The Year in Review: Culture24 staff pick their top exhibitions and events of 2009

| 23 December 2009
a photo of an atmospheric wreck with back lighting

Culture24 editor was amazed by the Mary Rose in 2009. © Richard Moss / Culture24


Richard Moss, Web Editor
Exploring the Horniman Museum’s music collection with curator Margaret Burley.

Musical instruments make beautiful and fascinating objects, but it's always going to be difficult displaying them – after all, they are really made to be played, and listened to. But with its mixture of sound tables, state-of-the-art displays, discreet speakers and film footage the Horniman has found a way of solving this problem.

My exhibition highlights for the year once again include Pallant House and the Imperial War Museum. Pallant's Henry Moore Textiles exhibition shone some welcome light on a hitherto forgotten area of this giant of British Art.

Talking to witnesses of the outbreak of war in 1939, including a land girl who knew my great auntie, a 101-year-old former London bobby who experienced the Blitz and a man who witnessed the invasion of Poland as a boy, was quite a day at the Imperial War Museum's Outbreak 1939 exhibition.

Two of the great joys of the year were seeing the caskets of the Anglo Saxon Kings at Winchester Cathedral and peering in wonder at the giant carcass of the Mary Rose at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (above) – just a week or two before it slipped temporarily from public view.

A picture of rocks on top of a mountain

(Above) Pure escapism for Ben Miller. Richard Long, A Line in Scotland (1981). Picture © the artist

Ben Miller, Staff Writer

Museums at Night in Newcastle was brilliant on too many levels to neatly summarise, but suffice to say darting around watching northerners get up to all sorts of arty mischief in innumerable different venues after dark was as much fun for me as it looked for them. One minute I was being introduced to Bobby Robson's seat in the rafters at Newcastle United's St James's Park arena, the next I was pushing Geordies off space hoppers as they tried to bounce through a gallery.

Edinburgh Festival - another adventure on the streets of a great city - was a stupendous few days of trying to cram a year's worth of art and performance into a long weekend.

Richard Long's Heaven and Earth at Tate Modern was pure escapism, realised on such a sublimely imaginative scale that it felt like I'd been on one of his journeys across the gleaming glaciers and harsh terrains he captures.

an atmospheric photo of a green pool at night


After hours at the Roman Baths proved to be a very relaxing experience for Ed Sexton. © Ed Sexton / Culture24

Ed Sexton, Staff Writer
Tate Liverpool's Colour Chart brought together an impressive collection of Pop Art and modern pieces for this exploration of the uses of colour. My favourite was Jim Lambie's Zobop 2006, created using hundreds of metres of vinyl tape, which covered several rooms in the exhibition. It looked fantastic.

I hadn't heard much about Eltham Palace before I went, but I was amazed by its stunning Art Deco interiors and the stories about the Courtaulds who lived there. Their pet Lemur, Mah Jong, had his own heated room and ladder to get downstairs.

Museums at Night in Bath was a great success and after reporting on all the day's events, finishing in the torch-lit Roman Baths (above) with a glass of wine was the perfect end to the weekend.

The demonstrations were fascinating and try as I might it was impossible to get the re-enactors to get out of character - even when it was only me in the Baths.

a photo of a father, mother, son and daughter all dressed in medieval costume

© Rachel Hayward / Culture24


(Above) There was merriment and all-round family fun for Rachel Hayward at the English Herirtage Festival. Photo: medieval re-enactors - father Martin, mother Marie, son Thomas and daughter Natasha

Rachel Hayward, Learners and Teachers' Editor
English Heritage’s Festival of History in July saw thousands of re-enactors (above) – many of them families – converge in the grounds of Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire for a weekend of battles, merriment and all-round family fun. We saw everything from jousting to air displays and famous historical battles including Agincourt.

My top family pick of 2009 was the at the Royal Academy of Arts.

Despite it being the traditional look-don't-touch exhibition, the visceral nature of the sculptures made you feel as if you could touch them, smell them, look into them and hear them. A perfect balance of exhibits and gallery space, with room to breathe and explore.

My children loved their visit to the Old Operating Theatre, during Museums at Night. Here we witnessed a leg being chopped off, 18th century style.

As part of the Festival of British Archaeology we enjoyed a Family Foreshore visit. It was fabulous mudlarking on the banks of the River Thames before taking part in the Silchester Dig just outside of Reading.

Shows a photograph of a helmet with ram-style horns protruding from either side of a face, which is wearing what appears to be glasses.

Mark Slawinski had a great time helping children get their hands on artefacts at the Royal Armouries. © Royal Armouries Leeds

Mark Slawinski, Staff Writer and Outreach Co-ordinator (Children)
I had a great time taking Culture24's Caboodle project for a trip up North to work with Gifted and Talented pupils from schools in Leeds.

Our host was the Royal Armouries and 200 pupils enjoyed exploring the collections, photographing artefacts and developing historical theories in preparation.

With a curator, a Caboodle officer and the museum’s own education department on hand to give expert guidance, this was a brilliant extended learning opportunity for the kids; a chance to explore cultural artefacts "in role" as a caboodling explorer and an experience I'm looking forward to repeating in 2010.

