Dundee: the V&A and the McManus

V&A Dundee and RRS Discovery

London’s V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) claims to be the world-leading museum of art and design, so there has been great excitement waiting for its Scottish branch to be completed. V&A Dundee opened in September 2018 and the main purpose of our weekend trip in November was to check it out. The ship next to it in the image above is RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery, the last traditional three-masted ship to be built in Britain (in 1901). We visited the following day, so more on that in my next post.

I always assumed the exterior of the V&A was meant to represent a ship, to complement Discovery, but I read it was intended to look like sea-cliffs. I can see both things in it. Architect Kengo Kuma has also said he wanted to create a “living room for the city” for everyone to visit and enjoy and I think he has succeeded in that too.

 

There are two main parts to the museum: a gallery for temporary (paid) exhibitions and the permanent collection. While we were there, the exhibition was Ocean liners: speed and style (now ended). I thought this was very well done: spacious and with a clear path through it so that, although busy, you weren’t falling over other people. The large hall with models dressed elegantly for bathing and dining was superb.

 

This panel from the Titanic also caught my eye (click to enlarge explanation).

 

On emerging from Ocean liners we decided to have lunch, but both the café and the restaurant were packed full so we ploughed on to the permanent exhibition, the Scottish Design Galleries. I admit to recoiling in horror when we opened the door. After Ocean liners the space seemed small and cramped with no obvious route through it and people everywhere. There were two things we really wanted to see: Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Oak Room, a tea room interior created in 1908 which has been in storage since the 1970s, and the set for The Cheviot, the stag and the black, black oil (1973). This was a play by 7:84, a theatre company which took its name from the fact that 7% of the world’s population owned 84% of its wealth. Playwright John McGrath wrote of the exploitation of the Highlands between 1746 and 1973 which artist John Byrne illustrated in the form of a giant picture book which could be carried from venue to venue strapped to the roof of a van. The cast turned the pages as necessary – in the museum in November it was open at a war memorial scene (more info here).

 

We need to go back to give the permanent gallery more attention when it has been open longer and is (maybe) quieter. In the meantime, to recover from cultural overload, we went into the city centre for a quick lunch – and then went to another museum! The McManus is Dundee’s civic art gallery and museum, and it was much quieter – I hope it’s not going to suffer too much from the competition of the V&A. The building is Victorian Gothic and quite spectacular (photos taken the following evening as we don’t seem to have any day time ones).

 

Nor do we have many interior photos, and the ones we have I can’t remember what they are! One picture below might give me some ideas for my Scottish words feature. The coloured glass bottles in the other were an installation running from top to bottom of the building’s stairwell.

 

We truly were punch drunk with culture by this time, so we returned to the hotel for a reviving cuppa before heading out again for dinner. The following day we had plans for two more museums. Would we last the pace?

Glasgow Gallivanting: January 2017

Celtic Connections

Celtic Connections logoIf you live in Glasgow, you have about two weeks to get over the hedonism of Christmas and New Year when – ooft! – it’s Celtic Connections! This bills itself as “the largest annual winter music festival of its kind and the UK’s premier celebration of Celtic music” and we throw ourselves into it with enthusiasm, usually attending half a dozen or so gigs over the 19 days.

This year, in six concerts we heard musicians from Scotland, England, Ireland and America (and that’s quite a conservative selection) in five different venues ranging from the formal concert hall, via the Old Fruitmarket, to the iconic Barrowland Ballroom. Highlights? So hard to choose but, if pushed, I’d go for Phil Cunningham’s Highlands and Islands Suite. Phil, his accordion, and a front-row of other professional musicians were supported by students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – its Traditional Musicians, Chorale and Symphony Orchestra. There must have been 150 people on the stage and the music soared. When I said to John at the interval that I had been moved almost to tears I half expected a scornful look, but he agreed. It wasn’t only the evocatively Scottish music, there was also something so heart-warming about a stage full of young people working hard to perfect their art – having chosen to do so in our city.

Gluttony

Celtic Connections is pretty hard on the waistline – all those pre-theatre meals – and it’s not helpful that Burns Night falls slap bang in the middle. This year, we ate our haggis, neeps and tatties with friends in the Curlers, a local pub-restaurant. We have also been tempted by two large boxes of Chinese rose pastries, a new year gift from one of John’s Chinese colleagues. Definitely yummy – ooh, I need to walk all this off, but…

Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

…oh dear, we haven’t had much in the way of country walks: only one that I can remember, in Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. This time last year, we spotted red squirrels from the wildlife hide. This time they were not to be seen, though there were plenty of birds about.

