Yesterday, expecting a not particularly warm or sunny day, we headed down to the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, partly because we walked past it when it was still under restoration and vowed to come back, partly because we were headed that direction anyway, partly because we wanted to catch the Grayson Perry exhibition before it closed (it’s on its way to the Harris Museum in that there oop-north and we highly recommend it – as you might expect, it does feature both ceramics and cross-dressing, but only incidentally to the main focus of the event, which is art from the 50s, 60s and 70s, including some excellent social history) and partly because DG said we should go.
What we got was a warm and sunny day, a fabulous building, an excellent exhibition and a really good slice of flourless chocolate and hazlenut cake.
One thing that strikes you as you wander around the De La Warr Pavilion is just how, well, joined-up (for want of a far better phrase) the whole thing is. It strikes you that someone has thought about the whole thing, right from conception to restoration and on to the day-to-day running of the place. The building itself is stunning:
As you walk further around it, you immediately become sucked in by the fact that the whole thing sits perfectly in the landscape and is so damned photogenic.
Of course, it is art deco grandeur on an impressive scale. Anyone familiar with buildings along the coast of Sussex will recognise the art deco trademark curves, flat roof and clean white (or, in this case, cream) exterior. This has to be the best-preserved art deco building I’ve seen. It reminded me of a few that are now lost (Bognor bus station, anyone?).
But the overwhelming impression is that everything is just right. The red flag with newly-painted white ballustrade and royal blue lamp post…
…the specially-commissioned red chairs in the café…
… and even the wonderfully aligned deckchairs with their matching royal blue canvases.
A visit to the café reaffirms the impression of perfection. The staff are perfectionists when it comes to serving coffee, even to the extent that they took one man’s coffee back and replaced it because the chocolate powder on top was not arranged just-so. And the cakes. Mmmm.
And then there is the roof deck.
The roof terrace is just perfect. A broad expanse that, mercifully, has been kept clear of tables, chairs, ice creams and other clutter. There’s nothing to do up here except drink it all in, particularly if you’re lucky enough to get a bit of sun for some artful shadows…
… and a few clouds to give the sky towards Eastbourne some dramatic texture.
And, as you descend, there is that famous stairwell – which I think will become the most photographed stairwell in Sussex.
The other thing that struck us was the variety of people using the Pavilion. There was a good number of arty-farty types visiting the exhibition, but they were matched in number by locals (particularly of the elderly variety using the café) and a good smattering of families joining a tour of the Pavilion on to a trip to the beach. The fact that entrance to the building and the exhibition space is all free has to be a factor in this.
The Pavilion itself is, no doubt, going to attract a good art-following crowd to the town. This has to be a good thing – Bexhill has been teetering on moving from being a rather genteel seaside town towards becoming more than a little bit shabby. It still has its less-salubrious areas (Sidley has to be in danger of falling into this category), but we got the distinct impression that the town is on its way up. And, in combination with the wonderfully-revived Pallant House in Chichester and all the usual wonderful things in Brighton and Hove, the Sussex coast is becoming more of an arts destination by the day.