in a covered passageway. Here the doors are wide open and you step into a burst of colour. It's a happy place, and you might well find a budding talent.
Passatge del Crèdit 4, +34 93 513 0465, artevistas.com. Open Mon 2pm–9pm, Tue–Sun 11am–9pm

Cosmo

Carrer Enric Granados is a tree-lined pedestrian street in the Eixample, beginning just behind the University of Barcelona and sloping gently upward to Avinguda Diagonal. Filled with cool outdoor cafés, restaurants and well-established art galleries, such as N2 Galería, ADN Galería and Ego Gallery, this is the place to stroll for art and maybe catch an opening on a Thursday night. Cosmo café & galería de arte sits at the bottom of the slope and is a super place to begin or end your walk. It's a fun and lively bar/café with good music, and there is a large exhibition space in the back where Catalan designer/multimedia programmer Jaume Osman Granda is showing (until 12 June).
Carrer Enric Granados 3, +34 93 453 7007, galeriacosmo.com. Open Mon–Thur 8.30am–10pm, Fri–Sat noon–10pm, Sun 2pm–10pm

àngels barcelona

For a more experimental art experience, visit àngels barcelona in the heart of the Raval. Internationally known artists, such as Catalan conceptual artist Joan Fontcuberta (Googlegrams), experimental German documentary filmmaker Harun Farocki, and the British installation artist Richard T Walker are just part of the impressive repertoire of this gallery. Typically, you'll encounter an abstract installation, a visual creation space and a film/video downstairs with seats for viewing.
Carrer Pintor Fortuny 27, +34 93 412 5400, angelsbarcelona.com. Open Tue–Sat noon–2pm, 5pm– 8pm

Taller Creativo Bencini

This gallery/workshop is located behind Santa Caterina Market, which is worthy of a look for its postmodern architectural design and its vividly multicoloured, wavy roof. From here, head to Federico Bencini's, where you'll find a bright space full of his magnificent monotype prints created on wood and metal. He will be glad to explain the process to you if you are unfamiliar with it. Sharing the taller is Raúl Pernia, a sculptor who creates amazing organic set pieces. Together they can transform an interior into a cutting-edge wonder. Turn left upon leaving and have the pleasure of getting lost in the art haven of El Born.
Carrer Semoleres 10, +34 68 631 5053, bencinibarcelona.com. Open daily 11am–2pm, 5pm–8pm

Eat Meat

Located in the Gràcia, an area chock-full of boho shops, trendy cafes, and few tourists, is Eat Meat, a non-profit cultural organisation dedicated to the principle of "art for laying bare contemporary obsessions [which include] mutations of form and essence, hybridisations, new visual engineering, the sickness of the soul, other rituals, the monstrous, the transgeneric and alterities". Camping Cannibal was the most recent exhibition by sculptor Nico Nubiola, whose stunning wood relief pieces, without being macabre (trust me), depict mutilated human bodies "like chickens in a supermarket". Take a walk on the dark side and confront the depths of the human psyche.
Carrer Alzina 20, +34 93 284 2894, eatmeat.cat. Open Thur–Fri 6pm–9pm, Sat noon–2pm, 5pm–8pm, during exhibitions

Ulls Blaus and NIU

How deep into the culture are you willing to go? It will help if you speak Spanish or Catalan but the young people who hang out at Ulls Blaus welcome everyone, not that you will be greeted at the door, simply accepted. This hidden taller obert sits at the end of an uninviting, rundown passageway in Poblenou. Most everything here is made of recycled material and begs a closer look – don't miss the WC. On Friday evenings at 8pm, emerging visual artists and/or musicians offer entertainment in the small sala. Not far from here is NIU, another alternative multi-art space for upcoming artists where electronic music is the norm but anything is possible. Bars at both locations.
Ulls Blaus, Passatge Caminal 13 (off Carrer Pallars 175, +34 66 912 2586, ullsblaus.com. Open Tue–Sat 5pm-10pm. NIU, Almogàvers 208, +34 93 356 8811, niubcn.com. Open Tue–Sat 5pm-10pm.