Exhibitions

We managed a couple of exhibitions in January. One Glasgow museum, the Burrell Collection, has recently closed for refurbishment and in the meantime some of its paintings are on show at another, Kelvingrove. The current exhibition is of work by Joseph Crawhall (1861-1913), one of a group of radical painters known as The Glasgow Boys. Girl on a bicycle has long been one of my favourites – just look at the little dachshund excitedly running alongside – but there was plenty more to see, and will be until 1st July if you are in the area.

We also saw an exhibition in the Lighthouse called A Life in Letterpress. Typographic artist Alan Kitching began his working life apprenticed to a printer, before becoming a technician at Watford College, then a teacher, designer and artist. In an age of computer design, he continues to create using wood and metal letterforms. The results are stunning! On till 5th March.

The last bit

New Year, new blogging resolution – to have a round-up post like this at the end of every month. How long will it continue? My last new series (People Make Glasgow) lasted for approximately (ahem, exactly) one post, and I’m already almost a week late with this one, so we’ll see.

I also wondered what would happen if I had nothing to round up, either because I’d written about it already or (and it does happen) I had done nothing worth blogging about. Step forward The last bit of random stuff and padding. This month – Scotland reacts to Trump, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Scotland is not impressed.

  • The sublime – Karine Polwart at Celtic Connections with I burn but I am not consumed, a poetic mixture of spoken word and song considering Donald’s Scottish roots. Favourite line: You who see nothing but your own face in the sheen of the Hudson River. (Sorry, I couldn’t get this BBC video to embed).
  • The ridiculous – Just 19 Incredibly Scottish Signs Telling Donald Trump He’s A Bawbag (Buzzfeed). Not for the easily offended. Translations available on request. (As a start, baw = ball. I’m sure you can work out the rest.)

So that was January in Glasgow. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Edinburgh: Modern 2

Modern Scottish Women catalogueIn 1885 Sir William Fettes Douglas, President of the Royal Scottish Academy, declared that the work of a woman artist was “like a man’s only weaker and poorer”. Despite this view, between then and 1965 an unprecedented number of Scottish women trained and worked as artists. An exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art paid tribute to 45 of them, none, I can assure you, weak or poor!

Photography was not allowed in the exhibition (which is now closed – we caught it right at the end) so you will have to make do with this detail from the catalogue. It shows a stunning portrait of Anne Finlay (herself an artist featured in the exhibition) by Dorothy Johnstone. It was good to learn about names like these which were new to me, as well as to see work by old favourites such as Anne Redpath and Joan Eardley.

You would not, of course, expect us to take on an art exhibition without a good lunch inside us. The café at the gallery is excellent – look at that counter laden with cake and scones! I seem to have neglected to photograph my main course, but rest assured it was delicious – and followed by cake. The tiling is in the Ladies Room – not something I would normally take a picture of, but this one is particularly striking and, possibly, disorienting.

However, if you can’t take pictures of the art inside, you certainly can outside. The exhibition was in Modern 2, which originated as the Dean Orphan Hospital in 1833. A beautiful building, and beautiful grounds with sculptures by Nathan Coley, Richard Long and others.

The sculpture below (and, stupidly, I didn’t note its title or the artist’s name) looked like either scissors or knitting needles depending on which way I approached it, and John has cropped one of his pictures to make a Saltire. (I think some lying on the grass might have been involved there too.)

On our way back to the station, our glance was caught by St Mary’s Cathedral (Scottish Episcopal) which we’ve walked past many times but never entered. An orchestra was rehearsing inside so, once again, no interior shots as we could only tiptoe round the edges.

The cathedral dates from 1879 and was built thanks to Barbara and Mary Walker who left their estate in trust for its endowment. The 17th century Old Coates House next door was their home.

We’ve given up, in recent years, visiting Edinburgh at festival time – it’s just too exhausting – but it’s lovely to be able to pop over for the odd day here and there. There’s always something new (to us) to discover.

The Ideal Hut Show

The Ideal Hut Show has reached Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens! A selection of architects, artists and designers from Scotland and abroad have transformed standard garden sheds for this exhibition, which is touring Scotland as part of the Festival of Architecture. I loved it! Especially as the weather has been so good lately: it’s been fun to wander through the huts. Do you have a favourite?

This has got me thinking about “Festival Glasgow”. In the first 6 months of this year, as well as the Festival of Architecture, we’ve been to events for Celtic Connections (music), Aye Write (books), the Storytelling Festival, Glasgow International (art), the West End Festival and Refugee Festival Scotland.

Some highlights – NB these are mostly phone photos, sometimes from quite a distance away, so they don’t really bear enlarging:

Here’s Frazey Ford (ex-Be Good Tanyas) supported by Ola Onabule at the ABC – this was our favourite gig of Celtic Connections (the emphasis mostly being on Connections rather than Celtic.) We were right at the front which had the added advantage, for an all-standing gig, of being able to lean against the crowd-barrier. The musicians at the Royal Concert Hall (centre) were a little stiff though 😉

I’d never been to a Storytelling Festival before. It surprised me by having music and images as well as spoken word.

