The stunning Museum of the Moon has opened in the magnificent surroundings of the Painted Hall in the Old Royal Naval College, along with a lunar-inspired programme of events including lunar cocktails and early morning yoga classes. NIKKI SPENCER spoke to Luke Jerram, the man behind the installation.
Luke Jerram apologises if he is a bit jetlagged when he chats on the phone from Bristol, where he is based. He has just got back from Yucatán in Mexico, where he has been overseeing the installation of his Museum of the Moon at the Filux festival of lights.
There are several Moons touring simultaneously to satisfy the artwork’s incredible popularity. Since it made its debut in Cumbria six years ago, the Museum of the Moon has been presented more than 300 times in 30 countries. It has even appeared at Glastonbury and on Strictly Come Dancing. “It’s kind of crazy,” Luke laughs.
The installation, an exact replica of the Moon featuring detailed Nasa imagery of the lunar surface, is accompanied by a surround sound composition by the Bafta-winning composer, Dan Jones.
It follows on from the success of Gaia, Luke’s awe-inspiring replica of a slowly-spinning Earth which was first at the Painted Hall in 2020 and was such in demand that it returned last year.
Gaia also drew crowds when it was installed in the woods at Forster Memorial Park in Catford over the August bank holiday weekend as part of Lewisham’s year as London borough of culture. The monumental sculpture was also at Southwark Cathedral this autumn.
Luke is delighted to be returning to the Painted Hall. “It’s such an amazingly beautiful space and it will be wonderful to see how the Museum of the Moon resonates with people,” he says.
The unique nature of the baroque hall, which reopened in 2019 after a £8.5 million, two-year restoration project, has brought some challenges, however. Rather than being able to suspend his artwork from the ceiling as in many locations, Luke and his team had to come up with another way of hanging his sculptures. “We’ve had to build a special structure, which we have painted black, so it disappears,” he explains.
Luke loves seeing how people react to the artwork. “Most people come through the door with their mouths open,” he says, adding that once a little girl asked him if he would “put the moon back afterwards”.
In the Painted Hall visitors can lie back on day beds that have been brought in specially so they can take in the full spectacle.
There is also a programme of lunar-themed events that includes Santa’s Over The Moon, starting this weekend, with Moon-inspired storytelling from Father Christmas, and a Moon Party with lunar-themed cocktails on December 28. There will also be yoga sessions in the new year.
The lunar new year will also be welcomed on January 21 with a light show in the Old Royal Naval College gardens and a special late-night opening of the Museum of the Moon.
Luke’s installations are popular with Instagrammers and for selfies, and he has no problem with this. “All I know is that if you go to a gallery the average dwell time for a painting is about three seconds, but most people who come to Museum of the Moon are there for 20 minutes or half an hour”, he says.
The Old Royal Naval College has even scheduled “social media Mondays” where there will be reduced capacity and “posing and selfies are encouraged”.
Luke came up with the idea of Museum of the Moon many years ago on his daily cycle rides across the Avon Cut, an artificial tidal waterway alongside the River Avon.
“There is a 13-metre tidal range and the Moon makes it happen,” he explains. “I had the idea of creating a replica moon that could float above everything, but it took 15 years for the technology to catch up and make it possible.”
His work first caught the public’s attention in 2008 with his celebrated street pianos installation, Play Me, I’m Yours, which has taken place in over 70 cities and has been widely copied.
In 2014 he installed a giant waterslide in Bristol, which was so popular he created a manual so other cities could create their own. A Bloomberg documentary in 2016 described Luke as “probably the most famous artist you have never heard of”.
He says he is always creating. “My job is to focus on new artworks, I don’t want to be known as the street piano man or the moon man, I want to be constantly developing new ideas. Some might be seen once or twice, while others really take off.”
His latest project is Oil Fountain, a giant artwork that he unveiled in Bristol last month. The large installation flows with engine oil instead of water to highlight climate change and how contemporary society has been built around oil use.
Luke hopes to take Oil Fountain to museums and galleries worldwide, although he acknowledges that it may not have the mass appeal of Museum of the Moon. “It is a harder ask for people to present it. It is a bit smelly, but it is an important work.”
Museum of the Moon is at the Old Royal Naval College (ornc.org), from 10am-5pm daily until February 15. Adult tickets are £12.50 in advance (£13 on the door, £7.50 concs) and up to 4 children under 16 can visit for free. Reduced-price tickets are available on the the first Sunday of the month.
NIKKI SPENCER is a freelance journalist who has also written for The Guardian, The Independent, Lewisham Ledger and Peckham Peculiar.
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