White Cube made a positive step towards returning to post lockdown normality by responsibly re-opening both London gallery spaces in mid June with reduced opening hours and pre-booked timed visiting slots to enable social distancing and avoid queues. The Bermondsey space is host to Cerith Wyn Evans’ ‘No realm of thought… No field of vision’ featuring light and glass installations, sculpture and painting. Two neon works produced in Krypton gas greet you in the corridor – one shaped like a cube and the other a bow-tie – immediately suggestive of Evans’ interest in mechanics, shape, form and perspective that are the backbone of this exhibition. As you peel away from the corridor, a gallery to the right houses multiple hanging mobiles constructed from cracked vehicle window screens that revolve subtly, refracting light as it hits them. A gallery to the left displays two tress rotating on turntables so slowly it is barely perceptible with spotlights creating kinetic shadows on the walls, accompanied by four new paintings of simple black brushstrokes across each canvas. Striking as these installations are, your attention is stolen by the next space housing a mesmerising neon sculpture suspended from the ceiling, inspired by drawings of the first helicopter designed in 1907 as well as the artists own inaugural neon commission. The prodigious gallery at the end of the corridor continues to impress with an oversized neon screen of Japanese kanji characters; a translation of a passage from ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ written in 1921-22 by Marcel Proust, describing the movement of water through an 18th century fountain. This is flanked by numerous other neon and sound works, including ‘Composition of Flutes’ and ‘Pli S=E=L=O=N Pli’ which suspend from the ceiling or emit out of sync piano compositions or pulsating tones; the perfect soundtrack to these beautifully tangled works.
In addition to the museums and galleries mentioned in my last post, more venues are re-opening and announcing their plans for the coming weeks. All of the safety measures mentioned in my last blog are applicable to these venues, and all require pre-booking online in advance of any visit (including for members and corporate supporters), helping to ensure safe access to the arts across the city.
The Wallace Collection is now open to again, welcoming visitors seven days per week with revised opening hours from 11am to 3pm. There is a one way route through the historic rooms and collection, and their temporary exhibition ‘Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company’ will re-open on 29 July. The cloakroom and café remain closed, but there is a coffee cart outside the main entrance and the shop is open but taking payment by contactless/card only.
Dulwich Picture Gallery re-opened its gardens alongside the café for takeaway and a pop-up shop from Saturday 4 July, allowing the public to safely enjoy their three acres of outdoor space and the exterior of the building designed by Sir John Soane.
Historic Royal Palaces who look after six sites are also re-opening their indoor and outdoor spaces. From Friday 10 July The Tower of London started welcoming visitors again and will be open on Wednesday to Sunday from 11am until 6pm, with last admission at 5pm. Hampton Court Palace will re-open with the exception of the Magic Garden and Maze from Friday 17 July, on Wednesday to Sunday from 10.30am until 5pm. Kensington Palace will welcome visitors again from Thursday 30 July and will be open to the public on Wednesday to Sunday from 10.30am until 5pm. Banqueting House and Kew Palace however will remain closed until March 2021.
Charles Dickens Museum will be re-opening on Saturday 25 July, with revised opening hours of Friday to Sunday from 10am until 5pm (with last admission at 4pm). All rooms will be open as well as the shop, toilets and walled garden, however the café will remain closed in order to follow social distancing requirements.
The Design Museum will partially open to the public again from Friday 31 July, allowing visitors to see their temporary exhibition ‘Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers’. In addition to tickets being booked in advance of visiting, they will also be timed with a maximum of 1 hour 30 minutes. Face coverings are also compulsory and they advise bringing your own headphones to enjoy the multi-media elements.
The Natural History Museum will be welcoming visitors again from Wednesday 5 August. They will be closed every Monday and Tuesday, and open on Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 6pm with last entry at 5pm.
The V&A will be re-opening the following day, on Thursday 6 August. They will operating with reduced opening hours and open on Thursday to Sunday from 11am until 3pm, and then increasing opening hours from 27 August when they will be open Thursday to Sunday from 11am until 7pm.
The Science Museum will also be open again from Wednesday 19 August, daily from 10am until 6pm, offering access to Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery exploring how science and maths shape our everyday lives and Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries showcasing 3,000 medical objects and related commissioned artworks.
