Sunday 19 April 2015

Down by the sea

Planning a weekend in Cornwall in springtime is a gamble with the weather. 
The start of day one was bright enough to appreciate the rugged prettiness of the north coast and its fishing villages.

Port Isaac was all rocky cliffs, colourful fishing boats and wheeling gulls. But it seems that not much fishing is done any more, outside of the tourist season. This quaint little harbour on the beach looks more like a static film set - which it is in fact, for the TV series Doc Martin. (I confess I'm a fan and always charmed by the scenes of this place in the series).

Out of season in early spring the streets were empty here, as in most of the other Cornwall towns I saw. Thoroughly gentrified and second-homed, the crowds descend in summer, clogging the narrow lanes winding down to coastal villages and depart abruptly in the autumn. Making this a perfect time of year to visit ...

Just a little further along the coast, nestled on an estuary, is Padstow, famous for chef Rick Stein's collection of restaurants, hotels and foodie shops.

Padstow was another dying Cornish fishing village before Stein arrived and pretty much single-handedly convinced the British that the fish in their own waters was worth eating, and in so doing revived the fishing industry here. 

This is an actual working harbour now, and the seafood at Stein's restaurant is truly fabulous, as I discovered.

St Ives is a lot further down the north coast, towards the end of the pointy finger of western Cornwall. And by this time it was turning pretty wet and grey and I had to use my imagination to picture the 'brilliant' light that has attracted artists to St Ives since Turner and Whistler.

By the standards of where I come from the beach front is no great shakes, but it's easy to see how lovely it could be here on a summer's day

and the Tate St Ives is right here, its striking architecture making full use of the view over Porthmeor beach. 

From the Tate it was a short wander through wet streets and empty holiday cottages to the Barbara Hepworth museum

for a wet walk around her sculpture garden and the studio where she worked, looking exactly as if she'd just finished working for the day.

Port Isaac, Padstow & St Ives, Cornwall, April 2015

Saturday 4 April 2015

Sailing in the clouds: Louis Vuitton, Paris

Curiosity took me recently to the suburbs of Paris to see Frank Gehry's extravagant construction for France's richest man, Louis Vuitton owner Bernard Arnault. 
The Fondation Louis Vuitton is designed as a cultural centre to house Arnault's collection of modern and contemporary art, borrowed works for exhibitions, and a concert hall.

On the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement, it's designed as a vast sailing ship, intended to appear as if floating, suspended, above the ground.

To create the ship effect, beneath it is a sort of sunken, artificial lake, with water cascading towards it. 

Above, twelve enormous glass 'sails' are draped in curving, billowing shapes. 
It's impossible to get the whole building in camera view from the ground, but a side view gives some idea of the scale.

The effect is spectacular, certainly, and gets more so the higher you ascend to the roof top.

But the sails, and the crazy amount of timber and steel columns, beams, struts and props needed to support the illusion of weightless sails from afar, actually do rather block the views and potential connections with the surroundings.

Inside there's a ground floor restaurant with giant suspended sculpted fish, another of Gehry's favourite forms 

and impressive gallery spaces.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the place though. Critics have called it a 'crazed indulgence of over-engineering' in which the overwhelming effect is of a building with lots and lots of empty, functionless space. 

And local residents protested vigorously against its construction, on the grounds that it broke multiple laws intended to preserve the character of the Bois. But, proof that money talks, their objections were overruled when a special law was passed in the Assemblée Nationale declaring that it must go ahead as a 'major work of art for the whole world'. 

Whatever you think of it, it's worth a visit for the building alone, and now to see a major exhibition of Modernists - Les Clefs d'une Passion (here).

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