I love all galleries and museums but my 19-year-old daughter does not. She usually zips round them in a flash then adopts a bored face and begs me to “hurry up”. So when she takes her time, reads the blurbs and looks interested I know I’ve found somewhere exceptional. Here she is on the ground floor of York Art Gallery looking at the Flesh exhibition, which she declared “really good”. By the time she got to the top floor – home to the fabulous Lumber Gallery and the Centre of Ceramic Art – she was in raptures and rightly so as this really is a great place to visit.
There has been a fair amount of anger over the charges imposed by York Art Gallery after its revamp and I understand the reasons why. It would be wonderful if all museums and galleries were free. They are medicine for the mind and soul and good for the nation’s health. However, the arts are poorly funded so admission is £7.50 for an adult ticket, £4 for students and under 16s go free with a fee-paying adult. It adds up when you visit as a family. In my case it was £23 but I felt it was worth it as there is a lot to see and the quality of the displays are excellent. Flesh, which runs until March 19, explores how artists represent flesh in their work. It features pieces from the 14th to the 21st century and is remarkable. There are three rooms packed with paintings and sculptures with some past and present greats, including Rubens, Rembrandt, Rodin, Bacon, Degas and Sarah Lucas.
So Flesh is good but my favourite exhibition by far was The Lumber Room: Unimagined Treasures. York-based artist and printmaker Mark Hearld raided the York Museums Trusts collections and put his finds together in one magnificent jumble of paintings, artefacts, objects and curios. His fans (I am one of them) will be pleased to know that some of his own work is in there too. He called it The Lumber Room after the evocative short story by Saki in which a little boy discovers “a large and dimly lit storehouse of unimagined treasures”.
We skipped the Burton Gallery, home to paintings and sculptures, as we’d spent far too long in The Lumber Room and were in need of food. But we did pay a visit to the Centre of Ceramic Art, which is devoted to promoting greater understanding and enjoyment of British studio ceramics i.e. the lone makers. All the big names are here, including Lucie Rie and David Lloyd-Jones and many, many more. So many that I intend to go back to have a longer look.
I’m afraid I wasn’t too impressed with the key exhibit – Clare Twomey’s Manifest, a tower of 10,000 handmade bowls, but then I am an average punter rather than a ceramics buff.
Still, I left on a high after spotting Grayson Perry’s Melanie. I love a man who can make you smile and make you think. Grayson’s Melanie is based on a contestant in “Miss Plus Size International”. The piece explores how the definition of feminine beauty constantly changes.
If you want a souvenir of your visit then the shop is good and has some fab cards and books. The loos are sensational – a shoe-in for Loo of the Year – and the little cafe does excellent coffee.