Jacob Epstein, artistic bin bags and Noddy Holder

This morning I enjoyed a spot of culture by visiting Walsall’s wonderful New Art Gallery.  It was to my shame that I had never before availed myself of this fabulous – and free – facility on my doorstep.

Among other exhibits, the gallery houses the Garman Ryan Collection, 365 works of art donated by the Wednesbury-born Lady Kathleen Epstein (previously Garman), longstanding mistress and later wife of the celebrated sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein, and her friend Sally Ryan.

There is, not surprisingly, an extensive body of Sir Jacob’s work on display, though also pieces by Van Gogh, Monet, Turner and Constable.  A video tells the interesting story behind the Garman Ryan Collection and how it came to Walsall.

(The Epsteins’ convoluted family history and interweaving relationships are rather intriguing too, in a ‘you couldn’t make it up’ sort of way – Wikipedia it if you’re interested!)

The Garman Ryan exhibition is permanent, and there are also several temporary ones.  A display of stunning monochrome photographs by John Davies and Ansel Adams, depicting British and American scenes, is also there until the end of August.

One more ‘modern’ piece left me somewhat cold, though.  I wondered for a second why a bin bag was randomly dumped on the floor of one of the exhibition halls – only to discover (and I really should have known better) that it was an exhibit!!  Now that kind of art I can do without!

I took the stairs up, for exercise purposes, but the lift back down as said lifts feature the voiceover of a certain Noddy Holder.  “Second floor,” or “Ground floor,” he announces in his Black Country rasp!

Open since 2000 adjacent to the town’s wharf, this is an ultra-modern, unpretentious gallery, which proved a fascinating place to spend a soggy Saturday morning.  And did I mention admission is free?  We are extremely lucky to have such accessible art in our region (well possibly not the bin bag).

First classical music, now sculptures and paintings – 2008 will go down as the year Leigh Mathers became cultured!!

I’m freezing today.  I am currently zipped into my faithful old khaki cardy, necking mugs of tea for warmth, watching the Olympics on telly and resisting the unseasonal urge to switch the fire on in early August.


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