Palau Dalmases

There is no sign at the entrance, in the heart of La Ribera, only a doorman. You peek into a gorgeous 17th-century courtyard with a richly carved staircase behind. Is this a bar, and can I enter, you wonder. Yes, it is, and yes, you can. Stepping through the heavy wooden doors into Espai Barroc, you feel as though you have wandered into a baroque film set, with candelabras, fat cherubs, reproduction paintings, kitschy tableaux and the odd surrealist touch. The palace itself is rich in history, and worth a look around. Stick to wine or beer at €6, and feel transported to an era of sumptuous extravagance.
Carrer Montcada 20, +34 93 310 0673, palaudalmases.com. Open Tue–Sat 8pm–2am, Sun 6pm–10pm

Jill Adams is the editor of the online literary magazine The Barcelona Review, barcelonareview.com


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May 25 2011

Summer arts calendar: Newcastle

NewcastleGateshead is gearing up for a summer full of art, theatre, music, food and festivals. Jon Corbett and Stephen Noble of Keep Your Eyes Open are your guides

Newcastle's top 10 budget eats
The Turner prize goes to Gateshead in October 2011

Evolution Festival, 28-29 May

Newcastle isn't a city famed for its large-scale music festivals, but this summer the spotlight will firmly be on Tyneside. Evolution will kick things off with a carnival of music and special events over two days on the banks of the Tyne. Plan B, Tinie Tempah and rock legends Iggy Pop and the Stooges are on the line-up for this year's weekender. The cream of the region's up and coming musical crop will also take over the neighbouring Ouseburn Valley as part of Evolution Emerging and the Happy Mondays' Shaun Ryder will DJ at the Riverside on Sunday at the after show house party.
• Newcastle Gateshead Quayside, weekend tickets £35 plus booking fee, day tickets £25 plus booking fee, 0844 248 5086, evolutionfestival.co.uk

Newcastle Community Green Festival, 4-5 June

Now entering its 16th year, the Newcastle Community Green festival follows the UN World Environment Week, and this year organisers promise to make it the most interactive and family-friendly festival they've had. There's a wide range of music across four renewably powered stages, a kids area, circus area and workshops on how to become a little greener. The community vibe among the 10,000 people filling up Leazes Park makes it one of the friendliest places to feel guilty about taking the car in to town that day.
• noon-6pm Leazes Park, free, newcastlegreenfestival.org.uk

¡VAMOS! Festival, 4 June-10 July

Tyneside has something of a booming Latin American community, and for five years organisers of the ¡VAMOS! Festival have worked tirelessly in their bid to celebrate Spanish and Portuguese speaking cultures across Newcastle and Gateshead. ¡VAMOS! 2011 will launch with a Tyne Carnival procession through the streets of Newcastle on Saturday 4 June, ushering in five weeks of live Latin American music, food and film. The festival will feature Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling at the Sage Gateshead, a Revolution on Paper exhibition (focusing on the great age of Mexican printmaking) at the Hatton Gallery and a South American film season at the Star and Shadow cinema.
• Many events are free, others range from £5-20, vamosfestival.com

Behind The Scenes Weekend, 10-12 June

If you've ever wondered what resides in the vaults of an art gallery or fancied having a nosey backstage at your favourite theatre, this run of behind-the-scenes tours of Newcastle and Gateshead's cultural venues may be of interest. Tour guides will allow visitors to explore some of the region's most historic haunts including the Theatre Royal in Grainger Town, Northern Stage, based at the site of Newcastle's famous playhouse, and BALTIC, the international centre for contemporary visual arts on Gateshead's quayside. You'll gain access to spaces never seen before by the public.
• Free, northernarchitecture.com