Image: The Great Gallery © The Trustees of the Wallace Collection
Following the government’s announcement that museums and galleries can re-open from 4 July, several have been busy preparing themselves for responsibly welcoming the public back to their spaces with additional measures in place to ensure the safety of both visitors and staff. Every museum or gallery will now be:
- asking all visitors (including members) to pre-book online in advance of their visit
- limiting visitor numbers to avoid queues and enable social distancing
- putting one-way routes in place throughout their spaces
- ensuring access to anti-viral products, hand sanitiser (and optional face masks at some venues)
- removing or making any interactive touch screens inaccessible
- ensuring access to toilet facilities and staff on hand to manage queues
- many have also reduced their opening hours, so check ahead of making any plans
From Wednesday 8 July The National Gallery will re-open daily from 11am until 4pm, and until 9pm on Fridays. You can opt to book either ‘Gallery entry’ giving you access to their permanent collection only or ‘Gallery entry & Titian’ allowing access to their temporary exhibition on the great Italian Renaissance painter, which is on display until 17 January 2021. The National Portrait Gallery will remain closed until spring 2023 as it undergoes essential building works and a major redevelopment.
The Royal Academy will be opening its’ doors the following day on Thursday 9 July to Friends of The RA, and to the general public from 16 July. It will be closed on Monday to Wednesday each week, and open on Thursday to Sunday from 11am until 4pm. Their current blockbuster is ‘Picasso on Paper’ featuring studies for the masterpiece Guernica and over 300 works on paper spanning the artists’ eighty year career.
Monday 13 July will see Barbican partially re-open. Again visitor numbers to the Art Gallery will be limited and access will be via their Silk Street entrance only. Their current exhibition ‘Masculinities: Liberation through Photography’ will be on display until 23 August featuring works by over fifty artists including Laurie Anderson, Isaac Julien, Catherine Opie and Sunil Gupta.
Whitechapel Gallery will be welcoming visitors again from Tuesday 14 July from 11am until 6pm, each day except Monday. Visitors can choose to book to visit the Free Displays or the current temporary exhibition ‘Radical Figures: Painting in the new Millennium’ until 30 August displaying figurative works by Daniel Richter, Cecily Brown, Michael Armitage, Ryan Mosely and Nicole Eisenman amongst others.
The Photographers’ Gallery will also be re-opening on Tuesday 14 July from 11am until 7pm, but will be closed on Sundays and Mondays. Current exhibitions will be on until 20 September and comprise the ‘Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2020’ showcasing works by this years’ finalists; Mohamed Bourouissa, Anton Kusters, Mark Neville and Clare Strand, as well as a solo show by Czech photographer Jan Svoboda.
On Thursday 16 July Somerset House will re-open parts of their site. The main courtyard will be open daily from 10.00am until 7pm, with refreshments available for takeaway only between 12pm and 6pm. Their exhibition ‘Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fughi’ will also be open from Tuesday to Sunday from 12pm to 6pm, with access from The Strand entrance only.
All four Tate sites; Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives will be re-opening on Monday 27 July. Entry will remain free for all for permanent collections, with a charge for some temporary exhibitions across all sites.
Whilst visiting a museum or gallery won’t feel quite the same experience it previously did (but what currently does?!), these are very encouraging steps and no doubt more Nationals, independent museums and galleries, historic houses and arts centres will announce their plans once they are confident to do so. But hope this is enough to start whetting your cultural appetites!
Image: Burlington House Façade © Fraser Marr
Spotlight on… Benjamin Franklin House, a Grade I listed Georgian townhouse located in Charing Cross and lodgings for Franklin – the scientist, diplomat, philosopher and Founding Father of the Unites States – for nearly sixteen years between 1757 and 1775. The house is normally operational seven days a week offering a Historical Experience utilising the building, a live actress in period dress, projection and sound, as well as Architectural Tours, and an active schools programme. However the current pandemic resulted in its temporary closure, but the aptly timed ease in UK government restrictions from 4 July (US Independence Day) meant that they could responsibly re-open this weekend for Architectural Tours, and will do again from Friday 10 July onwards with the hope of re-starting the Historical Experience later in the summer. There are also plenty of virtual offerings to keep you going in the meantime, including online tours of the building using Googlemaps and viewing some of their collection digitally, including Franklin’s leather wallet shaped like an envelope and inscribed with this London address, as well as letters and newspapers of the era. There are a series of virtual talks available via their YouTube channel covering topics from ‘Character Virtues for the 21st Century’ to ‘Reflecting on the US Primaries’ and the ‘Joys of 18th Century Cooking’, with upcoming talks in July on coffeehouses and private bankers in Franklin’s London. Every Tuesday at 3pm they are offering live online science classes for children, based on Franklin’s own experiments around electricity, energy, forces, and light. These lessons also explore sound via the Glass Armonica, a musical instrument invented by Franklin using glass bowls of varied circumferences and played similarly to a piano. Their website also gives you the opportunity to learn more about the bones discovered when conservation work began on the building in 1998, which are remnants of an anatomy school run from the house by the son in law of Franklin’s landlady in the 1700’s. This unassuming house down a cobbled side street is brimming with history and an array of characters, stories and activity – and its’ website is equally as compelling to explore.