I visited a number of small exhibitions during Glasgow International. Below is a 16th century commonplace book which formed the centrepiece of Speaking Volumes at Glasgow Women’s Library, a couple of colourful rooms at the David Dale Gallery, Semi-gloss, Semi-permeable in the gloriously light space of the Albus, and back to the Botanic Gardens where some sculptures by Aaron Angell nestled amongst the plants in the hothouse.

Finally, the West End Festival is still in full swing. Last Sunday we caught this colourful Lion Dance in a street near our home.

Glasgow is a really fun place to live, so the moral of my story is, there’s never a bad time to visit – there’s always something on!

Toronto: ROM and AGO

Royal Ontario Museum
Royal Ontario Museum

We visited both the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), spending several hours in each (not on the same day – that would be too much!) Coming from a country where state and municipal museums are free, our first impression was that they were expensive. We paid $25 per person (including the special exhibition on tattoos) at ROM and $19.50 at AGO. If I lived in Toronto, I would probably pay to be a member which gives unlimited access – I could then go in and concentrate on one gallery whenever I pleased. As it was, we walked through every gallery determined to get our money’s worth, stopping at a few artefacts in each to get a flavour of the collection.

Royal Ontario Museum

ROM opened in 1914 and was extended in 2007 with Michael Lee-Chin’s Crystal which bursts out of the original walls (see above). I rather like it. Below are some highlights of what we saw inside – as you can see, the dinosaurs were a particular hit.

Art Gallery of Ontario

Art Gallery of Ontario
Art Gallery of Ontario

AGO has also been extended, this time by Frank Gehry. The interiors were pretty smart too. Inside the glass frontage, above, was the Galleria Italia where we enjoyed a post-lunch coffee in the Espresso Bar. (In both places, we used the self-service café for lunch. Neither was a memorable culinary experience, but AGO was better than ROM.) Walker Court has a beautiful spiral staircase.

Here are some of the exhibitions we particularly enjoyed.

Song Dong’s Communal Courtyard

One hundred vintage Chinese wardrobe doors transform the gallery into a series of walkways and small rooms reminiscent of Beijing’s densely populated hutongs. Seems we both had the same selfie idea!

Manasie Akpaliapik

Sculptor Manasie Akpaliapik is originally from Baffin Island and his work reflects a concern for the vulnerability of his Arctic homeland. Beautiful or scary? I can’t decide.

Norval Morriseau

Norval Morrisseau was born in Sand Point Reserve, Ontario, in 1932 and died in Toronto in 2007. These six panels are collectively called Man changing into Thunderbird. I loved them.

Benjamin Cheverton

In the 1820s, Benjamin Cheverton perfected a sculpture-copying machine which produced exact, miniaturised copies of full-sized busts by other sculptors. There were numerous examples on display as well as a case showing how it was done based on a bust of James Watt – one of John’s heroes, so how could he not love that?

We were very impressed with both ROM and AGO, but each day we retired punch-drunk. Culture can be so tiring!

 

Edinburgh – everything is going to be alright

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art - Everything is Going to be Alright
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art – Everything is Going to be Alright

We visit Edinburgh quite often – but usually outside the festival season. The crowds are just too much! Our last visit was on a cold day at the end of October. We started at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which is just as interesting outside as in.

From there, we walked part of the way back into town along the Water of Leith. At Dean Village, it seemed someone had been creating more modern art in the river.

We admired some of the building details and the view from Dean Bridge before continuing into the city centre.

Our next stop was at the National Portrait Gallery, where an art class was going on.

From there, we cut across Princes Street to the Royal Mile and continued down towards Holyrood, spotting more interesting details on the way.

We decided to climb Salisbury Crags – at least, as far as felt comfortable in city shoes.

We got great views of the Scottish Parliament, the Castle, Calton Hill and Holyrood Palace.

By this time, the light was fading and it was getting much colder so we walked back into the centre to meet a friend for beer and food.

I’m linking this post to Jo’s Monday Walks. This week she’s taking a sunset stroll in the Algarve so, if Edinburgh has made you feel chilly, head over there for a warm-up.

 

Sculpture Court

Hunterian Art Gallery Sculpture Court, University of Glasgow:

Left: Lantern and finial from Pettigrew and Stephen’s Glasgow Warehouse c. 1896. Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, 1868-1928. University Library tower in the background.

Top right: Tools for the Shaman, 1996. Made by Jake Harvey, b. 1948.

Bottom right: Rio, 1964-5. Made by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 1924-2005.

