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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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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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December 09 2011

The best cities around the world for specialist shops and shopping

From kitsch fashion in Tokyo to furniture in Copenhagen, our experts reveal their top cities for specialist shopping

Rugs, Marrakech

Shopping in Marrakech is practically an Olympic sport – so you should get in training before you venture out. Serious shoppers need information and determination. I love the bejewelled and embroidered babouches (slippers) and bags, the tasselled accessories, Berber jewellery, chiselled tiles, decorated pottery, ground cinnamon … However, when I'm in Marrakech I crave rugs. My favourites are the Berber rag rugs called boucherouite. I've found vintage versions in the Bab El Khemis flea market (the north-east corner of the medina, open daily 9.30am–6pm). During a recent visit I bought a pretty multicoloured checkerboard rug that folded nicely into my luggage. There are some stunning examples of boucherouite in fading solid colours at Art Ouarzazate (15 Rue Rahba Kdima, which is actually Rue Rahb el Biadyne). The shop's specialities include knotted and printed leather rugs and goatskin patchwork rugs. Tuareg rugs from the Sahara, made with tightly woven palm leaves and camel leather that make them impervious to the desert sand, can be found at Mustapha Blaoui (144 Rue Bab Doukkala – there's no sign, so knock on the brass-studded double doors). Shaggy white or cream rugs with black tribal patterns are called beni ouarain, and are ubiquitous. Bargain when you find one you like – it's expected. In the Guéliz section of the new city you'll find Ben Rahal (28 Rue de la Liberté), a shop dedicated to rugs. The small space is filled with carpets, each selected for its exceptional quality. You'll pay a bit more, but it's worth every penny.
Susan Simon is the author of Shopping in Marrakech (Little Bookroom, £9.74, guardianbookshop.co.uk) is out now

Furniture, Copenhagen

Mid-century design is a massive trend, driven by things like Mad Men, and Danish design was at its best then. Such furniture is also timeless and built to last. Copenhagen is very small, but the best furniture shops are scattered around. Østerbro is home to Normann Copenhagen (Østerbrogade 70, normann- copenhagen.com, see page 8), a cool shop for quirky items, plus some modern homeware stores. Bredgade is a street full of high-end vintage shops. Klassik Moderne Møbelkunst (en.klassik.dk) at No 3 is one of the best. The best piece I found in Copenhagen was a beautiful Aero walnut oval sideboard – but sadly it costs £4,700 ...

It's hard to find a bargain anywhere in Scandinavia, but Ilva (Gammel Lundtoftevej 5, ilva.dk) is still a very big deal, and Bo Concept (Gammel Kongevej 29A, boconcept.co.uk) has affordable, nicely designed pieces. Hay (Østergade 61, hay.dk) represents the current design resurgence in Denmark – its beautiful shop is full of designed and found objects.
Finally, Copenhagen has fantastic (if sometimes expensive) restaurants and hotels – Hotel Fox (Jarmers Plads 3, hotelfox.dk, doubles from £80 room-only); and the original design hotel (Hammerichsgade 1, radissonblu.com/royalhotel-copenhagen, doubles from £150 room-only); Nimb (Bernstorffsgade 5, doubles from £280 B&B) – and it's a very friendly place.
Dan Cooper, buyer, home collections and gifts, John Lewis

Books, Cecil Court, London

It's a struggle not to pluck the phrase "remarkable survival" from the catechism of cliche when describing Cecil Court, a Victorian thoroughfare in London that is still as full of bookshops as it was in the 1950s. They're all good, but my favourite is Tindley & Chapman at No 4. Tilling the rich brown earth of 20th century literature, their stock is well chosen and fast changing.
Ed Maggs, rare book dealer, Maggs Bros Ltd (maggs.com)

Bags, Udaipur

Nobody hassles you in Udaipur in south-western Rajasthan. I fell in love with its market and spent a glorious day exploring the alleyways bedecked with stalls on the hill leading to the castle. The multicoloured rugs are superb, as is the marquetry (inlaid patterned) furniture but, being a "fashion girl", I was most excited about finding some really special leather bags. I like simple styles, which India does not always do, so I was very surprised to find wonderful tan satchels. Unlined and made of fairly robust leather, they really hold their shape, but also wear wonderfully well. The cross-body mini is the ideal hands-free travel companion, just big enough to hold all your vital documents, wallet and phone. The "Andreya" is my favourite for everyday, and the mini weekend bag makes you look like a traveller, not a tourist.
Sarah Walter, managing director and founder, style-passport.com

Fashion, Tokyo

Tokyo is like a super-modern alien planet magically entwined in tradition – every facet of the city references the country's ancient and complex culture. Tokyo's excessiveness – from huge video screens pumping J-pop, hordes of mini-skirted schoolgirls and crazy elevator music (even emanating from rubbish trucks), to insane rush-hour crowds and out-of-control fashion – can be overwhelming, but it is a shopaholic's dream. For the girl who loves to get dressed up, Tokyo is the place to hunt and gather. Whether you're into vintage wonders, avant garde statement-makers or ridiculous cuteness, you will find the dress of your dreams in one of Tokyo's eclectic shopping precincts. In Shibuya, Candy (candy-nippon.com) is dedicated to the most fashion-forward Japanese and international brands, and 109 (shibuya109.jp), a six-level extravaganza, is a shopping mecca for all gyaru girls (tanned, blonde Japanese girls). In Harajuku/Aoyama, Faline (bambifaline.com) is all about Harajuku Kawaii style, which roughly translates as shockingly cute and crazy. Cosmic Wonder (cosmicwonder.com) is a fashion/art project, the shop doubling as an exhibition and performance space. In Daikanyama/Nakameguro, Hollywood Ranch Market (hrm.co.jp) focuses on amazing American-style vintage denim and casuals, while Mercibeaucoup (mercibeaucoup.jp) has a kitschy-cool 1950s-inspired interior to match its unrelentingly pop wares.
Indigo Clarke, fashion writer

Art, Amsterdam

Buying art is a way to get a shopping buzz while making a smart investment, and Amsterdam is one of the finest cities to start your collection. It is home to the magnificent Rijksmuseum (Jan Luijkenstraat 1, rijksmuseum.nl), which sits in the Spiegelkwartier district of art galleries, antique merchants and retro boutiques. The most prominent art fair is Art Amsterdam (20-23 September 2012, artamsterdam.nl), a huge offering of contemporary and modern art. For a more leisurely experience, take a stroll to the Spui Square on a Sunday, where you'll find a collection of established and emerging artists selling their work.

