I am discovering that writing a blog is partly about clarifying my thoughts on a subject. Please excuse this post, as my thoughts are more muddled than usual.
I have been fortunate enough to visit some amazing art galleries (and museums). A few of these have been outside the UK, including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Orangerie in Paris, where, predictably, I cried to see at last the huge Monet waterlily paintings I had read and dreamed about for so long. Less well known is the Kröller-Müller Museum in Holland, which has a lovely sculpture park set in the woods.
At home, Tate St. Ives is one of the loveliest galleries I know, both in setting and in design. The Yorkshire Scupture Park is what it sounds like. But I particularly like the more quirky, individual ones: Kettle’s Yard, the former home of collectors Jim and Helen Ede, in Cambridge (sadly closed at the time of writing); the Russell-Cotes museum in Bournemouth; Pallant House in Chichester.
There are so many more, but I want to mention the great London galleries. The National is astounding, especially the Sainsbury wing, which presents an early Renaissance collection in fresh and exciting views. My earliest love as a gallery was the Tate, now Tate Britain, which retains its charm for me. I remember seeing Picasso and Braque collages and for some reason being impressed by the newspapers used in them. (I can’t pretend to like Tate Modern, which seems to dwarf even the greatest art; apart from Rodin’s ‘The Kiss”, which retains its humanity even in the vast spaces. Perhaps I should go again and reconsider.)
What do the galleries mentioned in the last paragraph have in common, along with the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the Victoria and Albert and others around the country? Correct. Entry is free. Now here is where I might get confusing. I believe that encountering art is a valuable, life-enhancing experience. Mrs Oblique says it “lifts the soul”. It makes you look at the world in fresh ways. We have take school children to galleries and been amazed to see them cry because “it’s so beautiful”. I believe that everybody should have this experience. Furthermore, our collections are owned by us, locally and nationally. We shouldn’t be charged to see what is ours.
My favourite art gallery, anywhere, is Southampton. It’s a lovely space, or series of spaces. It’s not a daunting size. It has varied and fascinating exhibitions. There is a large collection which is regularly rotated. It has a good education programme. Above all, it’s free. You can wander in at lunchtime, at the weekend… whenever the mood takes you. If your children want to go, you don’t have to think about the cost.
In my very muddled opinion, publicly owned art should be free to all. Southampton is a shining example. Long may it continue.
Photograph by Jim Champion [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons