November 29, 2017

6.00 am: I awoke before the alarm. Of all people I, as trip co-ordinator, could not be late for the bus. I’ve a strident bedside clock. But it doesn’t prevent me from falling asleep after it has alarmed me. 7.15 am: In the dark and frosty morning the student and I stood outside the railway station waiting for the coach that would shuttle us to Cardiff. A few weak stomachs and bladders slowed our progress. We arrived at the National Museum Wales at 10.30 am:

The students and I spread throughout the upper galleries and two exhibitions, principally: Bacon to Doig and Who Decides?. For the purposes of the exercise, the students undertook to examine the objective, display, curatorship, and works in one or more exhibition (with an focus on abstract painting) with a view to writing a journalistic report. This will be submitted for assessment in the context of the Abstraction module:

It was my parents who first brought me to the Museum. School trips stretched only to zoos far further afield. So much for a breadth of education. I’ve many good memories associated with it and Cardiff. My first ever publication was a review of an exhibition of Welsh landscape painting entitled The Dark Hills; the Heavy Clouds, which I saw in 1981, in the months after graduating from the art school in Newport. That was my initial and tentative step towards a PhD in Art History, which I began in 1986. When my vinyl-buying friends bussed down to the capital from Abertillery, we’d always stop in at the Museum before returning home, to take in a gallery or one of the natural history exhibition rooms. You did that sort of thing in those days:

On my trip into the centre over lunch, I found Spillers Records – the oldest record shop in the world. I wasn’t going to either buy or browse; it was just reassuring to know that the shop survived. I like continuity. Unlike Cranes music shop – the city’s only half-decent guitar retailer – which appears to be relocating, I knew not where. The area around by St John the Baptist Church had been ‘Christmas Marketed’ – overwritten with a vaguely pixie-ville aesthetic.

On passing Tabernacl Welsh Baptist Chapel in the Hayes, I noticed that one of its four front doors was open to enable the Weight-Watchers club members to enter. I’d never been in the chapel before; I took the opportunity. It’s a magnificent example of its type. Externally, it could pass for a theatre or cinema. Inside, the façade windows present themselves in a curiously asymmetric fashion. The occasion was an unexpected treat:

I returned to the Museum at 1.30 pm, to catch up on departmental business and my thoughts. I’ve revived a habit of sending picture postcards to friends. Email and the likes of Facebook have more-or-less made the custom redundant. (‘Video killed the radio star’, as it were.) However, the effort expended on choosing an appropriate postcard, buying both it and a stamp, composing a sentiment, writing an address, and finding a post-box (no mean feat), signifies a level of commitment to the recipient that merely dashing off a one-liner and pressing ‘send’ cannot.

3.30 pm: I returned to the Swaps: Photographs from the David Hurn Collection exhibition. Hurn’s office (the hub of ‘Doc Phot’, as his course was known) was next to my first-year studio at Newport. We passed one another but never spoke. I’d little interest in photography at the time. That grew, along with a passion for architecture, in the following decade. Now I find the art form utterly beguiling. 4.00 pm: I took a final spin around the two other exhibitions. Museums and galleries are falling over backwards to ingratiate themselves with a broad general public. (Footfall in funding, after all.) But there’s a danger of implying that the artwork’s meaning is entirely up for grabs: ‘THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG’ opinion about art, one exhibition board boldly (or capitally) proclaimed. Relativism rules. The expert is dead. I demur. As a maker, I’m not content for my own work to be interpreted will-nilly. Which is why I go to lengths to hedge it about with statements of intent and exposition. It should not mean anything to anyone.

5.15 am: The coach returned to take us home.

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