Monday, October 29, 2012

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The last time I was in Birmingham in the UK, I visited Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Since 2005 Birmingham has been my home away from home, but I had never been to the BMAG before which is quite strange as it's situated in the centre of the city, it's free and it's beautiful!
On street level you'll find the Gas Hall exhibition gallery housing temporary exhibitions, but when I was there, "Pharaoh: King of Egypt" had just closed, so I entered the building from Chamberlain Square and walked up the stone steps inside, where I was greeted by the charming Coronation Street mural.
Upstairs there's a reception where you can buy a visitor guide and map (advisable!) and then you reach the Round Room. This is probably my favourite room of the entire museum. The round, red walls boast paintings in three tiers including Walter Langley's "Never Morning Wore to Evening but Some Heart Did Break" and Henry Stacy Marks' "Dominicans in Feathers". The most spectacular thing in the Round Room is, however, the centrepiece: Jacob Epstein's sculpture "The Archangel Lucifer". This wonderful, ambiguous bronze sculpture from 1945 is in my opinion the most intriguing work of art in the entire museum, but you won't find it on postcards anywhere. On BMAG's virtual online tour of the museum it isn't quite there either, as the private parts of Lucifer is covered with leaves. Epstein used a female model for Lucifer's head, but a male model for the body, and the penis of the angel was thought quite obscene as it isn't one of the small ones you'll see on renaissance sculptures, but a normal sized one. There is a certain amount of sexuality stemming from the winged devil, not just because of that much talked about penis, but in Lucifer's face and posture, too. At the same time it depicts something both sly and beautiful and I think Epstein has really succeeded in portraying a fallen angel. I love this sculpture.
Turning to the right in the Round Room you walk through the gift shop and on to the Industrial Gallery which is another breathtaking room. With its skylight, wrought iron details and Soho sphinxes, this original part of the gallery is itself even more interesting than the items on display, which consist mostly of a collection of stain-glassed windows and different items of arts and crafts.
The Industrial Gallery leads to the Buddha Gallery, a whole room with sculptures and other images of Buddha. I found that very interesting as I had never seen a gallery in any other museum in the western world dedicated to Buddha. Wonderful. From the Buddha Gallery you reach the entrance to the Edwardian Tea Room, a beautiful room for sure, but the counter and the rather boring tables and chairs ruin it a bit. They make the room look what it is: the cafeteria of the museum.
Back in the Round Room instead of turning right, you can also go straight ahead through a room with Asian art to the rest of the museum. The main level of the museum has 33 galleries in all, so you can easily get lost. The artworks span from the Greeks and Romans over 14th to 19th century art to modern and contemporary works. The most famous works are probably BMAG's collections of Edward Burne-Jones paintings and then their Pre-Raphaelite collection. I must admit that Burne-Jones is not exactly my cup of tea, although I've always loved the Pre-Raphaelites. The rigidity and muddy colours in his paintings don't appeal to me, though, and to be honest, I found the Pre-Raphaelite collection a bit disappointing, too. I know it is one of the world's largest, but the paintings on display are not very interesting. To me only a few were really good, namely Arthur Hughes' "The Long Engagement"; William Holman Hunt's portrait of Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Dante Gabriel Rosetti's "Proserpine".
I have seen much better Pre-Raphaelite collections other places in the world, among them in Tate Gallery in London. While I visited the BMAG there was an exhibition of Victorian art from the Tate named "Love and Death" and it featured some of these works along with the best of BMAG's Pre-Raphaelite works. I was disappointed that the exhibition only consisted of about 20 paintings and a handful of drawings and etchings, but when that is said, the works themselves were amazing. Most of the paintings depicted love as a young, naked boy, who probably didn't seem as offensive in Victorian days as Epstein's Lucifer did in 1945, but today these images of love came across a bit paedophile to be honest! I had to snigger too, when I realised that most of the women on the paintings looked exactly like Helena Bonham Carter, especially Anthony Frederick Sandys' "Morgan Le Fay".
The main work was "The Lady of Shalott" by John William Waterhouse, which of course is brilliant, but other paintings attracted me even more, among them Waterhouse's "Saint Eulalia", Herbert James Draper's "The Lament for Icarus" and Sydney Harold Meteyard's "Hope Comforting Love in Bondage".
 As most of these wonderful paintings aren't depicted on any of the BMAG store's postcards, I was glad that you were allowed to take photos without flash. The pics turned out a little dark, but it's better than nothing.
Other interesting exhibitions on the main level include "The Staffordshire Hoard" and "The Birmingham School of Art". In fact I found the latter much better than the Pre-Raphaelite collection!
On the top level of the museum, you'll find another 12 galleries, some of them covering ancient cultures, but half of them are dedicated to "Birmingham: it's people, it's history". I really liked that as it told the story of Birmingham in a very entertaining way, showing both items from everyday life and items of historic value. If you're interested in Birmingham, you really have to see it and especially a working model showing how guns were made was amazing along with the World War I and II exhibits.
All in all I spent 3 hours at the museum, but I could easily have spent 3 more, so if you plan to visit BMAG, be sure to have plenty of time. There's a lot to see, the building itself being one of the main attractions, and I'm sure I'll return to this museum not just once or twice, but over and over again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Harry Moseley Charity Ball, 2012