For something a little more highbrow, check out PAN Amsterdam (18-25 November, RAI-Parkhal, Europaplein 22, pan.nl), the leading contemporary fair for art and design. Last but by no means least is the Affordable Art Fair (25-28 October, Cultuurpark Westergasfabriek, Klönne Plein 1, affordableartfair.nl), which generates a whole array of small satellite exhibitions and open studios, with work for all tastes and budgets.
Angela Murray, art and object buyer, Achica (achica.com)

Homewares, New York

Zabar's (zabars.com) is a legendary Upper West Side food retailer known for its imported cheeses, fish, bakery, and coffee and tea counters. But also check out the nearly block-long mezzanine for a world-class selection of homewares, especially the assortment of non-stick and copper cookware. It's one of America's best home emporiums. Macy's (macys.com) is the largest department store in the world and is synonymous with NYC and fashion. The headquarters at Herald Square stocks an impressive range of culinary and tabletop goods in all styles and prices. There are frequent sales and celebrity chefs make routine appearances.

Broadway Panhandler (broadwaypanhandler.com) is a SoHo outpost for top quality, well-designed kitchenware at discounted prices. The family business's staff are well qualified to dish out advice to kitchen pros and novices – many are trained chefs. Gracious Home (gracioushome.com) is also a must-visit for anyone looking to revamp their home. Branches in Chelsea, the Upper East and West Side sell gadgets, furniture, hardware, linen and lighting for the entire house. Fishs Eddy (fishseddy.com) is a Flatiron neighbourhood destination for discounted tableware, including some vintage pieces. Fun, colourful and unique goods, such as an NYC skyline motif glass ($5) and other novelty pieces, make super gifts.
Gerry Frank is the author of Where to Find It, Buy It, Eat It in New York (newyorkcityguidebook.net, $19.95)


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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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Berlin – in pictures

findingberlin.com endeavours to capture the spirit of Berlin - "diverse, multicultural, a melting pot of styles, history and attitude, an urban role model, fascinating, evolving, changing at a fast pace, dirty but laid back"



10 of the best films set in Berlin

Berlin has been the backdrop – and even the star – in movies from cold war spy thrillers to dramas about the collapse of East Germany. Andrew Pulver picks the top 10 films set in the city

As featured in our Berlin city guide

People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag), Curt and Robert Siodmak, 1930

Silent cinema flourished in Germany during the Weimar years, and Berlin was immortalised in two particularly brilliant impressionist tributes: Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, and People on Sunday, which aimed to create a patchwork of ordinary Berliners' lives. This film, with its cast of non-professional actors and hidden camera, gets the pick – partly because of its extraordinary writing and directing credit roll. Virtually everyone – including Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann and Robert Siodmak – went on to make a name for themselves in Hollywood, after being forced out of Germany during the Nazi era.
• Bahnhof Zoo; Nikolassee

The Bourne Supremacy, Paul Greengrass, 2004

Hollywood came to Berlin in a big way with the sequel to The Bourne Identity; director Paul Greengrass was no doubt paying homage to Berlin's cold war past. The convoluted plot has Bourne (Matt Damon) showing up in Berlin to try to reconnect the threads of his past: modern Berlin makes a big shiny backdrop for the high-octane shenanigans. Added to which, Berlin doubles for other stops in Bourne's globetrotting – notably, a building at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds becomes a customs office in Naples.
• Exhibition Grounds, Messedamm; Alexanderplatz; Friedrichstrasse bridge; Ostbahnhof

Germany Year Zero, Roberto Rossellini, 1948

As a record of the rubble-strewn state of the city immediately after the second world war, Roberto Rossellini's film is hard to beat. Rossellini had made his name as a neo-realist in Rome, filming while the Germans were pulling out; he turned his lens on Germany itself shortly afterwards. Germany Year Zero is ostensibly about a 13-year-old scrabbling to survive in the chaos of defeated Germany, but it's the ruined city itself, with broken buldings and dubious denizens, that is the real subject.
• Neptune fountain, Alexanderplatz; Reich Chancellery and Hitler's bunker, Vossstrasse (now demolished)

Christiane F – We Children From Bahnhof Zoo (Christiane F – Wir Kinder From Bahnhof Zoo), Uli Edel, 1981

In the late 70s and early 80s, West Berlin's reputation for radicalism and experimentation made it a mecca for youth at the time: but there was a dark side, encapsulated in this notorious film about a drug-addicted prostitute. Based on her memoir, Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, Uli Edel's film is the last word in Berlin misery, with the David Bowie soundtrack providing a patina of cold-as-ice glamour. Bahnhof Zoo was West Berlin's biggest rail station at the time, and the film-makers also shot extensively in Christiane's home district of Gropiusstadt, the southern suburb designed by the Bauhaus founder.
• Gropiusstadt; Bahnhof Zoo

Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin), Wim Wenders, 1987

Arguably the finest film about the divided city was made by Wim Wenders in 1987 – a fable about angels floating over a traumatised Berlin, listening to its inhabitants' thoughts, and attempting, in different ways, to heal their pain. The Wall itself was reconstructed in a studio, but Wenders made extensive use of the city's landmarks – including an extended tour of the modernist Berlin State Library, designed by Hans Scharoun.
• Berlin State Library House 2, Potsdamerstrasse; Friedrichstrasse; Gedächtniskirche, Kurfürstendamm

