This week my fellow masters students and I visited the Lost in Lace exhibition, curated by Lesley Millar, which is being held in the Gas Hall of the Birmingham Museum & Art Galleries.  The Gas Hall, along with its sister building across the street – the Water Hall, is a beautifully elegant, tall, spacious room with two side ‘aisles’ of practically equal size, one either side of the main section.  The lighting was low, but not too low, and photography is permitted (although no flash of course).  The pieces are beautifully laid out with plenty of space surrounding each one to allow you to walk around them and experience them from different angles, which really helps to appreciate them.

The connecting theme, as you might have guessed, is lace.  The museum holds a lovely collection of laces from many countries and centuries and some of them were shown in an associated exhibition, Concealed and Revealed, elsewhere in the museum.  The artists all responded to the lace in different ways, some producing items of lace-work but not made in the traditional ways of needle or bobbin.

Where to start?  Each of the works was evocative, compelling and rewarded close inspection.  My particular favourites included Piper Shepard’s Lacing Space; Atelier Manferdini’s Inverted Crystal Cathedral, incorporating lots of Swarovski crystals hanging in ginormous spider’s-web loops; Michael Brennand-Wood’s Lace the final frontier, in which he had worked his lace in motifs of war and weaponry and based the formal patterning on a fusion of Islamic and Western geometry; Annie Bascoul with her Moucharabieh and Jardin de lit, lit de jardin; Katharina Hinsberg’s Perceids; Ai Matsumoto’sNo Reverse, which used impressions of lace in silicon embellished with embroidery; Tamar Frank’s wonderful spirograph A thin line between space and matter which used phosphorescent thread, and different lighting conditions; and Alessia Giardino’s Polluted Lace which involved printing onto light-sensitive photo-catalytic white cement which uses UV light to oxidize pollutants and odours in the air.  This last piece gradually became more and more visible over a period of time during which it had been exposed to the environments of Italy and Birmingham.

This is an exhibition that one can return to again and again – happily it doesn’t close until 19th February 2012 – but the fact that the stewards I talked to find it the most interesting and engaging exhibition they’ve been in for a long time, and that since it opened, the visitor numbers have well exceeded the estimate of visitors for the entire duration, I think you might begin to get an idea about the sheer quality of this exhibition.  Stewards have to sit in an exhibition for a long time and shows quickly begin to pall when you are in them for long periods.  If the stewards love a show because of the different perspectives they get and the visitor interraction they get, then you know it’s a well-curated show!

I would urge you to visit the website and buy the catalogues.  There are two, a small one (£4) which has lovely in situ photographs and interesting nuggets of info (generally those provided on the interpretation boards in the exhibition), and the more expensive but more expansive £25 Lost in Lace: Transparent Boundaries which is a treat for anyone’s book collection!

Also, don’t forget to visit the Birmingham Museum & Art Galleries site and see their collections (which are extensive) and the other exhibitions on, including the famous Staffordshire Hoard of gold!!

We are so fortunate to have wonderful museums in the UK and Birmingham’s is a jewel in the city’s crown!