April 04, 2009

A Day in the Capital

Just back from the opening of the Whitechapel Art Gallery
http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/. The main ground floor spaces look pretty much how I remember them from when I was last there; the main changes are on the upper floors with numerous other gallery and archive spaces, topped by some community rooms. I say numerous because it was quite hard to know how you navigated (and counted) how the spaces connected. Some of them had potential for good display, some didn’t. Overall, my inkling was that the modernisation had a ‘trying-too-hard’ feel and that some of the character of the old building had been lost. The original vision of the founders was proudly stated: bringing great art to all people whatever their circumstances - for which read 'including the poor of the east end of London'. The refurbishment was located in this tradition, but over the years subtle entropy has eaten into such a small number of words in such an aspiration. In modern Britain the emphasis in this statement is placed 'on all people' - which isn't a problem in itself, but it raises the big question as to whether the modern curators can actually recognise the great art to bring them.

The British Council Collection display was over-crowded and ill-curated. The London-based Polish artist Goshka Macuga Bloomberg commission is only interesting for seeing the textile reproduction of Guernica, otherwise it is missable. Because of the lack of promenading logic, I saw the retrospective of German artist Isa Genzken in ‘reverse order’, coming across her late work first – some version of what they called her ‘remarkable’ installation for the German pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale. People who thought this ‘remarkable’ need to get out more. Thankfully I saw her early sculpture at the end which was remarkable, showing a fine-tuned sense of space, beautiful proportions and confidence in materials (especially concrete) and colour. The only down-side of this great work was the curation. The installation was over-crowded (again) and over-egged, with the eye distracted from some of the powerful sculpture by ill-considered location of wall works. These failures feed into the photo images of this section of her exhibition - great works are clearly diminished in the web-images by the jumbling and crowding.

The star show of the visit though was the Utagawa Kuniyoshi at the Royal Academy.
http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/ - a really fabulous display from a 19th Century Japanese print master. (The accompanying Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) is confused – wanting to be a museological display without any engagement with the architecture of the Academy context).

As a footnote: Monsters in the Museum – despite the Kids in Museums campaign nonsense (see
http://tony-trehy.blogspot.com/2009/02/monsters-in-museums.html), the children were completely absent from the galleries, so visitors were able to appreciate the experience without disturbance.

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