The new Tate Modern opens in London

I’ve been watching the extension to the Tate Modern grow for the last 5 years, seeing the twisted pyramidal shape emerge as the exterior changed from a white cladding to a brick lattice which matches yet is different from the original Tate.  They are both part of an old power station site so in a nod to its origins the first Tate building is now called the Boiler House and the new Tate is the Switch House. 

Hailed as a gallery for the 21st century, a significant addition to London’s cultural scene,   the Switch House brings us 10 storeys, a whopping 60% of new exhibition space and a focus on new interactive forms of art, more women artists and a wider representation of international artists.  

Tate Modern London
Viewed from the south 

Undoubtedly the building is the star, it’s light, has wonderful shapes within it and outside, the materials are gorgeous wood and raw concrete and the panoramic views afforded from the top floor are among the best in London.   It sits happily alongside the Boiler House and looking across from one to the other when you are inside makes perfect sense. They have achieved a contrasting yet co-ordinated feel between the two buildings, helped no doubt by using the same architects, Herzog & de Meuron. 

Here are some views of the interior of the Switch House, showing the sweeping spaces and the effect of the lattice brickwork on the interior light and shadows. 

Glorious wooden floors and benches, smooth the the touch 

Entry to The Tanks

The area called ‘The Tanks’ which was opened up a couple of years ago, return to form the basement of the Switch House. Here you can find the floor plan, showing just how much extra space the Switch House brings to the Tate Modern. 

Looking across to the Boiler House gives you a new perspective along the enormous gaping space of the Turbine Hall:  You’ll spot a new installation by Ai Wei Wei, a monumental sculpture of a tree made of dried tree parts from all over China. I saw it being assembled the week before like a massive 3-D jigsaw.

Up on the 10th floor is an external viewing platform around the outside of the building giving the chance to see 360 degree panoramas across the whole of London which few can match. 

What about the art? I’m more of a painting/sculpture art lover so some of the more abstract items left me unmoved. There are very few paintings and a lot of very new work but some familiar names and some intriguing pieces drew me in and I did find something to enjoy in most of the rooms. It feels new, contemporary, bold and, of course, challenging.  Here are just a few examples to give you an idea of what is on display:

Mark Bradford, yes a painting!

Marwan Rechmaoui – a map of Beirut in rubber 

A room dedicated to Louise Bourgeois

Yes, live macaws with a sign saying they are well looked after!

Lots of fun in a box of mirrors by Yayoi Kusama

Roni Horn’s beautiful pink glass box

Bubbles frothing from David Medalla 

Maria Metz’s aluminium piece 

There are restaurants, cafes and bars in the Switch House as well as existing Boiler House offerings so there is plenty to refresh you as you explore these 2 extraordinary buildings. 

For more information check out their website

Bye for now,

Maria Merrian’s Beautiful Butterflies, catch them now!

It is always a treat to stumble across a new artist, especially one who has a fascinating life story to amplify your interest in their work. Maria Merian is a perfect example of this, a little known botanical artist from the 17th century who changed what we know about the life cycle of the butterfly through her exquisite art. 

The Queen’s Gallery in London has access to the Royal Collection and luckily for us George lll was a great collectors of Merian’s work and their summer exhibition twins her nature drawings with a group of Scottish painters, but more about them later 

Born in 1647, Maria Merian  was encouraged to draw and paint by her step father and by the age of 13 was already painting insects and plants from actual specimens. She was fascinated by the metamorphosis of caterpillars to butterflies and in 1679 she published her first illustrated book focusing on insect metamorphosis. How did she gather her scientific knowledge?   She was a great observer, collector and documenter and as a child she had ready access to books on natural history and built on this background when she lived in Amsterdam, building contacts in the scientific community. 

What really made me see her as an admirable pioneer was that in 1699 at the age of 52 she set sail for Suriname in South America with her daughter. Can you imagine what that was like for a woman at that time? She had become frustrated with only being able to examine and paint dead specimens in collections,  so she went in search of live ones. She spent two years in Suriname, studying animals and plants and examining their life cycles, and although her plan had been to work there five years, illness cut this short. Her work from Suriname was published on her return and we can see her fabulous work bound into a large precious book in this exhibition. As a botanical artist she left work of great beauty but also scientific breakthroughs through her direct observation of species new to the old world. 

Her paintings are so bright, so detailed and feel so fresh that it was a delight to be able to see them. Here is a selection for you to enjoy too:

A copy of her illustrated book on insects from Suriname 

The headline exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery is Scottish Artists 1750-1900 which has some fine paintings but they were more traditional and not as surprising as Merian’s work, however, they are worth a visit. These paintings were collected by several royals from George lll through to Queen Victoria, a famous lover of all things Scottish. On display are  portraits of George and his family, Victoria’s first meetings as a royal and a selection of lovely scenes of the Scottish countryside, commissioned by Victoria. The Scottish painters did travel outside of their homeland and a fine picture of Cairo from 1840 caught my eye with its timeless quality. 

