Fascinating show. The modest scale of the work always comes as a refreshing relief. You have an intimate experience with these images. Their delicacy & the sense of illumination in the best of them lodges them firmly in the memory. They glow and radiate, and draw you in.

The sheer variety in the work is inspiring. So many avenues explored with such insightful power. There’s a fascination for the visible world and its relationship to the unconscious. Relationships and feelings are captured with such revealing enquiry and understanding.

Klee seems to always keep intuition, wonder and play at the forefront of his art. There is nothing programmatic or dogmatically theoretical here. Instead we have a wonderful powerful authenticity.

Art galleries as an essential & inspirational public resource for our daily lives: The Hepworth Wakefield and VAGA

I went to my local art gallery in Brighton Pavilion every Saturday as a child because it was free and very easy to get to. As all kids do, I loved drawing, especially imaginary battle scenes, new football kits and cars.  Art was a natural, essential, part of my life. It was what I saw in books, comics and cartoons on the television, and there were always paper and pencils to hand.

I liked art at school better than anything – it made things visible that would otherwise remain locked in your head.  I enjoyed how I could make something extraordinary (for me anyway) from so little.  It was about the transformation I could make happen through art: I was in control for once, and creating something personal.

Art became a constant source of inspiration and interest.  It banished routine, boredom and frustration. I loved thinking about why one artist was perhaps better than another, why one work lodged in my memory and another faded.  I liked teaching myself by going to exhibitions, looking at art books and always drawing or photographing things.  I gradually immersed myself, as most teenagers do, in music, design, fashion, photography, film, buildings and landscape, and saw how art was linked to all of this as a common thread of inspiration.

I went to art school.  I saw exhibitions everyday, and enjoyed walking around my fellow students’ studios afterhours:  Who was good? What was being discovered? What was engaging? What was new? What could art be? Who was looking at what? How did they do that? Why did they do that? What should I be doing? 

I organised student shows and decided, eventually, to stop making my own art and work in galleries, where I spend most of my time anyway.  Public galleries were what made a town or city special for me.  They were the places to open up your mind and find inspiration.  I’d see exhibitions that fundamentally changed for the better my way of seeing, thinking and feeling. This still happens to me all the time.  I wanted to work in these inspirational places that were free to go into, to share a passion for art and test it out and debate it with others.

I initially got jobs, after graduating, working in the bookshops and on the information desks of the Hayward Gallery, The National Gallery and the British Museum.  I’m glad I had these experiences of what audiences need and want. I decided to ‘get on’ I’d have to do a nine month postgraduate course in Museum Studies and gained my first curatorial job shortly before finishing the course.

I worked at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, which is an inspirational place set up by Jim Ede in the 1950s, putting modernist art, ceramics and natural objects into his home environment, to which he invited the public.  There are no labels – it was all about having your own experience of this beautiful setting where art was what Ede called ‘a way of life’.  I enjoyed the relationship between the collection and the contemporary exhibitions so that there was an ongoing dialogue between past and present.  It’s something that means a great to deal to me now and I know audiences respond positively to this context. If you haven’t been, you must. It’s so memorable and fascinating.

I then moved on as curator to Tate Liverpool, which played an inspirational part in the city’s embracing and using of culture.  The scale of the gallery was far bigger than Kettle’s Yard, and Liverpool was the antidote to gentile Cambridge.  The education work and reaching out to new wide audiences was impressive at Tate Liverpool.  It broke ground in making art relevant and popular for a very wide public, as it still always does in this transformed and wonderful city.

I moved to London after this to work first at the ICA and then Chisenhale Gallery – whose programme now run by Polly Staple is always vital.  It was exciting to be in the capital and be part of a place where so many artists were based.  But eventually I was eager to get back to running a gallery that had both a collection and a contemporary programme, which is how I got myself to The Hepworth Wakefield.

I love to see The Hepworth busy with people of all ages and walks of lifeeveryone, anyone!  It’s a social hub for the city. I like to overhear the conversations, observations, debates, enquiries, amusement, frustration, revelations, pleasure, pride…the list of reactions and emotions is endless. I like to watch people looking at art (sounds a little odd I know!).  It’s about the positive power of art in our lives and what it reveals to us about ourselves, our sense of place and what might be a better future.  It provides meaning and shows us the best of what we can achieve.  Art is a vital and essential part of a good life and society, helping things progress and improve, which they always do.  Every great city and community always has art at its heart.

