Ignore London. We’ve a jewel of a gallery here in Cirencester
Iwould take a small wager that most Cotswoldians (is that the right demonym?) have never visited the Chedworth Roman Villa, Broadway Tower or the Bibury Trout Farm. I would take an even larger gamble that the majority of the residents of these hills have not got the faintest idea where, for example, the Cotswold Motoring Museum or the Mechanical Music Museum are sited (Bourton-on-the-water and Northleach respectively, on the off chance that you might ask). The only people who are interested in such things are, in the parlance of West Country slang, ‘grockles’, who are known more politely here as tourists.
It was much the same when I was in London. Nobody who actually worked and lived in the capital had ever been to the Tower of London, taken afternoon tea at the Ritz or knew the whereabouts of the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. On the other hand, those of us living permanently in the Cotswolds who go up to town regularly in our best bib and tucker (it is easy to distinguish Cotswold man or woman from a Londoner in the capital – the former are always better dressed) have probably experienced these things.
This year, for example, I have been to see the Pink Floyd exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, ‘America After the Fall’ at the Royal Academy of Arts, a Russian exhibition, an Andy Warhol sale and eaten in an extraordinary Jewish restaurant in St John’s Wood. Nobody I know in London has been to any of the above and yet, with the exception of the Jewish eaterie, many of my Cotswold friends have been to most of them.
There is one other exhibition that a number of my rural mates have seen this year that I have missed – the cross-dressing artist Grayson Perry’s ‘Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever’ at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. One of the reasons that I didn’t bother to go was the warning by the gallery that the artist is so popular that ‘there may be a queuing system in place’. Some years ago I went to see a popular exhibition at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum that had a similar warning. In front of every picture was a ten-deep gaggle of gaping global visitors. It was an experience not dissimilar to a being at an airport check-in desk when an international flight has been delayed. It was a futile exercise. And so it was, I gather, with the Perry exhibition. It took ages to get in and was choc-a-block when you did finally get through the door.
The other reason I didn’t bother to go was that there was a Grayson Perry show at the New Brewery Arts centre in Cirencester. It was free and there wasn’t a queue. It has been something of a coup for the arts centre to stage a pair of Perry’s large tapestries. Furthermore it was well-lit, informative and not at all crowded. It was in fact exactly how one wants to see works of art – enough to enjoy and absorb but not too much to overwhelm. New Brewery Arts has become a small but perfectly crafted jewel in the Cotswolds. It has studios, galleries, courses, workshops, a shop and a café. It is the town’s civilised antidote to the domination of the barbarous Cirencester Agricultural University and as it grows in confidence it is giving the capital of the Cotswolds a much-needed creative heart. The staging of the Grayson Perry tapestries during the same period that the Serpentine Gallery boasted a new show by the artist was, for example, not only a measure of the Brewery Arts’ recent blossoming but also a gentle raspberry to the capital.
And yet the odd thing about the Cotswold ‘Perry’ exhibition was, despite the bright yellow signs advertising it on all roads leading to Cirencester, nobody I know who regularly goes to London to see exhibitions went to see it, including one friend who had made a special trip to the Serpentine Gallery because she was “mad about Grayson Perry”.
I don’t know what the name is for this syndrome – there must be one I suppose. But whatever the maxim I completely understand that part of the joy of living in the Cotswolds is the leaving of it, even if it is only for a day, to enjoy a different and enriching experience. Even so I find the carefree shunning of Grayson Perry at the New Brewery Arts by the ‘going up to town’ crowd somewhat baffling.
Above: Julie Cope’s Grand Tour: The Story of a Life, by Grayson Perry