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006

Perhaps the most eye-opening film to have come out of contemporary German cinema's interest in raking over the communist era, this insight into the Stasi-ridden world of 1980s East Germany took advantage of the relatively unreconstructed Soviet chunk of the city. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck managed to gain permission to film in the Stasi archives (now a museum), as well as stage a dance performance at the Volksbühne theatre.
• Stasi Zentrale, Ruschestrasse; Volksbühne, Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz

Run Lola Run, Tom Tykwer, 1998

Sprinting through the reunited city in the late 1990s, Franka Potente's Lola swiftly became an international symbol of Germany's new dynamism. Director Tom Tykwer hurled her pell-mell around Berlin, picking locations from east and west in a thriller that plays out three times, with three different outcomes. The film is very much a what-might-have-been story, with a happy ending, which is perhaps what we want to feel about Berlin itself.
• Oberbaumbrücke; Deutsche Oper U-Bahn; Tauroggenerstrasse

Goodbye, Lenin! Wolfgang Becker, 2003

A much-liked film that cleverly tackles the issues surrounding German unification – by ignoring them. A fervent East German socialist misses the Wende (reunification) as she's in a coma; on her recovery, and to spare her further shock, her son goes to elaborate lengths to maintain the fiction that East Germany is still in existence. Almost all the film was shot in the former East Berlin, including shots of lead Daniel Brühl speeding past celebrating football fans on the monumental Karl-Marx-Allee.
• Karl-Marx-Allee; Alexanderplatz

Aeon Flux, Karyn Kusama, 2005

Though it never found much favour with critics or audiences, this sci-fi thriller made superb use of Berlin's modernist buildings to evoke a post-apocalyptic society in the 25th century. One unlikely architectural spectacular after another was press-ganged into service. The Bauhaus Archiv doubled as an apartment block, the Hall of Condolence at the Krematorium Baumschulenweg was used for political meetings, and the Tierheim animal shelter became the setting for the government HQ.
• Bauhaus Archiv, Klingelhöferstrasse; Krematorium Baumschulenweg, Kiefholzstrasse; Tierheim Berlin, Hausvaterweg

One, Two, Three, Billy Wilder, 1961

Shot before the Berlin wall went up, but released after, Billy Wilder's scabrous political satire pitched itself into the clash of ideologies that the city symbolised. Wilder, of course, had left Germany in 1934 after the Nazis took power, his first film credit being People on Sunday (see above). Returning as a successful Hollywood film director, Wilder cast Jimmy Cagney as a Coca-Cola executive looking after his boss's teenage daughter. The film certainly hit a nerve, as Wilder intended it should.
• Brandenburg Gate; Gedächtniskirche, Kurfürstendamm; Tempelhof airport

• Andrew Pulver is the film editor of The Guardian


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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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July 01 2011

A great white hope in Avilés, Asturias

The Asturian city of Avilés is betting on its new Oscar Niemeyer arts centre delivering the 'Guggenheim effect'

If first impressions were everything, you might not bother with Avilés. The A66 motorway takes you along the bank of a river that eventually opens into the Cantabrian Sea, but there's no water to be seen through a mephitic landscape of factories and warehouses. As you approach the city centre through the industrial grime, however, two things catch your eye: on one side of the estuary, a harmonious jumble of old town roofs; on the other side, a collection of grand buildings in curvaceous white forms.

Avilés is a revelation wrapped up in a surprise. The northern Spanish region of Asturias, under the radar for far too long, is finally taking its rightful place in British hearts thanks to its unspoiled beaches, its mountain landscapes, its gastronomy and idiosyncratic local culture. Oviedo is posh and pulchritudinous, Gijón a rough-and-tumble harbour town. Until quite recently, Avilés had seemed the post-industrial Cinderella of the three. Yet, thanks in large measure to a futuristic new cultural centre designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, things are picking up.

On an evening in late May I walked up to the Plaza de España, the city's front room, where one side is formed by the imposing Town Hall, and a few steps away lies the Palacio de Ferrera (Plaza de España 9, +34 985 129080, nh-hotels.com, doubles from €70), an urban stately home transformed into the best hotel in Avilés. From the square, cobbled and flagstoned streets radiate out into the best-preserved medieval city in Asturias.

It was getting on to 11 o'clock, but I needn't have worried about finding a decent dinner. The Casa Alvarín (Calle de Los Alas 2, +34 985 540 113, casaalvarin.com), a cider house with sawdust on the floors and Joselito hams hanging from the ceiling, was still serving up plates of octopus and slabs of Cabrales cheese.

Historic and cultivated, with one of the best harbours on the Cantabrian coast, for centuries the city did well out of fishing and trade. In the early 1950s the rot set in. Avilés was earmarked for an industrial future by Franco's government. The wetlands of the ría (estuary) were partially drained, the course of the river altered, and the giant factory complex of Spain's premier steel works, Ensidesa, installed within a few hundred yards of Avilés' charming old town. Smoke from factories painted the stones of the old town a shade of charcoal grey and the estuary became a dead zone.

In recent years, however, the spiral changed direction. The 1960s-built airport, 15km out of town, was extended in 1994 and again in 2000 (EasyJet flies there from Stansted). And now the city has just lucked out big-time. Niemeyer, the architect responsible for the building of Brasilia and masterpieces such as the contemporary art museum in Niterói, over the bay from Rio de Janeiro, had won the Prince of Asturias prize for architecture in 1989. In 2005 the Prince of Asturias Foundation contacted past winners as part of the prize's 25th anniversary. Niemeyer's contribution to the celebrations was a design for a cultural centre, to be sited wherever the government of Asturias might see fit; it would be his first building in Spain. As it happened, Avilés was just considering how best to engineer a socioeconomic change in the city by means of contemporary culture, earmarking parts of its decaying ría for a project that might have the same transforming effect that the Guggenheim had on Bilbao. The Centro Niemeyer (centroniemeyer.org) has just opened, and is intended to be the beginning of what will eventually become the Isla de la Innovación, a Norman Foster-designed "green city" entirely transforming the ría.

