Archive for the ‘Contemporary art’ Category

Du côté de chez Swann

October 24, 2013
Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London
© Elmgreen & Dragset
Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

It was one of those urban ‘!?!?’ moments. I was leaving the V&A a couple of days ago when I saw this huge hoarding outside, advertising luxury apartments in the museum. For a moment I wondered whether the funding cuts had finally forced the V&A to convert some of its space into high-end accomodation. But I was in a rush and didn’t have time to investigate.

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London
© Elmgreen & Dragset.
Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Today Deana Sidney (of LostPastRemembered) sent me this link to an article in the New York Times which explains everything. The artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have transformed the V&A’s former Textile Galleries into a site-specific, immersive installation.

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London
© Elmgreen & Dragset.
Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Visitors can wander through the grand but slightly disheveled South Kensington apartment of the fictional Norman Swann, an elderly modernist architect. Presumably there is an intentional echo here of Charles Swann, the elderly dandy in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London
© Elmgreen & Dragset.
Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Swann’s apartment contains the remains of what appears to be an inherited family collection, as Chinese porcelain, Louis something furniture, ormolu candelabra and Victorian pictures mix with a 1950s Heal’s-style desk and a minimalist kitchen.

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Was Swann the last of the family line? If he was a visionary modernist architect (‘Building for the masses’ proclaims a framed poster in his office), why did he hang on to his family memorabilia? There are indications that he is now broke and is selling up (hence the apartment being advertised for sale). Is this the end for him, or will he have a Proustian moment of temps retrouvé?

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London
© Elmgreen & Dragset.
Photography: Anders Sune Berg

I am writing this without as yet having seen the installation, which I could justify by referring to Proust’s insight that what is imagined is so much more enchanting than what is experienced. But in fact I do hope to visit du côté de chez Swann very soon.

Interrogating the old masters

November 13, 2012

Glenn Brown, The Death of the Virgin, 2012. ©Glenn Brown

Upton House is hosting an exhibition of works by contemporary artist Glenn Brown, curated by Meadow Arts. Brown’s works are both uncompromisingly modern and extremely traditional. But then Brown’s conception of ‘tradition’ includes science fiction as well as old master paintings, kitsch as well as high modernism.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Death of the Virgin, c 1564. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

This makes for a fascinating juxtaposition with the permanent collection at Upton. Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted and chairman of Shell, assembled important collections of paintings and porcelain during the first half of the 20th century, which were given to the National Trust together with the house in the late 1940s.

Glenn Brown, Cactus Land, 2012. ©Glenn Brown

The paintings Lord Bearsted collected range in date from the 14th to the 19th century and include major works by Hieronymus Bosch, Hans Memling, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, El Greco, Gabriel Metsu, Jacob van Ruisdael, Pieter Saenredam, Francesco Guardi, William Hogarth, George Romney, George Stubbs, Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Henry Raeburn.

Domenikos Theotocopoulos, known as El Greco, El Espolio (the Disrobing of Christ), 1570s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Glenn Brown has explicitly engaged with one of these paintings, Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s Death of the Virgin, by painting his own version. But he has infused the religious scene with a strong dose of surrealist distortion and post-modern alienation.

Glenn Brown, Searched Hard for You and Your Special Ways, 1995. ©Glenn Brown

Brown approaches old master paintings without the reverence sometimes accorded to them. He analyses and interrogates them as a painter – peer to peer – noticing techniques and stylistic strategies, weaknesses and strengths. He interrogates high and low imagery, old and new art on an equal basis and feeds it all into his own work.

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Head of a Girl, c 1790. ©National Trust Images

Another way in which Brown turns art history on its head is by by the way he applies the paint thinly and smoothly – referencing perhaps the slick detachment of the photographic surface – while creating the impression of thick and tempestuous ‘old master’ impasto.

Works by Glenn Brown in the exhibition gallery at Upton House, formerly a squash court. ©Meadow Arts

In other cases his no-nonsense approach rehabilitates art that is currently out of fashion, such as the sentimental and eroticised work of Jean-Baptiste Greuze. In the booklet that accompanies the exhibition Brown states his conviction that Greuze’s virtuoso technique and obvious enjoyment of the act of painting are so strong that they make his choice of subject matter of secondary importance.

