Look Again at Cambridge
Avalon Lee-Bacon explores the Cambridge art scene, and its wealth of opportunities
by Avalon Lee-Bacon
Tuesday 2nd October 2012, 12:50 BST
The University of Cambridge is synonymous with many things, from its ancient heritage and impressive legacy to punishing exams. Something that may not instantly spring to mind, however, is the flourishing art scene. Yet, Cambridge’s cultural value is rarely acknowledged. Indeed, both the city itself and the university’s colleges are rife with artistic activity, which, more often than not, are free to explore.
The Fitzwilliam Museum stands on Trumpington Street, opposite another Cambridge institution: Fitzbillies Bakery. Modern site-specific sculpture stands in the gardens, but inside, masterpieces by Titian sit alongside Impressionist études, contemporary works next to medieval panel paintings. With such variety on display, the Fitzwilliam has something to interest almost everyone: whether that be painting or sculpture, weaponry or coins. On November 7th, Love Art After Dark returns: hosted by the Fitzwilliam Museum Society, art, music and wine will collide as the museum opens after hours.
As the former home of Jim Ede – once a curator at the Tate Gallery – Kettle’s Yard stands in contrast to the more traditional layout of the Fitzwilliam Museum. Although it is currently undergoing partial renovation, Kettle’s Yard is a unique and fascinating space: left exactly as it was at his 1973 departure, the collection is displayed within the structure of a home, albeit one filled with canonical examples of modernism by the likes of Gaudier-Brzeska and Ben Nicholson. Adjacent to the cottage converted by Ede sits a newer building, designed to hold temporary exhibitions - the current Winifred Nicholson show (running from 29th September to 21st December) is a must-see.
Museums aside, the colleges themselves hold notable works. Corpus Christi is famed for its rare collection of Medieval manuscripts, whilst Jesus’ grounds contain pieces by sculptors such as Barry Flanagan, Antony Gormley and the Chapman Brothers. For those feeling something is missing, head up the road to Murray Edwards, whose walls are filled with intriguing works by female artists: addressing feminist issues of identity and equality.
For those interested in contemporary art, October has some exciting events in store. The exhibition Text&Context creates ‘encounters’ with text-based works spread around the city, focused on the interconnection of art, language and location. The displays will be as varied as the 25 artists involved, from a sound piece outside Churchill College to the novelty of a nine meter book next to the Faculty of English.
Thanks to the mass of creativity present within the student body, Cambridge also offers many opportunities for students themselves to get directly involved with the creation, or curation, of art. Last year, an Affordable Art Fair was held in Trinity College. Run by a group of students, the show allowed Cambridge students to receive exposure, as well as payment, for their works. Likewise, student-run exhibitions were put on throughout the year, from solo exhibitions in alternative art space The Shop, to Art and Faith: New Ways of Seeing – an inter-faith show organised by two theology students. Allowing five students to show alongside two professional artists, the exhibition fostered dialogue between religions and explored the link between art and scripture. Funded by the university, these exhibitions allow students to create something out of their love of art.
There are a multitude of practical activities available for the keen artist. Most colleges run their own life drawing sessions: King’s maintains its reputation for individuality by hosting a female-only class, utilising student models. Pembroke’s art and photographic society holds social events, classes and competitions; it even possesses a dark room. For more direct teaching on varied themes, King’s Arts Centre is ideal. Holding classes at various points during the week (featuring topics such as ‘learning from the masters’) the centre provides free materials, whilst also allowing supervised time in their studio and its ‘messy room’. Established in the 1970s, the centre provides opportunities both to learn and to practise art.
Cambridge’s wealth of opportunity for artists and art lovers alike leaves no room for doubt at the city’s prowess and ability to compete both with other universities - as well as major cities in the United Kingdom.