Robert Breer exhibition, 11 June-25 September

Spanning two levels in the BALTIC complex (pictured above), the most comprehensive exhibition of American artist Robert Breer, one of the most influential animator/filmmakers of modern times, brings together his paintings, ground-breaking films and radical sculptures from the last 60 years. There will also be a selection of films showing the work of Breer's influencers and peers, a tour by BALTIC curator Laurence Sillars and, at the Star and Shadow cinema, a seminar on his work by speakers Mat Fleming, Gary Thomas and avant garde champion Pip Chodorov.
• BALTIC events are free, Star and Shadow tickets £8, £6 concessions, balticmill.com

EAT! Festival, 17-26 June

Now in its fifth year, EAT! Festival aims to "advocate all the pleasures of creating and sharing good food and drink in the North East". EAT! has built up a solid reputation as a food festival like no other, encouraging food aficionados and those who think a Greggs pasty is a culinary high to come together and enjoy food in a friendly environment. Highlights include a street food festival, 10 Things To Eat Before You Die, and Eat-a-long Movies – where student chefs will recreate the dishes from foodie movies while you watch on screen: Mexican dishes will be served with Like Water For Chocolate and French with Julie and Julia. With more than 50 events, it's worth looking at the full programme.
• Prices and locations vary, eatnewcastlegateshead.com

In The Long Run: Thirty Years of The Great North Run, 18 June-1 October

Having received critical acclaim last year for its portrayal of the world's largest half-marathon, the In The Long Run Exhibition is back for another term. Exploring the history and social significance of Bupa's Great North Run, this updated version of the exhibition will feature depictions of Newcastle cityscapes as well as artistic works from archives spanning three decades. Housed at the South Shields Museum, near the spot where thousands of runners cross the finishing line each year, this updated collection will be a fitting tribute to the region's cultural identity and one of the UK's most loved sporting events.
• South Shields Museum and Arts Gallery, free, greatnorthrunculture.org

Ignition Festival, 6-7August

Post-punk giants Echo & The Bunnymen, fellow Merseysider Miles Kane and alternative folkster Frank Turner will get the party going at the north-east's latest musical gathering this summer at the 18,000 capacity rugby ground at Kingston Park. With a strong ethos on supporting the region's local talent, the line-up also features kitchen-sink indie diamonds the Little Comets, the hotly-tipped Let's Buy Happiness and BBC 6 Music darlings Grandfather Birds.
• Kingston Park, weekend tickets £50, single day £30, i-fest.co.uk

Pitmen Painters at the Journal Tyne Theatre, 8-13 August

Following a sell out run at Newcastle's Live Theatre, Pitmen Painters went on to enjoy success on a national tour plus a stint in New York. But now it's returning home to play at the Journal Tyne. Adapted from a book by William Feaver and written by Lee Hall of Billy Elliot fame, the story revolves around a group of miners enrolling in an art appreciation class in 1930s industrial Ashington. Within a matter of years, the miners had the art world chattering with their creations, and this touching and often hilarious show is, as the Guardian said, "breathtaking in its scope".
• Tickets from £11.50-£28, thejournaltynetheatre.co.uk

• Steve Noble is society editor and Jon Corbett the chief reporter of the kyeo.tv arts and culture blog


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May 16 2011

Summer arts calendar: Manchester

Diaries at the ready. . . we've asked arts bloggers around the UK to pick 10 of the best cultural events in their cities, starting with Creativetourist.com's Manchester highlights

Screenfields at Spinningfields, Thursdays to 1 September

When the weather cooperates – this is the Rainy City, after all – it's hard to imagine a better way to spend a Thursday evening than sprawled on the big lawn at Spinningfields watching The Breakfast Club (4 August) or Saturday Night Fever (25 August). Picnic blankets and deckchairs can be hired, but you can also bring your own. Do it properly and lay on a big posh picnic, or be lazy and stock up at the onsite barbecue and bar.
screenings £2 each, season pass £9.99, spinningfieldsonline.net

