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Monday, 8 February 2016

Love in London: Museum wedding venues

With Valentine's Day this weekend, we know love is in the air here in London. Romantic events, or occasionally not so romantic events (check out the Jewish Museum's Fright Night this Thursday) will be plentiful in London's museums this week, but here at the Ministry we are thinking of a more long term celebration of love. In the competitive world of the city's wedding venues, we've picked out some of the best options for combining your ever-lasting love for your partner and of course, museums. Well weddings in London are of course exorbitant in price, at least with a museum venue your money is going towards funding cultural heritage! Here are out top 8 museum wedding venues to get your pulse racing this Valentine's Day...

1) The Garden Museum

With all these lovely venues to choose from, deciding who would be top on the list is no mean feat. There is so much to think about - ambiance, location, photo opportunities, cost, but we think the Garden Museum has it all. Ideally suited for those of you with a slightly more traditional bent, the Museum, which is housed in a beautiful sixteenth century church with a historic knot garden, brings the historic home feeling right to Lambeth. Situated next to Lambeth Palace and with stunning views of the Houses of Parliament, you are sure to get some enviable wedding snaps. It's also very affordable compared to many of the city's venues. Although the Museum is currently closed, it will be taking bookings for Spring 2017 ceremonies!

2) The Canal Museum

The Canal Museum in King's Cross might not necessarily be your first thought as a wedding venue, but its well known in the industry for its quirky vibe and fantastic value for money. With venue prices starting at about £900, its well below many of its competitors in price; plus its a licensed venue so you can have your legal ceremony and reception all in one place! The building itself is a Victorian ice warehouse (for making ice cream) that backs directly on to the canal- and you get all the exposed brick period features you can dream of. And if all that wasn't enough, you can arrive on your big day by boat.

3) The Steam Museum (Kew Bridge Steam Museum)

Slightly less central than the first two venues is the Steam Museum in Kew Bridge, but don't let that distract you. Housed in a former pumping station, the Museum is built around several three story nineteenth century steam engines that still work. And yes, for a price you can run some of the museum's steam engines on your wedding day. Your guests will wander through the beautiful industrial spaces while listening to music, or head out to a festival-style reception in the yard (home to a working joinery and forge). It's industrial-vibe is perfect for those who are looking for something a bit different, and the hire fees are also very reasonable. For a little extra, you can ride the miniature train to meet your guests. Clearly the best venues involve some kind of quirky transport.

4) The Museum of London Docklands

If an industrial feeling has peaked your fancy, then you might like the slightly larger Museum of London Docklands. The building itself is a nineteenth century warehouse and it carries a historic vibe throughout with its exposed beams, reclaimed floors and stunning brickwork. Situated right next to the West India Quay, there are plenty of opportunities for interesting photographs with some of London's dockside heritage. It's a bit more expensive than the previous venues, but more suitable for larger parties. Plus, you can take your wedding pictures in Sailor Town! Nothing says true love like pretending to be a hard drinking sailor in 1840s Wapping.

5) The Horniman Museum

So you'd love somewhere Victorian but want a space that's a little bit more 'pretty' than these industrial spaces, then the Horniman Museum is for you. Take your vows on the Bandstand and your photos in the beautiful gardens before heading to the Grade II listed Victorian Conservatory for a memorable knees-up! The Horniman Conservatory has to be one of the most beautiful wedding spaces in all of London, but unfortunately all this Victorian glamour comes with a pretty high price tag. Still, if you can afford it the Horniman makes for a glamorous wedding celebration.

6) The Pump House Gallery

Not technically a museum, but a lovely little art gallery in Battersea Park, the Pump House Gallery (you guessed it, in a nineteenth century pump house) combines art and history! The beautiful surroundings and the light airy spaces of the gallery make this venue best for a spring or summer wedding - plus then you can enjoy drinks by the lake. Although it's quite a small space, it definitely makes up for it in photo opps and very reasonable hire prices.

7) The Natural History Museum

So mostly we wanted to provide you with tips of less thought of and reasonably priced museums for your wedding- but c'mon, how cool would a reception at the NHM be?! Well - if you are struggling with where to put your 300 guests and you do have 20k to spare for venues fees, than this would be an amazing spot. Dance the night away beneath the arches of the Heintz Hall and descend its sweeping stone staircase for your introduction. It certainly would be memorable...