Elsewhere, I enjoyed Snozzcumbers and Frobscottle! at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood (who wouldn't?) and Storrington Museum's local heritage displays as part of Museums at Night.

A photo of the inside of a vast museum

Anra Kennedy finally got to see the Pitt Rivers Museum. Picture © Pitt Rivers Museum

Anra Kennedy, Head of Programmes
My first ever visit to the Pitt Rivers (right) and [Oxford University Museum of Natural History reminded me why I do this job and why I love museums so much.

A tour of the Wallace Collection by one of their education team was another highlight. Contrasting their incredible treasures with Damien Hirst's exhibition – my favourite part of which was the wallpaper – in the company of such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide was a delight.

Outdoors, a summer day at Painswick's Rococco Gardens was a hit with the whole family, from my newly-crawling baby nephew, who loved rolling down the sloping lawns, to Grandma, who had to be coaxed out of the veg garden.

A picture of a stand with the words I Wish I Could Have Voted For Barack Obama daubed on it

Altermodern was a highlight for Culture24 Director Jane Finnis in 2009. Bob and Roberta Smith , Off Voice Fly Tip, 2009. Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery


Jane Finnis, Culture24 Director
My exhibition choice of the year was Tate Modern's Altermodern (left). The show was funny, clever and curious. It managed to encapsulate something about the 21st century with a real resonance.

Seb Chan of Sydney Powerhouse Museum held a number of excellent workshops. Under Seb's guidance, Powerhouse Museum has been consistently leading internationally on how museums can use digital tools to further engage and reach audiences.

This fact, combined with Seb's own passion for the subject and his ability to dissect, confront and interpret his own digital projects made the 2009 sessions better than ever.

a photo of an illuminated bridge

(Above) Let's have more things like Lumiere Durham, says Ruth Cobb.

Ruth Cobb, Marketing Manager, Museums at Night
Durham Lumiere – I didn't get to go but loved the photographs and background blog about how they transformed the city into a festival of light (above). I think it's an inspirational event for everyone. There should be more of these things...

I loved the way Turner and the Masters at Tate Britain set Turner's work in context and you could view what he was trying to do alongside the original masterpiece of the Girl in the Window by Rembrandt. It gave a unique insight into Turner the man and what drove him, and set his achievements and failings in context.

a young woman and young girl pulling faces at the camera

Rosie Clarke (and friend) get into the sprirt of things during Museums at Night 2009.


Rosie Clarke, Co-ordinator, Museums at Night

I leapt at the chance to spend the day with the friendly Weald and Downland Open Air Museum Needlework Group. The enthusiastic women who volunteer to make Tudor and Victorian clothing using authentic techniques not only shared their passion, but also taught me to stitch with linen thread.

During Museums at Night I visited the Cambridge Museum of Technology to report on their Night Fever event and was bowled over by the ingenious ways they used to explain the need for sanitation: an entertaining presentation, a costumed drama, and ghoulish cholera-victim makeup. As I left, people crossed the street to avoid me, and I realised I was still wearing my deathly hollow-eyed face paint.

I was really privileged to take part in the mysterious Dream Director live art installation at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea.

Artist Luke Jerram invited volunteers to sleep overnight in carefully designed pods and played us sounds whenever we entered the REM phase of sleep in an attempt to alter our dreams.

a photo of a man standing next to an engine

Above) Anson Engine Museum Director Geoff Challinor impressed Ruth Harper...

Ruth Harper, Marketing and Network Communicator
A personal, curator-led tour of Anson Engine Museum during Museums at Night has to be my top pick.

The curator (above) and his wife are great people, passionate about what they do - and their museum reflects this. Also, anything that goes flash or bang in the dark (like a combustion engine, for instance) is worth seeing.

Telling Tales, Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design at the Victoria and Albert Museum was fabulous. I was much more interested by the playful, fairytale side of it than the darker side - I felt as if I was in Alice in Wonderland.

Studio Job are amazing and had my mum, who's a ceramicist, gasping for a good half an hour as she figured out how the vases had been made.

a photograph of a young man with a firm jawline and neckerchief

Joe Dallesandro by Paul Morrissey (1968). Picture © Paul Morrissey

Larna Pantrey Mayer, Technical Producer

I was in Paris this October and lucky enough to visit the Centre Pompidou's elles@centrepompidou - an exciting celebration of female achievement in art. The show brings together in excess of 500 works by more than 200 artists from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day.

It is an excellent example of the diversity of work created by women and, although I had some minor quibbles with the curation, it was awe-inspiring to see such a grand collection without the usual stigma you sometimes get with work collated under a gender theme.

In London I liked the National Portrait Gallery's Gay Icons. I always enjoy a gay icon...

A picture of red balloon-like sculptures with white dots on them within walls of matching effects

Tessa Watson likes her polka dots! Yayoi Kusama, Dots Obsession (2009). Mixed installation, ©© Yayoi Kusama. Picture: Roger Wooldridge, courtesy Hayward Gallery

Tessa Watson, Office and Finance Co-ordinator
Walking In My Mind at the Hayward Gallery. Yoshimoto Nara and Yayoi Kusama's work was wonderful; I've been a fan for ages and enjoyed it as much as I hoped I would.

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