Thursday, 9 April 2009

New Whitechapel disappoints....

....Maybe I am being too harsh here, but I have just visited the newly re-opened Whitechapel Art Gallery and was sorely disappointed. There has been much press coverage recently on this - mostly commending the new space and that it's great to have one of our premier and most original galleries back open for public consumption. But what of this new space through my eyes? Well immediately as I walk round, I feel a little confused. Almost labyrinth like, doors open in to new sections of gallery - slightly raised up some stairs or tucked away around a corner. There is no fluidity to the layout, it feels disjointed and difficult. Also, perhaps because it has only been open for under a week, many doorways are closed off and those that are in use creak furiously when moved - much to the irritation of Gallery staff I'm sure. (Have they not heard of WD40?!)

One of my biggest gripes is saved for the book shop. I had imagined that after such expansive refurbishment and expansion, that the shop would receive a similar boost. I remember it used to be well stocked, but similarly well cramped. It hasn't changed one bit. In fact it has got worse. When I visited on a Thursday mid afternoon, the shop was moderately busy. What of a Saturday afternoon? Thank god I'm not there to witness it, because the current design means that people queueing at the till, have no choice but to block the narrow entrance. Here there is also a book shelf, that if someone is perusing, doubly blocks the entrance. It seems no one has given it the slightest thought and it is a huge let down.

The art collection and current exhibitions are to personal taste and will be liked I'm sure, but again I felt for a (re)opening show they were a little weak. (Click here for current exhibitors). Also, further press coverage has been given to the fact that in 1939, Picasso's Guernica was unveiled at the Whitechapel. It has remained of huge cultural and historical importance in all those years since and artist Goshka Macuga has managed to persuade the United Nations to lend a tapestry reproduction to the Gallery. This tapestry was created by Jacqueline De La Baume in 1955, in collaboration with Picasso and is a life size reproduction of Guernica. Installed in it's own room, with chairs lined in front of it should you wish to reflect upon it, I can't help but feel it is all a little overblown. Certainly not the historical and tragic event upon which the mural, (and subsequent tapestry is based), but the grandeur and forced attention given to a piece of work that is not even the original - and so for me bears much less significance.

My brief visit really only scraped the barrel of a Gallery that is now being declared more of an institute and lauded from all quarters. Clearly as a visitor, who today anyway, didn't want an institute, but merely a look round a gallery and a nosy in the bookshop, I have been left slightly disappointed with what I experienced. Doubtless this will change over time, but right now, it sticks.

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