The Hepworth Wakefield welcomed its one-millionth visitor last week, in just two and a half year’s since opening.  Reaching this milestone offers a timely moment to reflect on the last twelve months of our work as a registered charity. It’s the type of work that is done superbly by every public art gallery up and down the country.

One of the high points of the year was winning the prestigious Clore Award for Learning at the Museum of the Year Awards. It acknowledges the quality of our inspiring work with families, children and young people in the region. We have developed many rewarding and fruitful partnerships with our Local Authority, schools, colleges and universities to ensure our learning programme is a vital and highly valued part of our work.  It’s wonderful that we are so well used as an educational resource by people of all ages and interests.

The importance of working in partnership has become ever more pressing in today’s financial climate.  In Yorkshire we’re blessed with inspiring neighbours who have come together to create the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, comprising ourselves, The Henry More Institute, Leeds Art Gallery and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. We work closely together to share and build audiences for art as a significant part of the region’s tourism economy.  The Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle is putting our region on the international map as one of the world’s most important places to see and experience sculpture.  It’s no surprise given Yorkshire produced Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, two of the twentieth century’s greatest sculptors.

Our regular high-level media presence gives us the reach to build an international audience for the region. The New York Times announced last week that: “Together, Leeds, Wakefield and the Sculpture Park offer an unparalleled and regularly renewed conspectus of modern and contemporary sculpture throughout the year. And Yorkshire has reaffirmed its position on the global arts map.”

The Times included The Hepworth Wakefield in their “Top 50 greatest galleries in the world” list and influential Travel Guide company, The Lonely Planet, described The Hepworth Wakefield as “a new state-of-the-art gallery giving London a run for its money”, highlighting it as one of the three things that makes Yorkshire the third best region in the world to visit in 2014.  This media coverage and activity helps build the vital tourism economy.

All this, of course stems, from the inspiring art we exhibit and our relationships with artists.  Our collection, which is always on show, features some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century.  You can see regularly changing displays of the work Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and their contemporaries each season.  Our regularly changing contemporary programme has a meaningful dialogue with the collection, creating a special context for artists and audiences.

We’ve been busy paving the way for our future development and this summer heralded a new initiative for the gallery, with the opening of our 600 square metre contemporary art space, The Calder.  Realised in partnership with Wakefield Council, this exciting space has breathed life into the disused 19th century former textiles mill opposite the gallery. It’s a part of the ongoing urban regeneration, in which we are a crucial catalyst.

This expansion enables us to make greater creative use of the magnificent site we occupy on the banks of the River Calder with a programme of contemporary exhibitions, as well as music and events.  The inaugural exhibition by Roger Hiorns complemented the installation of his major work Seizure than can now be seen at the beautiful Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Our new Chief Curator joined the team in September.  Andrew Bonacina enables the gallery to gain a broader international reach for our exhibitions programme.  We wan to bring greater international dialogue to the region so we have a place in a world economy. To support this ambitious programme we are building partnerships with Trusts and Foundations, private individuals and businesses to work with exciting artists and reach ever widening audiences.

The Arts Council’s innovative Catalyst Arts programme has this year attracted new support for us as a registered charity by allowing us to claim match-funding from Arts Council England on all new donations we receive. Our learning and exhibitions programme is attracting an ambitious and forward thinking set of people who want to support a charity that is making a significant contribution to the region’s brand, economy and education.

Public galleries are where we come together to grow, learn, think and socialise. They play a significant, wonderful part in my life and I know the large growing audiences who use galleries feel exactly the same way.  But as public galleries we also evangelise tirelessly and encourage people who have never been to a gallery before to come and experience it for themselves: to bring their own life experiences to bear on the great art we exhibit.

VAGA is a wonderful opportunity to feedback into this shared passion we all have for art and the inspirational public institutions that show it throughout the UK.  The broad wide access to art we have is something to be so proud of in this country: it just can’t be rivalled.  We are known the world over for our inventive creativity and public art galleries feed and nurture this remarkable generous, open, aspect of our society. 

Galleries can, and do, regenerate urban areas, they can, and do, create tourism, they can, and do, create international dialogue, they can, and do, open up our thinking and create immense civic pride.  But all this is a wonderful bonus: powerful art has always been a central human endeavour, not just ‘nice to have’ or an ‘arty hobby’, and we need to keep clear, confident sight of its crucial significance and meaning in our public life. Our wellbeing depends on it: we cannot only work and consume.