Hard Times, 8 June-2 July, Murrays' Mills, Ancoats

The bright side of the Library Theatre Company losing its home at the city library is this site-specific run of Hard Times at Murrays' Mills, a well-preserved cotton mill a short walk from the city centre in Ancoats. It's a promenade production, so audiences will follow the action around different parts of the building. With a solid cast, skilful direction from LTC's respected Chris Honer and a world-premiere adaptation of Dickens' classic novel, expectations are high.
tickets £20-£22 (concessions £15), librarytheatre.com/hardtimes

Hilary Jack, 10 June-24 July, Castlefield Gallery

This much-loved small gallery was one of the unlucky ones in this year's Arts Council funding review, but art lovers in the city have rallied around, determined to keep it open. Hilary Jack's first UK solo show, And Scent of Pine and Wood Thrush Singing, is an excellent reason to visit: a mainstay of the city's contemporary art scene, she's coming home after making a name for herself further afield. Expect witty and intriguing sculptural works in which cast-off items find new life.
• free, castlefieldgallery.co.uk

Parklife Weekender, 11-12 June, Platt Fields Park

Last year's debut outing of this central Manchester music festival was such a success that it has expanded to two days and added a sixth stage for 2011. The truly eclectic line-up reads like an encyclopedia of dance and electronic music: Kelis, Chase & Status, DJ Shadow, Hercules & Love Affair, Metronomy, Grandmaster Flash, and many more.
• day tickets £35, parklife.uk.com

Manchester Book Market, 17-18 June, St Ann's Square

Hosted by Literature Northwest, the Manchester Book Market takes over lovely St Ann's Square for two full days of bibliocentric events. Browse the stalls of publishers from across the north of England, enjoy live readings from poetry hip-hop crew Pen-ultimate and a host of local writers, and check out a book design seminar with David Pearson.
free, literaturenorthwest.co.uk

Warhol and the Diva, 25 June-25 September, The Lowry, Salford Quays

This newly curated exhibition brings to the UK for the first time some little-seen works from the seminal artist, focusing on the larger-than-life women who were his favourite subjects. Marilyn Monroe, Debbie Harry and Jane Fonda, among others, are immortalised here in screen prints and polaroids. Of course, the biggest diva of them all is arguably Warhol himself, and the show also charts his transformation from artist into drag and counterculture icon.
free, thelowry.com

Noise of Many Waters – Music for the Victoria Baths, 30 June-2 July, Victoria Baths, Hathersage Road

This long-neglected architectural gem in the process of being restored is the latest Mancunian landmark to get its own soundtrack specially composed by students at the Royal Northern College of Music. A 150-person orchestra will perform compositions inspired by the place in situ, along with music from Handel, Ravel, and Debussy, over three nights.
• £10, rncm.ac.uk

Manchester International Festival, 30 June-17 July, various venues

At the top of everyone's MIF must-see list this year are Bjork, Snoop Dogg, a concert in the dark from blind singers Amadou & Mariam, 11 Rooms at Manchester Art Gallery and bonkers live artist Marina Abramovic's theatrical collaboration with Willem Dafoe and Antony Hegarty. Quite simply, don't miss this. There is extra fringe goodness from The Burlington Fine Arts Club and the Not Part Of festival.
prices vary (some events free), mif.co.uk

The Manchester Picnic, 5-7 August, citywide

For three days Manchester's parks and public spaces will be transformed into picnic sites, with live music, speciality food stalls and picnic tables complete with gingham tablecloths. On the Sunday, a teddy bear's picnic will take place in Piccadilly Gardens from noon-4pm, and there's even a Twitnic planned for twittering folk at Spinningfields.
free, find maps of all the sites at cityco.com

CineMADtic, 26 August, MadLab

The Northern Quarter's excellent MadLab (Manchester Digital Laboratory) is the setting for a one-day film festival featuring specially commissioned short story and poetry adaptations. A collaboration with Comma Press, a not-for-profit publisher, it will be screening past features and running poetry readings, masterclasses and workshops on animation and networking for filmmakers.
• £4 (concessions £2.50) madlab.org.uk