8) Jerwood Space

The Jerwood Space in London Bridge brings a bit of a modern-twist to our so far very historic list. Civil ceremonies and weddings in the Jerwood take place in its bright, white-clube style gallery space, and receptions in its Glasshouse. The surrounding industrial streets would be beautiful for photographs, and it is just the space for the more artistically inclined. Plus with hire by the hour fees, you can make your wedding as inexpensive or lavish as you can afford!

These are just a few suggestions that we love- but if you have any other fab museum wedding ideas but sure to let us know so we can add them! Now enjoy your Valentine's week you lovebirds. 

Monday, 25 January 2016

Our January Hipster Museum: the MusEYEum

It's been a few years now we've been doing this, and you've probably got the sense that we might sometimes play favourites with our city's museums. Alright, you've caught us, we just love medical museums! I mean - who doesn't right? And while we spend lots of time at the Wellcome or the Hunterian, London is chock full of small medical museums yet to be discovered! For this month's hipster museum, we take you into the history of spectacles at the British Optometry Association's museum, the MusEYEum. When you see the badass glasses in store for you, we know the hipster crowd will come in droves.

Not too long ago we went on an expedition to the Benjamin Franklin House museum, which we never even realised was tucked away on a cute little 18th century street just next to Charing Cross station. Without even knowing it we walked straight past the BOA museum, which is housed inside the Royal College of Optometrists. If you didn't know, London is full of the medical colleges and most of them keep a little museum or displays of their specialty's history. Smaller, more focused versions of what you might find at the Royal College of Physicians or Surgeons. Most, like the BOA museum, require you to make an appointment to visit- but don't let that put you off!

Much like the cabinet of curiosities of yore, you need a guide to get you into the MusEUum - in this case their dedicated Curator Neil Handley. While booking an appointment might be a bit of a hassle, its definitely worth it for every visitor to get to speak directly to the collection's keeper, and get a brief tour to boot! The museum itself is surprisingly large for a specialist medical collection, stretching over two good sized rooms absolutely packed with cases, wall displays, videos, drawers and interactives. While like most collections the majority of objects are in storage, the MusEYEum certainly has a go at getting out as much as is possible.

So what is the history of optometry then? Basically, the long history of man attempting to correct or enhance his eyesight. The Chinese culture invented spectacles centuries ago, with the first recorded European discovery of eye glasses being Marco Polo's journey to the east. By the 18th century, spectacles have really hit their stride. However - unlike the quirky hipsters of today, glasses weren't a go to fashion accessory. In fact to wear them meant admitting something was wrong with you; spectacles were viewed almost as a disfigurement. As a result, opticians of the 18th and 19th centuries came up with amazing and often beautiful ways to make these accessories.

From opera glasses, to early coloured spectacles, contact lenses, and magnifying glasses; humans have come up with some pretty impressive objects to help us see. Rather than focusing on the more technical aspects of optometry, the MusEYEum tries to put the history of spectacles in its social context, and really gets you thinking about how important sight, and its correction, can be. Personally, I got a little too excited about the handling collection, which allows you to try on actual historic spectacles, including Victorian pince-nez, monocles, 50s plastic retro behemoths, and early 19th century blue specs. Some of the displays feel downright steam-punk, but then again this is the history that our modern Victoriana trends are based on. 

An old-fashioned museum packed with things to explore, the MusEYEum is rapidly increasing in popularity and visitor numbers. So you'd better arrange your visit before it gets way too mainstream. For appointments, contact Curator Neil Handley

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Cycle Revolution at the Design Museum

This exhibition has been on our hit lists since the autumn changeover period its alluring press release with no images and only a brief outline of the objects that would be on display and an expectation of some sexy looking bikes left us gagging for more, bikes are sexy and an exhibition at the Design Museum on the tribes, expertise and social justice that cycles can provide was bound to leave us sated.

The exhibition intends to explore how the last decade has seen a huge leap in the number of cyclists on the road, the diversity of modern cycling and the bombardment of accessories, styles, photography and clothing available for cyclists. It does just that by aligning Cyclist tribes as the curator states in the text panel ‘The bicycle represents different things to different people’ exercise, transport, identity, cargo holder  the exhibition right from the start almost points out the ethnographic aspect of UK cyclists. And as a recent member of the cycling commuter club (eek!) the exhibition played another role of representing the community in which I ride.

Aside from the feeling  of community this collection of objects evokes, the exhibition also provides an opportunity to see someone off objects from British icons such as Sir Bradley Wiggins’s 2015 Hour Record bike and 2014 World Championship Time Trial bike and Sir Chris Hoy’s Great Britain Cycling Team London 2012 Olympic Track bike alongside a collection of iconic Cycling Jerseys on loan to the museum from Designer Paul Smith.

