28 June 2011

Peter Blake at the Holburne Museum, Bath

Sir Peter Blake, RA will be 80 next year and spent 10 years of his long artistic career living near Bath (SW England). Appropriately the reopening of Bath’s Holburne Museum is being marked by a show he has curated: Peter Blake A Museum for Myself. Blake is best known for his Pop art, particularly the cover for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper LP. He is a compulsive and eclectic collector – model elephants, shell teapots, images of Monroe and other curious things are artfully arranged in this show. The displays seem to draw even the most sceptical visitors into Blake’s view of the world. There are family tickets available for this enjoyable summer holidays exhibition which runs to 4 September. Access to the Holburne’s permanent collection of art and other decorative objects is free.

The architect of the extension to the Museum, Eric Parry, has managed to attract the praise of both the Guardian and the Telegraph, no mean achievement in itself. Designing a substantial addition to a neo-classical Georgian building in Bath must be one of the more challenging commissions to receive. A extension faithful to the existing style can disrupt the original, probably carefully considered, proportions, and, even if well-executed, may look flaccid – Bath has some of those. A bold, but inevitably discontinuous, contemporary addition risks attracting the wrath of the “monstrous carbuncle” brigade. Parry chose the latter and it seems to have worked well. The frontage facing Great Pulteney Street has not been affected, while the rear view is dominated by the extension which conceals most of the original. 

Because of the confines of the Holburne’s grounds, there are only a few sightlines of the inevitably tricky interface between the old and new.

The Holburne extension cost over £11 million provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The ground floor, in the modern way, is given over to a café, so at a rough guesstimate that might be about about £4000 to £5000 per sq ft of gallery space useful for exhibits. Most of the visitors didn’t look the lottery ticket-buying type.

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