Kate Feld, editor CreativeTourist.com


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May 05 2011

10 of the best arts venues in south London

Kate Abbott, commissioning arts editor for the Guardian, selects the capital's best arts venues south of the river, from a cinema museum to vast chambers under the streets of Bermondsey

Old Vic Tunnels

The dank, atmospheric tunnels under Waterloo station were discovered by director Hamish Jenkinson when he took a wrong turn at Banksy's Cans Festival, kicked down a mystery door and trespassed into this epic space that had been unaired and unexplored for 20 years. He has since replicated that sense of magical discovery for punters, with a rich programme that began with 228, a Punchdrunk collaboration. Subsequent projects have included visitors being wheeled in on gurneys for Cart Macabre, and Steve Lazarides's Hell's Halfacre extravaganza. This year will see the pitch-black space become a minotaur's lair. Outside, it's still a graffiti tunnel, preserved just how Banksy would want it to be.
Station Road Approach SE1, oldvictunnels.com

Old Police Station

The only thing that marks out the Old Police Station Art Centre from the police station next door is a gnome on a pole, suspended where the blue Met lamppost once hung. It feels as if the police have only just left – there are posters everywhere, detailing best practice for fingerprinting, and what officers should do in the event of a bout of excited delirium from a prisoner. Next to the pop-up Boozer bar are the cells, now doubling as exhibition spaces or toilets. In the courtyard is a large shipping container that houses Cartel, an additional space curated by Agency Gallery, and artist studios for hire. The site also has a recording studio and a radio station, not to mention a former interrogation room.
114 Amersham Vale SE14, +44 (0)798 168 1842, theoldpolicestation.org, open Fri 7pm-1am and when there are exhibitions Wed-Sat noon-4pm

Beaconsfield

Beaconsfield is set just south of the Albert Embankment, in the girls' half of the former Lambeth ragged school. Train lovers often pop in, mistaking it for an old signal house, only to find a double gallery. One half is found up the heavy flagstone stairway in the resurrected Victorian classroom, complete with original raked floor. The other is in a dim railway arch where exhibitions are accompanied by the low rumblings of trains. The Ragged Canteen is open for weekday lunches and weekend coffee and cake stops. While you're here, wander to Man and Eve on Courtenay Street, another local gallery, in an old sea scouts hut.
22 Newport Street SE11, +44 (0)20-7582 6465, beaconsfield.ltd.uk, open Tues-Sun 11am-5pm

Brunel Museum

This Bermondsey museum sits in the engine house above the first construction project Isambard Kingdom Brunel ever worked on, aged 19 – the Thames Tunnel. Its gardens are decked out with benches shaped like later Brunel bridges, myriad murals and a Frankenstein tree. Every Tuesday at 6.15pm prompt you can take a tour from Bermondsey station along the river, before creeping through a tiny entrance into a huge underground chamber – half the size of Shakespeare's Globe – where Brunel nearly drowned in 1828. This arena, inaccessible to the public for 145 years, now hosts a miscellany of events, from cancan dancers to choirs and theatre festivals. Recover from your subterranean trip with a drink in the bank-side bar.
Railway Avenue SE16, +44 (0)20-7231 3840, brunel-museum.org.uk, open daily 10am-5pm,Tues 10am-9.30pm

The Cinema Museum

An Aladdin's cave for cinephiles. Every inch of wall space is taken up with memorabilia, from 1930 ratings boards with the certificate H for horrific (a precursor to the X rating) to MGM posters inviting punters in with the promise "that lovely lion is here today!" The owner – who has single-handedly built up this mind-boggling collection – takes visitors on tours. At first, there's the in-house cinema with period seats and art nouveau house lights. Then there are film star head shots and a room stuffed with ushers' outfits. This listed site is the former workhouse where Charlie Chaplin reputedly arrived as a destitute nine-year-old in 1898. Fans of the Tramp will be particularly in awe here.
The Master's House, 2 Dugard Way SE11, +44 (0)20-7840 2200 (call to arrange tours), cinemamuseum.org.uk, adults £7, children and concessions £5

