Three Visits (University Response to Three Exhibitions/Museums)

Upon first reading this task, I straight away thought of the London Transport Museum. This was for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I really admire the style of the Underground design and signage. I find it so functional yet consistent with its style. The way things are clearly laid out across the stations in a psychological way. For example, the standard of signs running high along the wall of each platform showing the “way out”, “station name” and any interchanges to other lines. For a lot of people this may not have been noticed as a method of telling people the directions at a quick glance rather than stepping off the train and looking up and down the platform for the exit. After all, the underground is a fast paced method of travel and every part of moving people along has to be thought about carefully. Apart from the signage, the most inspiring design from the underground for me is the map itself designed by Harry Beck (actual name is “Henry Beck”). It’s a fantastic piece of design, that shows the tube in a clear and understandable manner but is not technically geographically correct. It’s almost relative to word of cubist artists and always gets my mind in a twist just thinking about how you can even start to design something like that. It was these reasons that made me want to go to the Transport Museum whether or not it was reeled to this task. I went as a child with my parents probably about 9 years ago and was very inquisitive about how the underground was made and the fact that people were actually underground! This time, I was going purely to look at the designs from the past century and to answer some questions I had previously asked about the underground system.

When I arrived at the museum, straight away I could see that the design of the underground from today is very similar to the initial styles of Victorian times. It clearly looked much older but the principles had barely changed. By this, I mean that the posters and signage that I saw very early on in the museum was very minimalist and similar to the signs that are seen today. As I travelled through the museum I kept noticing the famous typeface used in all of the London Transport designs. The typeface used on the underground is called Johnston named after Edward Johnston. It was commissioned by Frank Pick in 1913 to become the standard font used throughout all media on the London Underground and later Bus network. I’ve always noticed the type and haven’t been a massive fan of a few of the features of it. Mainly, the diagonal dots used for the letters “j” and “i” and full stops. After viewing the design section of the museum I realised how systematic Pick was in his methods. He was very aware of the image that the underground would earn and waned to make sure that it was a revolution in transport as well as design. There was a great section showing the architecture of some of the more recognisable stations and really showed just how linear the design of everything was.

The displays used in the museum were very engaging and often interactive. The design area in particular really caught my eye for the way they told the story of Frank Pick and his vision. They had a video projected onto the floor and up one of the Walls showing motion graphics and videos together with an audio narration. The setup of about 8 projectors all interlaced showing this continuous moving image across the floor was visually stunning. I sat there for about 20 minutes watching the whole sequence and learning about the processes used during the early and mid 20th century. The only downside to this was the attraction it had to children. For the majority of the time I was at there, there were these little tearaways running up and down following the projections on the floor. Then, once they’d left more came along and copied exactly as the last pair had. Nonetheless, I was still able to. Enjoy the museum and video features.

Having visited the London Transport Museum and thoroughly enjoyed it, I then made my way towards the Tate Modern to see what artistic nonsense they had going on there. I’ve never really been a fan of the Tate modern and its exhibitions, only the shop and the building itself. When I arrived through the Great Turbine Hall entrance I was a little underwhelmed although not surprised. The first half of the hall had absolutely nothing going on except for a side section with some builders and a construction materials. Towards the rear of the hall, there was a gathering of people looking down at the floor. As I got closer I read one of the easels showing a description of what I was about to see. The title was Sunflower Seeds by Ai Weiwei and explained that there were 100 million sunflower seeds all handcrafted from porcelain and laid across the floor to show a vast area of a waste of time. Apparently, you weren’t allowed to walk on them as they may create a mass of dust in the air although it said that porcelain was definitely strong enough to take the weight of people. When I actually got up close to the large quantity of fake seeds, I saw that they did indeed look like sunflower seeds and that they weren’t in fact actual sunflower seeds. Wow. Then I Moved on. I really struggle to see how this can be seen as such a great piece of art. All I could see was something that has taken many people hundreds of hours to create and people walking up to it and saying “I wouldn’t do that!” the fact that you couldn’t walk on it removed a massive sense of tactility that was needed with something on such a vast scale and the idea if anyone was to tell me that the great thing about it was the sheer number of seeds used then I would question why the artist didn’t fill the whole Turbine Hall. That would maybe shift my Thoughts.

As I continued my pessimistic view of (in my opinion) the worst collection of work in one of the best spacial areas available, I found myself in the photographic gallery. Being a photographer myself, I like to think that I’m actually pretty successful and knowledgeable about the topic and was hoping that the work I would see would be highly skilled piece of photography. On this case though, I was looking at work that didn’t have much going for them except for a lousy description explaining the “emotion” and “relevance” to other things in life. They never see to explain the photograph itself. The only thing that was great about the majority of the work was the print quality and the paper stock used to present them.

Overall, I wasn’t very impressed with the Tate Modern, but let’s be honest, I’ve been there many times before and I wasn’t expecting to be impressed with the work I was going to see. But maybe that’s the biggest problem of all. That fact that I’m too stubborn to look past the pretentious barriers of these “artists”.

The third exhibition that I went to see was the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year Gallery at the Natural History Museum. Like the London Transport Museum, I was eager to get to the Natural History Museum as I’d been there once or twice around 10 years ago with my parents and I’d also been to the Natural History Museum in New York a few years ago and all times I had enjoyed viewing certain elements of our world and history.

The gallery I went to see was incredibly inspiring. As I walked through the doors, my eyes perked up at the photographs around me. They were astonishing! The quality of the each and every one of the photos was impressively high, even in the less experienced category of 11-15 year olds. All of the entries in the gallery were displayed beautifully on light boxes mounted on dark background with a piece of typographic information positioned about 10 inches below the photo. The quality of the prints was extremely sharp and the colours were very vibrant. Then, the photos themselves were intensifying. I was amazed at the way the world around us and the inhabitants had been displayed through photography alone. In comparison to the Tate Modern, this was what I would call photography. The true skill and patience used to get the best moment captured is highly commended and displayed in the best possible way.

The overall experience at the gallery within the Natural History Museum was very peaceful yet I was extremely aware of everything I was looking at. Not once did I get bored and neither did I want to leave in a hurry. It really opened my eyes to many things in the world and I can honestly say that it was probably the best gallery that I have ever visited. I’ve been to many galleries in a few places around the world but this one really stands out as having the highest success rate of quality pieces of work. It’s definitely made me want to travel even more and have a crack at wildlife photography.

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