Ylva French Blog: March 2014

Women in the news

Some of you might have spotted Emmeline Pankhurst recently, giving a speech from a balcony in Clerkenwell the other day. It wasn’t her, of course, just Meryl Streep doing one of her wonderful impressions – she won an Oscar for Margaret Thatcher – this time she is leading the Suffragettes in a new film due to open next year.

So it was all good news for International Women’s Day in March, or was it? The London School of Economics agreed to take over responsibility for the Women’s Library from London Metropolitan University. The latter could no longer afford to run it. The former building near Aldgate for which LMU received a £4.2m Heritage Lottery Fund grant ten years ago had already closed. Campaigners who fought to save the Library in its original space were far from happy, claiming that it will lose its identity and independence. The LSE is accommodating part of the collection in its new Reading Room – it is now known as The Women’s Library @ LSE Collection – which will open at the beginning of April in the Lionel Robbins Building at the LSE with 40 seats (reader’s ticket required). The Exhibition Space showing some of the treasures from the collection and the Activity and Teaching room will be completed later in 2014.

The collection includes more than 60,000 books and pamphlets and 3,000 periodical titles, as well over 500 archives and 5,000 museum objects, including photographs, posters, badges, banners, textiles and ceramics.

And now for the Vikings

As predicted by some the British Museum exhibition Vikings Life and Legend was short on atmosphere but full of learning. The new Sainsbury Exhibition Centre, irreverently likened by Brian Sewell in the Standard to a Weetabix factory, certainly cannot match the Reading Room for atmosphere. On the other hand it is big and can be configured to suit any type of exhibition and objects including the 37m long Viking ship from Roskilde. Most of the ship is not there of course, the model is mostly made up of metal strips, but still striking as you finally escape from the rather tightly configured first gallery (lined with glass showcases, small objects and knee-high labels) and emerge in the giant hall with a dramatic “live” seascape on the opposite wall.

As a Viking descendant did I know more when I left? Yes, of course a bit about the wonderful objects collected and refashioned by the traders as they returned to their own countries. But there was very little about why they set out on these journeys both Eastwards and Westwards, what made them so adventurous and what happened at home while they were away?

The new Exhibition Centre is huge with its 1,100 sq m of exhibition space. It is part of a complex at the north west corner of the BM site which will also include conservation studios, science labs, a collections hub and storage, opening later this year. The architects for the £135m project are Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP). I don’t know what they thought about the Weetabix comment!

Art at the BBC…At Night

The BBC is putting arts at the top of the agenda and in a variety of ways. This is great news, particularly for Culture24 and Museums and Night. This year’s event in May will receive prime time BBC coverage and in the process become even more exciting and worthwile for participants. It’s great news for museums around the UK who put time and effort into this promotion. Museums at Night will take place from Thursday 15 to Saturday 17 May. Ten artists have now been allocated in a bidding process to appear across the country. So look out for Grayson Perry in York and Janette Parris heads for the Cardiff Story Museum. For a full list of events and artists, go to www.culture24.org.uk

More about Veronese

The Veronese exhibition at the National Gallery which opened in March lived up to all my expectations. It makes a resounding case not just for Paolo Veronese as the great Renaissance master but also for showing these spectacular paintings in the main galleries. The Sainsbury Wing exhibition centre can take smaller exhibition, such as Vermeer and Music, when the small spaces came into their own. But it could not have made the Veronese with its 50 mostly large scale paintings come alive. Setting this exhibition in the grand rooms of the National Gallery makes the exhibition very special. All I can say is, follow the five star reviews and go……. And dip into my story when you can: Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting, now at Amazon.

And don’t forget the Museum and Heritage Show at 14th and 15th May.