As a child and into my teens I would rub the belly of a small gold statuette of Ganesh – the Hindu elephant god – for luck. This idol was my grandfathers’, found while he was deployed in the Burma Campaign during World War II, and retained by him and now my mother. As a result, or perhaps with no bearing at all, our family has an affinity with elephants and I was intrigued to come across the ‘Herd of Hope’ in Spitalfields Market. Twenty-one bronze life size sculptures currently grace the east London market, having migrated from their former dwellings in Marble Arch. The largest sculpture represents the matriarch and is flanked by twenty smaller orphan sculptures, all by Australian artist duo Gillie and Marc in an effort to raise awareness of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The elephants sit in juxtaposition to their urban surroundings; one in front of a coffee shop, another outside a takeaway food outlet, and others outside office blocks. Though perhaps the intention is to encourage us to question our relationship with our habitats, and the impact human tourism, poaching and conflict has had on wildlife. Each orphan has a name and personal plight, from Ambo who was found stuck in a waterhole abandoned by the herd, to Musiara who was discovered collapsed having lagged behind his herd, and Sattao who was orphaned as a result of poaching and found wandering by tourists with injuries from a predator attack. Using bronze as a medium allows for the cracks, creases and idiosyncratic textures of their skin to be highlighted. Several of the elephants are depicted standing, some are seated or lying down, some have their trunks held high and a scannable QR code enables you to learn more about each orphans rescue and rehabilitation. Deprived of museums, galleries and exhibitions until lockdown restrictions ease and arts venues can re-open, this troop provided a dose of outdoor culture.
The Forth Plinth in Trafalgar Square was originally intended to hold an equestrian statue of William IV, however insufficient funds led to it remaining bare for over 150 years until the late 1990’s. The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce conceived an initial project for the plinth in 1999 which lasted until 2001 featuring works by Mark Wallinger, Bill Woodrow and Rachel Whiteread. Following this projects’ instant success, The Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group was established and subsequent works have included Nelson’s ship (HMS Victory) in a bottle with sails made from printed African fabric by Yinka Shonibare, a bronze boy on a rocking horse by Elmgreen & Dragset, a 4.72 metre high blue cockerel by Katharina Fritsch, a bronze human thumbs-up gesture by David Shrigley, and a recreation of a winged deity from 700BC Ninevah destroyed by Isis by Michael Rakowitz amongst others. Preamble over, and onto the current installation by Heather Phillipson entitled ‘The End’. It is the tallest work to grace the plinth at 9.4 metres high, and is an oversized dollop of whipped cream with various toppings; some traditional (a cherry and a fly) and some less typical (a drone, which transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square and the works’ audience). As well as it’s obvious questioning of state and surveillance, the work was originally intended to comment on global uncertainly post-Brexit and in the wake of the 2016 Unites States elections, as the whipped cream suggests instability as well as being something excessive but nutritionally poor. However, coronavirus meant that its’ installation was postponed by four months, and the public’s perceptions will have inevitably changed during 2020, and the work will now be viewed in a different sociological context. As uncertainty prevails and we live in time of increasing political, social, and economic upheaval where Trafalgar Square will undoubtedly be host to numerous protests, celebrations, and activity – what an interesting time to capture this all via an innocent looking dollop of cream!
Abney Park is a 13 hectare park dating from circa 1700, named after Lady Mary Abney. Dubbed one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ garden cemeteries of London it combines heritage, biodiversity, education and crafts in a refreshingly untamed woodland in Stoke Newington.
The park has a centuries old history; in 1832 Parliament passed a bill to encourage the establishment of new private cemeteries in response to London’s population expansion in the early 1800’s which resulted in inner city burial grounds overflowing. Within a decade seven had been established, and Abney Park was one of them. Its’ links with non-conformist Issac Watts quickly gave it a reputation as the foremost burial ground for Dissenters, and having a non-denominational chapel marked it out as unique. Sadly by the 1970’s the cemetery company went into administration and the site was abandoned and fell into wild disrepair. In the 80’s the London Borough of Hackney took ownership of the site and began to manage it in partnership with the Abney Park Trust, who made the wise decision to maintain this unique urban wilderness and balance the park as a place of memorial whilst being sympathetic to its varied wildlife and historic structures.
Over 200,000 people are buried at Abney Park, and as so many of the grave stones are hidden behind rows of others, down a side path, or at jaunty angles, there are always new names and stories to uncover. These range from William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, to Joanna Vassa, daughter of one of Britain’s first black activists Olaudah Equiano (alias Gustavus Vassa) who was shipped to England as a slave and served in the navy until obtaining his freedom in 1766. It is also home to Betsi Cadwaladr who aged over 60 trained as a nurse and joined Florence Nightingale in the Crimea War helping soldiers on the frontline, 19th century big cat tamer Frank Bostock who survived numerous attacks from wild animals but died from flu and is aptly laid to rest under a marble lion, and Samuel Robinson who founded Retreat Almshouses for the widows of dissenting ministers in Hackney.
As well as its famous residents the park was also the first designated local nature reserve in the borough. Biodiversity was important to the site from the start, as Issac Watts laid out an arboretum with 2,500 trees and plants organised alphabetically. Today there are over 200 ‘old’ trees, vital for providing homes for bats, owls and other animals as well as insects and fungi which can only exist where trees are at just the right stage of decay. Sparrowhawks, Tawny Owls, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Gold Tits, Stock Doves and other birds as well as less common Mallards and Canada Geese despite the lack of water can also be found here. Hundreds of wild flowers flourish in what may appear to be neglected grounds, including wild garlic, nettles and grasses which provide food for bees, butterflies, caterpillars and numerous other insects. Whether your interest lies in local history or nature, or you simply fancy a good walk head over to this beautifully untamed space.
For more information about opening hours and access visit their website
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 email@example.com, 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.