Magazine article The Spectator

Something Old, Something New

Magazine article The Spectator

Something Old, Something New

Article excerpt

Peter Blake: A Museum for Myself

The Holburne Museum, Bath,

until 4 September

Very last chance to see the inaugural exhibition at the magnificently revamped Holburne Museum - a selection from the collections of Peter Blake, together with some of his own work. If, as Geoffrey Grigson suggested, the mind is an anthology, and the museum case or exhibition is a map of that mind, then what a remarkably diverse but ordered person Mr Blake must be. The new temporary exhibition gallery at the top of the Holburne's new wing is filled with images of fantasy, dream and even nightmare, but everything is calmly laid out with great clarity and precision. The result is obsessional but intriguing.

The museum reopened in May, its Grade 1 listed building restored and extended by Eric Parry Architects, the grand staircase moved, and the new spaces locked together with the old in a way that makes a harmonious and workable whole. The building stands at the top of Great Pulteney Street, looking down towards the river and the town, with Sydney Gardens at its rear. The original facade is unchanged, as the extension is at the back of the building, reconnecting it with the park in which it is situated, and giving it, in effect, a new (garden) front.

The glass box of the extension is articulated by, and constructed around, a series of vertical ceramic beams, subtly mottled like old copper. On the ground floor a spacious cafe looks out on to the gardens through appropriately transparent walls.

The glass and ceramic extension blends surprisingly well with the warm honey tones of the original Bath stone, details of which are newly visible from inside the extension.

I used to visit the old museum quite often when I had a flat in Bath, and the changes are remarkable. The building has been opened up and restored, provided with 80 per cent more display space and a variety of vistas between the rooms, linking inside and outside. The experience of walking through it is now richly varied and exciting, with the architecture collaborating with the displays to offer changes in pace and narrative. On the first floor, the ballroom looks as grand as it sounds, with its unobtrusive new display cases and a long dining table set with beautiful silver and china.

Sir William Holburne's own collection (he founded the museum in the 19th century) is evocative of a crowded interior, while in and above this display are suspended 11 vases in a dramatic segue between this floor and the mezzanine upstairs.

On the mezzanine are the collections of 18th-century sculpture and figurines, including a wonderfully ornate Bow porcelain 'Girl with monkey and parrots', and then on the top floor the restored picture gallery boasts a new Gainsborough portrait on loan and several additional Zoffanys. A side gallery offers a group of drawings by the museum's artist-in-residence, Karen Wallis, telling the story of the rebuilding. Then at the back is the new temporary exhibition space, currently hosting Peter Blake's cabinets of curiosities. One is filled with elephants and shell boxes and figures, another contains puppets from a Punch and Judy outfit, and between them is positioned an early Blake object/collage entitled 'Locker'.

There are two more cabinets, one displaying small sculptures that Blake has collected by such artists as David Nash, Clive Barker, Colin Self and Claes Oldenburg, and the final one focusing on the theme of Celebrity. …

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