15th- and 16th-century paintings in the Picture Gallery at Upton House. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Not only has Brown been inspired by the Bearsted collection, but the old masters at Upton are equally benefiting from this exposure to contemporary art. I hope we will have many more such intelligent and searching encounters between old and new, high and low in the historic houses of the National Trust.

The exhibition is on until 6 January 2013.

Enchanting commodities

July 3, 2012

Still from Wallpaper 1 by Ed Pien ©Ed Pien

Courtney Barnes has just done a post on Ed Pien’s beautiful and subtly disturbing video works Wallpaper 1 and Wallpaper 2, part of the Sinopticon programme of exhibitions and events in Plymouth exploring responses to China by contemporary artists.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the State Dressing Room at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire. ©National Trust Images/J. Whitaker

Looking at Wallpaper 1 and 2 (which I hadn’t seen yet), it occurred to me that Pien seems to be revisiting the sense of enchantment that eighteenth-century viewers must have experienced when confronted by Chinese wallpapers in their original fresh state, with vivid colours and beautifully detailed foliage and figures.

WESSIELING, National-Dress (installation view at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London). ©WESSIELING

At a talk at Saltram last week, one of the other artists participating in Sinopticon, WESSIELING, described the surprisingly recent origin and continuing transformation of the cheongsam dress. Based on a male style of dress from the Qing period (1644-1911), the cheongsam was adopted by Chinese women in the 1920s and 1930s as a modern, no-nonsense, almost feminist type of apparel.

Stock figures showing different types of Chinese costume, in Sir William Chamber’s book Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines and Utensils (1757). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

During the subsequent decades of the twentieth century, however, the cheongsam acquired connotations of exoticism and eroticism, especially in the west – think The World of Suzy Wong. It is still a powerful fashion motif today, occasionally revisited by international couturiers. After being banned by the Comunist Party it has now been adopted as a kind of national dress by the new, post-Maoist China.

Detail from High Priestess Cape, by Grayson Perry, rayon embroidered on satin, 2007. ©Grayson Perry

In her talk WESSIELING discussed the process of commodification whereby cultural motifs such as the cheongsam are marketed to western audiences, are changed and rebranded, and are then sometimes re-adopted by the Chinese with a whole new set of signifiers attached.

Detail from Chinese embroidered silk hangings, early eighteenth century, on the state bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

It seems to me that many of the works being shown as part of Sinopticon embody the apparently conflicting processes of enchantment and commodification. Grayson Perry, for instance, highlights the connections between elegance and desire, materialism and sexuality. His works are shown in direct juxtaposition with objects from the core collections of both Saltram and the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.

Still from Sensing Obscurity I by Erika Tan. ©Erika Tan

Erika Tan’s evocative film Sensing Obscurity I, set at Saltram (but shown at the Plymouth College of Art), includes scenes where a group of male Chinese performers carries out various conservation cleaning tasks, as if the house is a Chinese museum explaining that exotic western phenomenon, the British country house. In other scenes the Chinese wallpaper seems to come alive as female performers in traditional Chinese dress are glimpsed in the darkened rooms of the house.

Conservator handling one of the drawers of the Chippendale-attributed secretaire veneered with Chinese lacquer at Osterley Park, west London. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Hugh Grant makes a cameo appearance in Sensing Obscurity I, in the form of a ghostly image of him playing Edward Ferrars in Ang Lee’s 1995 production of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.  Fiction and reality, past and present, east and west, drama and stillness all seem to interact and coalesce.

The last opportunity to see these exhibitions in Plymouth is 7 July.

China returns to Saltram

April 26, 2012

Isaac Julien, 'Hotel (Ten Thousand Waves)', 2010, Endura Ultra pohotograph, courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London

Between 28 April and 7 July 2012 Saltram is co-hosting an exhibition of contemporary art exploring the cultural influence of China on the west. Saltram is of course already home to a significant historic collection of Chinese wallpaper, which I have featured before.