Next up the exhibition takes a look at the Thrill Seekers and two incredible stories the first of Peckham BMX club with experts of the Film 1 way up exploring how the build of a BMX track in Peckham, South London offered an alternative to some of the toughest gangs of London in the wake of the London riots. 

Cycle Revolution even features a mock up cycle workshop with wing the tools, materials and skills that combine to create a bespoke machine. Six independent British bike builders are profiled - Donhou Bicycles, Toad Custom Cycles, Hartley Cycles, Robin Mather Cycles, Mercian Cycles and Shand Cycles moving swiftly on to the commuter bikes and lastly looks at the future of cycling in London and how it is dictating the layout of the city. In this section we see the more odd and beautiful concept designs that could change the way we cycle in years to come.

This exhibition is a mixture of filthy bycyle porn,  seeing cycling as a tool for social change for communities  and iconic fashion. The objects are one off and mass produced but are alluring in every manner.  Design wise, the exhibition offered a great walk through the tribes of cycling but I was disappointed to see a couple of empty showcases but as the last to be hosted by the museum in this space before their move to Kensington  we can perhaps let this slide. 

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Fabric of India @ V&A

This autumn the V&A present a series of exhibitions, events and displays to celebrate twenty five years of the Museums Nehru Gallery, it appears to be an upcoming trend with many museums planning on marking the richness and culture of India in 2017 the recently announced UK-India Year of Culture. But of course the V&A as always are ahead of the buck and have started the celebrations a bit earlier than the rest.  

Closing on the 10th January 2016 the Fabric of India explores the influence and beauty of handmade Indian textiles from the 3rd to 21st Century by displaying a large proportion of their own incredible collection that discusses the textile's use in court, religion, global trade, power and protest across the large time span.  

Opening with a stunning modern sari covered in bright butterflies the exhibition features the careful and repetitive soundscape of a loom working away. The first room explores the unrivalled natural resources that have provided India the basis for incredible fabrics with examples of dyes and silk cocoons loaned from Kew and Natural History Museum colouring the showcases and the detailed and skilled techniques highlighted by numerous videos. It's an in-depth analysis that would have been a great aid to my GCSE textiles coursework!  
The highlight of the first room is the tent or Bhutiya; a stunning textile that was made to decorate a room during times of festivities and with an interesting provenance discussed on the text panel - according to this it was found on a New York sidewalk in 1994!  

Further sections explore the textiles we would usually associate with an historic textile-based exhibition- the court and religion.  The decadent fabrics are expertly hung to show how important they are in sacred ritual of religion and the court with one wall hanging beautifully displayed on a copper wall and other lavishly adorned fabrics hanging on rolls surrounded by the court dress and a velvet crown of the elite.  

Later rooms luxuriously point to the India's influence and global standing on the trade of fabric demonstrated by a piece of woven fabric from Northern India thought to be roughly 2000 year old. Here the exhibition expresses the need for India to adjust to the needs of the diverse market, appealing to the America's and Japan trade route developed and were maintained.   

The final rooms start to explore the struggle of the textile industry in a changing world with the exploitation of the Indian economy and people by the British leading to the 1890's Swadeshi movement and its influence on Gandhi and Indian nationalism. Prompting the Khadi fabric to become a symbol of resistance worn by nationalists. 

India achieved independence in 1947 (and we're sure to see a whole host of exhibitions referencing this in 2017) and the textiles industry was rebuilt in part due to the popularity and work of Bollywood movies using traditional techniques. the exhibition hosts two of the incredible costumes from one of the most successful Bollywood movies Devda's designed by esteemed fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee - seriously check his stuff out!  
The final section explores how contemporary artists and fashion designers are rethinking traditional techniques and the sari with street photography from photographer Manou.  
Not only was it great to see so much of the V&A collection on display but the exhibition design was detailed and really enhanced the experience many of the text panels used cotton threads to illustrate trade routes, mimic looms and demonstrate information.  

It’s a beautiful exploration into the stunning and exhaustive work of traditional techniques a definite must see before it closes on the 10th January! Check out some of the upcoming events here. 

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

You Ask You Get: The Ministry Must's for 2016

When this was posed to The Ministry on twitter early this morning we leaped at the chance to provide our followers with a summary of the top exhibitions of 2016.

