Did you know that for the last few years Tate has been building an extension to the already unfathomable-y huge, needs-a-whole-day-to-visit, Tate Modern? I had no idea until the press launch and the 360 degree view crept into my Instagram feed a few weeks ago. From what I was seeing, just the building itself gave reason enough to put it on the London to-do list.

Switch House, named after the part of the original Bankside Powerstation that the new galleries now occupy, was included in the early plans for Tate Modern. It seems to have been officially in the pipelines since 2000, immediately claiming a prime piece of riverside land for the £260m project. The same architects who designed the conversion of the original powerstation where the main gallery can be found, came up with the extension concepts that have been considered over the years. The financial crisis put a temporary halt on developments, but 16 years later the extension was opened for public viewing, adding 60% more space to the existing gallery.

Sunday was such a lovely sunny day that after brunch I decided to head down to the river to discover more. I thought it would be easy to see from the paths along the River Thames, but from the ground the original gallery keeps it well hidden, neatly tucked around the corner and seemingly out of sight until you get closer.

The first thing that struck me about it was its jaunty angles and geometric patterns.

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The twisted pyramid shape is said to be a reflection of the forces acting on it from all sides, its neighbours’ rights to light and the invisible lines of protected views to the dome of St Paul’s (the same reason why the cheese grater is triangular!).

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The lattice of bricks allow the building to sit comfortably with those of Giles Gilbert Scott’s powerhouse (did you know that he also designed the red telephone box?).

They also allow a certain amount of light in and out so that in the day the gallery is flooded with light and at night the building glows.

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It’s an instant photographer’s hit but I don’t think you’d necessarily call it an attractive building (which in my opinion is a description usually reserved for the most beautiful historic buildings.)

I realised at this point that it’s totally joined up to the original gallery, now known as the Boiler House (where all the galleries are) and the Turbine Hall (the building’s infamous huge open space) and it really does seem to work as an extension on an epic scale.

As I stepped into the gallery it took me downstairs into what looked like a complete concrete jungle, apt for a city like London but a little cold on the eye. The smooth spiral staircase quickly provides something more pleasing to look at.

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This part of Tate Modern has been named ‘The Tanks’ and is set to be the world’s first gallery spaces dedicated to live art, film and installations. There are a further ten floors with three dedicated to displaying art and the top floor offering those views I was looking for. I couldn’t resist going straight up in the lift.

As soon as the lift opened, I quickly approached the balcony, weaving my way through other visitors . What a view!

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I’ve seen London from all sorts of heights but aerial views like this never get old, it’s a sort of ordering of chaos from this height. But I do enjoy each one for different reasons. Switch House is great because it has four sides offering 360 views.

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It continues the theme of letting in plenty of light and allows for some fun reflections.

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But it’s also in the open air, so no annoying reflections to deal with in your snaps of the city.

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Whilst it’s a photographers dream, I should probably warn that those with a fear of heights might be less happy. Even I had a couple of dizzy moments. Particularly taking the above shot and peering over the edge with my camera.

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Here and there I found sketchers etching out the horizon.

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It seems totally apt for an art gallery that artists can find a (free) home and a pretty cool place to work for an afternoon.

After I’d done a couple of laps, taken a 100 snaps, added something to Snapchat and Instagram Stories (it was *that* good). I decided to work my way down by the stairs. Partly because the lifts are pretty small and they were getting busy, but also because I knew it would be a good way to explore the rest of the building. I wasn’t disappointed.

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More stunning stairs and lots of interesting light. I was in my own little photography bubble and it was lovely. I forgot how therapeutic I find photography when I’m on my own and after a few hectic weeks of weddings and hen dos I was grateful for the reminder.

I stumbled across a random room where everyone appeared to be napping. (It was a form of interactive art, of course.) This led me to a fun room of things to peer in to.

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I never really ponder too much over art, my attention span can’t handle it, so I carried on back down and found myself on the bridge  across the Turbine Hall to the Boiler House. Doesn’t it make life look so small?

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I decided not to cross it and instead continued my way down the Switch House, when I suddenly realised that I’d been there a couple of hours already and my stomach was rumbling for ice cream. So I headed to the exit.

The best thing about being a Londoner is that I’m lucky enough to have the option to go back and take in more of the art there. But if you’re walking along the river and you only have an hour, I’d definitely recommend it. Such a great view without having to spend a penny.

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Have you visited the Switch House yet? Do you have a favourite art gallery or view of London?

Tate Modern can be found here. It’s free to enter but they do ask for any donations and you’ll need to buy tickets and pay for some exhibitions. It’s open 10am until 6pm Sunday to Thursday, and 10am until 10pm Friday and Saturday (I’m totally thinking about a sunset trip come autumn!) Visit their website for more information.

