Thursday, December 16, 2010
Run Don't Walk to see The Museum of Everything Exhibition #3, London, Closing December 24th
On a very quick jaunt to London from which I have only just returned, I was very, very fortunate (thank you so much, Mr. Pat Morris!) to have had the opportunity to visit the now fully-installed Museum of Everything Exhibition #3, which I only had seen in its half-ready state a few days before exhibition opening a few months back.
All I have to say is: WOW.
The Museum of Everything #3--curated by the British pop and ruralist artist Sir Peter Blake, perhaps best remembered for his design of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album--is truly a wonder. This immersive spectacle of an exhibition celebrates popular art in the broadest of senses, both in content and in installation, and uses as its departure point Blake's own formidable private collection of such works supplemented by artifacts and artworks drawn from a variety of other privately held collections.
The installation of the exhibition is delightful, fun-house-inspired and immersive, with dark hallways, rickety stairs, and surprising turns leading you into rooms devoted in turn to--among other things--pitch cards and souvenir photos of fun-fair freaks, Victorian circus banners, marionette collections, Punch and Judy sets, Victorian anthropomorphic taxidermy, shell work pieces and a reconstructed shell grotto, Victorian découpage and other paper craft, and musical toys that go off in unison every half hour or so, filling the entire space with a beautiful circus-music cacophony. Each room has a feeling all its own, with a style of installation particularly and artfully suited to the artifacts within.
Mr. Blake's own collection provides the framework for the exhibition--as the casually-narrated exhibition labels, often in Blake's own unaffected voice make clear--but of equal if not greater importance are supplementary collections drawn from a broad variety of other passionate private collectors. Some of the most impressive effects of the exhibition come from the ingenious curation of artifacts drawn from a large number of private collectors into a single assemblage, such as my favorite, the magnificent homage to Walter Potter's Museum of Curiosities. This installation not only re-unites for the first time many of Potter's famously over-the-top taxidermalogical tableaux with wall-art, photographs and other ephemera from his recently disbanded collection, but also contextualizes his work within the broader theme of Victorian taxidermy, anthropomorphic and otherwise, with lavish Victorian bird jars, depictions of boxing squirrels (a popular Victorian taxidermy trope, I am told) and a variety of "straight" taxidermy pieces as well.
The whole of this literally fantastic exhibition is held together by the exuberance and inventiveness of the installation--never art-world and never boring, labyrinthian in structure and bristling with work floor to ceiling--and by the homespun exhibition labels narrating the exhibition in the informal voice of Blake and some of the other collectors and artists. Through the sum of its parts, the exhibition serves also as a reminder of what pop art meant before it became just another art-world term and white-room enshrined product: a celebration of the "homely arts," the arts of the people and of everyday life, of the fairground and the parlor. It is also a reminder that art can be fun, appeal to the senses, not be in a white room, and still make you think.
If you CAN see this exhibition before its December 24th closing, I simply cannot recommend it highly enough. Intriguing, brilliant, thought-provoking, and a lot of fun.
The Museum of Everything is located at the corner of Regents Park Rd and Sharples Hall St, NW1 8YL. For more information, visit the exhibition website by clicking here.
You can find out more about the Museum of Everything at this recent blog post as well.
Images are all drawn from postcards available at the Museum of Everything gift shop. A lovely (if slightly expensive) book is available also. Click here for more.