Monday, 20 January 2014

Culture on the cheap

Every time we go abroad I am shocked by how expensive it is to visit art galleries and museums. No wonder tourism to London is soaring – apparently a new record last summer with the number of foreign tourists up by 20 per cent. Official figures have shown that close to 5 million visitors came to London between July and September 2013 and they spent £3.372 billion which is up, even on the Olympic year.

Of course they will be visiting many tourist attractions for which they will pay but, for example, the National Gallery said that visitor numbers were “through the roof” up 17 per cent on the prior year. Unless you are attending one of the special exhibitions – it is FREE. The V&A is free; the British Museum is free -  and when I have visited very few people have put money in the boxes at the front. They are not free in Europe – but this is a rant for another day.

The purpose of this is to emphasise how you can enjoy the cultural delights of London for no or very little money.  On Friday I was walking past Somerset House and decided to visit the Isabella Blow - fashion galore exhibition. This is not one of the free ones but at £12.50 it seemed very reasonable. (The main collection that is housed there, the Courtauld Collection charges £6.00 - contrast this with one of my favourite small galleries in Basel Foundation Beyeler which charges 26.80 Swiss Francs (about £18.00) to visit the collection.) 

Back to Isabella Blow – you can read all about her in the link above – just to say it is a stunning show with films about her, and of her, and amazing couture clothes and hats from her own and other collections. Couture is about as relevant to me as sky-diving but when you see these clothes and hats up close you realise that the dividing line between this and art is very fine.  I came out uplifted.

Sunday we visited another favourite of mine, The Wallace Collection.  This is FREE and importantly it is not huge so you can while away a couple of hours and get an overview of most of it.  I can’t even begin to list some of the highlights as there are so many – paintings, porcelain, furniture, some amazing snuff boxes – and arms and amoury (the only part that is really not of interest to me).  They also have an exhibition of contemporary glass, which is quite quirky.  (They have substantially restored the building - have a look at the drapes and the cords holding them – these were commissioned from the same factory in France that made the originals and are stunning.) Having just visited the Isabella Blow exhibition it did occur to me that there are parallels between Reynolds or Watteau painting fine silk and satin and Julian Macdonald and Philip Treacy producing garments and hats from it. 

Today, Monday, was another bargain, and not far from the Wallace Collection, a lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall, a mere £10 and you could also have listened to it for free on BBC Radio 3!

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