Image of a temple in a mountainous landscape on a Japanese lacquer cabinet, c. 1630-1650, at Ham House, Surrey. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The exhibition has been curated by Eliza Gluckman and is part of the National Trust-sponsored Sinopticon project which explores the interface between chinoiserie – the western use and imitation of Chinese art and design – and contemporary art.

Meekyoung Shin, 'Translation', 2010, facsimiles of Chinese porcelain vessels produced in soap, copyright the artist, courtesy of Haunch of Venison, London (installation view at Haunch of Venison)

Other venues hosting this event are Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and Plymouth College of Art.

Baroque-style display of East Asian porcelain at Beningbrough Hall, North Yorkshire. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Artists include Suki Chan (UK), Gayle Chong Kwan (UK), Stephanie Douet (UK), Christian Jankowski (Germany), Isaac Julien (UK), WESSIELING (UK), Grayson Perry (UK), Ed Pien (Canada), Meekyoung Shin (South Korea), Karen Tam (Canada), Erika Tan (UK), Tsang Kin-wah (HK/China) and Laura White (UK).

WESSIELING, 'Fashion Chess', 2011, photo by Nigel Trebbeck, copyright the artist

The exhibition demonstrates how chinoiserie is still a relevant concept in view of the persisten cultural barriers between ‘the west’ and China, which can lead alternately to fascination and mistrust, inspiration and misinterpretation.

Model of a Chinese pagoda created by Betty Radcliffe, 1767, at Erddig, Wrexham. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The works on show engage with these barriers in different ways and explore the nature of cultural identity.

Karen Tam, 'Terra dos Chînos', 2011-2012, mixed media, soap, papier-mâché, aluminium foil, courtesy the artist.

Seeing this exhibition in the context of the National Trust’s historic collections, I find it fascinating to realise how globalised the world already was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with international trade carrying East Asian objects into the most personal and private areas of European homes.

Corner cupboard with a mixture of East Asian and English ceramics, at Hill Top, Cumbria. ©National Trust Images/Geoffrey Frosh

Equally, that sense of wonder in the face of a different culture and that longing for what is distant is still very much with us today.

A garden of reason at Ham House

April 24, 2012

One of the figures in 'eight ſculptures' by Alan Kane and Simon Periton in the Wilderness at Ham. Courtesy the artists and Sadie Coles HQ and Ancient and Modern/Jamie Woodley

Ham House will be hosting a contemporary art exhibition called Garden of Reason between 28 April and 23 September 2012. Nine artists have been invited to create work inspired by the seventeenth-century garden of Ham House.

The south front of Ham House seen from the Wilderness, c. 1675-1679, by Henry Danckerts. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The title of the exhibition refers to the ‘age of reason’, the development of new philosophical systems in Europe in the seventeenth century based on strictly rational analysis and scientific research. The artists have been given access to the seventeenth-century archives relating to Ham and its owner, the feisty Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart and Duchess of Lauderdale.

Portrait of Elizabeth Murray, later Countess of Dysart and Duchess of Lauderdale, by Sir Peter Lely. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

‘Eight ſculptures’ by Alan Kane and Simon Periton is an imaginative recreation of the sculptures (or ‘ſculptures’, as it was written at the time – with thanks to the helpful commenter below) that used to grace the Wilderness garden at Ham. Those sculptures were copies of famous Renaissance and antique works, and Kane and Periton are investigating issues of cultural plunder, copying and disappearance.

Part of 'Weight of air' by Ruth Proctor in the front colonnade of Ham House. ©National Trust

Ruth Proctor has inserted large helium balloons into the Wilderness and also into the front collonade of the house, as part of her work ‘Weight of air’. Proctor was inspired by Galileo’s investigations into the weight and speed of falling objects and the developing knowledge about atmospheric pressure.

Part of 'Weight of air' by Ruth Proctor, in the Wilderness at Ham. ©National Trust

The Garden of Reason project has its own blog where team members are posting updates, background information and images.