Before it closes on 13 December 2015.

With less than three weeks to go, it feels like I should be consumed by Christmas right now. I’m slowly getting there and expect by the end of this week I’ll be singing Christmas songs and feeling jolly. But before I get completely lost in the festivities (I have a few posts planned!), lose all perspective (the missing cellotape or scissors will no doubt at some point signify the end of the world), I wanted to share a post about Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts.

The exhibition has been open for a few weeks so you may have read and heard about it already. If not, all you really need to know at this point in the post is that Ai Weiwei is considered a major Chinese artist, known as much for his art as his outspoken political views against the Chinese Government. I don’t think you need to have a particular view on the political aspects of the exhibition to enjoy it, so here’s why I think you should visit his exhibition before it closes.

It has an immediate impact. Each piece tells a story and right from the start it’s easy to see how Ai wants you to react. From the enormous piece illustrating the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 that left 90,000 people dead and 11 million people homeless, to the surveillance camera that watched his every move under his arrest in 2009, it’s not difficult to see the emotions Ai is looking to share and provoke.

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The amazing craftsmanship. When I think about it, it was actually really refreshing to see installations instead of paintings or photographs as it sort of felt like I could take a good look at it from several angles and inspect the incredible craftsmanship that went into the pieces.

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It’s clever. If it has an immediate impact it’s obviously pretty clever, but there were some pieces I just thought “Wow, now that is clever”. This was one of them.

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It was designed so that if you pulled the two short sides together to form a circle the outline in the centre would form a map of China.

It’s beautiful. I’d only seen the Bicycle Chandelier on Instagram from this angle.

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So when I saw the sparkling crystals holding together rose gold bicycle frames I couldn’t believe just how spectacular it was.

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It pieces together a powerful story. There’s an obvious conflict in Ai’s work between a love for his country and its people, and a hate for its government and the limitations it imposes. Old trees from the mountains of southern China link to the country’s past, whilst modern materials demonstrate particular events in Ai’s life. Once I’d seen the entire exhibition I left feeling like I had a better understanding of some of the struggles experienced within China.

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Have you seen the exhibition? If not, have I convinced you to see it?

You can find more information about the exhibition and book tickets here.

For the first time ever, the Royal Academy is going to be open for 56 hours over the exhibition’s final weekend, opening at 10am on Friday 11 December and closing at 6pm on Sunday 13 December. So if you want a bit of culture instead of Christmas this weekend, grab a ticket now!

Open House London very nearly got missed again this year. It had been on my radar for a whole month but one way or another I completely forgot about it until the Friday before. Luckily, with help from blogging friends on Twitter (thanks Lisa, Emma, Jessi and Carla!) and enough determination to see me through a karaoke hangover, I finally managed to squeeze the annual event into my weekend.

If you can’t resist visiting places not usually open to the public, want to find all the hidden gems and see as much of the capital as possible, or you love architecture or photography, you might have heard of this event. If you haven’t, it’s definitely one for you.

Every year as part of the festival hundreds of London’s doors open to the curious public. You can enter ballots for places like 10 Downing Street, book places for tours, or rock up and see what you have the patience to queue for. Some places are open across the whole weekend, some on either Saturday or Sunday. If you want to see the popular buildings you need to be ready to get up early and potentially queue for hours. I took the relatively relaxed approach and this is what I managed…

I had planned a Saturday afternoon with my sister, so I suggested trying to get into City Hall (the Mayor’s office) as I’d heard and seen some amazing pictures from inside. We arrived about 4.30pm to a queue wrapped around the building and told after half an hour that we would not be admitted. (Lesson one – check the opening times. Lesson two – Open House London really is popular!)

The failure spurred me on to spend the Sunday exploring so I started browsing the website. I really didn’t know where to start! (Lesson three – there’s A LOT to explore!)

I started scrolling through the hashtag #openhouselondon on Instagram to find some inspiration and then sought help on Twitter. (Lesson four – seek help from experts or friends who have been before and know what they’re doing.)

I chose about five places in one area and of course it was impossible to see them all in a day, especially if you leave the house after 9am. (Lesson five – be realistic!)

James and I arrived at my first choice, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, at about 10am and I was amazed that we went straight through the airport style security and into the building’s splendour. Given the late planning I really didn’t have any expectations and I couldn’t have asked for much more.

The Grand Staircase made a bold first impression.

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The FCO building which stands here today opened in 1868 and, like many buildings that are more than 100 years old, I was amazed by all the detail.

