Kelham Island Museum: Museum of Tools —

Kelham Island Museum is part of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, which gives an idea of the sort of thing going on inside this old iron foundry. I was expecting general local history, cutlery, coffee pots etc. but hadn’t appreciated that those skills also meant that Sheffield made a lot of engineering and hand tools too.

As such, the museum is also host to the extraordinary Hawley Collection. A remarkable assortment of tools and works in progress that show how the tools were made. This means that the tools that made the tools are also presented - leading to a wonderful sort of meta exhibit.

 

The really great thing is that it’s a personal collection turned institutional, and where you’d expect more gaps, and more bias you’re met with sheer quantity of artefacts and a really well presented, coherent exhibit. Both the character of the founder, Ken, and the group of volunteers that man the ‘research room’, (biscuits and enthusiastic tool chat were more noticeable) are firmly felt in the gallery.

 

Elsewhere in the museum is the massive River Don Engine that came to the museum straight from the factory floor where it had been used to make armour plating for nuclear power stations.

 

I also really appreciate any museum that incorporates it’s archives and restoration work into it’s displays – It gives a sense of continuation, activity, and relevance.

 

Alice Anderson at the Wellcome Collection —

Luke-Thompson_Alice-Anderson_01

Things wrapped in copper thread. It’s a deceptively simple artistic process but the result is stunning. Helped along by the fantastic lighting design the ideas of concealment, repetition, abstraction, scale, and familiarity changed as you walked through the space and the pieces caught the light differently – interactivity at it’s simplest and effective. The images here show the range of scales the work takes, ‘Geometries 64 Shapes’, a collection of small objects on a wall, and ‘Ropes’, a 250m long installation that you could get inside and walk around. 

 
Luke-Thompson_Alice-Anderson_02

I really liked how the thread brought the objects back to a collection of simple shapes, with what looked like dull planes and then as you moved they shimmered with texture. The original objects were physically there but, like a palimpsest, were ghosted and built on top of when given their copper lustre. My favourite piece wasn’t on a postcard: ‘Jars’ from Anderson’s site is below. Wellcome Collection link here.

 

Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector —

I went enthusiastically to the exhibition about collecting – those who know me well know that I like collecting, collections and collectors a lot. I did my final year project on it at university and it’s been a mild obsession ever since.

I was disappointed to find that this riotous, spectacular and curiosity inspiring subject had been presented in the most sterile way I’ve seen yet. Artists’ collections had been shown next to one example of their work, but in lots of cases it was a photography collection next to some photographs or a taxidermy collection next to some taxidermy. In this sense the exhibition did a very blunt job of drawing a line between the inspiration and the art it inspired, in most cases making the artworks look like bad copies of the collections.

The worst offender was the display of abstract painter Howard Hodgkin’s collection of Indian pictures. The pictures are small intricate paintings that have a strong use of colour. Outside the room was hung a piece of Hodgkin’s work, all big brush strokes and block colour. Yes, the use of colour was an obvious thread but other than that, this lone, decontextualised artwork, when hung next to the collection (of paintings!) seemed frankly inferior. Surely this is not the point of the exhibition? An exhibition which is dealing with both artist and collection should showcase each in it’s best light but this reduced both somehow.

The other aspect which was lacking was the critical angle about the politics of collecting itself. Whilst collections as artworks was tackled as a topic in the Martin Wong/Danh Vo piece, the idea of artists acquiring items as a whole collection, or from other collections was absent, as was the idea of ownership or authorship through collecting. In the case of Howard Hodgkin the fact that the pieces in his collection had been created as art, had then been collected and returned to object status, loaned to the Ashmolean Museum as ‘His’ collection and then displayed at the Barbican again seems to be a journey that could benefit from some curatorial scrutiny.

Of course all of these gripes are just that – an enthusiast rambling, and there were good bits. Showing all the packing cases that the collections and artworks had come in (albeit in a corner) was brilliant, and I liked the rugs which were liberally strewn around each area. 

(N.B. I’m sure some of these issues are at least touched on in the audio guide or the book, but I shouldn’t have to pay £40 to get a bit of thoughtful insight when I’ve already paid £12 to get in.)

 

Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See

Come and See at the Serpentine Sackler Centre is showing from 29th November 2013 – 9th February 2014 This raucous exhibition of the Chapman Brothers work at the Serpentine Gallery is brilliant. Fun and violence crash together in detailed intricate pieces from the Hell landscapes up to the large mouse-trap-esque assemblages – all presided over by eerie and interested Klu Klux Klan inspired, smiley patch toting, socks and sandals wearing figures (presumably us, the visitor!).

The apparent flippancy with which some of their materials are treated – gloss paint drips, rough cut plywood is left unsanded and items are hacked and screwed together in a seemingly uncaring way - is contrasted to the curatorial side in the artists. This side frames and hangs the crude sketches, labours over the tiny skeletons and micro-narratives in the hellscapes and gets haphazard combinations of objects made into presumably expensive and unwieldy bronzes, only to cover up the material with gloss paint and glue. Their work is comfortable in it's disregard for 'proper' process and finish quality and gains weight through it's scale, repetition and spectacle- the amount of work on show is invigorating. Whilst I don't think I'd be excited about living with a Chapman Brothers piece, I left feeling energised and wanting to make more stuff.