Open Art

Open art exhibition.

Words which, especially when combined with ‘local’, make me cringe. Such an exhibition must obviously consist of amateurish attempts at conceptual sculpture, shoddily executed abstracts and an abundance of dull, oily landscapes. More arrrgh than art.When the Poole Open was announced this was the horrorshow hung on the walls of my mind, so it was with a sense of mild dread that I ventured into the gallery.

The inaugural Poole Open invited UK-based artists to submit work with a link to the main themes of the Poole Museum collection. Since the collection can mostly be summed up as pots, yachts and pirates, a lot of boat paintings were expected. Homelife, worklife and wildlife are also recurrent themes throughout the collection. The selected pieces are displayed in Poole Museum until 5 May 2014.

I’m relieved to report that the exhibition was not dominated by the maritime equivalent of ‘Pony Painters’ and the number of twee watercolours and overcooked concepts was fewer than expected.

With any open there are bum notes; an unoriginal subject or a good idea poorly finished are frequent clangers. However, this show had a few nice surprises.  In fact some of it was actually quite good and overall it appears to be a well balanced group. Having not seen the other entries it’s difficult to tell. A man stopped for a chat and informed me, with authority and at some length, that his log boat painting was better than the one displayed. Not bitter at all mate are you?

Fifty artists made the cut and over 60 pieces are on show in a variety of media, from painting and sculpture to mixed media, film and photography. Much of it is available to buy, although I suspect sales will suffer from overconfident pricing. And there were a lot of boats…

Most of the work is hung in the gallery spaces but found pieces, prints and sculptures also sneak between the permanent glass cabinets and AV’s catching visitors off guard.

One gems were nestled beside the museum’s  boatbuilding display is a tight pen on paper by James Mclellan. “Lovely on the Water”* depicts a boat which wouldn’t look amiss in an illustrated The Owl and the Pussycat Went to Sea.  A cartoonish pirate of cardboard protrudes from a frame near a display on Harry Paye. On the ground floor several sheets of paper pinned to the wooden pillars belong to the artist Joseph Young. Their cut out lines replicate the pattern that pinhole borer beetles already made in many of the beams and pillars around the museum. The beetles are long dead, of course, leaving only their tracks behind.

Hiding on the backstairs are Jessica Polglase’s listed building installations. Thin black lines of tape on skimmed walls follow the outlines of Poole’s oldest buildings, cleansing and simplifying their bricks and rafters into something graphically pleasing.

In the upper gallery space a video work takes main stage. “Analogue Kingdom” is Esther Johnson’s sensitive, lyrical portrait of Gerald Wells, a wireless radio collector/geek/obsessive who stole his first radio at age 13. It is worth the 24 minute viewing time and I don’t normally have the patience for video.

Pinhole photography, photoshopped prints, textile interpretations of wildlife and a random but entertaining Google Street View painting on newsprint are also on offer. There’s something for every aesthete. Even Mother would appreciate some of the delicate colourwashed views of Poole.

Among the pieces which raised the bar was Anna Falcini’s “Incarcerated (Vitrines)”. Delicately pencilled ships inhabit tiny vials ‘moored’ along a stylised map of the Thames estuary. The ships in bottles each reference a repurposed naval ship used to house slaves and prisoners along the Thames in the 1800’s. The resulting art is intelligent and beautiful; my favourite kind of art.

As always a group show is only ever as good as the curator, or in this case the team of selectors. While not all to my taste this varied, and occasionally off-kilter, group is worth a gander.

*There were no dates on most of the pieces. I’m not sure why.

Sharing the love

Museum Sign
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They all make the same face.

Brows knitted in a hybrid of confusion and fear. The efforts of various facial muscles combine to say,

You’re weird.

Their tongues say,


Derision seems to drip from their part-curled lips.

This is the reaction of friends, family and colleagues, to the mention of certain personal passions. Sometimes it involves more words, sometimes it’s just a look. That look like I said something dirty enough to make Grandma shrivel in abject horror.

I do not harbour a deep love for stamp collecting nor have a fetish for some filth or other. I’m pretty mainstream. At least I thought so.

Apparently having fun in a museum, attending spoken word events and talking about art exhibitions is not mainstream. It is something to be ridiculed. Outside of arty circles the response is almost universal. Look closely into their eyes when they’re taking the piss. See that?

The dull corneal light that says,

This isn’t for me. I don’t understand it, it’s  too complicated. It is boring. Isn’t it for hippies and beardy literature grads?

Their tone of voice is saying,

I’d rather turn my brain to mush by watching a straight 3 hours of Storage Hunters on some malnutritious Freeview channel, 35 clicks away from BBC1.

Each to their own I suppose.

But, The Housemate contorting her face in such a way makes me feel sad.

(She had the same expression when The Other F Word was mentioned but that is another story).

She’s missing out. They are missing out.

If I can understand what it is that turns her and everyone else off about art, poetry and museums then maybe, just maybe, we can get people excited about it. If people could understand it better, if they were open to it, if the idea was sold to them in just the right way… maybe they would love it too.