The Centro is a composition of simple forms arranged over a wide open space, described by its creator, with all the youthful idealism of his 103 years, as "a square open to the sea for all the men and women of the world, a place for cohabitation, education, culture and peace".

What strikes you first is the sudden glare of whiteness in this grey-green temperate zone. The auditorium, which seats 961, is housed in a wave-shaped building, the stage opening on to the square for open-air concerts. A long, low, curving form known informally as "the banana" has a cinema, meeting rooms and a cafeteria. The cupola, made by spraying white concrete on to an inflatable dome, is the centre's main exhibition space.

Shows lined up for the rest of 2011 include a Julian Schnabel Polaroid exhibition, a concert by Brazilian singer and guitarist Gilberto Gil (29 July), and the Bridge Project, with Sam Mendes directing Kevin Spacey in Richard III in September. The Niemeyer has just four permanent staff, but a roster of advisers that most arts centres would give their eyeteeth for, among them Spacey (theatre), Brad Pitt (architecture), Stephen Hawking (science), Woody Allen (cinema, and the occasional appearance on trad jazz clarinet).

The Centro is now the city's main attraction, and is just a short walk from the heart of old Avilés, where most tourists will spend the rest of their time, exploring the medieval centre's network of pretty streets, such as Calle de la Ferrería and Calle de Galiana. Avilés has few major monuments, though you wouldn't want to miss the church of San Francisco, its Romanesque facade eaten away by centuries of salt spray, or the barrio of Sabugo, formerly the fishing quarter, where you can see the stone table beside the church where mariners met to finalise their travel plans.

What the city has most of, however, are bars and taverns, restaurants and tapas joints. Avilés is rich in old-fashioned grocers' stores with high ceilings and flagstone floors, selling everything from tinned cabbage to maize flour and jars of tuna in olive oil. There are two Michelin-starred restaurants – Koldo Miranda (La Cruz de Illas 20, +34 985 511446, restaurantekoldomiranda.com) and Real Balneario (Avenida de Juan Sitges, +34 985 518613, realbalneario.com), above the beach at nearby Salinas, with its beautifully presented "new Asturian" food and sea views to die for. There are also gastrobars such as Sal de Vinos (Calle de la Muralla 36, +34 984 832053) and La Dársena de Fernando (Calle de Llano Ponte 7, +34 984 832900, ladarsenadefernando.com). In the pastry shops, the range of traditional sweetmeats has been joined by a new invention: dome-shaped little cakes variously known as Niemerinos, Niemeyitas and Avimeyers.

A "Niemeyer effect", smaller in scale but analogous to the "Guggenheim effect", is already at work in the city.

EasyJet (easyjet.com) has flights from Stansted to Asturias, half an hour's drive from Avilés, from £43 return


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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 05 2011

10 of the best art galleries in Manhattan

From a SoHo loft full of soil to contemporary art in a converted church, art blogger Aneta Glinkowska guides you to the best off-the-radar spaces to see art in New York

David Zwirner

What does one recommend in Chelsea? There are more than 400 art venues here. They started moving into the area in the 1990s. David Zwirner, one of New York's better know galleries, is a massive space taking up the ground floor of several buildings of the block. If you happen to be here for an opening, you'll be brushing against the hipsters with a bottle of beer in hand, always generously served from iced trash cans. The gallery often shows minimalist art such as Donald Judd's empty cubes or John McCracken's colourful planks, and lots of photography ranging from Thomas Ruff's abstractions to Philip-Lorca diCorcia's fashion. Welcome to one of the biggest and prototypical Chelsea spaces.
525 West 19th Street, davidzwirner.com, open Tues-Sat 10am-6pm

Art in General

You can smell dim sum at Art in General in the west end of Chinatown. This not-for-profit institution is known for its focus on artists from Eastern Europe. It occupies the sixth floor of a Lower Manhattan loft building, as well as the small storefront which often doubles as a screening room. Walking up is not recommended, not least because the best part of the show is often in the elevator where video and sound art are presented. Artists presented investigate politics, culture and ecology in works often produced as part of the gallery's residency programme. Less concerned with the art market, they produce more ephemeral works, using new media and venturing into public art.
79 Walker Street, artingeneral.org, open Tues-Sat noon-6pm

New Museum of Contemporary Art

The New Museum of contemporary art is not your out-of-the way art space, but a museum important for its recent physical transformation and a gallery-like approach to curating. The simple "six boxes shifted off-axis" SANAA architecture is an attraction in itself. After the museum's 2007 opening on the Bowery, better known for homeless soup centres, dozens of galleries and hipster hangouts followed. The New Museum has featured such New York art darlings as painter Elizabeth Peyton and installation artists Cory Arcangel and Urs Fischer. Without its own collection, it does not shy away from featuring famous world collections, such as one curated by Jeff Koons. Look out for SANAA's interesting architectural solutions and again the elevators.
235 Bowery, newmuseum.org/, open Wed-Sun 11am-6pm; Thurs 11am-9pm, adults $12, seniors $10, students $8, under-18s free

Christopher Henry Gallery

Christopher Henry Gallery is in a renovated church. Its facade is kept entirely white, making it look quite sombre and conventional from the outside, with a cross over the entrance and a black and white information board on the side. Inside, two floors with tall, narrow windows reveal emerging contemporary art, including a lot of street art, often much less dignified than the building. From exhibitions connected by a theme, through Polaroid photography to the street art, it's a space which likes to mix art, design and music, so you might chance upon a musical performance, or a fashion event if visiting in the evening.
127 Elizabeth Street, christopherhenrygallery.com/, open Wed-Sun 11am-6pm