South London Gallery

Like its north London counterpart the Camden Arts Centre, South London Gallery is an innovative public space. It opened in 1891 to enrich the cultural lives of local folk, and has recently undergone an elegant, Riba-nominated expansion by 6A architects into derelict buildings across the way. These accommodate the cultural overspill that comes with curating 10 shows a year and housing a bulging collection featuring Antony Gormley, Anselm Kiefer and Tracey Emin. The tasty new cafe is in the former living room (now gold-stencilled) of the Victorian terrace façade at No 67. But don't miss the shows, the interactive Sunday Spot workshops for families, and the Thursday night Art Assassins programme for imaginative teens to get stuck in.
65 Peckham Road SE5, +44 (0)20-7703 6120, southlondongallery.org, open Tues-Sun 11am-6pm, Wed 11am-9pm

The Agency Gallery

This gallery in a Victorian terraced house in Surrey Quays is known for nurturing new talent, having put on some of the earliest exhibitions by artists who have gone on to great things, such as Turner prizewinner Douglas Gordon and Rebecca Warren. It's painted a stern black outside, but inside it has a deconstructed finish with raw exposed brickwork that somehow never detracts from the displays. It moved here from its former Hoxton site in 2009, a shift that may prove that the new home of inventive art lies in the capital's south-eastern reaches.
66 Evelyn Street SE8, +44 (0)20-8692 0734, theagencygallery.co.uk, open Wed-Sat 10.30am-6pm, last Friday of the month 10.30am-9pm

Asylum

It takes a while to recover from the gardens, the beautiful square of former almshouses and the Victorian gas lamps here. You feel miles away from London and modern times, but this is Peckham, and there's a Toys R Us round the corner. And that's just the exterior. Inside, Asylum is a curator's and a photographer's playground. A former chapel, founded in 1827, it has been taken over by two local artists who curate group shows and community events. It was bombed in the blitz, and the entire place was gutted, but somehow the original stained glass windows survived. This weighty historical legacy means that artworks have a lot to contend with, and there are also remnants of vandalism adorning the walls, but that adds to the charm.
Caroline Gardens Chapel, Asylum Road SE15, +44 (0)7796 684834, asylum-arts.co.uk

CGP/Dilston Grove

A white cube gallery with a twist, CGP offers up a double whammy of contemporary art and enviable community engagement across two rough-and-ready spaces in Southwark Park. Café Gallery straddles the lake in the centre of the park, with three interlinked white cubes showing contemporary art. The DIY allotment out back, bejewelled with bunting and wild flowers, is ploughed by locals as part of the Friday morning club run by Frances Ward, who also anchored the Tate Modern community garden. In the south-west corner of the park, Dilston Grove is a massive gothic hall with light walls and heavy-set rafters showcasing experimental installations.
Southwark Park SE16, +44 (0)20-7237 1230, cgplondon.org, open Wed-Sun noon-6pm in summer

Danielle Arnaud

It's not often you enter a stranger's home and pootle around alone and unwatched, but that's the effect Danielle Arnaud is after. This gallery in a home has to be rooted out – there is no sign on the door, which Arnaud believes puts visitors in an inquisitive mindset before they enter; a quest to search out affecting art. It is a grand Georgian house, and the light offsets artworks naturally, with no need for nondescript whitewashed walls or distracting commercial lighting. The artists shown here, from Phyllida Barlow to Laure Prouvost, have to navigate the domestic fittings, fireplaces and furniture.
123 Kennington Road SE11, +44 (0)20-7735 8292, daniellearnaud.com, open Fri-Sun 2-6pm


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