For Women’s History Month, I thought I would write about somebody who was instrumental in preserving many works of modern art. I am by no means an expert on Peggy Guggenheim, but her name has cropped up in several books I’ve read about the birth of modern art and, in particular, Surrealism. What stood out to me was her passion for art and her friend’s creative pursuits. But, as this short piece will tell you, her patronage of key movements such as Surrealism, Cubism and Abstractionism changed the fate of many paintings.
On the 26th of August 1898, Peggy Guggenheim had the good fortune to be born into a wealthy family residing in New York. Her father Benjamin Guggenheim had, along with his brothers, procured their finances through the mining and smelting of metals. Her mother Florette was also no stranger to affluence as part of the Seligman family who had made their money in the world of investment.
Being born into such privileged position in society allowed Peggy Guggenheim to travel and collect vast amounts of art along the way, perhaps taking inspiration from her uncle Solomon R. Guggenheim. She moved to Paris in the 1920’s where she became involved with the avant-garde artists living in Montparnasse and later marrying Max Ernst a prominent Surrealist.
It’s no secret to anybody who has read my work before that, like the majority of bibliophiles, I adore libraries. Whilst visiting various cities and villages around the UK I have always taken the chance to visit their libraries, one of which I ended up working at. This desire to visit such public institutions hasn’t been limited to my time travelling around the UK and pre-pandemic I started planning trips abroad. Along with museums and art galleries, historical houses and theatres, libraries were present on my bucket list of things to see. Unfortunately, like many of you, my plans were derailed by the Coronavirus outbreak. Whilst my plans to visit such wonderful educational institutions have been put on hold, I’m choosing to remain optimistic about the next few years. Below I have listed the top five libraries that I would like to visit once we return to a new state of normal.
The Admont Library- Austria
Situated in the Benedictine Monastery of Admont Abbey is the world’s largest monastery library. Designed in 1764 and constructed by Josef Hueber (1715–1787), the building was completed in the late baroque style in 1776. It’s seven ceilings were painted by then 80-year-old Bartolomeo Altomonte (1694–1783) who specialised in large scale frescoes in 1775. These murals were painted to depict the close relationship between religion and the arts and sciences. Furthermore, Josef Stammel’s (1695–1765) limewood carvings ‘The Four Last Things’ situated at different points within the library mark a great distinction from the light an airy feel of the murals. In Christian theology they represent the last stages of a man’s life: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Amongst all of this impressive architecture is the library collection itself which holds 70,000 manuscripts in the Abbey’s 200,000 strong collection.
Want to know which other libraries made my list? Read the full article by clicking on this link.
Unfortunately, my plans to visit a variety of exhibitions last year had to be scrapped. Sadly, many museums had to either delay or completely discard some of the retrospectives that have taken years to plan and set up. The closure of museums, historic houses, and other cultural venues hasn’t been easy for the people employed by them or the public who continue to support them. Whilst things are still a bit rocky at the moment, I’m choosing to remain positive about the oncoming year and have even dared to book tickets to a few exhibitions. Below I have listed the ones I’m most excited for.
Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser -Victoria and Albert Museum
Open: 27 March 2021
This exhibition explores 157 years of Alice in Wonderland. The exhibition promises to take visitors on a journey through the story’s evolution. Whilst the original manuscript, inspired many during Lewis Carroll’s lifetime, his world has been reinvented and adapted by numerous artists who have taken inspiration from his world. From surrealists to fashion designers, this interactive showcase explores it all. Special features include a look at the life of Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired the novels, and a chance to experience wonderland through virtual reality. With theatrical sets designed by Tom Piper, known for his stage designs at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and immersive environments (including a secret passageway) it should be a treat!
YaYoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms – Tate Modern, London
29 March 2021 – 27 March 2022
I have been obsessed with these mirror rooms for quite some time now. I believe that Kusama presents a unique vision of the world through her installations which are truly beautiful. The Tate will be hosting two of them. The first, Infinity Mirrored Room-Filled with the Brilliance of Life, was originally showcased at the Tate in 2012 as part of Kusama’s retrospective. The second, Chandelier of Grief (pictured above) will have visitors in for a spellbinding experience. For me, her installations challenge people’s perceptions of space, providing a brief window of escapism for those that feel closed in by the normality of the world.
This exhibition explores the relationship between humans and technology through an array of installations. Featuring commissioned work from artists, museum goers will be able to learn about the history of artificial intelligence. The display promises to give us a glimpse into the not-so-distant future as well as look into some of the debates surrounding the rising influence of technology.
Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein – Bath
Open: Spring 2021
This one isn’t actually an exhibition, it’s an entire museum! I had heard whisperings of commemorating Mary Shelley’s stay in Bath when I was a student there but hadn’t realised, until doing a quick google search, that this museum had been in development. When people think of Bath, an idyllic Georgian city comes to mind with most thinking of famous residents such as Jane Austin or Beau Nash. Whilst the story of Mary Shelley’s time in Bath may be less well known, it is very significant. Of course the reason behind her excursion to Bath was due to her scandalous entanglement with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. It was during her time there that she was said to have written Frankenstein. The unique sensory experience rightfully cements Mary Shelley’s place in Bath’s history. Expanding over four floors, Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein explores the life of Shelley and how the conception of her delightfully haunting novel came to be. It also documents the longevity of Frankenstein by showing how it has been re-imagined in different media. The website comes with a warning that this may not be suitable for children due to dimly lit areas and scenes of a disturbing nature. Clearly not for the faint hearted!
Hopefully, this year will see things return back to a new state of normal with museums and heritage sights reopening to the public. I’m excited to start exploring these wonderful institutions again and I hope, dear reader, that you are too.
Libraries have a unique and fundamental role within communities. Working as a Library Services Assistant at the best of times, let alone in a pandemic, means that I’m constantly reminded of this fact. As a reader of this blog, you’re probably aware of some of the more obvious aspects of libraries but, as the demand for more and more public services to justify their position in society has grown, libraries have adapted. Below, I have listed some of the more wide-ranging services that libraries offer to the public. To me, and many others, they have become essential to the wellbeing and growth of society
They give some of the most financially vulnerable in our society access to FREE resources. As well as books, many public libraries offer use of computers and access to the internet. Whilst printing can come at a charge libraries give children, that don’t have access to ICT facilities at home, the chance to print their homework off at no cost.
They encourage social interaction and combat loneliness, especially within older age groups. Even when the library was closed to the public, in the first lockdown, many of our regular users rang up simply to have a chat. I learned that for many of them, coming into the library and chatting to staff was the only social interaction they had on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, many libraries have a bookmobile service to deliver books to those in rural areas and volunteer initiatives to give housebound people access to library materials. These services have helped many people feel less isolated, especially during the pandemic.
Libraries can be designated ‘safe spaces’ for those that need it. A big part of creating these safe spaces is by promoting inclusivity. Whether it’s celebrating Black History Month or Pride, the library is designed to be accommodating to all.
The educational value of libraries is pretty obvious in the fact that they give free access to books, however many community libraries also offer opportunities for learning. These activities are usually not restricted to those of a certain age and are multigenerational. From reading groups for children to classes for those that are less confident with using technology, libraries facilitate all kinds of accessible learning.
I could go on, but the list above demonstrates some of the essential services that libraries have to offer. I hope that they will encourage you, if you’re not already, to pay your local libraries a visit in support of the work they do.
The live music industry has been hit hard by the Coronavirus Pandemic and there are many small venues, crucial to giving talented musicians a platform to showcase their work, which sadly won’t recover financially from it. Such venues, dotted all over the UK, have facilitated and supported a growing cultural framework for years by introducing generations of people to new musical movements, artists, and more. Whilst I wish I could write about the contribution of every single venue in the UK, an impressive feat that would take most of my life to complete, I have instead settled on writing about three which I believe showcase both their importance to music history and to the growth of the live music industry today. I have given a short introduction to each below.
Moles Nightclub, Bath
Founded by Phil Andrews, who also happens to co-own the Jane Austen Museum, the club opened on New Year’s Eve in 1978. The venue was initially for folk and jazz artists. However with the arrival of disco, Moles had to modernise in order to keep up with the rapidly changing music scene. The range of music on offer at Moles soon grew to incorporate live rock music. By the late 1980’s Moles had established itself as a popular destination for touring musicians. Phil extended his club to include a recording studio which saw the likes of Elbow grace it’s doorway.
Now, Moles Nightclub has become a favourite for students with an array of varying music tastes. Whilst Cheesy Tuesday’s will accommodate anyone with a love for the noughties, Wednesday nights are now dedicated to rock and metal, for anyone with a taste for the heavier stuff. The club also has brilliant links with music students and upcoming bands. Moles provides a platform for new talent to showcase their creative portfolio, network, and grow. I myself have discovered many great artists through going to various events.
De Montfort Hall, Leicester
De Montfort Hall was built by the Corporation of Leicester and finished in 1913. The hall has had some notable guests over the years. In the 1960’s both The Beatles and Bob Dylan sold out the venue, an accomplishment that other artists such as The Rolling Stones were unable to achieve. The hall was also a stop on David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust Tour in 1973.
Nowadays De Montfort Hall is not only used to showcase live music. It has become a hub for opera, ballet, and religious festivals. Until recently, the grounds of De Montfort Hall hosted Simon Says Festival. Created in partnership with a few of Leicester’s independent music venues, the festival gave homegrown talent the opportunity to connect with wider audiences.