Sperone Westwater

This extravagant gallery is just a few doors from the New Museum, and it owes its existence to the museum's move here. The eight-floor building was designed by Norman Foster and towers over the museum. Here too the elevator is put to use. Most of the exhibitions utilise the elevator, which takes about a minute to move between the second and third floors. Last time I was there, Renaissance paintings were hanging on the top floor while the lower floors shined with Heinz Mack's metal reliefs from the 1960s. Though it has shown many works from the 60s and 70s, including Bruce Nauman's, the gallery is not limited to those decades.
257 Bowery, speronewestwater.com, open Tues-Sat 10am-6pm

Storefront for Art and Architecture

Storefront for Art and Architecture, located where Soho meets Nolita and Chinatown, is so narrow that in order to host crowd-attracting events, the full length of the space opens up in large, hinged panels. The building was renovated in the 90s by architect Steven Holl and artist Vito Acconci, and as the name indicates, its focus is architecture. The featured architects are rarely hindered by the small space, often building temporary structures jutting out to the streets past the opened panels. Storefront also hosts architecture talks, book launches and participatory one-day events. Since 1982, it has presented shows by hundreds of architects, designers and artists including such heavy hitters as Peter Cook, Diller Scofidio, Dan Graham, Coop Himmelblau, Alfredo Jaar and Kiki Smith.
97 Kenmare Street, storefrontnews.org/, open Tues-Sat 11am-6pm

The Drawing Center

Moving west to SoHo, known for its colourful art past, which has grown up, matured and migrated mostly to Chelsea. Some SoHo art spaces remain and are well worth visiting. The Drawing Center shows exclusively works on paper and has exhibition programming to envy. One of the recent shows I rushed to see was drawings by Gerhard Richter. The Drawing Center has introduced the public to drawings by artists better know for painting such as Richter and Leon Golub, or performance and conceptual artists like Liam Gillick and Matt Mullican. The main space, with a high ceiling and multiple supporting columns, would once have been a SoHo boutique, but the Drawing Center will soon have a second floor.
35 Wooster Street, drawingcenter.org, open Wed-Sun noon-6pm; Thurs noon-8pm

The New York Earth Room

Walter de Maria's The New York Earth Room could be defined as a public indoor sculpture or a permanent exhibition and is a place hard to find. The Earth Room is a SoHo loft, most of which is filled with living, breathing earth up to waist height. There is one opening in the wall to view the earth and breathe in the humid, earthy air. Make sure to ask the attendant about the in and outs of maintaining the decades-old earth. The space is maintained by the Dia Art Foundation, known for supporting large-scale public art such as Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty in Utah. Another Walter de Maria installation, The Broken Kilometer, is two blocks away at 393 West Broadway.
141 Wooster Street, earthroom.org/, open Wed-Sun noon-3pm, 3.30-6pm

Greene Naftali

Another Chelsea space that's rather hard to find, due to both its location on an upper floor and the infamously badly designed website. You'll take an old elevator with an elevator man up to Greene Naftali. The space opens with a long narrow corridor leading to three large rooms with lots of window space giving on to the High Line, formerly an elevated train track, now partially developed into an elevated park. Greene Naftali loves installations and performance art. Gelitin turned the gallery into a performance space, while Paul Chan, who likes to use light and moving images in his work, turned Greene Naftali into a series of projection rooms.
508 West 26th Street, greenenaftaligallery.com, open Tues-Sat 10am-6pm

L&M Arts

On the Upper East Side, near the Metropolitan, Guggenheim and Whitney, L&M is one of the area's hundred or so public galleries. It likes to show blue-chip artists, from Pablo Picasso to Damien Hirst. A recent exhibition by David Hammons was more daring and introduced works made of massive, found abstract paintings obstructed by a variety of covers, from construction plastic to pieces of furniture. Unusually for New York, L&M requires its visitors to buzz in. The gallery takes up two floors of a charming townhouse with a luxurious winding staircase leading to the second-floor gallery, and is so much more inviting than the industrial spaces where we usually encounter contemporary art.
45 East 78th Street, lmgallery.com, open Tues-Sat (Mon-Fri in summer) 10am-5.30pm

• Aneta Glinkowska is cofounder of the website New York Art Beat and editor of its blog, nyartbeat.com/nyablog


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October 01 2010

High design, low price: UK holiday homes

Alain de Botton's set of cutting-edge, affordable holiday homes is bringing modernism to the masses

The experience of spending a night in an architect-designed space is limited usually to those lucky enough to own one, or to afford a top-end boutique hotel. The philosopher Alain de Botton and a group of top architects are hoping to change this with his latest project, a series of contemporary and, he says, affordable holiday homes in the UK, designed by renowned architects. The aim is to persuade the less elevated among us to spend the weekend and return home more enthusiastic about modernism.

"We want people to discover what it's like to live, eat and sleep in an architect-designed house," says de Botton, who got the idea while writing The Architecture of Happiness. "Most modern buildings are in private hands, or tend to be places one passes through – airports, offices." I don't know; I've slept in a few airports in my time.

The not-for-profit enterprise, called Living Architecture, is a self-styled "educational body". As such, it is hoping that its prices will attract ordinary, non design-savvy people to its high-design houses. On a mid-week night during low season (November or February, say) you can stay for £20 a night per person, but prices rise to £65 a night per person for peak periods. Both costs are on the proviso you can fill every one of eight beds, so not suited to a weekend getaway for a couple.

First I head to Suffolk to see the Balancing Barn, which will be the first house to open, at the end of this month. It's extraordinary. From the front it looks like a small bungalow, but from the side, you can see it's a long silver barn – covered in reflective steel tiles – that hangs dramatically off the edge of a slope like the bus in The Italian Job. It even sways a little if you jump up and down in the living room. Mark Robinson, the director of Living Architecture, gives us a demonstration. "It used to be even livelier!"

