Art Quarterly, spring 2015: Celebrating curatorial vision
- 2 March 2015
German Expressionism, Starship Troopers and Hilary Mantel – Art Quarterly editor Claire Wrathall introduces the latest issue of our members' magazine.
Painted in Copenhagen in 1917, the pensive portrait of the Danish writer Anna Roslund on this issue's cover is by Gabriele Münter (1877–1962), a founding member of Der Blaue Reiter, the Munich-based group of artists that included Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky, with whom she had a longstanding and latterly unhappy extra-marital relationship. Indeed, he married again – without telling her – the year this work was finished. His new bride was 17.
Acquired with assistance from the Art Fund, it has hung since 1992 in New Walk Museum & Gallery in Leicester, part of a remarkable collection of 500 or so German, mostly Expressionist works now held by the museum and recently redisplayed in a newly configured gallery. The story of how this body of work came to be in Leicester is told in this issue: an extraordinary tale of courage, coincidence, exile, generosity and, not least, vision on the part of the curator Trevor Thomas, who ran the museum from 1941–6 and established a culture of innovation that continues today.
Take Brain Bug, a 15-minute work by the Turner Prize-nominated performance artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, which will be staged at New Walk later this spring. Presented by the Art Fund and the Contemporary Art Society through Testing Media, an initiative that supports the acquisition of boundary-pushing works, it takes the form of a large sculptural puppet, based on a monster from the film Starship Troopers, which when activated in 'high-energy' mode, is surrounded by five performers who dance around it and 'feed' it volunteers from the audience.
The artist Conrad Shawcross has also produced a body of highly choreographed kinetic work, although his tend to be animated by light rather than human performers. In this issue, he and the historian of computing Doron Swade, a former curator at the Science Museum, discuss the synergy between science and art. As Swade points out, the word 'scientist' wasn’t coined until 1833 and the perceived gulf between the two is both an artificial and a comparatively new one. In the 19th century, he explains, 'The Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum were parts of the same institution. They had separate buildings […], but [theirs] was a single collection.'
The V&A is spot-lit several times in this issue, first in Marcus Field’s behind-the-scenes report from the museum on the work of its conservators – which relies on skills and technologies as diverse as needlework and 3D printing – as they prepare for the opening of the new Europe 1600–1800 galleries later this year. And then in Hilary Mantel's illuminating essay on the angels made by Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano for Cardinal Wolsey's tomb (due to go on show in the V&A's Medieval and Renaissance galleries), her prose as exquisitely wrought as the bronze in which they are cast.
Even the Abba museum in Stockholm prompts a fascinating piece. Sure, it's a kitschfest, but as Matthew Sweet found, it equally reveals a lot about Swedish politics, society and ultimately the fragility of human relationships and the fallout when they fail.
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