October 12, 2007

The Myth of the North

It was with a mixture of nausea and exhilarating irritation that I had to visit the worst modern building I know: the Lowry Arts Centre (www.lowry.com). I find myself in that odd bind where something is so appalling you want to warn people not to go near it but at the same time wanting to recommend it so that you can share the adrenaline rush of experiencing something truly jaw-dropping. There is one angle that I don’t mind the Lowry from – that is on Google Earth where you can see that it was designed with some cube, circle, triangle structure. But from the ground it is an absolute stinker. There is no architecture logic from the outside, but when you go inside there is no human sense to it. It is no exaggeration that it makes me feel physically sick to be in there too long. If the spaces had been designed as a centre for Overactively Disordered children with colour blindness it would be excusable but the glaring juxtaposition of brutal purples with orange, red and yellow garishly slanting off at made angles, floors that slope illogically while adding the colours and texture of public toilet blue flecks is maddening. I wouldn’t ordinarily mention this as the building has been there for a few years now and, while it has the same effect on me each time, it is hardly noteworthy. As usual (on my rare visits), I despair at the clumsy geometry and bad lighting of the Lowry galleries themselves; so nothing new there. There is a brilliantly bad column in one of the galleries blocking a series of sight-lines in front of some Lowry drawings which I always make the effort to visit just to confirm to myself that the architect who laid out the spaces was an idiot.

The thing that especially fired me this time though was the current temporary exhibition. Generally the Lowry exhibition programme is not very exciting – maybe the badness of the spaces infects that too – but the current show “the Myth of the North” actually magnified the general annoyance of the Lowry experience. Curatorially the display is fabulously poor – half-arsed ‘sets’ of stereotyped back-to-back terraced housing, daft plastic stone/brick walls, one enjoying the set piece of an umbrella and a suitcase leaning against it. There seems to be no curatorial thread running under these dismal displays. The brochure says that it is “an amused look at how others have chosen to see us”, but by the curation says that is how the Lowry curators see us as well. Lowry’s own paintings are done no favours in this environment (these are supposed to be the guardians of his work!), by association with the tedium of these northern stereotypes Lowry is relegated to being a local painter of local, now extinct, scenes of grime. A sorry state of affairs. A much more insightful show of Northern-ness is the Factory exhibition at Urbis
http://www.urbis.org.uk/page.asp?id=3149 – among other things an exhilarating example of what is achieved if a phenomenon is driven by inspiration and creativity unencumbered by a business plan and target bollocks.

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