The setting is exceptionally peaceful. The house, designed by Dutch firm MVRDV, is a few miles inland from Walberswick. It is surrounded by pine trees and wild plum trees. A disguised trap door fit for a Bond villain opens on to a cobbled terrace directly underneath the cantilevered living room. A swing hangs off the end.

Inside it's clad in timber. An expensive-looking open-plan kitchen – "it's actually only Miele", says Mark (they're keen not to be branded too high-end) – has floor-to-ceiling windows and designer crockery. It leads on to a long, light-filled hallway with wooden joists that slice diagonally across the windows. All four double bedrooms sit in a row off the hall. They are filled with tricksy digital art that references Constable and Gainsborough, bespoke beds, bespoke carpets and more geometric woodwork. All have en suite showers, and two have baths by the foot of the bed.

But it's the large living space that opens out at the end of corridor – the bit that hangs off the edge – that provides the wow-factor I'd been waiting for. A huge floor-to-ceiling picture window overlooks woods, meadows and a pond. And taking up most of the floor, like a large rug, is a glass window with a big drop below.

The room is spare. A TV is hidden away, shelves are empty except for one groaning with de Botton's entire works. It reminds me of a lobby of an advertising agency.

"We want people to take away ideas when they come and stay," says Mark. But I wonder whether spending a week here would instil in me a love of modern architecture. For all its showmanship, the Balancing Barn is a cold space, and a little isolated. Once inside and enjoying your break, it would be easy to forget its extrenal appearance.

How will they ensure that a wide range of people stay in their houses? In short, they're not sure. "There is a risk that only the demographic already interested in modern architecture will be drawn to them," Mark says. "But I think the interest is there. We're not trying to shock people – we've received lots of encouraging comments from locals and passers-by."

A few miles away on the coast is the Dune House, an altogether more inviting prospect. The location is sublime. It sits on a shingle beach a five-minute stroll from Thorpeness, with views of empty dunes, the beach, the North Sea and a vast sky.

The ground floor walls are almost entirely made of glass, the dunes rising up to the window ledges on the sides, giving the impression you are nestled within them. The first floor is clad in black timber, and the roof has four asymmetrical peaks clad in a rust-coloured steel. But it doesn't look out of place: the pointy roof and the steel are designed to mimic the terracotta tiles and gables on neighbouring roofs.

Inside, like the Balancing Barn, it's minimalist, but here it feels cosy and simple, softer somehow. Mark shows us round, saying architecty things such as "cupboards would have destroyed the space". Personally, I quite like cupboards. But instead, the four upstairs bedrooms each contain just a double bed, a freestanding bath located at just the right height for sea-gazing, and lots of pegs on the timber-lined walls to hang stuff. Downstairs, it's largely open plan, with a dining table, and a sofa huddled round a dramatic sunken pit. You can walk outside straight on to the beach.

The house, which opens in December, is designed by Norwegian architects Jarmund/Vigsnaes, apparently known for their "creative responses to the highly seasonal Nordic landscape". I think this means their houses are good in cold weather, and the Dune House is furnished with under-floor heating and a cosy log-burning stove to stave off those chilly easterly winds. It's a house to hunker down in, to get out the Scrabble and whisky, light the stove and settle in for the night with a gale blowing outside.

A few days later, I'm off to Kent. The Shingle House is a modern take on a wooden fisherman's cottage on other-worldly Dungeness beach in Kent, and opens next month. Actual fishermen live next door, fourth generation. It's practically my dream house: simple lime-washed timber walls, vintage furniture, four cosy bedrooms that sleep eight, sunken bath, wood-burning stove and a snug mezzanine with a huge window that overlooks the eerie landscape out to sea and, on a clear day, France.

The house is designed by young and hip NORD Architecture in Glasgow. It is the least architecturally demanding of the three, yet I took more delight in its clever details. The internal courtyard with slatted screens that pivot so you can angle them against the ever-present wind; and the fact that each room is designed around the time of day it catches the sun.

The existing cottage, complete with smoke house, was demolished. The Shingle House has been built on the same footprint to keep the planners happy, who wanted to retain the appearance of three separate buildings.

It's understandable: there are no holiday homes on Dungeness to speak of, and residents are fiercely protective of their beautiful, hostile landscape. It's a desolate expanse, dotted with boats and huts and a couple of lighthouses, overlooked by Dungeness power station. Tourists come to stare at Derek Jarman's garden, a stone's throw away.

Two more holiday homes open next year: the first, a medieval hall-type structure with a vast timber roof in Cockthorpe, Norfolk, designed by Michael and Patty Hopkins; the second, a monastic retreat in concrete near Salcombe, south Devon, by Peter Zumthor. After that, they plan to open one a year.

Guests staying in these extraordinary new houses may well be designers, architects and creative types from London. Or Living Architecture may succeed in its laudable aim of finding a wider audience. But either way, they are a welcome addition to the UK holiday home scene.

• Living Architecture (living-architecture.co.uk). Prices for a four-night mid-week break start from £725 (the Balancing Barn), £625 (the Shingle House) and £760 (the Dune House)


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April 30 2010

Italy in summer: insiders' guide

From alfresco cafe culture with the Milanese, gelato with the Romans and all-night revelling with the Genovese, our experts give the lowdown on local life

Alfresco partying, Milan

Milan's fashion pack really comes out in force during summertime, when those in Gucci sundresses and D&G shades sip on espressos while people-watching over sun-soaked piazzas. Cafe culture is big business here, and there are alfresco eats aplenty: the new outpost of California Bakery (Piazza Sant'Eustorgio 4) offers a mouthwatering menu and a beautiful outdoor backdrop.

Milan's bar scene also spills outside in summer (though many shut up shop in August); the Roïalto roof garden (Via Piero della Francesca 55) is the place to soak up the sun, while the Diana Garden terrace (Viale Piave 42) is the place to be seen. Corso Garibaldi has a string of hip bars – try the Radetzky Café at 105. Temporary venues also pop up each summer, although Bar Bianco (Viale Enrico Ibsen 4), a cocktail bar in Parco Sempione with a live DJ, is a trusted favourite.