The inaugural Harry Moseley Charity Ball took place at the ICC in Birmingham on October 19th, 2012.
 With the help of solicitor/Big Brother star PJ Ellis, who was the brains behind the ball, I had secured myself a ticket and I made my way to the venue at 6.15 p.m.
 Inside the ICC you had to take an escalator to the first floor where the charity ball took place. Here you were greeted with a champagne reception and the reception area soon filled up as the 1,260 paying guests arrived.
 In the area different auction items were on display; signed football jerseys, Andy Warhol prints, Downton Abbey memorabilia and a lot more. Free Radio's HumFree the Hamster and the Hollywood Monster went around greeting the guests and the whole event was covered by OK! magazine.
Dinner was served at 7.15 and the ballroom looked beautiful with 126 round tables, each seating ten people, huge TV screens and a fantastic light display on stage. I was seated at a table right in front of the stage and I was in good company as most of the celebrities were seated in the same row.
 From my table I could spot Olympic gymnast Kristian Thomas on my left, the Phelps twins on my right and football legends Ian Taylor and Michael Johnson behind me. The first course was already on the table: a vegetable spit with potato tureen and bread. I don't know what the "meat eaters" got instead of the vegetable spit, but it looked like chicken filet.
Russ Morris and Tom Ross from Free Radio were the hosts of the evening and when they had made their welcome speeches, PJ Ellis and Tim Andrews from Hollywood Monster went on stage to speak, too.
 They both told how much they had been inspired by Harry Moseley, the young school boy who had suffered from a brain tumour, but went on and raised a lot of money for cancer research by selling home made bracelets, before he died of his disease. In fact each of the guests at the ball were given a bracelet made by black and "golden" beads and I proudly wore mine next to the claret and blue one that I bought off Harry before he died.
 Harry's mother, Georgina Moseley, gave a speech too, telling about her personal loss and the meaninglessness of her life now that Harry is gone, her husband and two other children sitting in the front row, listening to her. A few of the ladies around me were in tears after the speech.
Even more people had to bring out their hankies, when a film about Harry was shown on the screens. It told the story of his life and several celebrities were interviewed as well. When footballer John Terry broke down and cried on screen, so did most of the audience!
The main course was served at 8.30 and the vegetarian version consisted of a couscous pie with spinach and green asparagus and a delicious red and yellow pepper sauce. Again I'm not sure what the "meat eaters" had, but it looked like some kind of spareribs. The dishes were accompanied by wine - there were four to six bottles on each table and on the VIP tables there was champagne, too. If you wanted something else, you could buy it from one of the two bars in the ballroom.
To get to the bar - and the ladies rooms - I had to pass Oliver Phelps, so of course I went over to say hi. I hadn't seen him for five months, so I got a hug and a handshake. He was in the company of his parents, his long term girlfriend Katy, his housemate David and his friend Geoff. In fact he had David as his dinner partner instead of Katy, which was a bit of a laugh. At the table he was joined by his twin brother James and James' girlfriend.
Anyway, like it is with these events, there were not enough toilets for the ladies, so a bunch of us ended up in the men's room, which was quite hilarious. I also got to talk to a very nice lady from Wolverhampton and I only wish I knew her name as I would like to thank her for being so kind!
Back in the ballroom it was time for the raffle prize draw. At each place setting there had been an envelop in which you were to put £10 and write your name and table number in order to participate in the raffle. There were 30 prizes in all, the first prize being an ultimate Birmingham weekend donated by the Hyatt Regency and the second prize being a diamond necklace worth £1,500. Of course it was a man who won the necklace!
The raffle prize draw was followed by desserts and a live auction. The dessert consisted of ice cream with chocolate sauce and caramel cake with whipped cream and strawberries. Very tasty. The live auction was solely for the very rich, though. The eight auction items were a day on a luxurious motor yacht, a six-night all inclusive cruise in the south of France, a week for fourteen in a ski chalet in La Place, a golf day at David Gold's private golf course, a photograph in OK! magazine, dinner for six cooked by chef Glynn Purnell and finally a framed Harry Moseley bracelet. The bids were high, especially on the dinner and the bracelet, in fact the bracelet went for £5,000 in the end. That made me wonder how much my own claret and blue bracelet is worth as it was made by Harry himself, too!
After the auction we had coffee while the very talented Beverly Knight went on stage to perform a string of songs. She was very good and very popular, as she is more or less a "local girl", her being from Wolverhampton. We all enjoyed her performance very much.
 When Beverly Knight went off stage, the silent auction ended. All the time during the evening a silent auction had been going on, people being able to bid on various items through the iPads that were placed on the tables. The auction ended at 11.30 p.m. where Georgina Moseley was handed a check of £110,000 which was the amount that people had spent that evening. Quite overwhelming. Actor Adam Rickitt from Coronation Street entered the stage as well to take part in the presenting of the check.
The last two hours of the evening, the ball took off with a disco. Kristian Thomas and Oliver Phelps were some of the first on the surprisingly small dance floor, whereas Oliver's brother James preferred to slow dance with his girlfriend among the tables.
 I spent quite a lot of time on the dance floor myself - I even danced with that nice lady from Wolverhampton and her husband! - but I had time to say hi to PJ Ellis and have my photo taken as well.
 At 1.20 a.m. coaches arrived at the ICC to take the guests to an afterparty on the 25th floor of The Cube. The afterparty lasted until 5 a.m., but I must admit that I didn't! Luckily my hotel was situated only 300 meters away so it was easy for me to get back.
All in all the Harry Moseley Charity Ball was a wonderful event, in fact I was told it had been the best charity event in Birmingham ever! Thank you Peter (PJ) Ellis, Oliver Phelps and that lady from Wolverhampton for making the evening special for me, too. And thank you Harry Moseley. Your life was short, but inspirational. RIP. You won't be forgotten.


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