The Grand Tour (Part 2): Harley Gallery

The Grand Tour originally took place in the 17th – 19th centuries for rich travellers so they could become ‘cultured’. The tour took them across the globe, from England to Italy and Greece. For the modern day traveller however, this has been narrowed down to the much more accessible local region. The tour now utilises four popular arts venues in the East Midlands: The Nottingham Contemporary, The Harley Gallery (Nottinghamshire), Derby Museums, and Chatsworth House to showcase the best of culture and arts our region has to offer. It will be presented over two seasons, 4 July – 20 September 2015 and March – July 2016.

The second stop on The Grand Tour was a visit to the Harley Gallery, which resides on the Welbeck Estate in North Nottinghamshire. Their exhibit ‘Elements of Architecture: Corridors and Welbeck Tunnels’ focuses on the architectural features of the corridor, alongside the mythologised underground tunnels below the Welbeck Estate (which are now closed to the public and remain a mystery) through film and photography.

The exhibition presents theories about this mythologized architecture through film and photography

Entering the gallery, the most striking object is a large, wooden door, which originally led to the bedroom of the 5th Duke of Portland, a 19th century owner of the Welbeck Estate. Known as a recluse, the Duke had this door fitted with two letterboxes, enabling him to communicate with his staff without being seen – one for ingoing and one for outgoing mail. This therefore, is the visitor’s first glimpse of the character of a man who had a labyrinth of tunnels built below his estate. On the walls of the gallery, there is defined a brief history of the corridor noting the architectural feature’s paradoxical nature, a view only emphasised by the slightly jumpy camera footage taken from within the Welbeck Tunnels, and the odd, eerie atmosphere the footage creates.

Heading upstairs, a gallery is dedicated solely to Hans Werlemann’s collection of photographs of Welbeck’s corridors and tunnels, where one learns more about the Duke’s eccentric habits. For example, the Duke had ‘Tunnel No. 1’ built wide enough for two carriages to pass and lit entirely with gas lighting. These fascinating photographs, placing Welbeck Abbey’s interior corridors alongside images of the tunnels underground, invite the visitor to debate the tunnel’s function; as a hideout for an obsessive recluse, an engineering masterpiece complete with underground ballroom, or a copy of the city of London? Anything is possible in this world of corridors, a notion visioned thanks to Werlemann.

The exhibit here undeniably leaves the ‘Grand Tourist’ intrigued and puzzling the mystery of the tunnels beneath your feet

The final gallery contains a series of images of ‘functional spaces’, for example hospital or prison corridors as taken by Walter Niedermayr, an Italian artist renowned for his use of multi-panelled compositions of photographs. From his ‘Raumfolgen’ sequence, the work presented here is eerie and clinical, focusing on how we interact with these void-like spaces.

The Harley Gallery, overall, is a bright, modern space with excellent facilities nearby including a café, farm shop, and garden centre directly next door, whilst further underground intrigue is only a twenty minute walk away, in the form of Creswell Crags. The Gallery will be opening another building in 2016, to display works of importance from the vast Portland collection, which promises to be as high quality as the existing building and promising free entry. The exhibit here undeniably leaves the ‘Grand Tourist’ intrigued and puzzling the mystery of the tunnels beneath your feet. Indeed, for those of you wanting more, there are tours of Welbeck Abbey’s State Rooms available throughout August, which promise to reveal more insights into the eccentricity and intrigue of the estate.

Amy Wilcockson

Image credit: Walter Niedermayr, Raumfolgen 132 / 2004Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Nordenhake Berlin / Stockholm

This exhibition is on display at the Harley Gallery until 4th October 2015. For more information about the Grand Tour, see here.

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