Dulwich OnView rattles on about how much we love Dulwich Picture Gallery, but what’s so special about a small collection of old paintings in the depths of south London? Steve Slack explains.
I asked someone recently ‘What comes to mind when you think of Dulwich Picture Gallery?’. She said she hadn’t been for years, but remembered it to be a load of posh, old women looking at a bunch of 17th century paintings – pictures of dead people, farmyard animals and mythical creatures scrambling about in the woods.
How boring, I thought. And how wrong she is.
I’ve been working with the Gallery and the Friends of DPG for the last few years and I find I now can’t tear myself away from the place.
So I asked myself what do I love about it so much. What’s so great about the Gallery?
The gallery is accused of many things. Here are some of the urban myths people like to come out with:
Dulwich is in the middle of nowhere. I’d never get there alive!
Trains to the centre of London run just as regularly as the northern line, about every ten minutes. But trains above ground scare our friends from north London because they just don’t look like the tube. It’s actually really easy to get to Dulwich from London. Just take a look at the times from North Dulwich (to London Bridge) and West Dulwich (to Victoria).
I like East Dulwich, but the Gallery is too far from Lordship Lane
It takes less than quarter of an hour on foot to get to the gallery from Lordship Lane. Take a wander over the hill and you’ll see. And it’s even less on a bike. Surely the best exercise for all those eco-mums in East Dulwich – who can’t bear the thought of an increasing carbon footprint – is to throw Egbert in his pram and push him over the hill to the Gallery. Mum gets some exercise and you both get some culture.
If you’re not bringing a pram, then you might well team your trip to the gallery with a visit to either the beautiful Dulwich Park or perhaps even a pint in the Crown and Greyhound (referred to by the locals as The Dog.)
It’s full of posh people
Of course, there are quite a lot of posh people. It’s Dulwich. What did you expect? That doesn’t mean the streets are paved with Bentleys, wax jackets, ponies and Dalmatians. Indeed, the Dulwich locals I’ve come into contact with over the last few years have been utterly lovely and not in the least stuck up.
Tate Modern is much sexier
Tate Modern is rammed full of people. You can’t move in there on a Sunday for Observer-wielding art lovers. And nobody really understands modern art anyway.
Take a look at any of the recent temporary exhibitions the Gallery has mounted and you’ll see that they are every bit as respectable and spectacular as anything you’ll see at either of the Tates or the National Gallery.
One of the current temporary exhibitions is Kennington Kids a collection of work by teenagers from a youth club on an estate in Kennington. The resulting work is art work of a really high standard, and it’s accessible as well because it’s by young people. It’s a far cry from DPG’s oil paintings of cows and milkmaids.
The Gallery and Friends have worked together to create LATES, a programme of late night openings on the third Thursday of the month, each with a given theme. The Gallery stays open late, there’s a bar and food, music, events, talks – all sorts really.
Outdoor screening of Grease in 2007 ©Ingrid Beazley
This online magazine also came about when some of the Friends of the Gallery got together and decided they wanted to explore writing about and photographing South London. We now publish twice a week. Although our common link is the Gallery, we are completely independent and write what we like. No other Friends organisation has this kind of facility and we currently are being held up as a beacon of good practice.
It’s in Dulwich, so it must be expensive
It’s actually very reasonably priced. The gallery gets no Government funding, so it relies on gate receipts and temporary exhibitions. Admission is £5, or £9 if you want to see the exhibition as well. (Concessions are available and kids go free.)
You can get unlimited access to all this and more for just £30 if you join the Friends. Friends can bring a family guest for free as well.
Why not impress a first date by bringing them to the gallery?
Bring your friends to the annual quiz or the film screenings.
There really is no better place nearby to take your mother when she’s visiting London. The Gallery Café is perfect for afternoon tea.
What’s so great about Dulwich Picture Gallery? It’s on your doorstep, it’s not as boring or inaccessible as you think, it might have some pictures of animals in it, but it’s also completely unique.
Have I won you over yet?