Most of us will have holiday memories that include visiting a museum. The Louvre in Paris, London’s British Museum or New York’s Met, maybe. But have you ever been to a unique and unexpected museum during your trip away? Featuring vampires, fake art and frogs, here are 6 of the world’s weirdest museums.
Miniatur Wunderland is the world's largest model railway, with its own miniature airport. There are over 1,300 trains which travel between cities and take scenic routes, from the Swiss Alps to Norway’s Fjords. Twin brothers Frederick and Gerrit Braun started creating Miniatur Wunderland in 2000 and, so far, it's cost a staggering £8 million!
Baden-Baden is a beautiful spa town in Germany’s Black Forest. It’s also home to the Frida Kahlo Museum. A shrine to the Surrealist painter from Mexico, it’s appropriately surreal. It houses 100 masterfully hand-painted copies - by anonymous Chinese artists - of the artist’s most famous works. Faux-Frida, yes. But brilliant too.
Forget the Louvre. If you’re in Paris, you need to experience the Musée des Vampires. Jacques Sirgent, writer and self-proclaimed “vampirologist” has opened his personal collection of vampire paraphernalia to the public. Expect vampire films posters, masks and an anti-vampire protection kit from the 19th century!
Birmingham’s Coffin Works is a unique museum about, you guessed it, coffin making. Shelves and workbenches are full of original stock and tools of the trade. The museum offers tours, telling stories about the firm’s history of making coffin furniture for the famous, including Churchill, Chamberlain and even the Queen Mother.
Ever wondered exactly how tomato paste is made? Then, get yourself to the Tomato Industrial Museum in Santorini and take a look inside this old factory. Also an arts centre, it hosts exhibitions, events and films (not exclusively tomato themed).
Over 500 stuffed frogs fill Froggyland in Split, Croatia. You’ll find the frogs exhibited in everyday human scenes, from learning at school desks to shopping and playing music. The museum website welcomes you with the noisy ribbiting of frogs!
Ruth Millington is an arts and culture blogger, freelance writer and art historian.
“My art communicates – mostly in ways I can’t forecast or fathom. It is psychological – and it is no longer ‘mine’ once it begins to dry.”
Having read this of Persi Darukhanawala’s perception of his authority (or lack thereof) over the meaning of his paintings in his Artist Statement, I had an idea of his attitude towards letting them out into the world before we met. This idea was reinforced when I read an interview between himself and Philosophy professor Raphael Woolf. Here, he explained that “you can take them or leave them. And if you decide to leave them then that’s a valid response too.”
When we did meet in his Lambeth studio, to the music of The Jam, Madness, ABBA and other canonical pop artists (he later admitted that he has in the past tried to paint without music but it simply didn’t work), he explained his laissez-faire approach to how his work is received: “at the end of the day”, he explained, “it’s very much a communication and not a didactic form.”
For Persi, to legitimise and create space for subjective reactions is to enable genuine communication. He doesn’t view his work as a privilege of the intellectual elite, a closed off and self-contained object of appreciation only for those who truly understand it. Instead, it is a way of starting a conversation; a channel for communication between himself and the viewer. Instead of the object (the artwork itself) his practice is focused on this very personal line of communication with individuals that it is capable of opening. Art is, as he puts it, “a way of saying hello” – the work comes second to the exchange he hopes it will spark in the subjective reaction of the individual viewer.
He classes his artworks as songs, something that he is the first to admit could be seen as the language of the exact opaque artistic paradigm that he is rejecting. However, he understands it as a product of his indifference to the object, making the artwork accessible by focusing instead on the exchange with the viewer it facilitates. Whether an artwork, a song or something else entirely, he explains that “the object is, in certain ways, less crucial than the communication, because that’s what we take away with us.”
In this respect, his focus on the reaction over the object is a way of questioning the prevalent narrative about the importance of boundaries between artworks, songs and indeed anything else that could become a medium for communication between its creator and viewer. This questioning and disruption of the dominant narratives stands at the heart of Darukhanawala’s artistic practice.
