The Menier building is often described as one of the finest examples of a Victorian warehouse design in London. Within the Menier Gallery, the cast iron columns and contrasting brickwork offer an original space in which drawings, paintings and sculptures can add texture to the white brick reveals and soft pastel brickwork. Two floors of space give visitors regular opportunities to reconnect with the building’s French-inspired grandeur, especially when sculpture includes natural materials such as stone, wood or iron, and the walls are hung with 3m x 4m woollen tapestries from the Asian Steppes. There is a special contrast when still art is on display in the ground floor space, entered from the corner of O’Meara Street, and “live art” installations in the basement, accompanied by music and theatre.
After a visit to the Menier Gallery, an art lover ought to regain his strength for the rest of the day’s artistic indulgence with the fixed price lunch at the Menier Café. Here, there is much for the aesthete to admire. The restaurant is an impressive example of the combination of Victorian engineering skill, and French panache. High up in the west corner is a mighty curved iron beam which holds up the exterior brickwork and is best seen from outside. The master craftsmanship of the white brick tracery highlights the windows, and the diner will note the individual casting of each of the restaurant’s iron columns. Having soaked up the 140 year old design of this part of the building, the art-loving diner is fortified for an afternoon of cultural indulgence
When Gagarin Square is open, a visitor still immersed in Victorian visions will progress barely six metres westward from the Café’s entrance to reach the wide stairs leading to the Gagarin Terrace. Clutching a 2015 copy of The Galleries of London, our enthusiast will start to go up the wide stairs to the terrace. He will pause on the landing to admire the exquisite craftsmanship of the brick curved wall, held up by the inner cast iron lintel, and the French Medieval carvings of gargoyles and griffins climbing the Menier building’s north-west façade.
At the top of these steps, our sculpture collector will arrive at a surprisingly spacious, open air terrace. It will be an oasis of calm away from the noise of Southwark Street. On the right, in the Gagarin Square Gallery, 21st century steel bridging suspension structure will be visible. These which hold up the restaurant ceiling and floor above the column-ness theatre are as noteworthy as the ironwork within the Menier Gallery and Café. The Terrace Gallery will have sufficient space for up to three separate exhibitions divided by the exposed steel structures, or for one large 200m2 Warhol retrospective!