The Musical Museum

The Musical Museum

I’ve gone past The Musical Museum in Brentford a few times on the bus, but had never been until it was open for free for the 50th anniversary weekend. Though I was supposed to be packing for my holiday, I took a break in order to go down to Kew Bridge.

Inside the entrance
Inside the museum

The museum contains one of the world’s foremost collections of automatic musical instruments, including pianos, orchestrions, orchestrelles and violin players, among others. The star of the collection is the Wurlitzer organ, which is located in the hall. When I arrived, a tour was just going into the hall, so I tacked onto the end and enjoyed a quick performance from the tour guide. We also got to see the organ lowered down into the pit!

The Mighty Wurlitzer
One of the museum’s instruments

As well as having a look around myself, I attended the beginning of the next tour, in which the enthusiastic guide played us some of the instruments. This was great fun and I found the ingenuity and cleverness of these machines fascinating. There were several children there and they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

One of the museum’s instruments
One of the museum’s instruments

The museum normally costs £10 but as I mentioned, it was free on the anniversary weekend. The museum completely relies on entry fees to run and maintain the instruments, so I’d urge you to visit and check out this quirky and unusual museum.


Address: 399 High Street, Brentford, TW8 0DU


Opening Hours: Fri-Sun (& Bank Holiday Mondays) 11am-5pm

Prices: Adult £10, Concession £17.50, Child £4; under-5s free

Digital Revolution – Barbican

Described as “the most comprehensive presentation of digital creativity ever to be staged in the UK”, Digital Revolution, an immersive exhibition of art, design, film, music and videogames at the Barbican, is one of the big exhibitions of the summer. I visited on Saturday afternoon, and thankfully my Barbican membership allowed me free entry without having to wait for an available timeslot – a definite perk of membership!

There were three main sections to the exhibition. The first, which took up the whole of the Curve and several feet outside of it, was by far the largest. The second was a small, fenced-off area in which participants could play some indie computer games. The third was Umbrellium’s Assemblance, a laser room installed in the Pit Theatre. There were other little bits dotted around the Barbican too, such as electronic “pet snakes” as part of Minimaform’s Petting Zoo, and another installation off-site in the Bloomberg Space which I didn’t get round to visiting.

The first bit was great fun, and I think my dad and brother would have loved it. It contained lots of retro computer games, including those I remember, such as Tomb RaiderSuper Mario Bros and The Sims, and those that were before my time, like Pong and Tetris. I was sad not to see the NES classic Blades of Steel there, however!*

The Sims

This nostalgic section was followed by some more modern developments in the field of technology, including some “birds” made from old mobile phones, and an installation by pop star There was also a selection of cutting-edge fashion, including a 3D-printed dress worn by – who else? – Lady Gaga.

Birds of the future
Lady Gaga’s printed dress

If I have a criticism of this part of the exhibition, it would be that it was just so crowded. I understand that it was timed, and the Barbican have genuinely made an effort to control numbers. However, in an interactive exhibition such as this it can be very difficult to play that game or experience that technology without queuing for a while.

Magically transformed into angels
Pretty butterflies

The indie-gaming section would probably be of most interest to serious gamers. I had a go, and recognised one of the games – my housemates have been talking about it for ages. You play an official on the immigration desk of a totalitarian East European state, and you have to decide whether to let people into the country or not. It’s a brilliant idea, but I couldn’t play it for too long as it traumatised me!

The laser room was fun, but I got bored after a few minutes. The exhibition took me around an hour and a half to explore in total. However, I didn’t spend too long in any one place. I am sure that someone who was really passionate about gaming and technology would be able to easily spend half a day or more here.


*Amazing graphics. Awesome music. All your friends will want it!

The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture – Hayward Gallery

When I came out of the Tate Modern, I decided that as it was such a nice day I would walk along the Thames Path to the Southbank Centre. After a frozen yogurt from the pink Snog bus, I headed into the Hayward Gallery to see The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture.

