Issue Number: 115
The pick of summer art outings takes us from the kiss-me-quick south coast to rugged Yorkshire, and Royal Academicians are leading the way. By Richard Cork
Not content with displaying their work at the 2012 Summer Exhibition, several Academicians are appearing in major shows across the country as well. The range of venues is fascinating, and so are the dramatic differences between the images on view. Tracey Emin RA focuses on ‘love, sex and romanticism’ in her solo show at Turner Contemporary, the irresistible new Margate gallery designed by David Chipperfield RA. The first exhibition Emin has ever staged in her home town, it will feature work in a wide variety of media, including drawings, tapestries, embroideries, bronzes and neons.
Richard Wilson RA is also showing at the seaside, but there the resemblance ends. For he has decided, with characteristic daring, to place a full-size replica coach on the roof of the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea. Projecting from the building’s edge into space, it will become a talking point along the south coast this summer. Further north, Richard Long RA is performing a Yorkshire double act, showing in the stunning new Hepworth Wakefield (a Chipperfield building too) and making work outdoors at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Meanwhile, Tony Cragg RA is displaying a bronze work in an international survey of contemporary sculpture in the gardens at Waddesdon Manor, where works by other RAs, including Michael Craig-Martin, are also in the permanent collection.
Richard Long RA in front of his wall drawing River Avon Mud, Slow Hand Spiral, at Abbott Hall gallery in 2010. He is creating another wall drawing for his forthcoming show at Hepworth Wakefield. Courtesy the artist and Abbott Hall/Photo Tony West.
Emin admits that she is ‘still really nervous’ about her big exhibition in Margate. ‘I expect the show to be slammed, but I muscle up to criticism, put my armour on, climb on that horse and get jousting.’ In Margate, where Emin grew up, she says, ‘I’m like the prodigal daughter returning. But I want to do it well. Margate didn’t really appreciate contemporary art, and didn’t want the Turner Contemporary gallery. But now it’s there, people love it. It’s really good for artists to use, and on bright days it seems to disappear into the sea, which is brilliant.’
Tracey Emin RA, 'She Lay down Deep Beneath The Sea', 2012. © The artist /Courtesy White Cube/Photo Ben Westoby
Why, I wondered, is Emin calling her show ‘She Lay down Deep Beneath The Sea’? She explains that this haunting title was ‘something I wrote to a friend, trying to describe how you’d feel the immensity of the sea’s weight if you lay down there. Twenty years ago, I nearly drowned in the Med. I fell off a boat at night. Drowning is quite a relaxing way to die, and I remember thinking of two words: duvet and envelope.’ Emin gave her show its maritime title because, she says, ‘I wanted a reference to the sea that was personal to me, as well as other people who live in Margate. It’s strangely beautiful there.’
Auguste Rodin, 'The Kiss', 1901-04, both on show at Turner Contemporary, Margate. Tate, London 2012. She has also included in her show erotic work by J.M.W. Turner, who spent a lot of time in Margate, and by Rodin, whose iconic carving The Kiss (1901-04, above) is on loan from Tate. ‘Growing up in Margate, you were aware of Turner and I was told at school that he was someone to be proud about. I’ve chosen erotic watercolours by Turner and Rodin to show that a long line of gentlemen have done them before me. Ruskin nearly destroyed the whole f***ing lot of Turner’s erotic work. I’m amazed we’ve managed to get hold of them. I feel quite privileged.’
Apart from showing her own images of ‘wanting to be young, and how your sexual attractiveness vanishes when you get older’, Emin is displaying work that ‘questions love and tries to define what love is’. She is also exhibiting some new bronze sculpture. ‘One was a sphinx-like portrait of myself, but then I smashed it up and it looks like two people, relating very strongly to the Rodin carving. I’m working with a foundry in New York – a whole new departure for me, and it’s so exciting and nerve-wracking.’
Down in Bexhill on Sea, visitors to Richard Wilson’s show might also feel apprehensive. His replica coach seems on the verge of falling off the roof and Wilson adds to its fascination by calling his commission Hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea!...… He has taken this quote from the final scene of the 1969 film The Italian Job, in which Michael Caine and a gang of robbers are carrying a fortune in gold across the Italian Alps. Their coach swerves off the road and ends up hanging off the edge of a mountain. Wilson, who savours the movie’s quintessentially British humour, wants his teetering coach to have a similar appeal. ‘It’ll be just like the film,’ he says, ‘but rocking up and down on the edge of the roof. When the De La Warr commissioned a work from me, I wanted to do a cliff-hanger. And I thought instantly of The Italian Job. In the movie, the coach is painted in the colours of the Union Jack. I’m doing the same, because I like the idea of my coach being a metaphor of England, poised on the edge of financial uncertainty. The rooftop work has also been taken up as a London 2012 project, so my coach links up with the athletes poised on their own precipice. They’re all going for gold, like Michael Caine and his mates struggling to get their gold!’
A collage for Richard Wilson RA’s sculpture commission, 'Hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea!...…,', 2012. ©Richard Wilson RA
Wilson’s flag-waving, jaw-dropping project could hardly be further removed from Richard Long RA’s new work at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Like so much of his art Red Slate Line (1986) is placed in the open air, in this case on a woodland path overlooking the lakes. It reflects Long’s profound involvement with walking through the natural world, and accords with YSP’s commitment to curated walks in its landscape. At nearby Hepworth Wakefield, by contrast, Long is the subject of an indoor exhibition of works from Artist Rooms, gifted from the collection of Anthony d’Offay, as well as loans from other national collections. He will also make two new site-specific commissions, stimulated by the building’s beguiling location on the banks of the River Calder.
At Waddesdon Manor, Tony Cragg’s large bronze, Spine (1996), has been placed in the gardens, among many other works by an international array of sculptors, including Anish Kapoor RA, Antony Gormley RA, Dan Flavin, Richard Serra, Donald Judd, Eduardo Chillida and Jeff Koons Hon RA.
Tony Cragg RA, 'Spine', 1996, at Waddesdon Manor © Christie’s Images Limited 2012.
The overall theme of this ambitious show is ‘House of Cards’, inspired by Chardin’s superb paintings of the same subject displayed inside this stately home built as a French château by Ferdinand de Rothschild in the 19th century. Organised in association with Christie’s, the exhibition is filled with art for sale. Spine is one of the most lively works in the gardens, exemplifying Cragg’s delight in ambushing viewers, catching them off-balance. Although its title gives this work a figurative reference, it cannot be pinned down to a single meaning. And Cragg’s ever-shifting dynamic, as turbulent as the times we live in, helps to give the entire Waddesdon show an irresistible vitality.