Saturday 24 March 2012

Tudor House and Southampton City Art Gallery

Tudor House and Garden reopened last year, and I didn't visit until yesterday.  The garden is a tremendous oasis, especially in this week's blazing sunshine.  My "research trip" ended up taking a couple of hours.

The property has so many periods and changes of use (variously between one and three dwellings; domesticity and small industry; falling apart, re-styled and heritage-ized) can't be concealed, but make it a place to have fun with history.  The Tudor garden has been straightened up; the old kitchens have satisfyingly smelly lacquered foods on show; the semi-dramatised audioguide (see the "wand" above) is pleasingly silly; there are medieval clothes to try on in a mirror; the remnants of the Edwardian museum have become an exhibit in themselves; and the Norman ruins of King John's Palace, behind the garden, are crying out for theatrical use.  There's even space for temporary exhibitions.  From March to October it's Susan Cutts' "Cherish":  paper pulp sculpted into gowns and garlands.

Before the Sea City museum opens next month, it's worth shouting about the City Art Gallery's impressively lively programme.  The calm, airy central hall always belies the bristling collection.  There's a grand show of Titanic art by local artists of all types (upstairs and downstairs); a retrospective of British surrealism centred on Roland Penrose, along with Desmond Morris and John Tunnard among others; a show of the use of the colour red in painting from the Renaissance to the 1990s (followed by a small room of work in many colours, with "Vorticist leanings", as if by way of adjustment into the hall again) and  pieces by two painting chimpanzees.

The new museum comes with the exciting prospect of a trip up the clock tower.  A view over the city is hard to come by - unless one arrives on a cruise ship; and the huge area of docks is a mystery to the general public.  The "Waterlitz" travelling performance should celebrate the port when it chugs into Southampton, with what looks, from the publicity material, like the colossal floating figure of a man, block-built of shipping containers, with Stomp-style industrial japery.  Here is a slightly nightmarish preview.  The big day is 16th June.

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