Don't mention the `C' word

Culture has come to Croydon. Adrian Turpin celebrates

prepare to examine your prejudices. In London today, an exhibition of 80 works by Pablo Picasso opens to the public. Picasso is one of the undisputed masters of 20th-century art. Despite this, you probably won't have read about it in the papers, seen it on The Late Show or heard it on the radio; and if you've seen one of the ads on the Tube, you're likely to have been surprised. Picasso in CROYDON? Croydon, the drab commuter town with the highest home repossession rate in Britain. The "gateway to the South", whose biggest crowd-puller to date has been its B&Q superstore. The Saxons' "valley where wild saffron grows", now host to some of the most carbuncular architecture in the country. (It is rumoured that Betjeman originally wrote: "Come friendly bombs and fall on Croydon", but found that Slough was an easier rhyme.) Even the title of the exhibition, "Cock and Bull Stories", suggests a touch of self-referential humour. Picasso's Croydon period? It's a fantasy worthy of Alexei Sayle.

Except, that is, it happens to be true. The "Picasso Bestiary", a themed exhibition detailing the artist's many depictions of animals, launches the final stage of the Croydon Clocktower Development - an ambitious project to put some soul (and cash) into Croydon. The building itself, a Riba award-winning adaptation of the Grade II listed Victorian town hall (all white steel supports, curved surfaces and glass walls), looks a million dollars (£30m, actually). It contains one of the most hi-tech libraries in Britain, a first-rate gallery space, a shop, caf, cinema and a museum of local history. As a human-scale response to the draughty voids of the Fairfield Halls down the road, it promises much. That said, there's no getting away from the image problem.

"When we did the market research we found that the words `history', `museum' and `Croydon' were all turn-offs," says Sally MacDonald, who set up the museum. The market researchers themselves (registering the public's distaste from the comfort of Mortlake) wrote "Croydon is a hollow place" and "Croydon does not motivate".

It's understandable, then, that the museum is not called a museum (it's called "Lifetimes"); that it employs touchscreen, multimedia CD-i terminals; that its collection of objects, borrowed from local people, throws together traditional history with a more idiosyncratic view of the past.

Which is to say, you can discover that: "At the beginning of the century, the Croydon film industry was well-known in Britain, long before the studios existed in Hollywood." (Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Steven Spielberg.) But also that Ray Burns, of South Norwood (aka Captain Sensible), "joined The Damned after he met the drummer in the Fairfield Hall, where he worked as a toilet cleaner".

A strange kind of history, the Lifetimes approach cunningly uses the town's perceived lack of heritage to its advantage. The Captain provides the voices for the cartoon crow that narrates the guide (is this what's meant by the punk revival?), and exhibits include John Salako's football boots, McDonald's packaging and a condom demonstrator. Croydon's essential Croydonness has never been better celebrated.

For the Picasso show's organisers, the `C' word has, however, been more of a problem. One man questioned by market researchers assumed that, this being Croydon, the art works could only be photocopies; and while Europeans were happy to lend works ("No one in Europe knows the Croydon situation," says the exhibition organiser, Karen Mann), some British collectors were more reluctant to consign their treasures to south London. So what if the borough has fostered talent as diverse as Malcolm Muggeridge, Kate Moss and Ronnie Corbett. In the public imagination, Croydon and culture do not mix.

One more obstacle stands in the way of the Clocktower. If the town's image is not cause enough for concern, there's the problem of getting people to traipse out to this "mini-Manhattan" (as the Sixties hype called it). "I don't know how many people from Islington will come and see it," MacDonald says, and this may well determine the project's success. Can the Clocktower prosper without visitors from central London? It deserves to. The building's mixture of highbrow and lowbrow, educational and commercial appeal is as judiciously balanced as its blend of old and new architecture. But everything depends on Croydon re-inventing itself in the public's minds. Can such a thing be done? If not, Croydonians may find a white elephant grazing in "the valley where wild saffron grows".

`Cock and Bull Stories: A Picasso Bestiary' opens today at Croydon Clocktower, Katharine St, Croydon CR9 1ET. Admission £4.50 (concs £2.50). To 14 May

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
books
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Go figure: Matt Parker, wearing the binary code scarf knitted by his mother
comedy Mathematician is using comedy nights to teach and preach sums
Arts and Entertainment
Ryan Gosling in 'Drive'
filmReview: Ryan Gosling is still there, but it's a very different film
Arts and Entertainment
Urban explorer: Rose Rouse has documented her walks around Harlesden, and the people that she’s encountered along the way
books Rouse's new book discusses her four-year tour of Harlesden
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Franco Zeffirelli's production of 'Aida' at Milan's famed La Scala opera house
operaLegendary opera director in battle with theatre over sale of one of his 'greatest' productions
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

    Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

    Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities