31 March 2015

Charles Rennie Mackintosh at RIBA

It was something of a luxury to visit RIBA twice in one day but I like to spoil myself.

I had wandered over there during my lunch break to see the The Future City exhibition and then I took advantage of the late night opening to go back again after work, this time to see the main exhibition on Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This had been on my must-see list since it opened in February and I was more organised than usual in getting to see it in the middle of its run rather than in it's last week.

Going to RIBA twice in one day was also excellent for my step count, something that I think about a lot these days!

RIBA, like the V&A, can seem to do no wrong with its exhibitions and I always find them interesting and informative even if the subject does not appear to be one that would naturally appeal to me. There were no such reservations with Charles Rennie Mackintosh as a topic so the exhibition delightfully combined great content with great curation.

It is also worth pointing out that RIBA exhibitions are free. I love free things not because they save me money but because their freeness means that people can pop-in for just a short while, e.g. in a lunch break, and can do so repeatedly. I think that a little and often is the best way to absorb culture.

The Mackintosh exhibition was in the (newish) main exhibition at RIBA, on the ground floor adjacent to the reception desk. It has the advantage over the other exhibition spaces in that there are no windows. I love the windows at RIBA but the light coming through them can play havoc with displays, as can still be seen on the first floor exhibition area.

The exhibition had plenty of drawings, as expected, as I was pleased to see quite a few models too.

The only slight gripe, and this applies to many exhibitions, is that putting the drawings behind glass meant that I was always juggling with reflections. This can be seen clearly in the top picture which has a reflection of one of the models on the left edge. If RIBA cannot solve this problem (at a reasonable cost) then I suspect that nobody can but it does seem strange that nobody has invented a combination of glass and lighting that solves this problem. At the exhibition I was able to get around this by looking at the same piece from several angles but a single photograph cannot so this.

The drawings were as detailed and as lovely as I hoped that they would be. The things that they were drawings of were lovely too.

This was a meeting of art and architecture and I could appreciate the buildings for their aesthetics as well as for the ingenuity of their design that created wonderful spaces to live and work in.

A surprise was how few buildings Mackintosh was involved in. I thought of him primarily as an architect but the exhibition informed me that he became disillusioned with architecture and turned his hand to watercolours instead. I was glad that the RIBA exhibition focused firmly on the architecture as that was what I was there to see.

The lack of buildings in quantity did nothing to diminish the quality of the works on display and I spent a long time peering at each drawing and model, and then I walked around them all again to remind me of the best bits and to make sure that I had not missed anything.

Obviously the Glasgow School of Art was a highlight and it was nice to see this complimented with several more modest buildings, though none of them were that modest. Rich people often like to commission edgy architects to build distinctive and impressive houses for them and architecture on this scale manages to be both grand and human, a combination that brings the best out of the best architects. That is why we remember places like the Red House and Villa Tugendhat and it was good to see Mackintosh's forays into this field.

I can always spend time happily looking at architects' drawings and models and when the architect is Charles Rennie Mackintosh it is understandable that I spent a lot of time and was very happy.

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