“I’m very aware of the fact that accepted norms and narratives are just that: they’re not necessarily anything to do with the truth, whatever that is."
This questioning of narratives is another key theme that Darukhanawala grapples with. In his own words, his work “affords a potential for communication in a world where we’re absolutely battered by repetitive messages from the media, from everyday life”.
The artist expands on this with a reference to a scene in François Truffaut’s 1981 film “La Femme d’à côté”. Fanny Ardant’s character, resting in bed after a nervous breakdown, asks for her radio’s batteries to be replaced so she can turn it on and find out what’s going on in the world. When her lover expresses relief that she is finally getting better because she wants to know what’s going on in the news, she responds by saying that when she wants to know what’s really going on in the world she listens to songs, not the news and media.
The communication in the space between Darukhanawala and the viewer/experiencer is his means of escaping and helping us to escape, everyday dominant narratives and myths initiated and perpetuated by ruling power structures. Darukhanawala encourages his viewer to find their own individual lines of communication with his art, valuing their own inner self and being, away from these oppressive narratives: “If we get through for two minutes only,” he explains, quoting Paul Weller, “it will be a start.”
“It’s about protecting something in a world where - and in a lot of my works - there’s a square or a circle where the lines come in and the centre is under siege.”
The centre being under siege is a recurrent theme in Darukhanawala’s “songs”, His works leave the studio in perfect conservation condition. It is hardly coincidental that conservation, preservation and “some sense of existential continuance” are central to the ethos of his artistic processes.
He works almost exclusively in acrylic on paper, an unforgiving combination, as he recognises in his Artist Statement: “no erasing, no concealment, no second chances.” With these options ruled out, he has no choice but to be completely candid, completely himself in his paintings. As such, they are moments in his life, moments of complete honesty and reflections of himself. This in itself seems like a strong enough argument for their conservation and protection in a world where, he this time quotes Grandmaster Flash, “it’s like a jungle sometimes.”
He is keen to make one fine distinction on this front: the need for conservation doesn’t stem from the importance of his, the artist’s, life. We know this isn’t his style; after all, he rejects the “Romantic figurehead” of the impenetrable artist whose work is to be marveled at or worshipped. It should be no surprise that the reason why these moments must be protected are not because they are his, they belong to everyone who chooses to look, listen and explore their own selves through his work. His paintings, the objects that facilitate the lines of communication between the moment in his life and the viewer, are fragile and if we take one thing away from enquiring into the ideas behind Persi Darukhanawala’s art, it should be that it communicates.
Hector Campbell, our Curator at Large, has his eye on the latest and greatest contemporary exhibitions, and he's always on the lookout for promising up-and-coming artists. If you're in search of your next art fix this July, here are four current London exhibitions that Hector recommends.
1. VOJTÄCH KOVAÅÍK. LOVERS AND FIGHTERS, PUBLIC GALLERY:
Public Gallery in Dalston, East London presents VojtÄch KovaÅík’s debut UK solo exhibition, ‘Lovers and Fighters’, featuring a new series of work exploring the comparisons and differences between the two eponymous stereotypes through the lens of classical mythology, literary history and contemporary culture. VojtÄch completed both his BA and MA at the Faculty of Arts at Ostrava University, in his native Czech Republic, having also studied abroad for a year within the Department of Painting at the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Poland. ‘Lovers and Fighters’ follows an impressive seven solo exhibition in his home country and whilst the muscle men that have formed the mainstay of the artists output remain, their obvious masculinity is called into question as their combative embraces turn ambiguously amorous.
‘Lovers and Fighters’ runs until July 6th.
2. ELLIE MACGARRY, COME UNDONE, DANIEL BENJAMIN GALLERY:
‘Come Undone’ at Daniel Benjamin Gallery in Notting Hill, West London, is recent Slade School of Fine Art MA Painting graduate Ellie MacGarry’s debut solo exhibition, and presents a range of the artists delicate and intimate paintings and ceramic sculpture.