George lll by Allan Ramsay
View of the gallery with George next to his family

Queen Victoria meets her Council  on her fist day as queen  by Sir David Wilkie

The cast list of Queen Victoria’s Council 

‘Bonnie’ Prince Charlie by John Pettie

Edinburgh from 18 24, still recognisable today by Alexander Naysmth

Balmoral Castle by James Giles

Cairo by David Roberts

For information about tickets and opening times for the Queen’s Gallery as well as more about these two exhibitions click here . 

Bye for now

Full disclosure:  as is customary in the travel business, the entry ticket for this preview visit was provided free of charge.

Dutch life and great satire at the Queen’s Gallery London

The Royal Collection is the British Royal Family’s art collection and is one of the largest and most important in the world. This holds so many pieces that only a fraction can be on display at any one time in the royal palaces across the UK. The Queen’s Gallery holds exhibitions throughout the year, curated to show a different range of these precious works. 

Their new exhibitions bring together Dutch art and Georgian caricatures  linked by kings George lll and lV who were art collectors and the subject of the cartoons. The Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer’ presents 27 of the Royal Collection’s finest Dutch paintings. My eye is always drawn to Rembrandt’s paintings, there’s something about his use of light to illuminate faces that is so powerful. I was rewarded with several in this show:

Rembrandt’s Rabbi with a Cap. 
Rembrandt’s Agatha Bas
Rembrandt’s An Old Woman called the Artist’s Mother

Desmond Shaw Taylor, the curator, explained how they had chosen to use plain walls, popular at the time, to display key painting in one of the exhibition rooms which certainly contrasts with the lush blue of the walls in the other display room.

Unusual plain grey walls 

We saw popular painters from the 17th and 18th century such as Gerrit Dou, Peter Bruegel the Elder and Jan Steen as well as Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch who both took Dutch genre painting to a new level of brilliance.  Genre paintings capture everyday life, ordinary scenes and these painters bring extraordinary detail to their work. 

Pieter de Hooch
Johannes Vermeer

Both George lll and lV were keen collectors, paying high prices to secure these works as well as Sevres porcelain and fine French furniture, examples of which are on display around the rooms. 

The accompanying exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery is High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson showcases the brilliant work of Thomas who was one of the most popular and wittiest caricaturists of Georgian Britain, poking fun at the kings who collected the fine works we’ve just seen as well as the politics, fashions and mores of the time. Rowlandson was inspired by Dutch art and although seen to be a cartoonist was a fine artist as this exhibition shows. 

From showing the public criticism the Prince of Wales for his drunken behaviour during his father George lll’s illness to laughing at the misfortunes of the Duke of York, these drawings give us a great insight into the gossip of the time. I loved the drawing of the Duke of York, who had been caught up in a huge love scandal and had to resign amid the public humiliation of his love letters being published. Here he is pleading with a whale that had been found in the Thames to help keep him out the headlines which feels very modern! 

The Prince of Wales dancing at his father’s sick bed
Pleading with the whale to keep distracting attention from the Duke

This cartoon lampoons the Duchess of Devonshire who was rumoured to be trading kisses for votes at a time when canvassing outside of ones family was considered unseemly for a woman. Here in this cartoon which was damaging to her reputation, she is kissing a butcher.  Given our own political scandals of votes for cash in parliament, these again feels very contemporary. 

‘Most Approved Method of Securing Votes

His sense of humour shines through and the man himself was great company and a popular man in society which makes for an enjoyable exhibition.  He went to the Royal Academy school and his skill shines through.

One of the things I love about the Queen’s Gallery is their education room where they bring fun and interest for younger visitors. One example of how they do this is shown below where they have picked out a section of painting to encourage the viewer to look at the detail not just the overall impression of a work.  Here the game in the corner of the painting is highlighted, something I had missed in the main gallery. 

The exhibitions are on until 14th February 2016 and for more information click here.

Bye for now,

Disclaimer:  I was invited to visit the gallery for free and the curator tour was part of this.

A fun day out on the Olympic Park art tour

The Olympic Park in east London is really called the Queen Elizabeth Park as the area moves on from the Olympics  but I’m sure most people, including me,  will carry on calling it the Olympic Park as it holds such happy memories of the London Games of 2012. 

Most of the park is now open to the public and many of the iconic buildings remain:  the Aquatic Centre,without its extra wings which were added on to seat the thousands of fans of swimming and diving:, the twisting Orbit sculpture; the curving velodrome; the block of the Copper Box;  and, the famous athletics stadium, although they have taken down the pyramid shaped lighting gantries which went all around it so it looks a little naked now to my eye. 

There is so much to see and do at the park, especially on a lovely sunny day such as we enjoyed. To add to the fun they have set up various self guided tours so we picked up ‘Art in the Park – A Field Guide’, a comprehensive information booklet, and off we went.  We soon realised there are too many art works to see if you are also after a leisurely stroll and chat but we enjoyed the ones we saw and have saved many for our next visit. 