We can use this public access to great art in so many positive ways, a few of them rightly measurable, most of them so very personal and private. Art is a basic human need and activity and has been from the very earliest times in human history.  Art galleries are an inspirational public resource for all our daily lives and VAGA plays a key part in ensuring this will always remain the case throughout the country, and not just London. 

We need art to be woven into our working, learning, political and social lives to stay creative and open to the myriad possibilities we have to grasp and build on as a society.  Supporting VAGA is one way in which we ensure we don’t let, occasionally, poor short-term thinking and concerns underestimate and undermine the significance and value of the visual arts to the life of this country.  We are exceptionally creative people in the UK, the world knows it, sometimes some of us who live here forget this, or take it for granted. Art improves and graces everything: public art galleries provide access to great art, for everyone.







I love the way Leeds always has so many varied environments & buildings to enjoy. Roundhay Park is probably one of the most beautiful public parks in the UK, it's so well laid out. Headingley has a great array of architecture to appreciate & one of the very best Oxfam bookshops anywhere. I've always been intrigued by this late modernist church, such an inviting building: it's near a wonderful overgrown Victorian church yard too. I'm lucky to live in such a great city with so much to look at. [gallery link="file" orderby="ID"]  



Shops and Bazaars:

The streets of Beyoğlu running off Istiklal Caddesi have a thrilling, disparate and highly unexpected mix of tiny shops.  These range from businesses where a living is being eked out in grubby artisanal workshop surroundings to small chic upmarket bookshops or clothing and furniture boutiques all mixed in together as if they’ve simply been randomly pulled from a tombola. It makes the streets a very visually satisfying & stimulating place to experience.

Each shop is punctuated by its owner often standing outside smoking & watching the street, waiting for business to eventually come. In the meantime the stray cats in varying degrees of health wander in and out of the shops quite at home & not at all unwelcome visitors.


Some streets however specialise in one type of product and all cluster together as if for comfort. I walked along a lengthy road of lightbulb sellers with every variation of any bulb imaginable. It’s as though the Internet had never been invented. I guess Amazon simply doesn’t work here in these traffic clogged streets & labyrinthine passageways and bazaars. Internet shopping would ruin the life of face-to-face commerce and all these micro-businesses that create a vital character for their neighbourhoods.

There does seem to be so much waiting around from these shopkeepers who mark time with their cigarettes, papers and endless sugared teas and coffees.  I wonder what kind of living each of these traders actually makes? How do they expand their market, improve their product? Do they bother? Do they need to?  Some of the shops are in the most hidden away of neighbourhoods, in the UK they’d simply fail swiftly – how many of these businesses are ever easily found? You need a good working knowledge of this city gained by walking it extensively: piecing it together like a giant jigsaw.

The Bazaars are another sensory overload.  Luckily for me I largely have no interest in anything being sold in them but they are astounding in their scale and atmosphere.  How you tell one stall from another I’ve no idea – I negotiate them by walking swiftly and looking into the distance to avoid being sold to or chatted up. I much prefer to watch what people are doing rather then looking at the goods.  The Spice Bazaar is more interesting to me as it sells things to eat, and the smell is intoxicating.

Men and women:


Women are hardly present in public life: walking into the Grand Bizzare is like going to a football match or men’s changing room in a gym.  There’s the same easy cocky complacent male camaraderie in evidence everywhere.  It creates a very faintly predatory atmosphere, even for a man.  It’s slightly boring seeing all these similar looking men as much of the pleasure in people watching is removed when there are so few women around. In the mosques women are relegated to a sort of ‘crèche’ at the back of the ground floor and of course they have to cover themselves up.  This is a society where equality evidently doesn’t operate, and probably never has given the religious and political imperatives to segregate the sexes and ensure the men remain privileged.



What superb inspirational buildings to experience.  The sense of symmetry, contemplative space and sensual appeal of the interiors is a captivating mix.  The courtyards of the mosques allow appreciation of the proportions and design of the building away from the busy bustle of the city street.  The mosques have a solidity and sense of self-containment that is confident, reassuring and inspiring.  The texts that adorn the interiors are exquisitely rendered in beautiful calligraphy that has dynamism and authority.  It’s a pleasure to be relieved of following a pictorial narrative as you do in a church or cathedral.  The levels of abstraction employed are sophisticated and compelling, even without any real working knowledge of Islam.  The decorative tiles seem to use the energy of patterns drawn from nature making the interiors sumptuous and enveloping: I soon realised how derivative of this tradition William Morris was.


