The moaning wind went wandering round the weeping prison-wall

Reading Gaol 1I’ve had a peculiar fascination with crime and punishment for as long as I remember.  Growing up, various members of my family worked at Broadmoor Hospital and my grandparents practically lived next door so summers were spent playing in the shadows of the walls.

It’s not as odd as it sounds, I promise.

I also had a weird obsession with Reading Gaol, mainly because it is directly opposite the Toys R Us where my parents would take us to spend our birthday money.

Again, not as odd as it sounds.

I didn’t ever think I would ever get to see inside however.  Short of pulling off and then getting caught for an epic crime, how would an ordinary member of the public get to walk the corridors of this monument.

Reading Gaol 2Enter Artangel and their brilliant transformation of the prison into an exhibition space.  Empty cells interspersed with cells filled with art and letters all on the theme of incarceration and confinement.  There are some extraordinary pieces to be found as you explore each one of the wings, and all three floors.

You’re left to roam the prison freely, but they do give you a map.  Husband and I decided to go through each wing systematically, going into the cells, visiting the Governor’s Office and the chapel-turned-sports-hall which now has an jarring mix of stained glass windows and squeaky vinyl flooring.

Reading Gaol 6Of course the spirit of Oscar Wilde was around every corner, with his cell being the main one people honed in on (for selfies, unfortunately).  It was actually difficult to get near it when we visited so we didn’t get to see inside but his original door is exhibited in the chapel/sports hall, which is also where readings of De Profundis are performed.

Reading Gaol 8There were several pieces of art which captured my attention, including Steve McQueen’s The Winter (above) and Roni Horn’s Still Water photo-lithographs.  But the pieces that just blew my mind were Robert Gober’s Waterfall.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it before.

Reading Gaol 11What looks from a distance like a tiny screen in a jacket was actually a fully functioning waterfall, a portal through to another dimension.  I was amazed.

The whole prison amazed me.  It’s open for another month or so – I cannot emphasise enough how much you should go visit before they turn it into a cultureless housing development.

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Newport Street Gallery

NSG_4Husband had a birthday last week and to celebrate, we visited Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery.  I first learnt about the gallery’s opening from the Present and Correct Twitter feed (how hipster), and was super excited to learn that their summer exhibition was Jeff Koons.  He has so many collections that I just love – Inflatables, Celebration, and his shiny balloon animals.  Newport Street had a couple of pieces that I have seen before, and a couple that I haven’t so I suggested to Husband we scheduled this in for his birthday.

To be clear, I didn’t bully him – he wanted to see them too, although he is less of a fan than I am.  I sweetened the deal by buying him brunch at Pharmacy 2 as well.

The gallery itself is such a beautiful space – huge white rooms, lots of light, and gorgeous stairwells.  I loved that it’s in such an inconspicuous area – just underneath the train line going into Waterloo.  It’s so unassuming.  And free entry!

Koons’ art was of course as I expected – 6 galleries full of giant pieces, steel and aluminium, iconic pieces, and rude paintings that can’t be discussed in polite society, spanning over 30 years.

You genuinely want to touch them (curse you, sign!) and examine them from all angles to admire the craftsmanship.  I didn’t manage to get a photo of the slightly less phallic view of the blue monkey, so apologies for that.  I still have so many more pieces that I haven’t seen in real life though, so I’m going to have to keep an eye out to tick them off my Jeff Koons bingo card.

After art came food at Pharmacy 2 on the 1st floor.  We had booked for brunch, although we might have been able to get away chancing it as it wasn’t too busy when we got there.  I had the most alcoholic cocktail I’ve ever had which immediately got me giddy, and followed it up with glorious Belgian waffle and bacon.

Pharmacy 2 went all in with the branding, from the pill bar stools to the drugs cabinet at the back.  The wait staff were really friendly, and it was a really relaxed meal – I’m definitely going back for some more brunch.

And after food came the shop, which is technically next door.  Still very much drunk, I completely fell in love with a Damien Hirst print called Proctolin.  If I had anywhere near that limit on my credit card, I would have walked out with it.  It doesn’t look much online, but up close it’s so GLITTERY – one day, that print will be mine.  The shop is awesome and we were tempted by some Jeff Koons Banality crockery which was very reasonably priced.  Maybe next time.

Switch House, Tate Modern

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If you have a thing for over-processed photos of concrete, then boy you are in for a treat.

Holy crap, I love the Switch House – the new addition to the Tate Modern building.  I’ve watched it spring up at the back of the Tate Modern over the last couple of years but could never imagine that it would turn out as beautiful as it has.

It had been open for about a month when Tim and I visited a couple of weeks ago.  We assumed it would be rammed so got there for just after opening time, but we had most of the space to ourselves – it was amazing.

We couldn’t have picked a better day to visit as the sun poured in through the windows.  We did look at the art – the Marina Abramović exhibit sticks in my mind for many reasons – but this visit was all about the building.  The concrete, the sharp lines, the sweeping curves.  It feels very deliberate and unapologetic, completely unpretentious, and like it’s always been there.

The floors become narrower as you get closer to the top, before it opens out to amazing views of London from the roof.  And an opportunity to be nosy on the neighbouring buildings.  I don’t necessarily recommend taking the stairs all the way to the top floor as it does get a bit constricted towards the top.  Also, it’s 10 floors.  Oof.

At the top, I of course had to take a few tilt shift photos.

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But my absolute favourite thing of the whole building was the staircase.  The smoothness of the concrete was just so satisfyingly touchable.  I’ve decided that any future house I own will have to have an epic formidable staircase.  I think that might mean I need to buy a huge Brutalist mansion, but it’d be worth it.

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Just looking at that shiny concrete floor is giving me all the feels.