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Barbara Chandler

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My summer mini-break: 850 miles, three new museums and the Peckham Peace Wall

08/19/2011

Wakefield Three museums (all newly opened) in four days was not bad going, we thought. It was our summer mini-break, and Ben, my husband drove 850 miles, and then some.

First stop Wakefield to see the new Hepworth gallery by David Chipperfield (hepworthwakefield.org). This sits beside a dramatic rushing weir, but disappointingly you won’t get that view if you stick to the received route from the car park over the new bridge into the museum (and past some wonderful old boatyards). You have to walk around the building and cross over the road bridge. The building is a bit shed-like, uncompromisingly modern, has a super-smooth “pigmented” concrete finish, and from the outside very few window openings.

The cafe is very gloomy, and in the ladies loo people puzzle over how to turn on the taps. Notices are pinned up to tell us that the taps are sensor-controlled. Every tap in public places seems to work differently these days – what happened to simple cross-heads?

Hepworth hand at Wakefield Inside, the galleries themselves are very beautiful white spaces with lots of light, and the views to the outside (over the weir and boatyards, with more sculpture) are almost as thrilling as the art inside.

A cast Barbara Hepworth made of her own hand (pictured, left) was compelling – “the left hand is the thinking hand,” she said. “It must be relaxed and sensitive to rhythms of thought.”

Outside a towering insect-like pavilion in black scorched wood was a haven for children and picnickers. It turned out to be a sculpture, too, called Black Cloud, by Heather and Ivan Morison

Midland Hotel with Eric Gill medallion on ceiling Then, a night at the recently-restored Midland Hotel at Morecombe, an art deco treasure, with sculpture and painting by Eric Gill (pictured, right).

And on up to Liverpool, for a couple of nights in the Holiday Inn at Albert Docks, with a super view across the Mersey from our converted-warehouse room (bit noisy on Saturday with hen and stag parties, though).

The Museum of Liverpool opened on 19 July 2011, and got 13,234 visitors on its first day (liverpoolmuseums.org.uk). On our visit a couple of weeks later, it was similarly packed. We could well see why. Outside is visitor friendly with lots of places to sit, and inside an engrossing assembly of imaginative and interactive displays, illuminating all aspects of this great city.

Climb a wide spiral staircase to the top, to find a huge window (8 by 25 metres) looking out over those famous buildings of the iconic Liverpool skyline – the Three Graces. These are firstly the Royal Liver Building (1908-11) topped by huge birds (the guarding female gazes outwards, the male inwards to see when the pubs are open – or so we were told). Then there is the Cunard Building (1914-16) with its palatial Italianate facade; and finally the old offices of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (1903-07), with its vast centre dome. There’s a similar window at the other end.

Critics have mixed views on the museum architecture but I thought the building had a splendid shape. And a massive steel frame apparently has enabled the big column-free spaces which make walking round so easy. I’m not so sure about the faceted stone cladding. But I loved the big blue sign outside the museum proudly proclaiming its name (though probably not architect-designed). Oh, and whilst in Liverpool we took in the Magritte show – well worth seeing and on until 16 October.

By contrast the discreet tasteful signs of the new Chipperfield galleries at Wakefield and Margate are very tasteful – but very low vis.

Turner contemporary MargateWe went to Margate on a separate day trip, to the new Turner Cotemporary (turnercontemporary.org). Actually, there was only one Turner painting on display, though a pretty big one. The Gallery will house a series of modern art shows – “Revealed” is the one we saw, open until 4 September – “exploring the borders between what we see and know and the truly fantastic.” I loved Daniel Burne’s huge circle with mirrors, framing the real sea, and Ellen Harvey’s Arcadia booth, with fairground letters outside and scenes of Margate hand-engraved on mirrors inside – magical.

Peckham peace wall Back home, I wanted to see the so-called Peckham Peace Wall for myself, and caught a train to Peckham Rye. There I found the boarded-up front of a Poundland – much more extensive than I had imagined – covered with post-it notes expressing love for the area, condemnations of violence and hope for the future.

New notes were being added all the while, and there was a steady stream of people stopping to read – of all races and ages. Nearby, a rap concert outside the library was launching a campaign for a new community centre. Well worth the trip.

* All pictures by www.barbarachandler.co.uk - see more on http://www.flickr.com/photos/barbarachandler/


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