The McNay Art Museum – the Collection

Marion McNay was an American painter and art teacher who inherited a substantial oil fortune upon the death of her father. She was an enthusiastic collector of Modern Art and on her death bequeathed her collection of some 700 paintings and other works of art to found the first Modern Art Museum in Texas. The Museum has built on the bequest and now has almost 20,000 works in their collection.

The gallery spaces are light, bright, spacious and airy and there was an excellent range of works on display.


The collection particularly focuses on 19th, 20th and 21st-century European and American paintings, sculptures and photographs. It also includes medieval and renaissance works, art and artefacts from New Mexico and an extensive collection of theatre arts.

The 19th and early 20th Century is represented by artists including Monet









and Picasso


Post War European art included works by

Ben Nicholson


and Barbara Hepworth


Not surprisingly there were a large number of works by American artists, including Joan Mitchell


Hudson River Day Line (1955)

Willem de Kooning


Eddy Farm (1964)

Sue Fuller


String Composition #T220 (1965)

and two small paintings by Jackson Pollock


I liked this little sculpture, Snake on a table (1944) by Alexander Calder


This painting by Diego Rivera was one of the first works purchased by Marion McNay.


Delfina Flores (1927) by Diego Rivera

Upstairs in the old house there works from the Medieval and Renaissance collection and the collection of artefacts from New Mexico. I wasn’t so keen on the former but rather liked the display of paintings, pottery, textiles and other objects that constituted the latter.


I particularly liked the examples of Pueblo pottery, created by Native Americans, they had on display.



Overall an excellent gallery, well worth the ride out there on the bus.

They also had a good collection of sculpture (besides the two works above). I’ll return to that in another post.

Museum Berggruen

One of the highlights of our trip to Berlin was visiting the Berggruen Museum, which is opposite the Charlottenburg Palace in the West of Berlin. Although it was quite a distance from where we were staying, we were able to get there easily by taking the U-Bahn – a direct line from Alexanderplatz.  It’s collection is largely devoted to only a small number of artists, but what artists -Picasso, Matisse, Paul Klee, and Giacometti. They also have some works by Braque, Henri Laurens and Cézanne, and a selection of African sculptures.

The Gallery only recently reopened in March this year and I don’t know whether word about it hasn’t got out yet because it was relatively quiet while we were there – which was a good thing for us! The collection was so good it was, literally, breath-taking. One visit wasn’t enough – but it’s not so easy to pop round to have another look! But going back to see the collection is in itself a reason for a return trip to Berlin.

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The museum building is a former officer’s barracks which has been refurbished and extended, connected to the adjacent Kommandantenhaus by a glass passage. There’s also a sculpture garden in the inner courtyard.

The buildings have been beautifully restored, especially the staircase and dome in the main building.

(Image source: Archinform)

The core of the museum’s collection came from Heinz Berggruen, a Jewish citizen of Berlin, born in 1914, who had to flee Germany in 1936 to escape the Nazis. He moved to the USA and then, after the war, to Paris where he eventually became an art dealer representing Picasso. He built up his art collection which he eventually ended up selling it at a reduced price to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in 2000 as a gesture of reconciliation after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The museum has over 120 works by Picasso spanning his entire career from 16 onwards and encompassing all the different artistic styles he adopted. This meant that it was possible to see how his work changed and developed over his career. I’ve been to the Picasso museum in Paris a couple of times and was bowled over by their collection, but this was equally good if not better.

There were so many fantastic paintings that it’s hard to pick out favourites. But a couple of portraits of his lover, Dora Marr, particularly struck me. Although they were created within a year of each other, their styles are completely different.

The first is a classic cubist portrait, with distorted features and perspective, the face painted from more than one viewpoint and the childlike hands.

Pablo Picasso Dora Maar mit grünen Fingernägeln, 1936 Öl auf Leinwand, 65 x 54 cm © Succession Picasso / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013 / bpk / Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum Berggruen / Jens Ziehe

Dora Maar with Green Nails (1936) Image source – Berlin&I website

The second is a much more traditional pastel and pencil drawing

Dora Maar with a Crown of Flowers 1937 (Image source Artnet)

Both are extremely accomplished and, in different ways, bring out the essence of his subject.