Dyrham Park: global crossroads

March 27, 2012

Garden² (no. 7), by Marc Quinn, 2000. © the artist and Arts Council Collection

Dyrham Park is about to host an exhibition of contemporary art from the Arts Council Collection. Entitled A World Away, it will include work by Marc Quinn, Helen Sear, Mark Wallinger, Yinka Shonibare and Leo Fitzmaurice.

Dutch Delftware flower vase with decoration inspired by Chinese porcelain, at Dyrham Park. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The exhibition is part of the Trust New Art programme, a three-year partnership between Arts Council England and the National Trust to promote contemporary art in historic places.

The Diogenes Room at Dyrham, showing one of the English 'Diogenes' tapestries and part of the collection of Delftware. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The exhibition at Dyrham will interact with the career of William Blathwayt, a politician and administrator handling colonial affairs and global trade under kings Charles II, James II and William III.

Line Painting, by Yinka Shonibare, 2003. © the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery and Arts Council Collection. This work includes various Dutch wax fabric prints, which originated in Indonesia, were exported by the Dutch to West Africa and were later also produced in Manchester.

Dyrham is still filled with reminders of late-seventeenth-century globalisation, such as the Virginian cedar wood used for the main staircase, the collection of Dutch Delftware, the slave torcheres – shocking to twenty-first-century sensibilities but clearly not so to seventeenth-century ones –  and the rare Javanese tea table.

The Balcony Room, with the Javanese tea table and the torcheres supported by chained black slaves. Both William Blathwayt and his uncle Thomas Povey were involved in adminstering the slave plantations in Jamaica. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

As exhibition curator Rupert Goulding says: “We would like the contemporary art to help our visitors look again at the historic collection and perhaps gain a deeper understanding of the house and its creator.”

The Virginian cedar staircase. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The exhibition will run from 30 March to 28 October 2012.

Beth Katleman’s Rococo vision

June 6, 2011

Beth Katleman, Folly. ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

I recently spotted these images of an extraordinary porcelain relief entitled Folly, by New York-based artist Beth Katleman. The work is five meters long and consists of 3,500 individual porcelain pieces. It is inspired by the riotous wall decorations of the Rococo period.

Facsimile of a Regency chinoiserie wallpaper in the Bow Room at Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Folly is reminiscent of eighteenth-century Rococo and chinoiserie tapestries, wallpaper and printed cotton, with their floating islands populated with whimsical figures and fantasy structures.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

The work also references the more extreme forms of plaster decoration, and the phenomenon of the porcelain room, with its walls covered with figurines, vases, cups and plates.

Detail of the mantelpiece in the Paper Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

But upon closer inspection Katleman infuses these ‘high culture’ sources with a healthy dose of kitsch. The floating islands are populated by porcelain casts that the artist has taken from flea-market finds, including pencil sharpeners in the shape of famous monuments and cast-off plastic dolls.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

Katleman aptly emphasises the surrealist potential of the Rococo style. At the same time she subverts the domestic associations of interior decoration, transforming the elegant into the uncanny. 

Detail of toile de Jouy in the Ante-Room at Plas Newydd, Anglesey. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Folly will be shown by Todd Merrill at Design Miami/Basel from 13 to 18 June. Subsequently it will be part of the exhibition Flora and Fauna, MAD About Nature, at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, from 28 June until 6 November.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

Another edition of the work will travel to London to be shown, again by Todd Merrill, at the Pavilion of Art and Design, from 12 to 16 October. 

Chinoiserie plasterwork and carved wood decoration in the Chinese Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Todd Merrill website features a short video about Folly featuring Beth Katleman.

Croome contemporary

May 9, 2011

©Hitomi Kai Yoda

Although the conservation work at Croome Court gathers pace, many of its rooms are still empty. Now We Made That, a cross-disciplinary architecture and design studio, has been asked to recast the experience of being in a ‘drawing room’.

©We Made That

We Made That partners Holly Lewis and Oliver Goodhall investigated the notion of a ‘drawing room’ room through archival research and workshops with visitors, volunteers and staff. Historically, such rooms evolved to answer the need for a family to ‘withdraw’ and find some privacy and relaxation within the wider context of a large house full of servants and dependents.