Image: Benjamin Franklin’s Parlour © Benjamin Franklin House
Spotlight on… the Museum of London which chronicles the story of the capital and its people from 450,000 BC to the present day across three sites; the Barbican (with plans to move to Smithfield), Docklands and an archaeological store in Hackney. Though all three sites are currently closed due to the pandemic, the museum has launched a ‘Collecting COVID’ initiative encouraging Londoners to donate physical and digital objects as well as their experiences of the unprecedented period we are living through, to record it for future generations. London has been a metropolitan hub for centuries, so this is not the first epidemic faced, and it has overcome the Black Death of 1348, the Great Plague of 1665, smallpox from 1889 to 1893 and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 amongst others. The museum already holds objects relating to past pandemics within its collection, such as a segmental pomander in the shape of watch allowing 17th century Londoners to carry herbs and infusions thought to ward off infection during the plague, a printed handkerchief made to mourn the loss of Queen Victoria’s grandson who died in 1892, and an early 20th century advert for Flu-Mal – a product claiming to prevent and cure influenza. The museum is keen to capture the voices and experiences of a broad range of Londoners enabling them to better tell the varied stories of lockdown. There are three main areas of focus: capturing the physical alterations to the city from bustling streets to eerily empty, the effects on working life for frontline keyworkers as well as those working remotely from home rather than in offices, and the impact on children and young people adapting to life without school or educational institutions. Photographs, diaries, handmade signs of support for the NHS, unusual print facemasks, and anything relating to this period of our history are of interest. If you would like to donate, get in touch via social media @MuseumofLondon or email firstname.lastname@example.org, and support one of this museums’ first big projects to shift from the Museum of London to the Museum for London.
Image: Advert for Flu-Mal, early 20th century © Museum of London
Spotlight on… Charles Dickens Museum, a Victorian townhouse in Bloomsbury and former family home of Dickens where he penned classics including Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and Pickwick Papers. Typically open to the public it offers an insight into the private life of the author; his study, dining room, family bedrooms and serving quarters as well as a display space for the collection, a courtyard garden and café. The current pandemic and its’ temporary closure has meant that the museum has lost almost all of its income, but visit their website and you can still delve into the collection and go behind the scenes whilst the doors are closed. An interactive tour gives you a 360 degree view of each room in the entire building, and the opportunity to explore privately and have the space to yourself. At the end of April, they launched their Collections Online site giving virtual access to furniture, paintings, photographs, letters, manuscripts, rare editions and Dickens memorabilia such as a 1968 handmade doll of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations and a ceramic and textile pin cushion of Mr Pickwick circa 1900. On Instagram Dickens’ great great great grandchildren have been reading extracts from his novels, including a fitting passage about a smallpox epidemic and quarantine in Bleak House. Their online newsletter also keeps you informed with teasers about their upcoming temporary exhibition due to open once restrictions are lifted, named Technicolour Dickens: The Living Image of Charles Dickens which will feature images of the author throughout his career as well as clothing, personal items, and a selection of original photographs from their collection which have undergone colourisation. Purchases from their aptly titled ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ are still available online, with jigsaw puzzles, tote bags, books and mugs all based around his famous novels for sale – items arguably more sought after than ever during the lockdown!
Image: Study Newangle, Copyright, Charles Dickens Museum
Spotlight on… The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Breaking away from the London-centric focus of this blog, largely due to my inability not to write about digitally reworked paintings depicting their sitters with now ubiquitous Covid-19 face masks, but more on that later! It houses an encyclopaedic collection of over half a million objects spanning the ancient world, paintings, drawings and prints, applied arts, coins, medals, manuscripts and books. Typically offering free entry to the public, but temporarily closed due to the pandemic, the museum has made an original and cogent contribution to digital museum offerings. In April they launched their Look, Think, Do virtual family activities, utilising objects from their collection including a coffin lid of Ramases III from 12th century BC Egypt, a Mosque Lamp from Damascus circa 1355 and an engraved printed plate titled ‘American Flamingo’ produced between 1827-30. May saw them announce The Fitz Stitch seeking 45 craft volunteers to contribute squares to a quilt which will be hung in the Courtyard Entrance by the end of September 2020, all pieces will be linked to the collection but in as abstract or literal a representation as participants would like. Building on their already successful Dancing in Museums initiative working with older people in isolation, they have addressed wellbeing and released seven films which all begin with a guided relaxation followed by an exploration of a painting by Monet, Sisley, Alma-Tadema or Renoir amongst others. Last week they also announced ‘Masterpieces 2020’ where renowned paintings have been digitally altered and released as greetings cards reflecting the current circumstances; Belgian artist Alfred Stevens ‘La Liseuse’ shows his subject wearing a delicate lace face mask whilst reading her book, pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais’ ‘The Bridesmaid’ features an added yellow silk face mask matching her dress, Renaissance master Titian’s ‘Venus and Cupid with a lute-player’ shows all three figures wearing face masks not just the reclining nude, and Dutch artist Jan van Meyer’s ‘The Daughters’ depicts the four girls each with a unique face mask matching their dresses. Though the grand neo-classical building and collection may have a traditional reputation, these virtual offerings highlight their progressive and dynamic capacity.