The huge murals and intricate gilded ceiling of the Grand Staircase led on to the beautiful regal gold and blue ceiling in the Grand Locarno.

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The sumptuous decor and decorative pieces caught my eye as we wandered though.

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The rich orange and the serious mahogany table of the Locano Conference Room made me think about the decisions that were made within its walls.

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The Muses Stair was definitely a highlight.

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But the Durbar Court definitely stole the limelight.

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If you haven’t seen the FCO before, I would definitely add it to your list for next year, it’s perfect for anyone who loves politics, history, and photography.

We had a coffee stop and then moved on to explore Inner and Middle Temple. Whilst I wasn’t necessarily blown away by the buildings itself (although I am sure if you have any interest in legal history you would love it!), I did enjoy wandering around the peaceful area.

Rich red bricks.

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Quaint window boxes.

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And a lovely garden.

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The smell of this lavender was incredible.

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After absorbing so much history we took a break and enjoyed some street food underneath the canopy of trees and among the autumn leaves.

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Once we’d demolished a couple of crepes we suddenly realised it was almost 3pm and we’d been out for five hours! The other places I’d chosen were likely to require long queues so we decided to make our way home.

Final lesson – Be more organised! 🙂 I’m definitely going to try to plan ahead next year.

If you want to read more about the event you can read Lisa’s posts here and Jessi’s post here. You can also visit the website, where they’ll eventually publish details of next year’s event.

Did you get involved in Open House London this year? Would you recommend any buildings to visit or any top tips?

The National Portrait Gallery was my very first blog review back in January 2012 (you can read it here if you like *cringes slightly*). I can’t believe how far the blog and I have come since then close on four years later! At the time I had no idea what I was doing, I took a photo with an iPad like the tourist I really was (and still am in many ways). I had read somewhere that you should write no more than 500 words in a post so I tried to stick to it and then hit publish. I really just wanted somewhere that encouraged me to explore London, write about my finds, and share my photography addiction. I never thought about whether I’d still be writing it today or how it has actually completely changed how I see London and (hopefully!) improved my photography skills.

None of this really came to mind on the rainy Monday I had off work a couple of weeks ago. But as I walked around the National Gallery whilst I waited for my slot to see Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon, I was surprised at how after almost six years in London that I’d never set foot in the museum attached to the National Portrait Gallery. One of the crazy things about this city is just how much I have to uncover still but how easy it is to return to places and find something new.

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I wasn’t sure whether to write a post about the exhibition as you have no doubt heard about it since it opened in July, but when I realised how I’d come full circle on blog posts and having decided it was an exhibition definitely worth visiting before it closes on 18 October I felt the need to share something.

Audrey Hepburn is possibly one of Hollywood’s most enigmatic icons. I’ve only seen the classic and possibly most well-known film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and I’ll be honest I don’t know much about her at all. But I did know that she was as an icon and a muse to many fashion designers and photographers so I was sure that an exhibition about Audrey was something I’d enjoy.

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The tickets online are largely sold out but knowing that you can still get tickets on the door for most exhibitions I took my chances. I arrived about 12pm and got a ticket for the 1.30pm slot. Luckily it’s really not too difficult to fill the time in the centre of London with two museums next to one another! But when the clock struck 1.30pm I was eager to enter.

The exhibition provides a selection of portraits of Audrey which illustrate her life as an actress and fashion icon. From famous photographers, to magazine covers and behind the scenes shots, she really is striking from every angle. The image above by Irving Penn for American Vogue in 1951 was one of my favourites, it’s so simple but it really does feel like she’s smiling right at you. A reflection of true skill from both the photographer and its subject.

You can really see just how adored she was by the fashion industry as you walk from frame to frame. I’d seen the below image at the Blumenfeld exhibition, one example among many showing how she captured the hearts of the industry.

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The colour photography was equally stunning next to the black and white images I associate more with old Hollywood. I can’t remember having seen Audrey in colour photography before!

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What I found most interesting in terms of Audrey’s life was the later years which saw her involvement in UNICEF as Special Ambassador from 1988. An organisation she dedicated many years of her life to before her death in 1993.

The exhibition isn’t very long and if you read every piece of text it should take you no longer than half an hour to absorb. I found myself lingering at the display at the end and I was tempted to do a second loop around, wondering if there was anything I’d missed and if there was anything more to discover.

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I eventually returned to a grey day feeling just that little bit brighter and wondering if I could get hold of some of Audrey Hepburn’s movies to watch under a blanket with a hot chocolate. (If you have any recommendations, do share them in the comments below!)

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If you love fashion, photography or film I definitely recommend popping into the National Portrait Gallery so see this exhibition (and a refreshed selection of contemporary portraits, my favourite part of the gallery free for the public to roam).

