I left the Fitzwilliam on Friday night confused by the “Shadows and Lights” exhibition, a half-hearted attempt at grandeur when simplicity would have done the trick.

The organisers of the evening obviously had two target audiences in mind: families with children and the older, more mature art-lovers. They tried to cater for a huge range of wants and expectations; with the activities of making lamps out of jam jars and following a trail around the gallery for the kids, contrasted against the classical music concert and Italian cocktails accompanied by Jazz music. A huge issue for me, which was not a problem at the last event, was the light: it was supposed to be an evening tour of the gallery and yet it felt like an average afternoon, defeating the purpose of their theme, “Shadows and Lights”, when all we got was the sunshine.

The point of going was to attempt to see the art in a different way, (literally in a different light) and yet that was highly difficult when the light hadn’t changed all day, and the sun hadn’t even set when I left. Picasso was still the same in Gallery 11, Titian was still a beautiful painter under the light of… well, day. Seeing the Italian Drawings exhibition wasamazing, yet it felt like I could have done that this morning under the same conditions and felt equally the same level of inspiration.

Despite some of the problems in consistency with the event, the music sets were some of the highlights of the night, with the Arco Iris Samba band starting things off, followed by the Swingball Jazz band and then a classical concert. Watching the Jazz band in the courtyard, however, would have been better if like the older and richer of the audience, we had been able to afford the extortionately priced wine and other drinks – at £6.50 for the special cocktails they had advertised as being part of the night – wine which they had given out free at the last evening event.  For the concert, the voice of the soprano, Rachel Godsill, had a perfect acoustic echo in the high hall of the gallery, and the backdrop of 16th century British art provided a stunning setting. If only the organisers had maintained this, deciding instead to approach one niche in the market rather than two simultaneously, creating an evening of art, wine and music for the art-lovers, and therefore maybe pushing the hours a little later to create a better mood with some actual shadows. Another event could be held for the families too, which in itself could be more fun for kids in not having to share their fun with the classical music lovers.

As for the extra events of the evening, I was not exactly impressed. The program advertised “Paintings in a different light – discover how Medieval paintings were viewed… by candle-glow.” Once again the desired effect might have been attained if there hadn’t been windows inset into the ceiling. Otherwise, I could see what they were trying to do. The “Lighting in antiquity – Greek lamps demonstration” was a tiny stall outside the door, with equally tiny lamps, and a quiz you could fill in as you walked around the gallery. And as for the “VJing – A Whistlestop Tour of the Fitzwilliam: see a live VJ digital event with film and music”, I have never been more confused in my life. I can’t even describe the strange nature of a repeating image of some stairs, ones I had just walked down in the Fitzwilliam, throbbing away as a repeated projection to a surreal soundtrack, never mind attempt to decide why they found it necessary to do so. I still don’t know what they meant by VJing either.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the Fitzwilliam museum in itself: it has a beautiful collection of art and artefacts ranging from Egyptian to Greek to Italian to Spanish to British Modern depending upon the room you find yourself in. They should have just picked a target audience and stuck with it, instead of trying to please everyone.


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