6.8.09

Eastbourne: Towner and Musgrave


Expensive tart
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
The last time I visited the Towner, it was out of town in an old grange, opposite the oldest pub in Sussex. That was in 2004 and it was to see an exhibition of illustrations from Ladybird Books - and of course its extensive collection of Eric Ravilious paintings. Now it's relocated to the town centre, a modernist building tacked onto the Congress Theatre and overlooking Eastbourne's famous grass tennis courts. So, after saying hello to Ed Boxall doing a workshop in the kid's room (the Art Box, actually - there are also rooms called Junction Box, Fuse Box and Light Box - why don't they give rooms sensible names these days?) my neighbour Angie and I plunged into the exhibition on the second floor entitled People's Choice, a miscelleny of works presumably from the permanent collection arranged in themes: landscapes, seascapes, abstract, etc, and with a corner of his own, Eric Ravilious. There were six paintings in all, including Cuckmere Haven and two watercolours with trains. A good start I thought. From the rest, Angie's favourite was Windover in Winter (1945) by Frank Wootton, who apparently would regularly cycle 60 miles to Sussex from London to paint the South Downs. Mine was Charles Knight's oil painting of Ditchling Beacon - deceptively scruffy close up but magically taking form from a distance. There were also a couple of not brilliant Edward Bawdens in the room too.

Then it was up to the top for the cafe before the lunchtime rush. The soup of the day contained chicken so I pointed to a small pie-type thing in a cabinet which was rushed to the kitchen to be warmed up. It turned out to be a caramelised onion and goat's cheese tart, and with a few leaves and a cherry tomato cut in to quarters, came to £7.95!! With a regular cappuccino, I'd spent almost a tenner. Ah well, I'll ask before oredering next time. It was tasty enough but had been microwaved so the pastry was soggy. Angie's smallish £4.95 soup didn't look too special either. Also on the top floor was a darkened room containing three 'chandeliers' made from plaster bones, surrounded by cardboard boxes and piles of newspapers ('In the eyes of others' by Jodie Carey). So, where was the rest of the permanent collection? On the ground floor was a huge couple of spaces, one with contemporary works, including an Ian Hamilton Finlay sculpture and an Anya Gallaccio, containing well rotted flowers - and in the other massive space a couple of film/video installations. And that was it! Apparently you can view the 4000-odd collection in store by appointment and I was told I would soon be able to look at them on the website (but there again, I could buy a book and stay at home!). Very disappointing.

On a tip-off from Peter and Lisa we then went to find the Musgrave Collection, via a walk along the prom. We found it on Seaside Road. It couldn't be more different than the Towner - a low-tech space with tons of stuff crammed into the former shop. George Musgrave is 93 and still painting - he has led a remarkable life, all documented in his many oil paintings (his latest is in the shop window) - he invented yellow lines on roads, designed and made plastic toy soldiers, was a minister in Angola - all documented in his painting 'Speck of Dust'. This is how museums should be (and if you like this one, give Seaford Museum a go). The modern style of curating seems to be to put as few objects into as large a space as possible - this is the old fashioned museum at its best. There is also a Museum of Shops in Eastbourne, but will have to wait for another day. It was scorching hot and after a fairtrade tea and cake in a hairdressers by a roundabout got the train back, changing at Lewes.
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