When it comes to outdoor clubs, the best are Café Solaire (Gate 7, Circonvallazione Idroscalo, Segrate, +39 02 3406 756096) near Milan's artificial lake by Linate airport, and Karma (Via Fabio Massimo 36, +39 0256 94755) – here you can party under the stars and rub bronzed shoulders with the rich, famous and fabulous. The Milan Film Festival in September finishes off a fun summer in the city.
Townhouse 31 (+39 0270 156, doubles from €199) is an understated townhouse with a courtyard bar
Nick Clarke, writer for Hg2, luxury city guide series

Peace and people-watching, Florence

A hop and a skip over the tourist trap Ponte Vecchio, hiding in the cute-as-a-bug's-ear neighbourhood of San Niccolò, lies the peace of the Bardini Gardens (Via dei Bardi). Rising in stepped terraces towards the ancient city walls, these simple and lovely manicured gardens offer a grandstand view of Florence across the Arno, and the €7 entrance charge also gets you free admission to the neighbouring Boboli Gardens, the Pitti Palace costume museum and the Medici Treasury. When you totter out of the Pitti Palace you can rest your toots at a lovely little wine bar Pitti Gola e Cantina (Piazza de Pitti 16). Just opposite the palace, this elegant little prime people-watching perch – with its tiny streetside terrace – serves tasty fare in addition to a cheeky Tuscan sip list. Perfetto.
J and J Hotel (doubles from €130) near the Duomo has stylish white rooms
Grant Thatcher, founder, Luxe Guides

Ice-cream and cocktails, Rome

When in Rome in the summer, do as the Romans do and head out into a sun-soaked space such as the Spanish Steps or the Piazza di Trevi, or indeed pound the pavement of Via dei Condotti in search of something suitably filigree to slip into. The creamiest gelaterie of the city-based crop are Giolitti (Via degli Uffici del Vicario 40) and San Crispino (Via della Panetteria 42). For lunch, there's nowhere quite as trendy as Trastevere: bookstore-cum-café Bibli (Via dei Fienaroli 28, +39 0658 14534) serves excellent food in a quaint covered garden. If it's a terrace with a view you're after, Caffè Capitolino (Capitoline Museums, Piazza del Campidoglio 19, +39 0669 190564) has panoramic views of the city and, on a clear day, the Alban Hills.

On sticky summer nights, it's all about quaffing negroni cocktails on hotel rooftops or lingering till late on trendy terraces. For the former, take the elevator to the 7th Heaven Bar at the Aleph Hotel (Via di San Basilio 15), while the latter can be enjoyed at Joia (Via Galvani 20). And if that isn't enough summer goings-on, the Estate Romana Festival between June and September – with more than 150 music, sporting and film events – ensures that there is always something outdoorsy to do. NC

Shakespeare and Zeffirelli operas Verona

Verona in summer means the arena (Via Roma 7), the enormous Roman amphitheatre which is home to one of Italy's best opera seasons, from mid-June to the end of August. This year, the arena pays tribute to Italian director Franco Zeffirelli by staging his versions of five much-loved operas: Aida, Carmen, Il Trovatore, Madame Butterfly and a new production of Turandot. But the city is also offering a packed calendar of events at other venues, with jazz concerts at the Roman theatre (Palazzo Barbieri, +39 0458 066485), ballet (among others, Romeo and Juliet) also at the Roman theatre, and Shakespeare plays (in Italian) at several venues around town. And of course Verona itself is always worth a visit, with the beautiful, bustling Piazza delle Erbe, the views from Castel San Pietro and pretty Piazza del Mercato Vecchio, which often hosts street performances.
Hotel Verona (+39 0455 95944, doubels from €88) has plain but pleasant modern rooms
Carla Passino, editor, Italymag.co.uk

Art and picnics, Rome

Notwithstanding its collection of awe-inspiring masterpieces by Canova, Bernini, Raphael and Titian, the Galleria Borghese (Piazzale Scipione Borghese 5, +39 0685 48577), is all the more divine for its splendid location in the sylvan parkland that is Villa Borghese. The recipe for the perfect day is simple. A day or two before, book your timed-entry tickets for the galleria, then reserve your cestino of goodies at Gina (Via San Sebastianello 7, +39 0667 80251) situated just by the Spanish Steps – their lovely rentable wicker picnic hampers come complete with everything you need including checkered tablecloth, glasses, plates, fresh sandwiches, fruit, wine and even a thermosflask of coffee – how neat is that. On the day, stop by Gina en route and you can leave your hamper at the cloakroom check-in while you ooh and ahh. Not a picnic person? No problem. Within the park is the grandiose Casina Valadier (Piazza Bucarest, Villa Borghese, +39 0669 922090). A leisurely alfresco lunch under the trees of this palazzo's dappled terrace is perfect for those who prefer something a little less rustico. Taste and culture. Gioia! GT

Heated battles and cool jazz, Genoa

Genoa is staging thousands of events this summer to celebrate its role as one of the Mediterranean's most important cities. There will be art, with an exhibition of Caravaggio's landscapes at Villa del Principe until 26 September (Piazza del Principe, +39 0102 55509, dopart.it/genova), poetry, with an international festival at the Palazzo Ducale (Piazza Matteotti 9, +39 0105 574000, palazzoducale.genova.it) from 10 to 20 June, historic re-enactments, including a regatta on 2 June, where vessels from Italy's four ancient maritime republics – Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi and Venice – do battle with one another, and religious processions (in honour of the city's patron San Giovanni, on 24 June). But most of all there will be music. The rhythms of the Mediterranean world will take centre stage all summer at Genoa's old harbour, Porto Antico, filling it with sounds from Europe and Africa.