With many museums opting to give a brief outline of their plans for the New Year others have decided to keep things close to their chest, perhaps seeing if any trends emerge because from a quick look at institutions programmes from this year there is no clear dialogue between the London Museums. While many top notch exhibitions such as Science Museum’s Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age, Tibet’s Secret Temple at Wellcome Collection and the National Maritime Museum’s Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution exhibition will be staying open until the Spring changeover season we’ll see a new wave of exciting shows to occupy what may well be a chilly start to the year.

Nonetheless we’ve scoured the museums plans and gathered a list of Ministry Musts for 2016.

So our top picks are:

The Vulgar, Barbican Art Gallery 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017 

Promises to challenge the ‘utterly compelling territory of taste’ and question the notions of vulgarity.
Love it because there’s nothing like an exhibition to make you feel a bit uncomfortable

Punk 1976-78, British Library (May to September 2016)
Promises to showcase fanzines, flyers and more exploring ‘punks early days in the capital and reveal how its remarkable influence spread across music, fashion, print and graphic styles nationwide.’
Love it because the British Library have a punk collection? Enough said.

Drawing on Childhood, Foundling Museum 22 Jan 2016 — 01 May 2016

Promises to explore the illustrators who have ‘chosen key moments in stories from European folklore and fiction, and brought these child heroes to life
Love it because of this installation Superman was a Foundling

Swept under the carpet? Servants in London households, 1600-2000, Geffryre Museum, 15 March - 4 September 2016

 Promises to ‘explore domestic service and the experiences of servants living and working in middle-class homes over the last four hundred years, giving a glimpse into a world often overlooked by historians.
Love it because it’s curated by Ministry Member Laura Humphreys!!

Dinosaurs: Monster Families, Horniman Museum and Gardens 13 February 2016
until 30 October 2016

Promises to shows how dinosaurs looked after their eggs, nests and babies’
Love it because it’s cute baby dinosaurs, great interactives and a fun day out for adults.

Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, Victoria and Albert Museum, 16 April 2016 – 12 March 2017
Promises toexplore dress reformers and designers who argued for the beauty of the natural body, as well as entrepreneurs, inventors and innovators who have played a critical role in the development of increasingly more effective and comfortable underwear.
Love it because it’s like historic underwear shopping. And an opportunity to remember how grateful we are for modern underwear.

This Is a Voice, Wellcome Collection, 14 April 2016 - 31 July 2016
Promises totraces the material quality of the voice by looking inside vocal tracts, restless minds and speech devices to capture its complex psychological and physiological origins.
Love it because the Wellcome are bound to smash another medical, ethno and art exhibition this summer.

Social Fabric: African Textiles Today, William Morris Gallery, 20 February to 29 May 2016

Promises toexplore how the printed and factory-woven textiles of eastern and southern Africa mirror the changing times, fashions and tastes of the region. 
Love it because it’s a British Museum touring exhibition but in a fantastic setting. The William Morris Gallery is a delight!

Over the year we'll be sure to visit these exhibitions and more so watch this space for snarky reviews, insiders guides and all the museum events London has to offer! 

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

#MuseumResolution 2016

Here at the Ministry we know all to well about setting ourselves unrealistic expectations when it comes to museum loving, we want to spend every weekend in a new gallery and go to every free lecture whilst tweeting and instagramming the hell out of it! But we also know that work and life get in the way. Especially when you work in a museum a weekend visit to yours or one nearby can be a sometimes overwhelming experience, you have to  stop yourself from shuddering as you see children climbing over exhibits and spend your downtime ensuring that what should be a metre barrier is actually a metre. Yep, it can be exhausting.

Nonetheless we love the places and cant get enough of the obscure and wonderful collections that London museums have to offer. So this year we're setting ourselves some realistic goals and vowing to just one #museumresolution to focus our museum loving for 2016. We urge you to join in too, it can be big or small: maybe you want to complete the marathon of seeing every London collection or you just want to tweet a little bit more of your opinions. Here at the Ministry we want to support you in your #museumresolution quest so here are some examples and tips:

1. To visit more museums 
This is no doubt going to be a popular one, there is so much on offer in London that it can feel like a constant struggle to see all of the exhibitions and new galleries!
- Prioritise! Write a list of the top four  each month and make a Saturday morning trip a regular ocurrance 
- Check the maps! Most nationals are surrounded by smaller museums, couple visiting the blockbuster exhibition with one of our #hipstermuseums

2. Lunchtime visits
One of the most common complaint we hear from Museum workers in South Ken is that they never visit the exhibition outside of their own museum. This year its time to change that habit, instead of staring at your screen for an extra hour use your lunchbreak!
- Out of Office! Regularly book out your lunchbreak like a meeting in your calendar and duck out the office for the hour. 
- Get your colleagues involved! Nothing like several pairs of eyes to make sure the whole exhibition has been assessed and an extra bit of team bonding.
- Have a big brekkie! Then you can eat your lunch when you get back to the office or only have something small if you're heading to the floor. 

