I had an unexpectedly long chat with Robert Elms this morning about museums (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p098ppml) (I was on at about 10.35), starting with our joint experience of Tate Modern, which was so important in transforming people’s attitudes not just to museums, but to contemporary art more generally. We talked about the Museum of Modern Art, so incredibly important in the way it was about the modern and contemporary, originally more about exhibitions than establishing a collection, particularly when one remembers that it was started in 1929, only opening its new building on 53rd. Street ten years later. He was sceptical about the Guggenheim in Bilbao, as some people are, but it has certainly been extraordinarily successful in attracting visitors, not just to the museum, but to Bilbao more generally, and it has also always had an adventurous programme of exhibitions. Then, we talked about some of the museums I maybe should have included. I did think of including Kettle’s Yard and, in retrospect, maybe should have done: so important for its domestic setting and so influential in providing an alternative model for the display of art to the Fitzwilliam. And I now feel badly not having included Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which must have been very pioneering in the way that it showed art in the landscape. Maybe I can do a second edition.
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I have had a good and interesting comment on the Guggenheim Bilbao from Marina Vaizey who has visited it fifteen times, which is about twelve times more than me, and makes the point that it has very good, relatively conventional galleries upstairs, which people, including me, are inclined to overlook or forget about owing to the glories of its architecture:-
I visited Bilbao and the Guggenheim there some fifteen times, and found it always a marvellous way to engage, with conventional galleries – whitewalled rectangles – on the top floor for classic shows of paintings etc from New York, and fascinating installations for exhibitions over a wide spectrum on other floors; a wonderful permanent installation from Jenny Holzer….a very happy audience, and as a building it has always seemed to me to fulfill its purpose to show art to art’s best advantage; never a distraction inside, and a landmark that transformed the city on its outside. Thus the sought after but never replicated ‘Bilbao effect’. It was fascinating that the first major press releases sent out at its opening were details about the economic impact of the gallery on the city.