In her paintings and sculpture MacGarry offers a pointed critique on contemporary society's obsession with oversharing, choosing to present instead those moments which people attempt to hide. With her paintings capturing her subjects mid-dressing and undressing or mid-haircut, and her ceramics depicting wax strips, brushes and nail clippers the tools of preening, plucking and preparing, those private moments that exist before the public presentation are given the spotlight.
‘Come Undone’ runs until July 6th.
3. MARÍA BERRÍO, CAROLINE WALKER, FLORA YUKHNOVICH, VICTORIA MIRO:
Presented in collaboration with influence Instagram account The Great Women Artists, founded by Katy Hessel in 2015, Victoria Miro’s summer exhibition featured three young women artists exploring contemporary ideas related to migration, consumerism and painting.
María Berrío reflects upon her own personal history of migration, having grown up in Colombia and now living and working in Brooklyn, by creating layered collages of Japanese paper to depict scenes reminiscent of folklore from her native South America. However, behind their colourful surfaces the works are imbued with poignant political critiques of life under the Trump administration.
Caroline Walker’s portraits of women employed in the service industry (in hotels, offices or retail outlets) capture a unique perspective on the boundaries that exist between public and private. The often unnoticed and unappreciated subjects are portrayed mid-shift, enjoying a quiet moment of personal reflection amid their public facing surroundings.
Finally, Flora Yuknovich subverts the art historical traditions and techniques of the Rococo, appropriating and updating eighteenth-century masterpieces for a millennial audience through the use of popular pastel colours, Disney-esque figuration and modernised mark-making.
‘María Berrío, Caroline Walker, Flora Yukhnovich’ runs until July 27th.
4. KATHERINE BRADFORD, LEGS AND STRIPES, CAMPOLI PRESTI:
For Katherine Bradford’s debut UK solo exhibition ‘Legs and Stripes’ at Campoli Presti in Bethnal Green, East London, she continues her expansion of the colour field painting style. Through the slow addition of individual body parts - legs, arms, feet and heads - into her works, Bradford has gradually approached figuration whilst maintaining her fondness for abstraction, all the while experimenting with how the use of colour can affect and influence both disciplines. The artists’ use of thinly applied layers of acrylic further allows for a seamless transition between figurative and abstract as her painterly lines are literally blurred between the two.
‘Legs and Stripes’ runs until July 27th.
Takashi Murakami playfully blurs the boundary between fine art and commercial fodder, but underneath his playfulness there is a serious comment hidden in his practice.
One current trend taking over the art world is gender. Many contemporary artists are using their practice to question gender norms. It reflects a wider societal shift: increasingly, we are challenging traditionally feminine and masculine ideals to blur boundaries. Meet 6 emerging figurative artists who re-define gender identity through depictions of the body, dress and everyday objects.
Anna was born in Moscow in 1984. She came of age in the post-Soviet Russia where apart from doing academic drawing and painting she studied linguistics, philosophy, and psychology. She continued her art training at Central Saint Martins. We catch up with Anna to discuss her life as an artist and how recent motherhood has affected her practice.
Hector Campbell is our Curator At Large. This means he’s out and about visiting the best galleries and the latest exhibitions. Hector always has his eye on the latest and greatest art world news and he’s here to give you exclusive access.
Harriet is a London based abstract artist, working with acrylic and mixed media on paper. We ask Harriet about her concepts, style, sources of inspiration and process. Read on to find out more.
Did you know that art can improve your well-being? Throughout history, artists have used art as a therapeutic outlet for their mental health issues. Today, GPs are prescribing art classes as a means of overcoming anxiety and depression. Whether you want to be more creative, find a new hobby, or make space for mindfulness, an art class could be the answer. Here are 5 of the best art classes in London.
Alexandra Gallagher is a British artist whose work celebrates the surreal and the bizarre. Her thought-provoking paintings and collages explore the realms of dream, memory and the imagination. The artist allows her imagination to run in any creative direction resulting in visually appealing works that are evocative of the Surrealists while offering a contemporary take on both the materials and the subject matter. We ask the artist 5 questions about her work and life as an artist.