Because that is what I would really love.

To share the love.

To help people understand the simple pleasure of admiring the emotional depth in a brush stroke or the way a poet slots a sentence together to devastating effect. I want to tell them the story behind museum objects, to humanise an alien house of collected goods and chattels. I want to tell them why it is important and why it’s fucking cool. (It is cool I swear, would I lie to you?)

I want to hear that squee of joy and see something other than the square of television light reflected in their eyes.

It all starts with bit of education and a lot of marketing. Time to crack open some minds and break down some prejudices. *she says, mounting her short pony*





Oh Sylvia, I’m so sorry

Buried in the belly of the Tate Britain are two white rooms.

Their temporary occupants are a 1970’s Women and Work archive exhibition and next door, a display of the art and craft of Sylvia Pankhurst, the women’s suffrage campaigner.

The Other F-word (Feminism) has been getting a lot of media attention recently so I figured why not find out where it all started; with the Suffrage movement. Concerned with important issues like votes for women and equal employment, these ladies were the pioneers of women’s rights a hundred years ago. They were the Pussy Riot of their day, campaigning, petitioning, getting locked up.

They got us the vote.

With all the radical activism going on with Sylvia et al. I was expecting great things from the exhibition.

I expected corset burning. I was disappointed.

It was characterised by absence of excitement and by being six degrees hotter than the rest of the Tate. I think the heating was broken. I considered getting naked in protest but took my coat off instead.

A written request from Hester Reeve and Olivia Plender, on The Emily Davison Lodge letterhead, was on display. Every page of it behind a plate glass display.

It detailed at why the Tate should put on an exhibition of Sylvia Pankhurst’s designs, paintings and sketches. It explained the cultural and political importance of her work documenting women’s working conditions in her sketches and giving the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) a visual identity.

Pankhurst’s depictions of women at work are technically very good; she did win a scholarship to The Royal School of Art in 1900.  From the labelling I understand that her branding for the WSPU was noted as the first known instance of a campaigning group using a logo and colour scheme.  (Yes, I read the labels!)

But the display was staid and felt forced. It appeared that little effort was made to make it appealing to the average gallery-goer.  If I hadn’t already made the decision to stay and read all the labels I would have walked out. It is by far the most visually disengaging exhibition I have ever had the misfortune to view. It wasn’t Sylvia’s fault.

My guess is that the letter on display is meant to contextualise the exhibition but in fact it looked like an excuse. The curator saying, “I’m sorry visitors, they complained too loudly and I had to do it (which is why I couldn’t be arsed to make it accessible to a non-academic audience.” I could be wrong, of course.

I believe in art for all and that anyone can get excited about art and politics given the right setting. Sadly the curation made Pankhurst look like a middle-class Victorian curtain botherer with a penchant for gouache, rather than the revolutionary she actually was. Exhibitions of feminist work and art when curated poorly can actually do more damage than good. This one succeeded in making an important historical figure look irrelevant to my generation. She should be celebrated, not shoved in a cultural box room at the back.

Sylvia Pankhurst and the Suffragettes did 100 years ago in Holloway Prison what Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and her Pussy Riot comrades are doing today in Russia.  With one slight difference.

Sylvia did it with all her clothes on.

Image from

Stroking Barbara Hepworth


She sits quietly, on a plinth, with perfectly chiselled lines, strung like a Stradivarius.

I admired the natural knot and split in the curves. My digits itched for it.

Ooh the temptation.

It would not be the first time I’ve been told off for stroking sculptures.  Security guards have something against it. Last time was in the cast gallery at the V&A. (It was a cast! Not even the real thing!).

I just want to feel the texture of the material, to touch what the artist touched. I want to know how it came into being and run my fingers over the rough and smooth of a masterpiece. Wood, stone, metal and marble, against skin.

Tactile sensation is one of my weirdnesses. From a very young age I wandered after Mother in M&S brushing coats, shirts and skirts with my sticky child hands. With age this expanded to include wood furniture, stone walls, expensive book covers and occasional trees.

I am still that annoying child. I still get told off.

There is nothing sexual about it and it is not every object. I passed, without incident, Epstein’s Jacob and the Angel, all mottled light pink and elephant heavy.  I like it but it doesn’t make my fingers hungry like the rolling waves of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

Neither do the classical features of a darkened brass ‘man wrestling snake’ and his naked marble friends. The fig leaves are off-puttingly small. Those poor muscular men having their marble chippers chopped off. Ouch.

No, the Modernists are much more enticing. I love the clean lines and shape.

But I’m on best behaviour in the Tate Britain. There’s a show I came to see and I’m lost amongst the past masters trying to find it. I have a mission! It would not do to get thrown out.

Look, don’t touch.

Fingerprints hurt the art. The pH levels and grease will ruin everything. The men in white gloves say so. They know these things.

Custodians and curators of these objects are cruel. Putting them on show at arms length. These sculptures are just aching to be caressed.

The rules are rules though.

So as I walked past Moore and Hepworth in the Walk Through I kept my childish hands firmly in my pockets.