So, here are my highlights with a couple of extras which are not strictly art things but I loved them so have thrown them in!

1. Steles by Keith Wilson

This work consists of 35 colourful posts which look like crayons to me and they line the river in a carefully planned colour sequence. They are both an art work and mooring posts tho’ I’m not sure you can just rock up on your boat and stay in the middle of the park!

You’ll have spotted the extra ordinary shape of the Aquatic Centre in this photo. It is now open to the public so you can swim in the Olympic pool and dream of winning a medal!

 Here’s a view of the inside of the aquatic centre with its impressive pool – I was almost tempted to get in, even as a non swimmer!

2. Carpenter’s Curve by Clare Woods

This is one of two artworks by Clare which wrap around exteriors and make utility buildings disappear from sight. Clare created these huge works as paintings which were then transferred onto individual tiles which you can see these clearly in the photo. Apparently it is the most complex tile mural in the world!

3. Arcelormittal Orbit by Sir Anish Kapoor, Cecil Balmond

One of my favourites, Orbit can be seen from afar, even from the plane as you fly into London and is the UK’s tallest sculpture. It’s made of recycled steel and offers a great viewing platform up at 114 metres where Anish Kapoor’s mirrors turn London upside down. It’s worth going up the top but be warned, there are over 500 steps down so think carefully before you decide to walk – I didn’t!

 4. Run by Monica Bonvicini

I remember this one really catching my eye during the Games and it felt so right with the  events that were going on all around it. Now it still impresses and I’d love to see it at night when the letters glow with lines of internal LED lighting. 

These next photos show one of the most iconic symbols of London and although they don’t seem to be part of the art tour, I though they merited inclusion in my highlights. The phone boxes appear normal from a distance but are playing with that view as they are only part boxes,so you just have 2 sides of the box and they have poetry carved into the windows.


While I’m mentioning areas I liked that are not on the art tour, I have to mention the fun fountains curved like a snake. They start off very low and entice people to walk around and over them and then suddenly spurt up at least 5 feet into the air to shrieks of laughter from everyone caught out –  who then go back for more! Here’s the before and after photos:

5. Pixel Wall by Tomato

There are over 2000 wooden cubes on this wall and as you pass by you can run your hands over them making a new pattern for the wall as the light and dark surfaces are changed around. If I’d had more time I would have been tempted to leave a message in pixels but instead just left them with a new pattern.  

6. Fantastic Factology by Klassnick Corporation, Riitta Ikonen, We Made That 

All around the park fascinating facts are tucked away on park benches, from information about the park and nature to more personal recollections which make you think about the history of the area and its people. As it was such a sunny day I chose this one which tells us the sun is on average 93 million miles from this bench!

A quick mention for the climbing wall as we pass by as it was really well used by young and older folk and looked great fun!

7. The Spark Catchers by Lemn Sissay

I loved the use of this wooden box carved with an emotive poem called the Spark Catchers to cover an electricity transformer and the juxtaposition of the danger triangle sign and the title of the poem. The poem references the first strike at the nearby Bryant and May match factory, giving us more plays on words. The strike was lead by the women, many younger than 16, who were protesting against appalling conditions leading to injury and illness and was a major event in our industrial and women’s history. 

In total there are 26 different art works to enjoy on the art trail and I’ve only covered 6 (with a few extras not officially on the tour) so I’ll definitely have to go back to check out some of the missing group. Why not have a go yourself and see how many you can find?

Bye for now,

Is it art? A visit to Frieze Fair London

That big question – what is art? I’ve been to thousands of art exhibitions and galleries, taken tens of art courses and I still have no real answer to that question but I don’t think I’m alone in this dilemma. Is it in the eye of the beholder? Like beauty, there is usually some agreement on what is and what is not but there is also space for the quirky one offs. 

October in London sees the great and the good (and the bad) in the art world gathering at Frieze Art Fair. Collectors and artists from all over the world can be found in the enormous tents pitched in Regent’s Park for 4 days of schmoozing and being seen and trying to spot the next big thing so they can say they ‘found them ages ago’! 

I was lucky enough to be invited to the evening preview (big thanks to The Marylebone Hotel, London, part of the Doyle Collection) so I got to wander around, with my glass of champagne, checking out the art before the crowds piled in the next morning.  I took loads of photos so I could  share the fair with you. I make no judgement and some are pretty ‘out there’ but I hope you enjoy your virtual Frieze and for those of you who like a bit of people watching, scroll towards the end of the photos and you’ll see some of the fashions…..


This one’s interactive – you could sit in the middle!

Here are just a few photos of the people at the fair who were mostly dressed up and some in amazing outfits but there were also a few jeans and grubby trainer types too but no photos of them!

 Coinciding with Frieze are loads of new openings at London’s great museums and art galleries so watch out for future blogs about these and some more unexpected openings!  I’m not giving any clues about that but watch this space…….

Bye for now,