They had a few sculptures by Picasso too. One was just a little bird made from scraps of wood and wire. Very simple but very effective. A good example of how he could catch the the essence of his subject using basic “found” materials.

70 works by Paul Klee, again covering his whole career, including his time as an instructor at the Bauhaus. Prior to the visit to the Berggruen  I hadn’t seen much of his work, but the Museum have a large number of his pictures showing how his work changed and developed over his career that embraced expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. The works by Klee in the collection

… include mysterious, lyrical drawings like ‘Galgenhumor’ and ‘Den Fischen läuten’, both from 1919, which evoke Klee’s early affinity to Symbolism, as well as studies of colour and form such as ‘transparent – perspectivisch gefügt (I)’ from 1921 and ‘Nekropolis’ from 1929, which stem from his time as a teacher at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Works such as ‘Ein Kinderspiel’ (1939) and ‘Der Teppich’ from 1940, a watercolour painted shortly before he died, exemplify Klee’s later body of work. (Museum Berggruen website)

This painting “Blauer Berg” – Blue Mountain – (1919) was one of my favourites.

Blue mountain by Klee

This is ‘Ein Kinderspiel’ (1939), one of the later paintings

 Paul Klee - A children's game in 1939.

It was hard to take everything in during the visit, but it has made me want to find out more about his work.

Matisse (1869-1954) and Giacometti (1901-1966) are mainly represented in by works from the later part of their careers. There were a number of paper cuts by Matisse including images from his artist’s book “Jazz” and

Henri Matisse, Die Seilspringerin, 1952

Die Seilspringerin (1952) by Matisse

There were several figures of standing women and walking men by Giacometti, his usual subjects. I was particularly taken by a small sculpture of a cat – almost a 3D representation of a Lowry stick figure – and an unusual subject for Giacometti.

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For once, I was so overwhelmed by the art that I didn’t spend any time taking photographs (the German galleries we visited generally allowed photography). There was so much to see that I just wanted to spend my time looking at the pictures and sculptures. So at the end of the visit I thought I buy a guidebook from the Museum bookshop. However, as we found out when visiting other museums in Berlin, they didn’t seem to go for producing the “best of” type books that are common in British galleries. They had a catalogue, which was pricey but good value, but it was a monster with a photograph of just about every painting in the collection and too heavy to cart around Berlin. Not only that, I would have definitely incurred an excess baggage charge from Easyjet if I’d tried to take it on the plane home!  And unlike the Tate and other major national galleries in the UK, the German National Museums (of which the Berggruen  is part) have hardly any images of the art works they own on their website. So I’m having to try and rely on my memory (at least until the copy of the catalogue I ordered from the Museum arrives – I caved in and placed an order over the Internet after I got home – it’s cheaper than a return visit!)

Becoming Picasso at the Courtauld

Last Tuesday I had to go down to London on business, so I took the opportunity to go down a little early and spend a cultural afternoon in London. I was particularly keen to see the exhibition of paintings by Picasso showing at the Courtauld Gallery. It was coming to the end of it’s run and so this was my last chance to see the paintings, all from a single year, 1901:

the year that the ambitious nineteen-year-old launched his career in Paris with an exhibition that would set him on course to become one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901

It was a relatively small exhibition – it was certainly not a blockbuster. Just two rooms but a decent number of pictures. And what pictures!

It’s already been reviewed by John from Notes to the Milkman  and it’s been mentioned by Rosie Scribblah; these are my thoughts for what they’re worth!

I arrived at the Courtauld at about half past one. There wasn’t really a queue – only 2 couples in front of me and the exhibition wasn’t too busy. Not quiet, but no need for a timed ticket and I could see all the paintings without having to stand on tip toes and peek over peoples’ shoulders. I was able to view them leisurely and go back and look again without any problems, so I probably went round twice and back a few more times to the pictures I particularly liked.

The paintings on display were all from his debut exhibition in 1901 with the influential dealer Ambroise Vollard and show how his work changed over that short timescale, leading to his “Blue” period.