The call to prayer is always an extraordinary moment: the voice of the müezzin is plaintive, powerful and very beautiful.  It’s a sound that unfolds across the city at the appointed hours.  To have this kind of active religious observance must provide security and a binding together of people that I have never experienced in the UK.


The Hagia Sophia is one of the most memorable and powerful buildings I have ever experienced.  The initial moment of walking into its vast domed space is literally breathtaking and continued to unfold over the two hours I spent there: the powerful sense of proportion, light, volume and form all work together to be so much more than the sum of their parts.  All architects must feel humbled when they enter it for the first time.  It’s a building in which it’s hugely pleasurable to spend time looking at how it was conceived and marveling at its construction and coherent interior.


The Blue Mosque for me is more impressive outside than in.  Its symmetry is satisfying and the blue and white ceramics inside are impressive but after the Hagia Sophia anything would struggle to compare. 

The Topkapı Palace is a fascinating group of buildings with beautiful enclosed gardens, inviting libraries and chambers all exquisitely decorated. It’s positioned to command a wonderful view of the sea and city: the perfect base for power to demonstrate the wealth of the Ottoman Empire. 


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Bronze at the RA is an exceptional, fascinating and hugely enjoyable show that’ll reward several visits.  I loved the interpretive freedom created for the viewer by omitting chronology and lengthy didactic labels in favour of clear groupings such as gods, heads or vessels.  Each exceptionally well-chosen work was rewarding to spend time with and there’s a dizzying thrill in moving between centuries & cultures in a matter of feet as one goes from one work to the next.  Bronze is the simple rubric for the show but this exhibition’s complex content opened up and created many unexpected connections that left me marvelling at the sheer creativity and powerful inventiveness of what’s displayed here.

It’s a show full of sinuous, straining, writhing, triumphant bodies, mad powerful gods and heroes, weird mythical beasts and inventive observation and feeling.  I moved from room to room and then had to double back on myself several times over to enjoy new connections and take-in more.  It’s a pleasurably exhausting show mixing the familiar and unfamiliar in such surprising, joyful and sometimes disturbing ways.

The bronze itself often had a buffed, oiled bodybuilder sheen that unites form and materials and brings its own seductive transformative power.  There is a precision, solidity and permanence, yet at the same time movement and spirit are also hugely evident in these works.

To name just a few that lodged in my memory: horses galloping in a tight frenzy with cowboys in the saddle, a calm Indian goddess with large breasts suckling an infant, a wonderful serene Roman ram, a pair of simplified powerful leopards from Benin, a madly energised and visceral golem-like de Kooning figure, a deeply sinister, supernatural, Germaine Richier work of a praying mantis/human hybrid.  Of course it was thrilling to see a Barbara Hepworth work in the mix too, holding its own in among so many other powerful works made for so many fascinating reasons – some of which we can only guess at.  This is an unmissable show and a great way to open up to a vast array of inspiring work in a fascinating context.

More on the show at this link: Bronze

Wandering around The Wallace Collection, in part, as an antidote the numbing effects of shopping on Oxford Street is always a huge pleasure.  It’s as though you’re allowed to just pop into some mad aristo’s huge townhouse to case the joint (I always have a thrilling sense, retained from childhood, of ‘why on earth did they let us in?’ when I visit places like this).  One of the things I really like is the very intense shades of different flock wallpaper in each room: it makes white cube galleries look even more like dentists’ waiting rooms, or places where works of art go to convalesce.  I love collections that are richly varied and idiosyncratic, so that it simply doesn’t really matter where your eye rests, it’s all so rewarding.  I rarely read the labels, I just flit and graze from one amazing thing to another and make up my own stories as to what they might be.  

This time I was engrossed by: weird muskets inlaid with ivory – great to have such aesthetically pleasing weaponry, as though a gunfight could be won on the quality of craftsmanship alone rather then a hole in the head.  Or perhaps they’re just perverse toys?  A strange decoratively encrusted small canon – presumably captured from a fairy warship?  Some characterful bronze busts of men with wigs giving them intense and luscious 1970s progrockers’ hair. The superb Gainsborough of some very dozy pretty young aristo sitting alongside her lovely bright alert dog in a florid cartoon broccoli forest (Gainsborough’s brushwork is always so full of enlivening energy).  Some wonderfully depressing and oppressive dutch landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael: the dampness and greyness are miserably palpable – I’d love to live with one and enjoy looking at it to a soundtrack by The Smiths – perfect miserablism all round.

Here’s the link to the place if you’ve not been, it’s free & always so inspiring: The Wallace Collection


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