I have to admit that when I think about art galleries I have painful memories of childhood school trips to boring buildings with big, bland pictures. But don’t let the school children and tourists in York hog all the galleries! The York Art Gallery is currently housing a number of exhibitions from Victorian art to a display of ceramics and I am here to tell you all about the wonder that is The York Art Gallery.
Before we go on however, I have to tell you that I know absolutely nothing about art. That said, I do know what I like. Perhaps that’s a bit Neanderthal of me but there we go. I’ve often walked past the York Art Gallery on my way to Kings Manor and had an urge to go inside. This has a lot to do with the fact that the building itself is beautiful. The splendour of the structure is very striking and the grand fountain outside frames it, almost like a film set.
As you enter the gallery the first thing that strikes you is not the art, but the almost painful silence that seems to occupy every art gallery and museum in the world. However, once you get past that you are faced with the European Paintings exhibition. I have to be honest with you these paintings weren’t really my cup of tea. They are your classic grand paintings of war and Armageddon, not exactly uplifting paintings to view, and their chintzy gold frames are not what you’d call subtle. There are however some breathtaking paintings in this room, especially the biblical scenes on the back wall. You’ll also be pleased to know there are the obligatory naked pictures in this room. Don’t get the wrong idea though, it isn’t perverts paradise!
The Victorian exhibition is housed upstairs along with the 19th and 20th century paintings and the ceramics display. There are some beautiful pieces in here spanning the entire 20th century- from William Staite Murray to Michael Cardew. Okay so I don’t actually know who these people are but there are some exquisite pieces in this exhibition, although there were quite a lot of teapots and even a cup and saucer on display. This seemed like an odd thing to have on display in an art gallery but like I said, I know little or nothing about art, so who am I to argue about the artistic merits of a cup and saucer?
The main event currently in The York Art Gallery is ‘Gwen John to Freud’ an exhibition of ‘Modern Masters from the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery’. This event is running from the 10th May to the 13th July. The pictures in this room were more to my tastes, even though I did make the mistake of thinking the paintings by Freud were by Sigmund Freud- again! The paintings of surgical scenes were different to anything I’d seen and so attracted my attention immediately. The beautifully simple chalk paintings may not have seemed much at first but on closer inspection their effortlessness was a breath of fresh air after the complicated and busy Victorian paintings.
I’m glad I went to the York Art Gallery. If I hadn’t gone this morning then I think it would have been a case of me meaning to go for the next two years and never getting around to it. As Tony Dunnington, a member of staff at the gallery put it to me, the gallery not only has wonderful art but the building also has "great architecture" if that’s what you’re interested in. The gallery is definitely worth the bus fare into town, not only do you get to feel cultured and intelligent for a couple of hours but there are honestly some magnificent pieces of art in there. Whatever your tastes, from grand scenes of battles and death, to the simple painting of a solitary figure, the gallery can cater for your tastes. And best of all the gallery is absolutely free, a students favourite word. So next time you have a spare hour or two, instead of going to play pool to pass the time why not pop into town to see the art gallery and see if you like the cup and saucer on display there?