Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Traipsing Around the U.K.: Liverpool

Like most people, I was saddened to hear about the recent riots in several British cities. I spent a couple of weeks this summer with a BritRail pass, making day trips to several of the cities involved and had a marvellous time strolling the streets and appreciating the architecture, reading in cafes, exploring the art galleries, and yes doing a bit of book shopping. So to combat a bit of the negative image that has pervaded the media, I want to celebrate the vibrancy and endless variety of everything England has to offer to tourists. Or alternatively, here's what I did on my summer vacation and these are the books that I bought.

First stop: Liverpool. I really like this city. This is a view from the top of the Anglican cathedral (well worth the climb).

The architecture is just fantastic and they've done some wonderful things with the downtown core making it very pedestrian friendly. They've also been revitalizing their waterfront (a new museum just opened while I was there), and as such, it's an extremely enjoyable city to walk. They also have some really lovely art galleries, which in the U.K. are mostly free. London gets all the attention and true, they do host some of the best galleries and museums in the world, but there are all sorts of delightful and fascinating collections scattered around the U.K. In many ways, I prefer visiting these smaller places with no particular expectations and then being knocked off my feet discovering a new, perhaps local artist, or encountering an interesting painting by someone famous that I'd never seen reproduced in a book, calendar or tea towel.

My first visit was to the Tate Liverpool, down on the Albert Docks (great views of the Mersey from its windows) where I was really pleased to see that they were hosting an Rene Magritte exhibit (you do have to pay for this, but trust me, it's well, well worth the money). I LOVED this exhibit - it's running until October 16th so if you are anywhere near the city, do check it out. Not only were many of his famous paintings on display, wonderfully curated by theme, but the rooms also showcased some of his photography, and of most interest to me, lots of his commercial design work - movie posters, advertising, fashion plates. Again, things I'd never seen before. Apparently he hated doing this to pay the bills, but it was amazing work. I don't normally buy exhibition catalogues, but had to make an exception with this one - Magritte A to Z by Christoph Grunenberg. The Tate store was also selling it at a discount - how could I resist? What I really wanted to buy though was a bowler hat.

Off next to the beautiful Walker Art Gallery where again, another interesting exhibit was on display. Art in Revolution: Liverpool in 1911, juxtaposed post-impressionist paintings that were originally shown in 1911 (following the famous 1910 exhibit curated by Roger Fry that caused so much controversy in London) with footage and commentary about the labour strikes and demonstrations that occurred in the city (just outside the gallery) leading to several deaths. A lovely blend of art and history, questioning the multiple meanings of "revolution".

Finally, I was in the city on the opening day of the new Liverpool Museum. It was packed and not all of the rooms were yet open but what I saw, I really liked. I mostly focused on the exhibits dealing with the city's artists - poets, playwrights, actors and yes, of course The Beatles. You also get some great views of the waterfront from its windows. And there's a Canadian connection. This photo was shot from the museum (sorry - not the greatest shot; it was raining) of Canada Boulevard. That line of maple trees represents every Canadian ship that was lost during the Second World War.

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