Edinburgh’s all dressed up for Christmas

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I’m a committed Glaswegian but, whisper it, at Christmas Edinburgh does it better. Both cities have funfairs and Christmas markets but Edinburgh’s are definitely more spectacular. We explored them when we went over last weekend to see a couple of exhibitions, both of which were excellent. You have until June to catch up with Peploe, the second in the Scottish Colourists series at Modern 2, but if you want to see the 70th birthday retrospective of John Bellany at the RSA you need to get there by 27th January. It’s well worth it – I found the earliest and latest sections most interesting, because they were the least familiar to me. These included works done at art school echoing paintings with religious themes by, for example, Piero della Francesca, but using imagery from the fishing port he grew up in, and some very recent, and unexpected, landscapes.

In the evening, we met a friend for dinner in the Jasmine Chinese Restaurant near the Usher Hall, but in between we did the Christmassy stuff. First the market, which was so crowded that I found it claustrophobic. John managed to fight his way in to get some fire punch, but I preferred to look in from outside.

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The castle looked rather splendid all lit up.

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Then it was on to the funfair.

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We went up on the big wheel which gave us great views over Princes Street, the Gardens and the National Galleries complex. Fabulous! I’m still glad I live in Glasgow, but I love to visit Edinburgh.

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Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

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I love this view of Kelvingrove emerging from the trees, it almost looks like a fairy tale palace. Last week, we looked down on it from Glasgow University – this week, we could look up at the Uni from the gallery. Two very handsome buildings!

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Our visit to Kelvingrove today was to see the new exhibition, The Essence of Beauty: 500 years of Italian Art. This displays about 40 of Glasgow’s collection of over 150 Italian works from the 14th to the 19th centuries, most of which where bequeathed to the city by Archibald McLellan in 1854. I loved it, and agree with Cate Devine’s review in the Herald that:
“One of the highlights – perhaps even the jewel in the crown – is presented early on. The Adoration of the Magi, painted in the 16th century by an unknown painter now known as the Glasgow Master, has had its coat of brown varnish removed and now its blues and reds and golds glow – the wise men’s crowns in particular almost 3D in their clarity.”
This is particularly fascinating, because you can watch a short time lapse video of the restoration and see the painting emerge from the shadows into its full glory.

Of course, being Glasgow, there had to be one dissenter from the general praise in the visitors’ book who opined that the exhibition wasn’t worth £5 because you could see better in Rome for nothing. And being Glasgow, future visitors did not hesitate to point out the cost of the air fare and hotel bill you would need to pay to get there. Personally, I thought it was wonderful and well worth the money. The exhibition runs till August so plenty time to see it.

When we went upstairs to the rest of the gallery, one of the regular organ recitals was underway and it was lovely to wander round with the music in the background. In this view of the interior, the organ is on the right:

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I love the exhibition of heads that hangs over one of the staircases. They look quite sinister here:

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Every time, I spot some different expressions. I’ve decided this one is my favourite:

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The final thing we looked at was a small exhibition about Anne Frank, mounted by Anne Frank Scotland, which only runs till April 17th but you can request it for your own organisation. No matter how many times I read about this, it still feels unbelievable that it could happen so it’s important to tell the story again and again.

Other things that happened today – it took us forever to cross Great Western Road for the very worthy reason that we had to wait for hundreds of bikers to pass on the annual Yorkhill Easter Egg Run which raises money for the local children’s hospital. Some of them certainly dress up for the occasion:

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And it wouldn’t be a Marsh outing without food, would it? A very nice roast lunch (nut for me, pork for him) was consumed in the Curlers. This has been a very enjoyable Easter Sunday which almost makes up for having to work tomorrow!

The pleasures of Perth

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Perth is a beautiful and ancient city on the banks of the River Tay. It’s a great base for a long weekend and we spent today exploring it. The highlight for me was the Fergusson Gallery dedicated to both JD Fergusson, one of the Scottish Colourists, and his partner Margaret Morris, the pioneer of modern dance. Not only were the exhibitions interesting and well presented, the building was fascinating too – it was formerly (19C) Perth’s waterworks.

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A final point about the galleries – the ladies on duty this morning had to be two of the most friendly and helpful attendants we’ve encountered. Hope someone in Perth and Kinross council is listening!

We had coffee in the cafe of McEwen’s, described to us as the Harrods of Perth. That might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but it was bigger than it looks in the picture, being spread over several buildings, and had a lovely homewares department.

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After a wander round town and a visit to the Farmers’ Market (bought some scrummy chilli oatcakes) we had lunch in the cafe at Perth Concert Hall, a modern, light and airy building. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking the riverside path from which you get glimpses of Scone Palace on the other side of the river. One disadvantage of going away so early in the year is that many places, including the palace, aren’t open yet.

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The ducks on the river seemed particularly playful today and John got some good pictures of them.

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After that, it was back across the river to our hotel, of which more in another post.