The earlier paintings, from the first half of 1901, were displayed in the first room. They showed strong influences by the Impressionists and Post Impressionists such as Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh. Lots of bright colours roughly dabbed on, particularly noticeable on his painting of “Nana, the dwarf dancer

dwarf dancer

(source: Courtauld website)

The subject matter of these paintings, circus performers, the Moulin Rouge and the Can Can also seemed to show the influence of Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas.

In the second room the style of many of the paintings, produced after his Vollard exhibition, changed quite dramatically. The brushwork in most of them was quite different from those from the earlier part of the year. And the colour in many of them were more sombre and dominated by blue tones – we can see the beginning of his “Blue period”.

Some still showed influences, like this painting of an absinthe drinker, a subject previously painted by Degas

The Absinthe Drinker - Pablo Picasso

Absinthe drinker (source: Wikipaintings)

But Picasso’s painting was different -  less lifelike. There are some similarities with Lautrec’s style but it is less realisitic. The outsize hands and unrealistic right arm being particularly noticeable.  She has a grim expression on her prematurely aged face, and is making a curious  gesture.

There were some well known paintings including Child with Dove and two paintings featuring Harlequin –  Seated Harlequin  and Harlequin and Companion, and two self portraits – Self Portrait (Yo – Picasso) and Self Portrait (Yo).

Two lesser known paintings I liked featured a mother and child. The first show a contented pair, the baby looking chubby and well fed

Woman with child - Pablo Picasso

Mother and Child (source: Wikipaintings)

but the second, featuring the same models, shows a different, more desperate situation. The child is a little older and another baby being carried by the mother.

The mother leading two children - Pablo Picasso

The Mother (source: Wikipaintings)

The differences in style of the two paintings reflect the different situations. The first being neater and more brightly coloured and the second more crudely painted with larger brushstrokes and a rougher finish.

So, not a blockbuster, but a manageable exhibition without a duff painting in sight. I came away feeling stimulated and having learned something about Picasso’s work, rather than exhausted.

Leeds City Art Gallery and Henry Moore Institute

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I always look forward to the break over Christmas and New Year. A great chance to forget about work for a few days and relax, catch up on some reading, watch TV and a few films on DVD. The trouble is, after a few days in the house I start to get stir crazy and want to get out somewhere other than Tesco. So yesterday we decided we’d drive over to Leeds and visit the Henry Moore Institute and Leeds City Art Gallery. It’s been a while since I was last there and there were a few new temporary exhibitions on that sounded interesting.

The Henry Moore Institute is part of The Henry Moore Foundation, which was set up by Moore in 1977 to encourage appreciation of the visual arts. The building is physically connected to the Leeds City Art Gallery by an interior bridge, and although they are independent of the Gallery they collaborate with them and manages their sculpture collection and archive.

The main exhibition at the Institute at the moment is 1913: The Shape of Time featuring sculptures and some two dimensional works created in 1913.

“Marking the eve of the centenary of this year, and with George Kubler’s book The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things (1962) in mind, 1913: The Shape of Time is an exploration of the complex lives sculptures lead after their original production. …… This exhibition points both to the impact of sculptural thinking on the mutability of time and to the ways in which temporal thinking impacts on the production of and encounter with sculpture. All of the works on display were first produced in 1913, however many have been cast or replicated at a later date

I particularly liked the two sculptures by Henri Gaudier Brzeska, a beautiful little crucifixion sculpture by Eric Gill (despite despising his personal life I love his work), a Modgliani sketch, a Picasso collage two sculptures by  by Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné. I’ve not come across him before so will have to follow up with some research.

Christ on the Cross

Eric Gill Christ on the Cross 1913 (source: National Gallery of Scotland website)

In another room there was a recreation of a work by my Marcel DuChamp (I can’t avoid this guy!!) – his "Bicycle wheel" by an American-born, Paris-based artist, Elaine Sturtevant.

Made from memory and with the same methods as the original, Sturtevant’s repetitions are eerily similar, if not almost identical. Through this subversive approach, Sturtevant divorces an artwork from its visual image to investigate its conceptual meaning and value.