©We Made That

The result of the project was an immersive installation called Withdrawing Room. It is a room within a room constructed with layer upon layer of suspended mesh fabric.

©We Made That

The work plays with notions of interiority and exteriority, boundaries and openings, withdrawal and emergence. It comments on the formal rooms of an eighteenth-century country house where the spatial and decorative semiotics would have guided people’s movements and interactions.

©Hitomi Kai Yoda

The fluid, insubstantial and yet structured nature of Withdrawing Room also echoes the experience of the park outside, with its vistas and enclosures, its paths and bridges, its shimmering waters and rippling leaves.

©Hitomi Kai Yoda

Further images as well as a time-laps film can be seen here. Withdrawing Room will be at Croome until April 2012.

Postmodern porcelain

September 17, 2010

Set of six blue and white Cola bottles by Taikkun Li, porcelain, 22.9 cm high. ©Pagoda Red

The Style Court blog recently featured these blue and white Cola bottles by Chinese artist Taikkun Li, available via Pagoda Red. They are a rather wonderful hybrid of modern global branding and traditional Chinese ceramic design.

Pair of Chinese gourd-shaped vases, porcelain, c 1635-40, at Ickworth House, Suffolk. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Their outline is vaguely reminiscent of a gourd-shaped vase, a traditional East Asian ceramic shape.

Baroque-style display of ceramics in the State Dressing Room at Beningbrough Hall, North Yorkshire. ©NTPL/J. Whitaker

Courtney Barnes of Style Court also alerted me to a quote by Taikkun Li, who says on his own website

The modern mind has lost all capacity to wonder. It has lost all capacity to look into the mysterious, into the miraculous – because of knowledge, because it thinks it knows.

East Asian ceramics on a late seventeenth-century Antwerp cabinet at Belton House, Lincolnshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

I slightly disagree with him: I think his own work proves how we can recapture a sense of wonder, if we try hard enough.

Oak court cupboard with blue and white ceramics in the Music Room at Gunby Hall, Lincolnshire. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Wouldn’t it be marvellous if we could insert some of Taikkun Li’s bottles among the ceramics on display at a historic house? They would look right at home, I think.

Fireplace in the Acanthus Room at Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, West Midlands. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

They would fit into a Baroque setting, as part of a massed display of blue and white. But they would also work in an Arts and Crafts interior, on an oak shelf against some Morris fabric or wallpaper. Perhaps an idea for the National Trust’s contemporary arts programme?

Tatton Park Biennial

August 30, 2010

Ice Table by Oona Grimes. Photo: Thierry Bal

I previously posted about the Japanese garden at Tatton Park, but this estate is also known for the Tatton Park Biennial, a showcase for contemporary art. It runs until 26 September this year.

A Confusion of Mirrors by Sophie Lascelles. Photo: Thierry Bal

The works have been created specially for display in the mansion, the garden and the deer park.

Hands and Sighs by Tony Grisoni. Photo: Thierry Bal

They include a group of works by Oona Grimes, Tony Grisoni and Sophie Lascelles about the life of Maurice, the fourth and last Lord Egerton, who left Tatton to the National Trust in 1958.

Maurice Egerton, fourth Baron Egerton (1874-1958)

Egerton was an enigmatic and very private man. He travelled widely and had a great interest in technology, dabbling in aviation and cinematography. Gatsby-like, he built a huge mansion full of gadgets on his Kenyan estate in 1938, to impress the woman he loved. When she spurned him he became even more eccentric, banning women from his presence altogether.

MAD (Maurice's Arctic Diary) by Oona Grimes

The works by Grimes, Grisoni and Lascelles are attempts to engage with the mysteries of Egerton’s character. 

Fire Table by Oona Grimes. Photo: Thierry Bal

Further information can be found on the Tatton Park Biennial website. In addition, an excellent new blog has sprung up about contemporary art projects at National Trust properties, called Trust New Art.