Spotlight on… Camden Art Centre, an imposing yet welcoming red brick building in north-west London originally constructed as a public library. Open as an art centre for five decades, it combines the original architecture with modern spaces and a serene garden, offering the public free access to exhibitions, courses, talks and events. Although currently closed due to Covid-19, this has not halted their programme as the new exhibition ‘The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and The Cosmic Tree’ has gone ahead with a online offering to accompany the physical one postponed until later in the year. It explores the relationship between plants and humans in various religions, global cultures and civilisations throughout history via drawings, watercolours, photography, film, archaeological artefacts, textiles, ceramics, isomorphology, written texts and multimedia commissions. Collectively it spans everything from moss, to potatoes, flower formation, plant organisms, indigenous groups living alongside plant-life in rainforests, astrology, mandalas, the hallucinatory and stimulant properties of plants and much more. A virtual Family Art Club was launched at the end of May which will run until early July, led by current artist in residence Renata Minoldo and tied into themes related to the exhibition, with new activities released every two weeks on Sundays online. Their Youth Collective initiative which typically offers people aged 15 to 21 a space to engage with and discuss visual arts with their peers is continuing virtually, via weekly artist-led workshops and monthly digital events, with the hope of hosting the annual Youth Collective Curates exhibition onsite later in the year. They have also partnered with Central Saint Martins giving twelve students Instagram takeovers, offering an insight into how the next generation of artists are responding to and indeed continuing their practice during the pandemic, aptly titled ‘15713’ as this number represents the accumulative miles these students are from Camden Art Centre, either working from their homes across the UK or overseas. There is also a bookshop and café on site, and their café partner – Cantine London – fed frontline workers at the Royal London Hospital in March and have launched a delivery service where the public can order and donate a meal to NHS staff. In congruity with the “botanical” theme, their digital offerings are evolving and growing with new content added each week.
Spotlight on… The Line, an outdoor sculpture trail that follows the Greenwich Meridian and runs from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to The 02. It creates an opportunity to explore London’s often ignored waterways and allows the public to enjoy art, nature and heritage for free. It recently celebrated it’s 5th birthday, and following Covid-19 and the lockdown measures, has also adapted quickly by launching The Line Online, enabling access via an interactive virtual map. The new website also showcases collaborations with The British Museum, Getty Images, the National Portrait Gallery, Royal Museums Greenwich and Museum of London, who have all provided fascinating historic images of life along these waterways and the different areas The Line passes through. These include black and white photographs of elephants returning to London’s docks following a touring circus, the construction of the Thames Barrier, and female workers at Bromley by Bow Gas Works having tea. Although the trail route is set, the artworks are regularly refreshed with certain sculptures removed and new pieces added. Current monolithic works include Richard Wilson’s ‘A Slice of Reality’, a vertical section of an ocean sand dredger now situated on the foreshore of the Thames exposing the living quarters and engine room, Joanna Rajkowska’s ‘The Hatchling’, a large scale replica of a blackbird egg complete with the sound of hatching chicks recorded by ornithologists emitting from the egg which acts as a speaker, Abigail Fallis’ ‘DNA DL90’ made from 22 shopping trolleys in the shape of a double-helix, and Antony Gormley’s ‘Quantum Cloud’ comprising 29 x 16 x 10 metres of galvanised steel. Past participating artists include Martin Creed, Damien Hirst, Sterling Ruby, James Balmforth, Eduardo Palozzi and Bill Viola amongst others – and future works are set to come from Rana Begum, Thomas J Price, Anne Hardy, Larry Achiampong and Yinka Ilori. As The Line is outdoors, the public can now safely walk, run or cycle its length responsibly. Moving forwards it will continue to add interest to these often overlooked parts of the city, connect people and place, and support mental and physical wellbeing for those venturing out again after months of lockdown.