Today, for the first time and after a mere twenty-three month residence in the city, I finally visited the Southampton City Art Gallery. I cannot claim that it lies in an especially remote location – it is little more than five minutes walk from my home and lies directly above a regular haunt of mine, the central library. Entry is also free, and so I cannot blame my much lauded fiscal responsibility. It does have somewhat limited opening hours – though I can only blame those for twenty-two hours of my delay in visiting. I did attempt my first visit yesterday, but in my successful attempt to avoid school parties arrived too late for entry.
If I am to find a sink for my culpability in taking quite so long to make my first visit, then I fear I must look to human psychology – and mine in particular. As a result of its ease of access, I can always tell myself that I will visit tomorrow – an internal monologue which would seem to have worked for some 700 tomorrows. You may wonder what finally broke this long succession of unfulfilled internal promises and so it would seem churlish of me to deny you that knowledge.
A little while ago, I think at an event at the Nuffield, I learned that the City of Southampton boasts a rather impressive collection of art – though only a fraction of this is on display at any one time. As a result, I resolved to visit – and so the weeks passed but still my resolution remained stubbornly unresolved. Then, earlier this week, I was asked to take part in a customer survey about the gallery as I left the library, and it was the crippling sense of guilt about my inability to answer any of the questions in a useful fashion that finally spurred me to act. Oddly, I do seem quite a popular choice to proffer my opinion on subjects of which I have little or no knowledge: relatively recently I have also been quizzed (on camera) for my thoughts on the Premiership relegation battle and (on mike) about hip-hop (I had very few useful thoughts on either but was persuaded to make some up – after a short briefing – for the camera). I don’t think I give off an art gallery-visiting, beautiful game loving, straight outta Compton vibe – but perhaps my subconscious or face have other ideas? I do feel that my experiences help to illuminate the general pointlessness of vox populi and hope they might help encourage the media to quietly (and quickly) ditch the whole idiotic idea. Whilst the number of people who are well-informed on a topic are clearly massively outnumbered by those who are not, I still feel it is worth making a little effort to seek out the former.
Anyway, having now seen off the amuse bouche we should probably move onto the meal proper. I must say that the gallery was rather a pleasant surprise – with a modest but interesting collection of works spread over substantial and almost deserted gallery space (I did cunningly arrived just after two parties of primary school children departed, which I suspect improved my experience). I rather enjoyed the paintings of Southampton through the ages – and I now have oil-painted evidence that the city was once a Georgian architectural theme park, before the Luftwaffe and post-war town planners had their wicked way with it. Pleasingly, in one such painting I’m pretty sure I could see my flat (a first for me – I don’t think I’ve ever seen my primary domicile portrayed in proper art before) – though in those days it probably hadn’t been subdivided. Green as the city is today, it once boasted even more parkland in the centre and its suburbs were – as recently as the nineteenth century – rather beautiful downland. Seeing images of the city, painted over the course some three hundred years, does incline a chap of a slightly romantic disposition to see ghosts wherever he treads. Still, knocked about a bit though it is, I have grown oddly fond of modern day Southampton over my tenure and find myself keen not to leave just yet.
Among the gallery’s temporary delights, I was rather taken with Spatial Objects by Dan Holdsworth (I fear the lighting in the linked photo does not do them justice) – though I’m not sure I have a home for them (even if I could have sneaked one out under my jacket). My highlight was a photograph taken by an HND Photography student from Brockenhurst College (one Isabelle Orman) as part of her coursework. It was of a rather mundane industrial-looking scene, but captured in a quite extraordinary light. It took a view that most of us would have dismissed as rather ugly and made it truly beautiful. If that’s not Art, I don’t know what is – the latter may, sadly, be true but I am trying to slowly educate myself.
I shall try and avoid waiting another two years before the difficult sophomore visit – but I’ve made unkept promises on GofaDM before, so I’d recommend you judge me on results rather than good intentions (which I believe make decent pavers for an express route to Mount Avernus). Nevertheless, I am hopeful that the promise of seeing more of the gallery’s rotating collection (from which, were I a company, I could hire examples at a very reasonable rate) may help me to stay true to my once avowed intent.