Friday, September 18, 2015

London offerings

London is always offering up challenging new art installations, and though it may not be the centre of the universe for contemporary art aficionados, it manages to regularly juxtapose the old with the new in exciting ways.

I hot footed it to two such artworks this week, with mixed results.

In the fabulous plaster court at the V&A there is an installation entitled 'The Tower of Babel', in the form of a 6 metre cone of nearly three thousand ceramic houses with photographic images of street fronts on them. It sounded sort of interesting, but, well it sort of wasn't, failing for me to engage in anyway with the rather bemused statues around it. Perhaps I can cite the label to explain why I moved on rather smartly: "Barford playfully likens our efforts to find fulfilment through retail to the biblical Tower of Babel's attempt to reach heaven. His seemingly precarious Tower poses questions about our society and economy, celebrating London's retailers, yet exposing the divide between rich and poor." MONA has a word for such stuff.

'The Tower of Babel' at the V&A

Down the road however, the great Ai Weiwei has installed half a dozen massive trees in the forecourt of the Royal Academy, and the juxtaposition of that rich 18th century Palladian mansion and these stark bolted leaf-less limbs is breathtaking. They are part of a major retrospective exhibition, and alright perhaps I am a little biased, because I haven't washed my hands since I found the great man himself wandering around and shook his hand, but others seem to agree (see this article published in the Guardian).

Tree sculptures by Ai Weiwei 
installed in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts, London

What is particularly interesting about the trees is that their inclusion in the exhibition only came about through crowdsourcing. Working with Kickstarter, the Royal Academy raised 123,500 pounds from 1,319 backers, all of whom are listed on two great banners as you go up the main stairs.

Inspirational on two fronts - the art itself, and the action by which it came to be in London.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Crystal time at the Australian Museum

The Australian Museum has a new entrance, built in double quick time by its dynamic new director Kim McKay.

Named the 'Crystal Hall' for reasons of both its design and its ability to house the Museum's outstanding collection of crystals, it was opened last week by the Premier of NSW. Interestingly, this is where the entrance was always meant to be, instead of the slightly awkward entrance from College Street, which has been the way in for the last 150 years. And to emphasize this, the Museum has changed its street address to No 1 William Street - neat marketing.

The Australian Museum's new Crystal Hall entrance

The closure of the College Street entrance has allowed the realisation of the original concept for the entrance area, namely as a major gallery. And the result is spectacular, with truly one of the great internal public spaces in Sydney revealed as it was originally intended. For years this space has been a mixture of cafe, shop and entrance way, dominated by the blue whale skeleton to remind visitors this is predominantly a natural history museum.

The blue whale remains but now beneath it is the new 'Wild Planet' exhibition displaying the Museum's taxidermy collection with specimens large and small. My favourite exhibition on this theme is the Paris Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle's 'Gallery of Evolution', which first kicked off the concept of using stuffed animals in an artistic rather than wholly naturalistic way, though I also love the Melbourne Museum's 'Amazing Animals'. 

This is however a beautifully presented exhibition and space helped by two spectacular vault ceilinged glass cases (vitrines for the initiated) made by the doyen of such creations, Goppion of Milan. 

Take a walk on the wild side and enjoy a buzzing museum.