More guidance would be good

Guests at a Rye Art Gallery exhibition preview

Just outside the front door of Rye Art Gallery is a glass case with a drawing showing the layout of the gallery, with rooms numbered from one to six on a variety of levels. Stuck on top of the layout, so you can not see it at all now, is (or was, if common sense has returned) a poster for the latest exhibition .

As I have been ill since Christmas with recurring pneumonia, my few trips into town have been mainly to Boots for medicines, but the new exhibition attracted me and was just a few steps along the High Street. And the Rye Art Gallery is an important attraction for visitors given both Rye’s artistic heritage and today’s artists, who can not live by bread alone – but I may have to praise, as the saying goes, with faint damns.

To start at the beginning, and this is a big “starter” appropriate to many forms of communication, my first lesson as a journalist was to understand that the reader may just have arrived from Mars (and therefore know nothing about the subject I am writing about). Similarly visitors to Rye may have just arrived from Manchester – or even Tokyo – and one can not assume what they may, or may not, understand – and we need to be clear in our communications, whatever form they may take.

However, though the rooms on the gallery’s ground floor are numbered on the layout (when you can see it), there are no numbers that I could see in the actual rooms saying, for example, this is Room 1. There was a sign over the main staircase saying that rooms 4 to 6 were up the stairs, but neither rooms 4 nor 5 were actually numbered – though I assume 5 is the small area at the back with a pillar in the middle.

Room 6 is clearer as it is on the top floor on its own and there is a sign pointing up the final staircase to some exhibits taken from the permanent collection. Here again, though, given Rye’s artistic heritage and present strengths, I felt I was not given enough information about all the art and the individual artists – and our visitors, as well as sales, are vital.

Assuming that Room 1 is the first one you enter, this contained a random collection of artists not part of the new exhibition. Room 2, up a few steps, also had some random works along with stuff from Gary Goodman in the new exhibition. Oska Lappin’s work, also in the new exhibition, was in Room 3 (I think) in the area recently much improved in terms of presentation (but I am not sure everything in the room was by her – particularly at the very back in the window recess).

Rooms 4 and 5 seemed to be obviously NOT part of the new exhibition as they included some familiar local names (but the fact they are familiar to me, does not mean necessarily they are familiar to everyone) – along with their prices. However again there was confusion as I was interested in buying something, but it was not always clear in Room 5 what was for sale, had been sold, or what the price was.

My first “art” purchase was as a visitor (to St Ives in fact which is very similar to Rye in many ways) and I learnt two lessons then – think how you are getting it home (in practice the night train from Penzance) and where you are going to put it once you have got home – and visitors may well be among Rye Art Gallery’s buyers. However I am familiar with the artists. Visitors may well not be – and I thought the information was variable, for complete strangers.

Another reason for my visit was that this was the second time a writer from Rye News had apparently become totally confused about what was in the current exhibition, what was not, and what the other stuff was.

On the first occasion various comments made implied that the writer was expected to have an in depth knowledge of who was or was not in the Rye Society of Artists – when the real problem was poor signage and lack of clarity within the gallery itself. And I hope that contributor has not been totally put off as a result.

The same thing happened this month, with a totally different writer, but luckily I was able to spot (before publication, and from my sickbed) that other artists had got muddled up with the new exhibition – and much of journalism has to be about making things crystal clear. So my apologies to both the writer and readers, but last week’s review had to include various additions to sort out what from what.

The road to hell (and losing readers and art sales) is paved with making assumptions and, until these last two reviews, I had assumed (as a frequent past visitor) that the gallery’s layout and exhibitions were reasonably clear. However they are clearly not – and sticking a poster on top of the only layout available of the gallery is not at all helpful.

And I say this as someone who has lived in London much of his life and was a regular visitor to galleries like the Tate and V&A – both here and abroad.

[PS My apologies to readers for my continuing absence, which has included council meetings – though other councillors may have breathed a sigh of relief. I hope to be back, but many months of pneumonia is very debilitating – and I’m not rushing to add my name to the list of those we have sadly lost recently].

[Charles Harkness is Editor of Rye News and we wish him a speedy recovery and a permanent return to the paper – if only to take some of the flak regularly directed at his deputy! – Dep. Ed.]

Photo: Kenneth Bird


  1. We thank Mr Harkness for his comments. In recent months the Trustees and Gallery Director have made great progress in improving the layout of the Gallery and the information we provide. However, we appreciate that there is always room for improvement and we very much welcome customer and visitor feedback. The road to hell may well be paved as he says but, to extend the metaphor, like heaven the Gallery is full of good works


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