3. Use Social Media More
If its instagramming tweeting or just updating your facebook status be sure to get more involved with the online museum community this year. 
- Charge! Make sure you're phone is charged and connected to the wifi for snaps and notes
- Notes! Use your smartphones note function to save info and tweet/facebook later
- Be aware and respectful of museums photography policies, they are there for a reason whether its security or copyright.

Lets get to it and the Ministry can be on hand to motivate! Tell us your #museumresolution using the hashtag and we will be sure to check in on your progress over the year!

Friday, 18 December 2015

UCL Geology Collection: December's #hipstermuseum

A few days ago people across Britain and the world watched Tim Peake shoot into space on his mission to the International Space Station. At the same time, we were investigating some 'out-of-this world' objects a little closer to home, that is, at the UCL Geology collection. From meteors to dinosaur fossils and even previous metals, UCL houses an extensive collection of all things geological, as well as the UK's only NASA archive. And unlike the other cool rocks n'stuff collections you might see in London ( we are living the NHM's recent redisplay) here you can actually touch the stuff! We met curator Nick Booth to find out more about what they've got and how you can see in in this edition of #hipstermuseums.

UCL Museums always seems like a bit of a mystery. Aside from the few collections that have publicly accessible gallery spaces like the Petrie Museum and the Art Museum, you'd never really know how extensive their object holdings are. Although the rotating displays in the Collonade go some way to bringing together the amazing collections that each university department holds; the current one on industry, making and dangers is particularly interesting. While it once occupied a much larger dedicated space, the Geology Collection is confined more or less to one room in the South Colonnade, and several hall displays. The room is always open to Earth Science students who use it for teaching and socialising, and is available to the public from 1-3 on a Friday afternoon.

While timing might sound restrictive, it's because the Geology Collection is UCL's own cabinet of curiosities. Since rocks are well, rocks, to most observers anyway, its really much more interesting if you can pick them up and have someone there to talk them over with you. Without all our new fangled labelling, the geology collection calls for a much more personal approach. 

Nick shows of a meteor slice from the early nineteenth century
People say they don't know anything about geology, but actually people can be surprised how interesting and relevant it is, Nick Booth tells us. From ammonites to fossils, meteors and crystals, geology is, well, surprisingly cool. The natural world comes up in all sorts of strange ways- the materials Old Masters used to make their paints, the components of our smart phones, the building stones of our city, and the basis of industry. Who doesn't love space and fossils? 

Pieces of the Giant's Causeway
I'll level with you, I know absolutely nothing about about geology. Or rather, I thought I didn't - but as Nick revealed you'd be surprised how everyone has their geological interests. While I tried to ask some intelligent questions, really I had no idea about ancient algae, or even the exciting meteors. But actually I found out while we were there, museum people think about geological issues all the time. While we were there, we met a few conservators who were using the university's SEM to analyse paint fragments, which brought to mind the National Gallery's recent exhibition. What about radioactivity? Radioactive elements turn into glassware, paints, and a load of other things that we deal with in storing, handling and displaying collections.

But if there was one thing that really got my attention, it was all the asbestos. Any museum collections person (I suppose unless you are dealing purely with fine art) knows something about asbestos, and its many hazards. More importantly, we have to get good at identifying it. Amongst my friends, we like to play a game of going into antique shops and spotting the asbestos - because we are cool like that. So I get a little too excited about their collection of interesting asbestos and asbesoform from around the world (don't worry, in properly sealed boxes).

Check out the fibres on this blue asbestos

Huge sample from Asbestos, Canada on display in the Colonnade
I did promise you some space as well. Since Nick looks after all the Science collections, he also works with the Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL, famously founded by NASA in the 1970s and containing prints and copies of images from space from the last 30 years. Most famously, the Centre looks after images and maps of Venus taken during a Russian expedition, the last time man visited the planet. 

So while the 2 hour a week opening time is a pain, a visit to UCL Geology is definitely worth the effort. If you wanted to have a poke around outside those hours, you could always contact Nick and see if something could be arranged. UCL also runs some great public events with evening open hours, and from the sounds of it there could be a pop up exhibition in the works- and what is really more hipster than that?