In general, I find that I tend to prefer older art (from the nineteenth century and earlier) to modern paintings and the like. However, I feel rather differently about sculpture. In my (completely uneducated) opinion, it gets a bit dull looking at yet another white marble figure, so the way in which modern sculptors use different materials to create imaginative and radical art is much more appealing to me. For this reason, I was looking forward to The Human Factor, which brings together new work from 25 international artists who use the human form in new and exciting ways.

There was an incredible array of sculpture on display, from Thomas Schütte Krieger’s huge statues, made of wood which has been coloured and oiled, battle scarred and contorted, to Paloma Varga Weisz’s double-headed “Falling Woman”. Cathy Wilkes’ untitled sculpture of 2011 shows a disturbing tableau of contorted figures surrounded by battle equipment, while Maurizio Cattelan has created a frighteningly lifelike representation of John F. Kennedy in his coffin. Figures have been cast from wax, formed from mannequins with added material, sculpted from bronze and given a beehive for a head (the latter is Pierre Huyghe’s 2012 creation – the first and, probably, only time I will ever see a sign warning that “The following exhibition contains live bees”). Jeff Hoons’ “Bear and Policeman” of 1988 shows a giant teddy bear towering over a rotund policeman, while Martin Honert’s unsettling sculpture of his former English teacher recreates the shadows of the black and white photo from which the image was taken. Other sculptures evoke living statues, of the kind you see in Covent Garden surrounded by tourists – it is surreal to view statues of people pretending to be statues. Mark Wallinger’s “Ecce Homo” of 1999 displays a man with a shorn head and a crown of thorns – an allegory of persecution.

Even with the breadth of sculpture on offer, I still managed to find favourites. One, entitled “Tell my mother not to worry”, is a marble sculpture of the artist’s four-year-old daughter disguised as a ghost. This is achieved by the sculpting of a white sheet which trails along the ground, with extremely realistic folds; it suggests that there really is something underneath.

This piece was by Ryan Gander, as was another of my favourites, a “re-imagining” of Degas’ Little Dancer. You see an empty plinth ahead, then turn to the right to see the dancer on tiptoe, staring out of the window. The sculpture is easily recognisable as the Degas character, and I liked the attempt to suggest that she had her own autonomy and views.

My final favourite piece probably made the strongest impact on me. Located in a small room by itself, Maurizio Cattelan’s “Him” is a kneeling schoolboy figure with his back to the entrance, hands clasped in an attitude of prayer. As you approach and turn to see the boy’s face, however, you see he is not a boy at all, but Hitler. This discovery raises more questions – what is Hitler praying for? Is he seeking forgiveness for his past actions? Or is he asking for help to continue his evil plans?

I loved this exhibition and I think there is something for everyone here. The Hayward Gallery always tries to show something different; it doesn’t always succeed, but it has done so here.

This is Kev. He is at the entrance to the Hayward Gallery and his clothes are changed every day of the exhibition!

Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art – Tate Modern

View of the Thames from the Tate Modern

On Saturday I attended a performance of Muse of Fire at the Globe. Afterwards I decided that, as I was right next to the Tate Modern, I would go in and see their new exhibition, Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art.

Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935) was an influential and radical artist whose work spanned one of the most eventful periods of Russian, and world, history. This retrospective examines his life’s work, which culminated in his most famous example of suprematism, the Black Square. I must admit I might not have seen the significance of this work, if I hadn’t discovered that it had been banned by the Soviet authorities. Anything deemed worthy of banning surely has some merit. In fact, when I actually saw the picture, I found it strangely compelling and unsettling, like a black tunnel, or a void. I could never have anticipated reacting like this to such a painting.

Suprematist work was, however, only one facet of Malevich’s work as an artist. Over the course of his life he explored landscape, religious painting and images of Russian workers, in both figurative and abstract styles. His range and versatility is clearly on show in this rich exhibition.

The exhibition runs until 26 October.

View of the Thames from the Tate Modern

Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision – National Portrait Gallery

I took advantage of the National Portrait Gallery‘s late opening on Fridays to visit the Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision exhibition. The exhibition, which runs until 26 October, looks at the acclaimed 20th century writer’s life and work through the mediums of photography, painting, illustration and archival material.

