Helena McCormick visits York Art Gallery’s Lumber Room: “the exhibition has succeeded in transporting visitors elsewhere”

By November 3, 2015


Mark-Hearld-Detail-3-small-1280x853I have visited York Art Gallery on a few different occasions since its reopening. The exhibition that always stands out for me is the Lumber Room, curated by Mark Hearld, the gallery’s artist-in-residence. This exhibition can be found in the Upper North Gallery. According to Hearld, the inspiration for it was a short story of the same name by Saki. In the story a young boy sneaks into a fascinating room full of odd and curious treasures and is awestruck by such a sight. When I walked into this exhibition, I felt myself in the young boy’s shoes. It is a wonderful tribute to the human imagination.

The exhibition comprises of many different objects, many of which were from the Yorkshire Museum’s Trust pre-existing collection. Visually, it was a real mix and match of different artistic ideas – from physical objects like the row of rocking horses to curious paintings at the far end, and the military jackets adorning one wall.

Each corner of the room had something different to offer, but the overall aesthetic was that of a child’s imagination – at times it was like walking around the bedroom or playroom of a wealthy Victorian-era child, with the traditional British ornaments and children’s toys. Yet, this is juxtaposed with the room’s slight suggestion of seriousness. Everything was organised regimentally, suggesting that it was actually an adult’s room – harking back to the original idea behind the exhibition of a forbidden room full of wonder that is locked away from the children who would enjoy playing in it.

Rather than making the exhibition less fun, this hint of seriousness grounded the exhibition in some kind of a reality. I was able to imagine it as a ‘real’ room rather than just as a gallery’s three-dimensional collage. This prevented the exhibition from being sucrose – instead it has a magical realism and it was just the right amount of wonder.

Overall, the exhibition is a very interesting part of York’s newly reopened gallery. It is something that can truly be enjoyed by both children and adults because of its mixed aesthetic of childhood wonder and adult seriousness. A fascinating thing that I noticed was that every person who entered the room seemingly gravitated to a specific section or object within it.

This highlighted to me how successful Hearld’s exhibition was in pulling different people in, whether they see a beautiful piece of art like the carefully selected paintings, or something that may remind them of their childhood such as the china dolls. Further to this, the excitement on the visitor’s faces shows that the exhibition has succeeded in transporting visitors elsewhere, be it into Hearld’s imagination, or most likely into their own.