I love what the Guildhall Art Gallery have done – an interesting concept, thoughtfully laid out, enough famous artists to grab your attention (Yinka Shonibare, Grayson Perry and the Chapman brothers) and proof that if you put on an original show you can get good publicity and footfall (well, there were lots of people when I went) to one of London’s less prominent art galleries.
So what’s it all about? The gallery has brought together a collection of Victorian inspired pieces of modern art. But this isn’t all steampunk and cliches (although you will find a bit of both in there).
As you come down the stairs onto the main, lower floor, of the exhibition you get a close up view of Tessa Farmer’s bees, spiders and butterflies with winged skeletons wielding the spines of hedgehogs flying over pieces of animal remains, and as you get to the bottom of the stairs you also see the Victorian sculpture they’re circling. The piece evokes the Victorian fascination with natural history, but also fairies, albeit strange skeletal ones, while being a fascinating piece that you want to keep exploring.
In the corner is a mock-up of a Victorian living room, with ceramic dogs and an armchair complete with taxidermy foxes in the back. More ceramics sit opposite, including a Grayson Perry vase depicting an idealised fantasy village from the mind of an imagined mentally ill Victorian woman and an over-sized piece of Staffordshire pottery styled as a wedding couple with the faces of David Cameron and Nick Clegg as Queen and consort.
Otto von Beach’s entertaining Victorian alphabet will keep you occupied for a while too, such as “I is for Indolently Intrepid” where we see a Victorian gent being carried by two ‘natives’ – one nearing the edge of a cliff and the other being attacked by a snake, but the Victorian gent just looks up from his newspaper annoyed at the fuss.
There are so many strong motifs from the Victorian period with their kitsch ceramics, macabre curiosity, inventiveness, Imperialism, top hats and fairies, but the link between these pieces works, while allowing each to be completely different and interesting in their own ways. A great exhibition and a great excuse to go and visit this gallery and also catch a glimpse of the Roman amphitheater housed in the same building.
Until 8 December 2013
Entry: £7 (Free with Art Fund Card)
Guildhall Art Gallery, Gresham St, London EC2V 7HH