The exhibition begins with a display of Woolf’s diaries, rescued from her bombed-out house. They are shown alongside images of Woolf in the house at Tavistock Square before it was destroyed in the Blitz. There are several pictures of family members, many of them photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, and many images of eminent men of art and letters who were family friends when Virginia was young.

Other pictures show the writer in the early days of her marriage to Leonard Woolf, as well as the other members of the Bloomsbury Group, including the artists Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell. The exhibition also explores the founding of the Hogarth Press in Hogarth House, Richmond, and Woolf’s relationship with Vita Sackville-West, as well as her suicide in 1941.

This is an interesting exhibition that explores not just the life of Virginia Woolf but the life of those around her, whether family, friends or other significant figures. A definite must-see for fans of her work.

Creative Connections: Ealing – National Portrait Gallery

I was surprised and intrigued to find a display about my own borough of Ealing at the National Portrait Gallery. Creative Connections is a series that looks at some of the well-known creative people with connections to a particular borough, as well as working with young people to explore creativity. This particular project based in Ealing partners Brentside High School, whose students have created a film installation with artist Eelyn Lee called An Ealing Trilogy.

Ealing has a rich history, growing in popularity since the extension of the Great Western Railway in the mid-1800s and the creation of Ealing Broadway station. Today it is home to people from all over the world, and its history encompasses Ealing Studios, the Ealing Music Club, and Ealing Art College (now part of the University of West London).

The exhibition has some great pictures of local landmarks including Pitzhanger Manor and Ealing Studios, as well as images of the students involved with the project. Famous figures with some connection to Ealing are pictured, with descriptions of their life and work. I knew about some of these people already: the architect Sir John Soane, who bought Pitzhanger Manor in 1801, and Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, famed as the first computer programmer, who taught at the Ealing Grove Industrial School for underprivileged children which had been founded by Lady Byron.

Others, however, were new to me. Ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn was brought up in Ealing, while director Steve McQueen grew up near Ealing Studios. Inventors Trevor Baylis and Sir William Henry Perkin had Ealing connections: the latter (who invented the first synthetic dye, mauveine) opened a chemical factory in the area. Singer Dusty Springfield and actor Sid James also spent part of their childhoods in Ealing, while Pete Townshend went to Ealing Art School and The Who played Ealing Club, as did Freddie Mercury.

If you have any connection to the borough of Ealing, this is definitely worth a visit.

Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting – National Gallery

This short exhibition at the National Gallery explores the role of architecture in the painting of the Italian Renaissance, with focus on the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. The result of a research partnership between the National Gallery and the University of York, Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting aims to show how architecture was inherently bound up with the work of many artists. The rooms of the exhibition are themselves laid out and divided by arches and columns, as if to illustrate the point.

The exhibition emphasises the multidisciplinary nature of art during the Renaissance: for instance, Michelangelo was a sculptor before designing buildings. Many paintings took architecture as a starting point. Most paintings were designed for specific spaces, such as Domenico Venziano’s “The Virgin & Child Enthroned” of 1435-43, which was designed to fit into a niche in Florence’s Carnesecchi Tabernacle.

Architecture was particularly present in annunciation scenes, in which it was common to divide Mary from Gabriel and any others present by use of walls. An example of this is Duccio’s “The Annunciation” of 1311, in which the two appear to belong in their own “frames” within the picture. This division was intended to mark Mary out as special.

Another kind of picture is “Saint Jerome in His Study”, a work from around 1510 by Vincenzo Catena. The architecture here is welcoming and open, as if inviting the viewer to step into the picture. Perhaps this represents Saint Jerome’s work of making the Bible accessible through translation.

Another series of works explores paintings that evoke the concept of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, such as Sebastiano del Piombo’s “The Judgement of Solomon”. Other images of the 5th century Saint Zenobius, Bishop and patron saint of Florence, invoke the architecture of the city to help locate his miracles in real places. Finally, a selection of Nativity paintings set in ruins showed how the setting symbolised the ruin of the old order.

This short but free exhibition is certainly worth a look if you are in central London with a bit of free time to spare.

