Monday, 30 November 2009


It probably says something about my myopic view of the world that I could never really get with Urbis. To me it always seemed a soulless space with a paltry veneer of art and heavily edited culture splattered on the inside. This might well be because I've spent a lot of my time in the intellectual company of very dead, fairly bearded white men, with the result that I can often feel out of touch with the prevailing views on arts and culture.

My issue with Urbis is that it never provided me with the intellectual sustenance I was looking for... though to be frank, few exhibition do. I'm like a man who has been spoiled by a doting mother and excessive pornography, it is unlikely I will find a lady who will live up to my expectations.  Little short of the Great Exhibition of 1851 will please me.

This view hasn't changed with the decision to forcibly inject the National Football Museum in Urbis' glassy shell. I'm not going to retrospectively become horrified by football's ascendancy into a cultural space. In some ways it's a bit of a relief: I'll never feel that I'm somehow letting down the middle class art lovers side by my reluctance to subject myself to the cultural fare Urbis offered. It's football, and, like tripe, no one will mind if I turn my nose up at it.

Looking round Urbis on a rainy Sunday afternoon, it became clear to me that perhaps I should apply the same logic to the attitude of display that currently infuses the space. Audio-visual interpretative displays and blown-up photographs for me have always had a supplemental purpose - yet with Urbis they are the mainstay of both major exhibitions currently on display. The suggestion of smugness, which so offended their CEO, is not rescinded: the exhibitions remind me of nothing more than complacent secondary school text books, which the key difference that there is apparently no attempt to present a unbiased argument. Both the TV and Hip Hop exhibitions feel celebratory to the point of being blinkered.

However, I do understand that many people love the place, and with this in mind it's clear to see that the major issue with the Urbis decision is that it smacks of the same dangerous logic which inspired Southampton Council to attempt to sell art to fund a Titanic-themed tourist attraction. Economic decisions cannot be ignored when planning culture, but the public floundering over it the future of Urbis makes it seem that there has been no planning for something to take its place.

Just as the exhibitions seemed to sit superficially in the surroundings of that god-awful arrogant buildings, perhaps when removed from it they could take on a new subtleness and nimbleness? When I was 19 I wrote a plan for a building-less Gallery of Popular Culture - even then I knew that a building would hamper rather than help a curatorial idea which attempted to pin down something so ephemeral. I still have the document somewhere... if you're interested.

1 comment:

owen hatherley said...

I got given some fine Urbis gossip at the end of this post, by one of its founders, which may interest...that it is becoming a sodding football museum is strangely appropriate.