Elaine Sturtevant ‘Duchamp Bicycle Wheel’ 1969-1973 (Source: Henry Moore Institute website)

We spent most of our time looking round the City Art Gallery. Unlike the public galleries in Manchester and Liverpool, where there is a major emphasis on Victorian art, Leeds’ collection is strongly biased towards the 20th Century and they including a good selection of sculptures. It’s an excellent gallery with a good collection and they show some good exhibitions. They don’t allow photography but, despite this, they aren’t great at providing information on the exhibits that visitors can take away with them and their website isn’t particularly good, with only limited information on the works in their collection. It can be difficult to follow up on discoveries made during the visit.

The Henry Moore Institute collaborates with the City Art gallery to curate sculpture exhibitions and at the moment are showing a selection of small scale works from the city’s collection in an exhibition titled Natural Form: Shape and Growth in Sculpture. It was really excellent with works by Moore, Hepworth, Jean Arp, Paule Vézelay, Richard Long, David Nash etc etc etc . There were a number of ceramics too, including a really nice "squashed vase" by Elizabeth Fritsch and a plate by Henry Moore.

What particularly caught our attention were a number of pieces by Andy Goldsworthy made from leaves formed into boxes and other forms. They were particularly excellent.  They must have required tremendous skill and patience to create them and I couldn’t help but wonder how the fragile leaves stay intact. Perhaps they are sprayed with some sort of preservative?

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Upstairs they have a large display of post war works including a significant number by St Ives artists (including 3 Christopher Woods paintings) and sculptures by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and F E McWilliam.

There were a couple of temporary exhibitions including one Contested Ground, run in conjunction with the Contemporary Art Society, and which focuses on works connected to the landscape. The exhibition is curated by Debra Lennard, and it

explores the revision of the landscape tradition in British art throughout the last century, and the meaning of that tradition for artists today. Drawing on Leeds Art Gallery’s rich collections, this exhibition presents key works by pioneers of Modernism in England, from Paul Nash and Ben Nicholson to Barbara Hepworth and Peter Lanyon, alongside more recent experiments with landscape by artists including Richard Long, Boyle Family, and Clare Woods.

The information on the exhibition was very limited. BUt as I mentioned above, this is a particular problem with the Gallery. However, I did manage to late a copy of the exhibition catalogue online here.

Contested Ground, Leeds Art Gallery

Picture source: Contemporary Art Society website

Downstairs there was an exhibition "Liberty and Anarchy" of works by an Australian artist of Greek extraction -  Nike Savvas. One room had an installation specially made for the exhibition which consisted of curtains of hanging coloured strips. You’re meant to be able to walk through the work, seeing it from the inside, so to speak, but the gallery restrict when you can do this as the work would be easily damaged.  We didn’t have the opportunity during our visit which was a pity as we weren’t able to properly appreciate the work just looking at it from one side. The other room displayed three dimensional works with coloured wool threaded on wooden frames, not unlike the stringing that Gabo, Hepworth and Moore sometimes used on their sculpture, though more complex, especially as she created them in accordance with a mathematical formula. There were also some related black and white two dimensional works which were quite similar to the op art work produced by Bridget Riley.

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All in all a good day out.

Picasso et les Toros

Over twenty years ago I was reluctantly dragged to the Picasso museum in Paris. I wasn’t keen; at that time I couldn’t see what was so special about Picasso. But the visit opened my eyes. One of the things that particularly made an impression on me was the bull’s head that he had created from a bicycle saddle and handlebars. It was so simple and yet so effective. Previously, I would have taken the view that this was something anyone could have done. But what I realised was although that was true, it is so simple anyone could have created it, very few people would have thought of doing it, and not only that he’d got it just right. It looked like a bull’s head.

I think that it was this simple little work that made me start to question my prejudice and begin to appreciate Modern Art.


Picture source here

There were several other items relating to bullfighting in the museum. Little sketches created by a few strokes of the brush that really sum up Picasso’s skill as an artist.

Picture source; Musée Picasso

Picasso was a passionate fan of bullfighting and during the years of the Franco dictatorship when he wasn’t able to attend the Corrida in his native Spain, he regularly attended the bullfights held in France in Arles and Nîmes with his mistress, Francoise Gilot (the mother of his daughter, Paloma), and friends including, Jean Cocteau.


