Sorry about the pun in the title, breaking my own rule regarding punning headlines but actually it does capture what we felt after our visit during our recent trip up to London. There is something about these old industrial buildings that makes them work for contemporary display spaces. Sydney has its own Powerhouse Museum which is a museum of Applied Arts & Sciences and the old Balmain Powerhouse at the entrance to the peninsula is scheduled to be converted to retail, business and community use which one hopes will include some “arts” space. The scale of them just seems to work and they remain as reminders of our industrial history especially as they are often located in places where all other signs of industrial activity have long since been removed in our post-industrial urban centres.
The approach to the building itself is very dramatic as one walks away from the southern side of St Paul’s Cathedral through a commercial footway and down onto the Millennium bridge. From here one is afforded views of the river and all the many river front buildings not all of which are a success I am afraid. Nevertheless it has a certain raffish charm and energy.
The building itself has the ability to overwhelm with the sheer scale of the Turbine Room which is so massive that it has been possible to create six levels of exhibition and administrative space alongside it. I think that the architects did a very good job in laying out the space and the amazing thing is that a whole new extension is currently being built onto the back of the building in the shape of what looks like a huge, twisting chimney stack which completely fits the existing building. It is due to be opened around the middle of this year. You can see it poking up behind the main building on the right of the picture at the top of the post. This indicates the scale of the ambition behind this Museum and also the size of the collection that it must be amassing. My only previous visit was several years ago when I was in London for a business trip for SPSS and on that occasion I was impressed by the building but disappointed by the exhibits. This time around I was much more struck by the two substantial displays from the permanent collection as well as the current temporary show of works by Alexander Calder.
Two things I am not usually particularly keen on are sculpture and “Modern Art” but here was an example of both that I did really like and I suppose that was due to it being unique and original and also, in its final form, very beautiful. The work by Alexander Calder in this exhibition date mainly from the 1930s and 1940s and exemplify his innovations in wire constructions and in mobility. In fact Calder is credited with inventing the “Mobile” – a term coined by none other than Marcel Duchamp in 1931 to describe Calder’s kinetic abstractions. Below are two pictures that I sneaked in the exhibition where photography was not permitted and to the right I have posted a gallery of official pictures from the show which give a very good idea of the work. I would add, though, that they do not convey scale. Many of these large, later mobiles were hanging in very large spaces and need to be seen that way to be appreciated for their delicate beauty.
I have also posted a small gallery of pictures of the views Thames from the Tate and the footbridge and another of selected works from the general exhibitions that I liked together with a few shots of the interior of the building showing the Turbine Hall, the old winding gear and some of the public space.