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At the start of the year Birkenhead’s gem of a museum and art gallery, The Williamson, was threatened with cuts so swingeing that it was looking at closure within two years.

Wirral Borough Council’s hair-brained proposal was to reduce the Williamson’s budget by two thirds in two years leaving the gallery – which is a valuable hub for arts, art therapy and eduction in the Wirral – in an untenable position. It even considered handing the collection over to the Evangelical Wirral Christian Centre – because, as everyone knows, the gay-hating Evangelical church is known for its open-armed approach to art.

v0_masterThe gallery’s Friends of Williamson group appealed for more of us to enrol (membership’s just £10/£7), to show our support – and the Council, this week, pledged that funding would be made available to keep the Williamson Art Gallery open. For now.

Still, it’s not the most comfortable of times for the Wirral’s premier arts space.

Meanwhile, a terrific Henry Moore exhibition has just opened here. And we recommend you hotfoot it down to Oxton to take a look – and give the Williamson some love.

v0_master-1Moore’s sensual, organic forms beg to be stroked – but, alas, you’re probably not advised to. Instead, it’s just as fun to get up close to these table-top bronze working models – some destined to be super-sized into iconic public realm architecture around the world.

His model for the Time Life Screen is just beautiful – a free standing rhythmic abacus, like a ridge of wind-carved buttresses – which now, in its fuller form, stands high above the swanky shops of London’s Bond Street.

The sleek and skeletal Knife Edge is a working model for a piece that stands in Vancouver and Westminster – but even at 1/10th the size, it’s still captivating, recalling images of beached whale bones or the ochre canyons of Jordan.

Elsewhere, Moore’s lithographs and sketches show the artist’s fascination with form and space, with works on paper spanning five decades.

Seen together the works on display present a brief but brilliant retrospective of Moore’s practice between 1927 and 1962; and his key creative themes. It’s a must-visit exhibition, and proof that the Williamson – working in collaboration with the South Bank Centre, is giving a much needed boost of beauty on the south side of the river.

We’ve talked before about the need for the Wirral to join forces with Liverpool. Yesterday, plans for a semi combined authority were approved – allowing our councils to work together on economic development, transport and employment in the city region.

We don’t think the plans go far enough. While essential places like the Williamson are on a knife edge, we need to ask some pretty fundamental questions about our future.

Williamson Art Gallery & Museum,
Birkenhead
8 February – 13 April 2014

Main pic © Henry Moore, Working Model for Reclining Figure (Internal and External Forms) 1951
Second pic: Stringed Figure (1938). Bronze and string
Third pic: Time/Life Screen: Working Model (1952). Bronze
© © The Henry Moore Foundation