Not surprisingly bulls and bullfighting provided the inspiration for many of his works.

picasso bullfight sketch

The next time I saw something by Picasso on the bullfighting theme was when we visited the small, but excellent, Musée d’Art Moderne in Céret at the foot of the Pyrenees in Catalan country in south west France, where Picasso had stayed in 1911, 1912 and 1913 during the period when he was developing the Cubist style with Georges Braque. One of the highlights of their collection is a series of paintings on ceramic cups created by Pablo Picasso on the theme of the bullfight – les coupelles tauromachie .

The series of paintings covers all the main stages of the bullfight from the paseo to the death of the bull.

Images from

The images are all very simple little sketches, but exceptionally well executed and very effective.

Musée d’Art Moderne de Céret

Image from

While I was visiting Nîmes I discovered that two of the museums in the town were holding exhibitions featuring Picasso. To mark it’s 10th anniversary and the 60th Feria de Nimes le Musée des Cultures Taurines  was holding an exhibition of Picasso’s relationship with bullfighting “Picasso, sous le soleil de Françoise, Nîmes et les toros”. I was keen to visit. Fortunately, unlike Britain, where everything has to shut at 5 p.m., the museums and attractions in Nîmes stayed open later, and as the  le Musée des Cultures Taurines was open until 6 p.m. I managed to catch the last hour before it closed after I returned from the Pont du Gard (the bus got back to the station at quarter to five)


It was an excellent little exhibition featuring letters and photographs relating to Picasso and his visits to Nîmes, and an impressive selection of ceramics, paintings and prints all about bulls and bullfighting.


Picasso at the bullfight in les Arênes de Nîmes

The pictures included a small painting of a picador he painted when he was only 8 years old.


I particularly liked a series of prints of bulls starting with an image drawn with just a few lines and working up to a more comprehensive drawing of a “toro”.


Now I have to say that I’m set against any “sport” that involves deriving pleasure from the slaughter of animals, so I’m not in favour of the Corrida. I might feel uncomfortable with the subject matter, but I don’t think that stops me from appreciating the genius of the works on this theme created by Picasso. Or am I being hypocritical?


The other Picasso related exhibition – Pablo Picasso et  Françoise Gilot – peintre et muse was showing at le Musée du Vieux Nîmes. It features photographs of their life together and a selection of paintings and drawings by Francoise Gilot, who is an artist in her own right. I’d have liked to have seen this too, but, alas, time had run out.

Picasso: Peace and Freedom

We went to see the Picasso exhibition at the Tate Liverpool on Wednesday.  There were over 150 works on display on the top floor of the gallery, created after the second world war.  After watching the BBC programme about him recently, it was  agood opportunity to see some of his work “in the flesh”.

The exhibition attempts to interpret these works in the context of Picasso’s political activism. He joined the Communist Party in October 1944 Picasso  and remained a member until his death in 1973. He’s been criticised for his involvement, particularly as he was an uncritical of the Soviet regime despite the invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. But politics isn’t simple and Picasso, like many workers and intellectuals, saw the Communist Party as the only bastion against fascism and reaction.

Quite a few of the works displayed are clearly political. This includes some of his paintings from just after the war, in particular “the Charnel House“, “Monument to Spaniards who died for France” and “the Cockerel of the Liberation”. There is also a room devoted to politically influenced works including prints and drawings that Picasso produced for L’Humanitie (the French Communist Party newspaper) and other leftist publications.

There were quite a few paintings, drawings and prints featuring his well known Dove of Peace, a symbol that is still widely used today. Although the dove has been used to represent peace since biblical times it was popularised by Picasso who produced a design of a dove for a poster to advertise the International peace congress in Paris, 1949. The image was, apparently, chosen by the Surrealist poet (and Communist) Louis Aragon who picked out a lithograph of a fan-tailed pigeon while he was visiting Picasso’s studio in 1949. So the image wasn’t actually designed specifically to use as a peace symbol.  However, the image was clearly popular and he produced variations of the image for subsequent Peace Conferences held in Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Vienna, Rome and Moscow. He also used the image in other contexts too, often simplified as a line drawing, and there are a large number of examples on display in the exhibition. He even named one of his daughters after it –  “Paloma” is the Spanish word for “dove”.