The Cavern Club, Liverpool
We all know where I’m going with this one. The venue is probably most well known for playing host to The Beatles, but I’m going to give a little run down of its history which begins before that. In 1957 the venue opened its doors for the first time. Named after the French club Le Caveau De La Huchette Alan Sytner, the club’s owner, wanted it to become a popular venue for Jazz music. His plan was pretty successful with many Jazz legends performing at the venue such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Marie Knight, and Big Bill Broonzy. They also hosted the Quarry Men Skiffle Group which both John Lennon and later Paul McCartney were members of. The 1960’s saw the takeover of Beat Music and the rise of The Beatles. Their first performance took place on the 9th of February 1961 albeit with a slightly different line up since the group were initially a quintet with Stuart Sutcliffe on Bass and Pete Best on Drums. It was at one of their performances that Brian Epstein spotted them. He became their first manager and secured them their first record contract. However, when the band appeared in 1962, Sutcliffe and Best were no longer apart of the line-up with Ringo Starr making his first appearance on drums. Their last performance as a group took place on Sunday the 3rd of August 1963. After a short closure in 1966 the club was reopened by Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The newly refurbished club had new renovations including a souvenir shop and café. The 1970’s saw the likes of Status Quo, Queen, and Suzi Quatro grace the venue.
The 1980’s saw The Cavern Club enter a very turbulent time. On the 9th of December 1980, Beatles fans all over the United Kingdom woke up to the news that John Lennon had been fatally shot. This saw the music venue become a site of mourning and remembrance for many local fans. The club also saw a series of redevelopments with the creation of a bar, restaurant, and shop. The 1990’s saw the venue change hand’s with Cavern City Tours becoming new owners of the club. The space continued to be a springboard for new talent well into the 2000’s. Today, the Cavern Club still promotes live music but also works as a heritage sight, paying homage to its long and varied history.
I have given a very brief overview of each venue above (I really didn’t do The Cavern Club justice!), but I hope that my summaries have given an idea of how they’ve been influential in helping music to thrive.
It’s been a difficult year for the arts. The Coronavirus pandemic put the plans of theatres on hold. For many this has had dire financial consequences with some having to close their doors for good. Leicester has been hit worse than most places with the extended local lockdown curbing any plans for rehabilitation. For many, the theatres of Leicester City are a safe space, a place to learn and to explore their passions. In this article I will explore how some of the theatres have contributed to the community and why their survival is crucial for artists living in the Midlands.
The Little Theatre
The home of Leicester Drama Society, the theatre is run mostly by volunteers. Having provided entertainment for the past ninety years, the venue has a lot of history. Running twelve shows a year, hosting a youth theatre programme, and being a part of the annual Leicester Comedy Festival is impressive, especially when you consider the fact that the theatre self-sufficient when it comes to financing their shows. The venue provides a space for budding actors, directors, and writers to showcase their talent as well as providing workshops for those interested in the technical aspects of theatre. Sadly, they are unable to offer these services due to the pandemic which also means that they can’t raise substantial funding to continue their work.
Theatre is always more than just theatre, but this venue in particular has worked hard to engage the local community by providing opportunities for people from all walks of life. The theatre itself is part of the Y charity, the leading organisation on providing safe spaces for homeless children and adults. Their National Lottery funded project Y Heritage, a collaboration between themselves and multiple organisations across the city, has worked to help engage young people in heritage projects. Not only has this worked to help people gain new skills, it has also aided the preservation of key cultural spaces by integrating them into the lives of the next generation. The theatre is an extension of this, offering a variety of workshops for young creatives. For example, the Y Theatre hosts Rough Draft scratch nights in which budding artists can showcase their work and get feedback from their audience. Furthermore, I have seen first-hand how the work of this charity has changed people’s lives and this work must continue. If you would like to find out more about what they do, click here.
The Haymarket Theatre (1973-2007) (2017-2020)
One of my earliest memories of theatre is seeing a production of the Wizard of Oz on a trip with my primary school at the Haymarket Theatre. Whilst the theatre, located on the upper levels of the Haymarket shopping centre, may not seem all too impressive it has a very colourful history. Initially operated by the Leicester Theatre Trust, the venue saw productions of Oliver! (1977), Me and My Girl ( 1984), and Madame Butterfly (1989). These productions saw the likes of Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins (yes, you read that right) visit the town. When the Curve theatre was built, the Leicester Theatre Trust moved to their new venue and the Haymarket remained closed for ten years. In 2017 the Haymarket Consortium took over management of the theatre which re-opened its doors. Whilst they had many successful shows, the prolonged closure of the theatre due to the coronavirus pandemic meant that they went into liquidation and have now closed permanently.
I was fortunate enough to see what ended up being the last performance of The Phantom of the Opera touring production for a while. The Curve’s initial creation caused a stir within the local community, its design coming under harsh criticism by being described as no less than an eye-sore. But in the passing years, love for the theatre has grown. They have also provided many opportunities for the community to participate and learn with them. As well as hosting the Curve Young Company and Curve Community Company, they also run Curve Connect a free membership scheme open to creatives who want to network. Furthermore, they also started the Pleasance Partnership in which they work with Midlands based artists to help develop their work for its debut at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information about the theatre, please click here.
Food for Thought…
I hope that giving a small introduction to these four theatres has given an insight into their importance to the community. The work they do is vital for the local community. I hope that reading about some of the things they do, other than putting on great productions, has convinced you to explore and support some of the artistic institutions that your local town has to offer.