Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Discombobulated by the National Gallery

I visited the National Gallery in London yesterday to view the Winslow Homer - Force of Nature Exhibition - and I'll be doing a review of this later - probably as a series of smaller posts as there's a lot to comment on and it's open until 8 January 2023.

Afterwards, I walked around the rest of the Gallery - and felt completely and utterly discombobulated! I think it's probably my first visit for over a year and quite possibly longer due to the combination of the pandemic, then avoiding big interior spaces with lots of people pre-surgery, then the getting ready for surgery and the recovery period. Consequently I've no idea how long it's been like this. I think it's probably relatively recent as I came across this article from the Art Newspaper.

Moving Michelangelo and hauling Holbein: renovation headache for London's National Gallery. A bicentenary renovation project makes the London museum play a tricky game of musical chairs with its collection

Anyway - a lot has changed! 

Very oddly, very little of what has changed is explained well on the website - so if you like me haven't visited for a while you might well feel equally discombobulated!

I got more information about what's happening from The Art Newspaper article than the website - which is odd to say the least when you can't project manage updating the website at the same time as making huge changes to the content on display and its layout!

Below is what I found in the Gallery........

The Gallery with the Constables and the Turners and the lovely leather sofas
- one of the few parts of the National Gallery which is relatively unchanged

  • huge sections which are simply not accessible due to restructuring / renovations / getting ready for NG200 in 2024 (which I'd not heard of before). That's as in:
    • Virtually ALL of the Sainsbury Wing is out of action (Rooms 52-59 and 62-66 + the Basement Gallery
    • plus Rooms 1-8 in the Wilkins Building - which is where exhibitions which would have been in the Sainsbury Wing are now being held - as in the new Lucian Freud exhibition
    • plus a lot more rooms on the second floor of the main building - which makes walking around in a circle really difficult - you have to backtrack a lot.
    • I looked at the floor plans afterwards - which have no clear / prominent legend/key and are consequently are nearly incomprehensible
    • you can download the floor plan as at September 2022 which does not explain that grey means inaccessible and makes no distinction between gallery spaces which are closed and spaces given over to other functions of the Gallery which have never been accessible.
    • bottom line - it's very difficult to get your head around even if you're used to the layout of the gallery!
In the next few months, the picture galleries in the Sainsbury Wing will close to prepare for building works as part of NG200. Find out more about individual room closures on the Level 2 floorplan page.

Later this month London’s National Gallery is due to announce plans for its 2024 bicentenary celebrations and an associated building project. But although the much-needed upgrading of its Sainsbury Wing entrance will be welcomed, it poses logistical challenges for the gallery—and it will have a considerable temporary impact on where paintings are displayed. The Art Newspaper (13 June 2022)

  • the explanations within the Gallery of how to move around/through are either absent or confusing. They might make sense to museum staff but I know the Gallery well and I was struggling. I was simply lost muc of the time as to which part of the building I was in - as I've always navigated by art on the walls previously!
  • large parts of the collection have been rehung in different galleries
    • partly to accommodate the need to get the early art out of the Sainsbury Wing
    • partly to accommodate the exhibitions which would usually be in the gallery at the bottom of the Sainsbury Wing have had to come into the main Wilkins Building.
  • Dutch Floral Still Lifes - which I visit every time I got to the Gallery - are absolutely nowhere to be seen.
  • relatively few paintings seem to be in the same place 
  • the 'story of art' in some galleries is really, really weird! It almost looks like "what can fit where" exercise at times.
  • smaller spaces = much more crowded I'd advise going during hours when the huge number of tours are not 'working'
It was a real relief when I got to galleries which looked almost the same as they always do. The Canaletto's and Guardis are in the same place as are the Constables and Turners.

On the plus side I saw more artwork that was new to me than ever seen on previous visits! Some of which is very, very good.

Plus some hanging juxtapositions which improved the viewing - such as the Vermeer Virginals below

Vermeer Virginals
A Young Woman standing at a Virginal (c.1670)
A Young Woman seated at a Virginal (c.1670)
by Johannes Vermeer

What upset me is that this current change is obviously going to last at least until the end of 2024 i.e. at least two more years - and may well change again during that time.

So where's the art - and is it on view?


Apparently you can look up where your favourite artwork is - IF it is still hanging while the changes occur.

NOT ON DISPLAY!!


There's something about moving favourite paintings in art galleries which is not nice...
It's like losing an old friend.....

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