So that was January

Alongside my research, I thought I’d write about interesting places I have seen, exhibitions visited and so on…  I would like to visit at least one exhibition per month, preferably more, and the year has started well.  Actually, it started at the end of December with a brief visit to Exeter’s long awaited multi-million pound redevelopment at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum which opened after a four-year closure on 15 December 2011.  I’d gone to Exeter to meet a friend for lunch and do some shopping in the sales but couldn’t resist a quick pop in…  I couldn’t remember the museum that well in its previous incarnation, but was impressed with the new layout and in particular a massive mezzanine display in the covered courtyard showing a vast range of collections.  The displays themselves were lively and beautifully presented, and I look forward to spending some proper time looking…

Another exciting place I had the pleasure of visiting was Spalding Gentlemen’s Society.  I was invited here to deliver a presentation for the Collections Management group of Renaissance East Midlands on Digital Collections and Social Media.  I’d never been to Spalding, and must confess I had to look it up on a map to find out exactly which bit of Lincolnshire it is in.  What an amazing place!  The Gentlemen’s Society is on a road with a number of similar looking other societies and groups in lovely (Georgian?) buildings, but behind its door lies absolute wonderment.  I couldn’t believe it: a mini Pitt-Rivers.  A place crammed full of old cabinets, stuffed full of objects, from archaeology, to fossils, to Victorian toys, pottery and ceramics, paintings, metalwork, books and manuscripts stacked high in the library.  A wonderful spectacle.  Sadly, as it is, there is very little knowledge of the collection: its documentation is barely there, and some (most?) items aren’t even listed.  As far as the society goes, there sounded to be interesting ‘politics’ – women only allowed in since 2007, and most of the Trustees seemed to be non-expert volunteers with little understanding of conservation, and even less of access to collections.  Visiting is by appointment only.  Added to this the building itself is in disrepair, and we have a huge problem…  I am determined to find out more about this amazing collection, and to share it with as many people as I can – I feel a trip by PhD students from Leicester is in the pipeline…

Following my visit here, and after a stunning sunset as I drove through Peterborough, I made the most of being almost in East Anglia, and went to stay with friends in Cambridge.  What an excellent excuse to visit the Vermeer exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, and Kettle’s Yard – and a new find – the Cambridge Folk Museum.  My first attempt at seeing the Vermeer was thwarted by huge lengthy queues (it was the last weekend, after all) so I decided to go to Kettle’s Yard and remind myself of how wonderful it is.  Wow.  Stunning sunny day – the best time to see the house as the light and shadows were wonderful.  I took lots of photographs of shadows, and enjoyed being in the house, reminding myself of its strange idiosyncrasies, doorbell etiquette, and noticing the seasonal fresh flowers – perhaps the only mark of time of year there.  It was exhibition changeover, so I popped next door to the Folk Museum.  I couldn’t believe I’d never been in three years of living in Cambridge.  Ah well – all good things come to those who wait and all that.  What a lovely little rabbit warren of a place – again with extraordinary objects, amazing labels (typed sometimes) and lots of overlap with Mary Greg’s collection.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some of her objects ended up there.  Very friendly staff who I enjoyed chatting to.  And then I tootled back to the Fitzwilliam where the queues had dwindled a bit.  Saw Jon Snow (I bet he didn’t have to queue) and was finally let in after having a lovely chat with a lady in the queue who was queuing for the second time that day as she’s been so impressed.  As with any popular exhibition, the mass of humanity was a bit off-putting, but once I’d decided to obliterate it, grab a large label booklet and plan my route, I was soon immersed in Dutch life, from women ‘at their toilet’, to women posing, to women carrying out daily routines…  Through the windows, themes of interiority/exteriority, fewer Vermeers than I’d assumed, but it didn’t matter as it was such a well-put together (small) exhibition.  Lovely and well worth the wait.

And then I also visited Tate Liverpool’s Alice in Wonderland exhibition with Liz Mitchell…  I’d thought it would be mainly historic illustrations by Tenniel et al – but actually it was a MASSIVE exhibition showing the influence of Lewis Carroll on surrealism, on psychedelia in the 60s, and various other more contemporary pieces (including the interactive artwork to make your own book).  There were also Alice books illustrated by Tove Jansen and numerous foreign translations, some with terrifying images.  It was interesting, but slightly odd, and I found the layout to be unintuitive – the start was sort of in the middle.  A bit like the rabbit hole.  I think I came out having really enjoyed the historic manuscripts and illustrations, and the wonderful early photographs of and by Lewis Carroll (friend of the Pre-Raphaelites which I hadn’t realised) – but there were big question-marks for me about biographical details (the worrying obsession with young girls?), and some of the LSD induced artworks of the 60s seemed a bit incongruous.  I’m glad I went, but glad I’m a member of the Museums Association and didn’t have to pay.  Put it that way.

At the weekend, I went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park: no longer was the Jaume Plensa exhibition there (although the deinstall was taking place and so we could still see some pieces) – a glorious winter’s sunny day involving coffee and lunch outside – a real pleasure to be in the open air.  Enjoyed touching the Henry Moores and feeling the warm metal from the sun and the coldness where it had been in the shade.  Lucky to live so near.

Today I have been to Museums Sheffield to hear about 3D digitisation funded by JISC in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University: a fascinating project, and I have much more to say at a later date – suffice to say it’s a shame that Sheffield’s digitisation output has been so limited in comparison with other museums and galleries of a similar size.  And this will only get worse I fear, due to the current funding situation (about which I have strong and unconventional feelings)…  There were some brilliant speakers though and some interesting questions, mainly around similar technologies that are used for 3D – robotic arms, lasers or SLR cameras.  I’m still interested in the capacity of the CMS to capture user generated response.

So that’s January at an end…  February will see Grayson Perry at the British Museum (yippee!), China: Journey to the West at Weston Park Museum, and probably the other Museums Sheffield exhibitions before they close.