Although there were a lot of examples of overtly political art and a number of paintings with clear political themes, I was not convinced by the interpretations of many of the works on display as political, particularly those in the rooms entitled “Still Lives” and “Mothers and Musketeers” . I just couldn’t see the political connection in many of them and I thought that the curator’s interpretations were stretching the point.   Picasso’s art was clearly influenced by politics and contemporary events, but I don’t think it is correct to say that all his works reflected this. It’s too simplistic an interpretation.

Ironically much of the work he produced for the Communist Party didn’t go down well with the party hierarchy. “Decadant” artist like Picasso were actually persecuted in Russia (and no doubt the same fate would have befallen him if he had lived there).  His work certainly couldn’t be categorised as “Socialist Realist”. Nevertheless, having a high profile celebrity like Picasso in the fold was no doubt seen as valuable publicity.

Picasso was tremendously talented and could work in any style he chose. I particularly like the simpler things that he produced like the ink drawings and lithographs. He seemed to be able to produce images with a few strokes of his pen or brush. One notable example in the exhibition was a mural sketched on a wall in November 1950 while visiting the home of his friend, the scientist Professor John Desmond Bernal. The mural, known as “Bernal’s Picasso” is a simple sketch depicting the head of a man and woman with laurel wreaths and wings. The section  of the wall with the mural was saved when the house was demolished and its now owned by the Wellcome Trust, and is on loan for the exhibition (as are many of the works on display).

The exhibition was a great opportunity to see a large collection of Picasso’s later work assembled from all over the world.  He was a tremendously prolific artist and there are large concentrations in major cities such as Paris (I’ve visited the Musee Picasso a couple of times) and in Spain, but we don’t get too may opportunities to see much of his work in the North West of England. His later work is generally less well known than that produced before the ware, but it was well worth seeing. In fact, there was really too much to see during one visit and, despite the relatively hefty entrance fee, another visit before he exhibition ends will be more than worthwhile.

Modern Masters on the BBC

I’ve enjoyed watching the series of four programmes on the BBC presented by the youthful Alastair Sooke about Modern Art. Each programme focused on one of the great “masters” of Modern Art – Picasso, Matisse, Dali and Warhol, showcasing their work, looking at how it developed over their lifetime and trying to explain their influences and connections and the influence they have had on popular culture.

Picasso (source: Wikipedia)

Sooke is an enthusiastic presenter and explains his points without being too preachy – although I’d agree with the Guardian review that suggested that there was “a touch of Blue Peter” in his style. There seems to be a trend for young, dynamic presenters on the BBC at the moment – we’ve also had Brian Cox, the “rock star physicist”, who seems to crop up all over the place, and Iain Stewart who’s presented a number of geology based programmes. Sometimes their enthusiasm can be a little irritating, but they clearly know their stuff, generally get it over well and may attract some younger viewers (not just old fogies like me!).

Matisse (source: Wikipedia)

I’m sure that some serious art critics would get sniffy and consider the programmes to be “middle brow”, but I found them both entertaining and informative. I’ve only developed my interest in Modern Art relatively recently and have a lot to learn and programmes like this certainly help my education. I found the programme on Matisse particularly interesting as I didn’t know much about him even though I’d seen some of his works in the Beaubourg in Paris, and was familiar with some of his better known paintings. The programme put these in context and allowed me to discover other aspects of his work. There was much more variety – his style changing as he got older – then I realised.

Pictures by Matisse (Beaubourg, Paris)

I knew more about Picasso and Dali. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Musee Picasso in Paris and the Dali Theartre and Museum in Figueres. In both cases there was a large collection which spanned the life of these artists.

Dali Theatre and Museum

The BBC has a website devoted to the series, which has some clips from the programmes, a “virtual exhibition” of major works by all four artists and links to places where it’s possible to see Modern Art round the country. They also have a series of “art walks” – routes around major cities in Britain which focus on public art including sculpture, architecture and other places to see Modern Art.