By Richard Lutz
We all trot along to see paintings, right? And we go to see sculpture too. Maybe even have a cup of coffee and a piece of red velvet. But how about going to an exhibition to look at those pieces of sculpture intently looking at those paintings hanging on the wall?
That’s the essence of Birmingham’s Gas Hall show, Night In The Museum, curated by British artist Ryan Gander and in its final week. He’s telling us that by looking, we are an integral part of the show. Participant. Not voyeur.
So off we go. We’re game. And it’s free. Gander selected pieces from the Arts Council’s national collection of modern works and includes, among the 70 artists chosen, heavy hitters such as Henry Moore, Edgar Degas and Jacob Epstein.
Here’s one that struck us as we wandered through: a bronze called Young Man Standing, by Leonard McComb.
His mute rigid figure looks at Kenneth Martin’s oil called Chance, Order and Change2. We move around the burnished figure. We peer at the squiggles and interlacing lines of the painting. The bronze is rigid. Static. The lines zigzag all over the place.
Gander’s premise works well. Slowly, along with other visitors, we stop being observers. We unknowingly become part of Gander’s work as we stroll, for instance, around the erect simian figure (below) by Kerry Stewart. It’s taking in a deep blue wood and polyurethane hanging. Silent and staring. Blank.
Gander’s choices, all linked by the way, with the colour blue, remain stuck in time. But we’re not. We move around them. And we move on. They remain solid, stuck, continually gazing and bemused at what is on the wall before them.
We carry on to our favourite (see below) - one that stops us in our tracks. Our trainers seem glued to the floor.
It’s an acrylic all-white composite sculpture of a young woman titled YokoXX by Don Brown. Her hands are slung casually in the pockets of her Oxford Bags (so says our fashion consultant) as she gazes at a Stella Steyn oil called Girl in the Blue Dress. The figure is relaxed, composed, stylish, drinking in the picture. The oil is Klee-like in it childishness. Two worlds collide.
And this collision, Gander tells us, is what he wants. He wants to create ‘profoundly unrelated” combinations of his chosen figures and paintings.
We leave The Gas Hall to find Gander’s exhibition could easily have extended outside to neighbouring Victoria Square with its five statues. We all pass them every day. But today, in the rain, we look. Queen Victoria imperiously checks out New Street for mid winter sales; Antony Gormley’s Ironman blankly gazes at the monolithic Halifax office opposite; the two winged sphinxes wanly look into each other’s eyes, possibly sitting it out for a midnight embrace; and, the glorious Floozie, her nakedness disguised by a no-nonsense crossing of her legs, is simply lost in an alarmed wide eyed stare. Staring at nothing.
A Night In The Museum ends on 12th February. More
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