I’ve often been bemused by people who say they wouldn’t know what to do with a large inheritance or lottery win. I’ve not been a lottery player but have always had no trouble thinking about how I’d use a substantial win.
Recently I realised that we have a perfect example of how to spend multi millions in a short space of time, right on our doorstep. the new Art gallery on the outskirts of Bruton, Somerset.
At last I can say that I’ve actually been to the new Hauser & Wirth Art Gallery, in fact despite my delay since it opened in the Summer, I’ve now been four times, the first three were in as many weeks, the fourth was last Friday evening, for Halloween.
My first was a brief, taster visit, in the wheelchair, however it was long enough to get a feel for the place.
The overall effect is magnificent and the renovation and landscaping of this long run down farm cannot be faulted. It is obvious that no expense was spared, which proves that there is benefit to wealth, even in these times of austerity. Master craftsmen must have been involved in the stone masonry and world renowned landscape designer Piet Oudolf has made his mark with an absolutely stunning sweep of planting to the rear of the complex. This wasn’t open on the first visit but we could view it from the gallery.
We mustn’t forget the purpose of these magnificent buildings, to house the latest in modern art by Hauser & Wirths stable of Artists.
The first gallery is full of Phyllida Barlow’s wonderful bright ‘Pom poms ‘ suspended from an intricate array of wooden beams balanced in between and across the buildings original beams. The Pom poms were made up of hundreds of strips of rags in bright colours and basically a lot of ‘fun’. There were large cords hanging down that were itching to be pulled, maybe the Pom poms would then move up and down. After a tentative tug we were quickly attended to by one of the ( very many) stewards who told us this was a strictly ‘do not touch’ exhibit. Oops!
Half way down this room, dodging the Pom poms as we went, there was a large construction on top of which was a covered piano frame. ( we had to ask) to view this at its best you needed to be almost leaving the room and then look back.
The next room was also a converted stable block and housed very large sculptures. I use the term loosely as these were in no way the same league as Rodin or Henry Moore. Perhaps they would be better thought of as ‘installations’ . I’m afraid once I saw that the wonderful squirty expanding foam that builders sometimes use, was part of the piece, the ‘quality’ dialogue from Pirsig’s ‘Zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance ‘ came to mind and I’m afraid I was not impressed.
Moving on, after checking out the very conveniently placed disabled loo with a fabulous vintage mirror, my favourite exhibit was of numerous standing pillars around the edge of a huge exhibition space. These were quite interesting, but again a ‘don’t touch’ piece. ( I have since heard that this fragile exhibit has hosted a drama class from a local school and survived a group of kids running around within the pieces.)
The next space, a splendid large & well lit room housed a very interesting selection of drawings and plans from their featured garden designer. I particularly liked all the plans of his ‘High line’ in New York.
The second visit was on a Sunday with a friend to see the garden. Unfortunately the garden was featured on gardeners world on the previous Friday, so we weren’t alone!
I was reminded of a visit to Westonbirt arboretum in 1999 with our one year old on the Sunday after the Telegraph had done a feature, it was also half term…At least this visit I wasn’t trying to leave a car park with twenty thousand other visitors!
Sunday was perfect weather, warm and sunny. Despite being busy we were able to wander around and look at the planting without too much trouble. I particularly loved the grass islands. Anri Sala’s ‘Clocked Perspective’ overlooks the garden and I found it rather pleasant hearing the regular ‘tick tock’ as the hands slowly moved around the clock’s face.
On my third visit, with Mr C, it was quieter and so we were able to sit on the very splendid ‘Eye Benches’ by Louise Bourgeois. I have found the giant clock most intriguing and with more concentrated attention, we could see that this clock is very clever indeed. It has been made so that the eye could easily be deceived as to which way the clock has been installed. I have since thought that I don’t see how anyone in Bruton can complain or prevent wind turbines being fitted when this clock is in clear view to all passing traffic.
Mr C and I enjoyed a lovely lunch in the ‘Roth’ bar and grill. We hadn’t booked and so were ‘extremely lucky’ to have been squeezed in, sharing a table with some other impulsive diners. A prompt service delivered our Burgers. I thought mine was a tad ‘charred’, maybe that is the current London fashion, or it could have been the result of a very busy Friday lunch time. It turned out that a delegation from the Tate Gallery were having lunch there.
What I did like was the almost instant large jug of water offered with no judgement or pressure to order anything else to drink. As a great water drinker I do get fed up with having to justify not wanting to drink alcohol or sugary drinks whilst I eat. The waitress was very friendly and attentive, so all in all a great and efficient experience. The menu had a great choice of small and very reasonably priced side dishes and salads , perfect for the ladies lunching after their pilate or yoga classes or the many locals who may have been worried about possible London pricing.
After being told that we really shouldn’t expect to be able to eat without prior booking, and being given a card with a number and email address to contact should we wish to return to eat, I knew we were taking a big gamble popping in with friends on Halloween after our planned party was cancelled.
To our surprise, the wonderful Roth Bar was not very busy at all, we arrived around 8pm and were easily able to choose a table for our group of four. We chose to sit outside, but under the ‘tented’ cover. There were plenty of white fleece blankets draped over the chairs so we could wrap ourselves up against the autumnal chill. The Bar is absolutely splendid, consisting of a site- specific bar created by Bjorn and Oddur Roth, son and grandson of the late artist Dieter Roth made up of scavenged materials, even including an accordion. Well worth a visit and a long drink just to absorb it. The Halloween drinks were great and again good value. My friend had an ‘Eyeball’ cocktail and I had a very fruity non alcoholic one. Our men sampled the local ciders. After a very pleasant time outside where we bumped into many local friends, we ventured inside to watch some interesting dancing to some classic 1980s and 90s Halloween themed music. ‘Ghostbusters’ was very entertaining but the point at which we decided we’d sampled enough. We then moved onto a local Pub ( The Castle) which was packed with a great atmosphere and much better music, even for my conservative taste!
I believe that the exhibitions will be changing soon, and this is definitely a venue to keep an eye on. I do think they have been extremely clever with providing plenty of interest which should keep the visitors coming. There’s a lot of competition for lunch venues but judging by the car park this is the local venue of choice, how long the novelty will last is to be seen.
The gift shop is full of interesting books on art, gardening and local crafts. Again, this will be a popular shopping venue for Christmas and major gallery styled gifts. They are opening up a farm shop which is an interesting and even curious addition but will ensure that they have regular visitors. As for the Art, I’m not sure that it is of a type to inspire and encourage the majority of Art lovers.