Women will be the focus of Just Like a Woman, a three-day celebration of international music queens, featuring Sinead O'Connor, Morcheeba and Diana Krall, on 8, 12 and 14 July respectively, all at Porto Antico (Via al Ponte Calvi 5, +39 0102 485711). But Genoa's musical programme also has a strong American flavour, with a Guitar Festival paying tribute to Jimi Hendrix (between 16 and 28 July at Porto Antico), an exploration of American music at Villa Bombrini (5-25 July) and Gezmataz's, the city's biggest jazz event, a five-night feast of concerts and workshops with, among others, Ornette Coleman, Vicente Amigo, Paolo Fresu and Stefano Bollani (all at Porto Antico). After a quieter August, the Genoese summer season culminates with the Notte Bianca, an all-night revel, on 11 September.
Palazzo Cicala (+39 0102 518824, doubles from around €190) has airy white rooms, funky bathrooms and period furniture CP

Love and romance, Trieste

Few places are more conducive to romance than Trieste, the grande dame of Italian coastal cities, stretched white and neoclassical along the Adriatic Sea. This spring and summer, Trieste takes the mantle of Italy's romantic capital by displaying Francesco Hayez's 1859 painting Il Bacio (The Kiss), the masterpiece that celebrates the love between a man and a woman (and, as an allegory, between Italians and their soon-to-be-unified homeland) until 15 August. The show will also include three watercolours by the same artist, and will take place against the haunting backdrop of Miramare (Viale Miramare, +39 0402 24143), the wedding cake of a castle built for Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium, on a small promontory west of the city.

But summer romance is in the air everywhere – take a walk along the promenade at night to see the moon playing on the water, or climb up to the cathedral and castle of San Giusto to admire the panorama over Trieste's red roofs, the harbour and the soft wavelets beyond. And don't forget to walk the path that links the seaside towns of Sistiana and Duino, to take in the magnificent sea views that inspired Bohemian poet Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies.
The Hotel Greif Maria Theresia (+39 040 410115, doubles from around €120 – call for best rates) is a grand affair in the seaside suburb of Barcola CP


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April 06 2010

Britain's best views: Hadrian's Wall

Martin Wainwright explores the ancient Roman frontier, from the famous grandeur of Housesteads fort to its less-visited outposts

Hadrian's Wall may seem a bit of a shoe-in when it comes to Britain's best views, but the monument is much more than the often - and understandably - repeated views of Cuddy's Crags and Sewingshields on the crest of that wonderful escarpment, the Whin Sill.

In truth, it is hard to beat the romantic, lonely grandeur of this famous stretch above Housesteads fort (english-heritage.org.uk/housesteads and nationaltrust.org.uk) and the Twice Brewed Inn. But the less well-known parts of the 74-mile frontier, built as the Northern frontier of the Roman empire at the height of its power, are a particular treat to discover and enjoy.

They can be linked in a day or two's exploration between Wallsend and the Solway Firth, using the Military Road part of the way - more mundanely known today as the B6318. This conveniently follows the legions' original highway between their lookout turrets, milecastles and major forts such as Housesteads. Inconveniently, its ruthless 18th-century builder General Wade used a lot of wall stone to make it.

The great monument's quieter options include fragments which survive in the surreal setting of everyday suburban Newcastle and a phallic symbol on Chollerford bridge abutment which blesses Wall walkers with good luck. There's also Limestone Corner, the empire's actual furthest north, where Hadrian's men got fed up with huge boulders and abandoned them in the middle of splitting the rock into neat stones. You can see their unfinished chisel holes.

The Wall's urban stretches are best on Tyneside, which offers the partially reconstructed fort of Arbeia in South Shields. The name means "the place of the Arabs" and comes from legionaries recruited in Iraq. Tests on DNA at the other end of the wall suggest genetic links between modern residents and Roman soldiers originally from North Africa.

Much has been made of these southerners shivering in the Geordie chill – W.H.Auden's Roman Wall Blues is an example, and good for children to learn and chant. More of them were based at Segedunum in the middle of Wallsend which was a Cinderella until Millennium Lottery money paid for one of the Wall's biggest excavations and an excellent viewing tower.

This doesn't strictly give one of Britain's best views, but the panorama across town and Tyne is absorbing. Segedunum's reconstructed bath house meanwhile rivals Housesteads' famous communal lavatories for an insight in Hadrianic hygiene, and signs at Wallsend's Metro train station have been translated into Latin.

Just for atmosphere, I like Denton Hall Turret and its 65m (213ft) of wall which lies between a housing estate and a dual carriageway just east of the West Road/A1 roundabout on the edge of Newcastle. Gone are the imposing fortifications shown on English Heritage's website but you can potter round the few courses remaining and chat to shoppers getting off the many buses. There's another, smaller fragment, just down the hill behind the filling station.

Heading west, the fortunate phallus is one of a necklace of sights at Chollerford, including a short but lovely stretch of wall at Brunton Turret, the bridge remains and major excavations at Chesters fort. The big George Hotel by the river is comfy, or you can have the satisfactory experience of visiting the Hadrian hotel in Wall, the next village south.

For quiet beauty, Birdoswald fort is a good bet, with walks to the east beside the longest unbroken stretch of the entire wall. A little further west is another English Heritage property, Lanercost Priory whose monks pioneered the General Wade policy of stone-pillaging but made something beautiful rather than useful.

There is much, much more. But my final recommendation lies way to the west at Ravenglass on the Cumbrian coast, where a naval base protected the Solway frontier from pirates. The remains of the bath house are among the tallest surviving from Roman Britain at nearly four metres (13ft), and the village has masses more to see and do, from Muncaster Castle to 'Lil Ratty', the narrow-gauge trains of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.

Staying is no problem near the wall, although book ahead in summer. And if you ever get the time for a week or 10 days' visit, hike the Hadrian's Wall national trail, an additional 10 miles long but by far the best way of seeing the monument.  En route, you'll discover why the pub at Housesteads is Twice Brewed and the youth hostel Once Brewed. Don't cheat with Google. It's worth going there to find out.


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