It’s £10 per adult. You can buy tickets online here, or like me you can buy your ticket on the door. If you’re taking the risky approach at the weekend I’d recommend getting there as close to 10am to have the best chance. The NPG is open 7 days a week, 10am – 6pm (and up to 9pm on Thursday and Fridays).

If you really want to linger in the gallery longer the Portrait restaurant has great views of London.

But if you can’t visit, you can read more about Audrey’s life on the NPG’s website here. You can also buy a book of the exhibitions portraits here (a great gift or coffee table addition!).

The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition opened last month, reaching its 247th year with 100s of (and now over 1,000) pieces of art having being displayed each year since 1769. I’ve been lucky enough to attend the opening night for the last 5 years (thanks to work), and this year was by far my favourite year.

 

The Summer Exhibition is an annual open exhibition where artists from around the world can submit entries including paintings, prints, drawings, architectural designs and sculptures for public display. It’s down to the Summer Exhibition Selection and Hanging Committee to choose from 1,000s of entries for display at the exhibition throughout June, July and August. Many of the pieces displayed can also be bought by the public.

Over the years I’ve attended I’ve explored the regal gallery covered from floor to ceiling with 100s of different pieces, the sheer number of pieces can feel a bit overwhelming to take in on one trip. Whilst the selection included contemporary art, the atmosphere felt much more traditional to me. So this year was a complete colourful turnaround.

The staircase certainly gives you a hint of what’s to come.

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An art installation in itself, the staircase was created by Jim Lambie and made from hundreds of pieces of vinyl tape. (You can watch a time lapse of it being installed here.)

Once we’d climbed the bright staircase (which I can guarantee you’ll struggle to resist instagramming), we were greeted by the first major sculpture.

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Matthew Derbyshire’s, Doryphoros.

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As you look at it from different angles the colours subtly change.

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Based on an Ancient Greek statue but made with modern materials, it brings together contemporary and classic quite nicely.

We were then drawn to our left by the bold pink Gallery III.

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Image credit – Jac Riding

As someone who’s attention has been known fade in an art gallery or museum, and at an event where I’ve often been distracted by finding the best canapés (an art in itself to anyone who loves food!), the colourful background really helped bring it together and hold my attention.

It’s rare that you ever attend an exhibition where the price tag is provided, so as we moved through the galleries we had quite a lot of fun trying to guess how much they cost.

Of course, we chose our favourites on the way and these were a few of mine from the evening.

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I struggled to take note of all of the ones I liked the most at the time, and even take in all of the ones on show, so I took a look at the Summer Exhibition Explorer and chose a few more to give you a better idea of the art you’ll find.

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Of course, you can always just enjoy the Royal Academy building itself.

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It’s one of my favourite courtyards in London.

Entry to the Summer Exhibition is £13.50 per adult. The Royal Academy is open until 16 August. Saturday to Thursday 10am to 6pm, and on Friday 10am to 10pm. From what I remember of previous years they’ve also added a few late night openings as the exhibition draws to an end.

 

When you really think about it London’s museums and art galleries offer something for almost everyone, not just culture vultures and art buffs. If you have a vague interest in history or architecture, enjoy (or need) a quiet space to switch off from the world and ponder, seek brightness and warmth in the winter months or a cheap afternoon activity, you’ll find an answer in one of the many museums and galleries across the city.

One sunny afternoon before the madness of another working year began I decided to explore Tate Britain. I’d been only once before for an exhibition, when most of the building was still closed for restoration. I discovered back in November last year that the restoration project was complete and open for nosing around, so I thought it would be a good way to fill a chilly afternoon.

Making the most of the weather I took a long walk along the river to get there, passing by its sibling Tate Modern.

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The two buildings couldn’t be more different.

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If you’ve read past posts on museums and art galleries you’ll probably know that I’m no expert in art. My decision to spend an afternoon there depends on my frame of mind, sometimes I like to read and contemplate, most often I just like to explore and admire. Despite housing 500 years of art, the later was how my afternoon was spent at Tate Britain. You can’t deny that this is a pretty stunning entrance worth gazing up at.

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And then gaze out across when you climb up the stairs. (video link here)

 The grand hall encourages you to slow down your step and relax into your surroundings.

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The galleries which encircle provide paintings of the past to admire:

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And more contemporary sculptures to consider. I can’t explain why but this was my favourite.

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And this looked like something you could spend some time trying to dissect meaning from.

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Next time perhaps I should go with my thinking cap on 🙂

Have you been to Tate Britain? What do you like most about exploring the city’s museums and art galleries?