Clarence House

Clarence House (image from Wikipedia)

I visited Clarence House on Sunday, deciding to take advantage of the annual August opening. I was a little late getting to the house, as I managed to get lost on the way, and Google Maps was a bit confusing. I was impressed with the staff though as they made a big effort to ensure that I, and the two other latecomers, were hurried through security and taken to join our tour group. I really didn’t miss much of the tour.

The house was originally built between 1825 and 1827, designed by architect John Nash. The first residents were Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence (the third son of George III), and his wife Adelaide. When he became King George IV he remained in the house rather than remove to Buckingham Palace. Other royal residents followed, including, for a brief time, the current Queen, when she was Princess Elizabeth, and recently married to the Duke of Edinburgh. On her ascension to the throne, the house became the home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who lived here (accompanied for some time by Princess Margaret) until her death in 2002. Today, the house is the “official” London residence of the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Harry.

The house is beautifully decorated and I was particularly impressed by the art collection, most of which was acquired by the Queen Mother. Artists represented include Augustus John, Walter Sickert and Graham Sutherland. One picture I especially liked showed George Bernard Shaw with his eyes closed – he didn’t like it but the Queen Mother decided to buy it anyway! I was also excited to see a piano that was actually played by Noël Coward.

We were told stories about the house and the rooms, such as the annual Christmas party for sick children in which soldiers place Christmas decorations on top of the tree with their swords. I think I would quite like to see that! We didn’t get to see the entire house, only the ground floor, including the “horse corridor” – so called because of the pictures of horses lining the walls.

Clarence House is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in history and/or art. It’s now closed for the year, but as far as I know should be open next August as usual.


Address: St James’s Palace, St. James’s, London, SW1A 1BA


Opening Hours: Guided tours in August

Prices: Adult £10, 5-17/disabled £6; under-5s free

Blooming Marvellous – artsdepot


Currently on show in artsdepot‘s Apthorp Gallery is an incredible exhibition, Blooming Marvellous. Created in 2011 by over 2,500 individuals (the youngest was 2 and the oldest 99), mainly in Dorset, the exhibition is a life-sized garden in which everything has been knitted.


Champagne anyone?

I can’t knit myself – my nana tried to teach me when I was a child, but it went horribly wrong and I haven’t tried it since – but I can certainly appreciate the talent, effort and imagination that went into this amazing project. I highly recommend you pay it a visit, whether you are a knitter yourself or not – there are so many different things to see!

Look, it’s a duck!






This little mole was apparently made by a vicar from Sunderland



artsdepot is an arts centre in North Finchley that hosts theatre, dance, exhibitions, classes and other events. The Apthorp Gallery hosts changing exhibitions and the Theatre and Studio are home to a variety of shows for all ages. This thriving arts hub is certainly worth a visit – there’s something for everyone.


Address: 5 Nether St, London, N12 0GA


Opening Hours: Open every day; times vary

Prices: Exhibitions are free; theatre and events prices vary

Mammoths: Ice Age Giants – Natural History Museum

Columbian Mammoth

The second exhibition I saw at the Natural History Museum was Mammoths: Ice Age Giants. I thought it complimented the “Britain” exhibition really well, being about some of the creatures who were around when early humans were.

In the exhibition I learned where mammoths stand on the evolutionary tree: they aren’t ancestors of elephants, as I used to think, but an entirely different branch, like mastodons. Woolly mammoths are the most famous kind, but this is because woolly mammoths lived in cold areas and were therefore more likely to be preserved after death.

Some of the mammoths were absolutely huge – the Columbian mammoth in particular! In contrast, the pygmy mammoth, though still pretty large compared to other animals, was much smaller than other mammoths. This is because pygmy mammoths lived on islands, and a smaller size was advantageous in clambering about the island and coping with smaller amounts of food.

The highlight of the exhibition was “Lyuba”, a baby mammoth discovered in Russia in 2007. This is the first time she has been seen outside Russia. Lyuba died when she was only one month old, probably from asphyxiation after falling into mud. Her body has remained wonderfully preserved for 42,000 years: she has lost most of her fur, her tail is missing and her trunk has shrunk but otherwise she looks fantastic for her age!

This exhibition closes on 7 September, and I definitely recommend trying to catch it before it goes.