Norwich Study Visit Review
Nine OCA students from photography, textiles, drawing and painting joined me in Norwich on 5th September for a study visit to see and discuss three diverse exhibitions. Starting at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, we first visited the Jeff Koons Artist’s Room installed in the Special Exhibition Gallery.
Jeff Koons (b.1955) is widely regarded as one of the most important, influential, popular and controversial artists of our time. He is famous for iconic works such as Puppy, a forty foot sculpture which stands outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and in many works he reproduces commonplace objects (for example inflatable toys and flowers) using unexpected materials and confounds one’s expectation of scale. Koons is preoccupied with colour and surface, gaining recognition in the 1980’s when he set up a factory for the production of his work and was labelled as part of the Neo-Pop movement. The bright, colourful surfaces of much of his works in this show, and using materials as diverse as glass and aluminium add to their playfulness.
It is difficult to sit on the fence about his work – his pieces provoke both positive and negative emotion. One of the students reasoned that Koons had built on the work of Duchamp (his seminal urinal piece) by bringing the everyday into the gallery and that he was in the right place at the right time when American culture was beginning to be consumed by materialism. Koons obsession shine and gloss serve to reinforce this view; his piece entitled New Hoover Convertibles, Green, Red, Brown, New Shelton Wet/Dry 10 Gallon Displaced Doubledecker (four vacuum cleaners inside Perspex boxes lit from underneath by fluorescent tube lighting) emphasises the beauty of the household object, displaying them encased in display cases to protect, present and empower their value as art object.
At the beginning of the day, one of the questions raised by a new photography student was “What is Art?”. This was indeed a good question to ask when looking at the work of Koons as well as in the following exhibition Sawdust and Threads, which included my own work. A three-year project taking de-accessioned museum objects as its material, Sawdust and Threads explores value, loss and materiality.
From time to time, museums go through the process of rationalisation where objects from the collections that are no longer wanted are disposed of after a very lengthy period of investigation, reasoning, committees, permissions and exhaustive investigation to ensure the object cannot be housed in another museum or have undiscovered provenance. I worked with curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Harriet Loffler exploring our shared interests of materiality, collections and the visibility of the artist’s process. This culminated in my being given a wide range of fascinating and unusual deaccessioned objects from several museums and after first drawing them, I then slowly and carefully deconstructed these unwanted artifacts to reduce them to their component materials.
It was a privilege to talk to nine enquiring students about the project. They quizzed me about the responsibility of drawing something that would no longer exist in its current form, knowing it was once part of a museum collection (‘paralysing’ was my reply, ‘challenging to know how to approach the drawing, should they be diagrammatic, to scale, expressive, axonometric?’). We talked about where the art was – in the drawing certainly, but also in the objects? The deconstructed objects are now artist’s material having been reduced to sawdust, threads and wooden fragments and displayed in the gallery. Does that make them art too?
Our final stop was at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art, which is based at the University of East Anglia on the edge of Norwich. Here the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury collection is permanently housed, an eclectic mix of worldwide sculpture, paintings, prints and drawings from prehistory to the 20th Century and including pieces by Picasso, Bacon and Giacometti. We were there to see the temporary exhibition Abstraction and the Art of John Golding.
Golding is a painter whose work really explores abstraction and the show charts his work from semi -figurative work through to abstraction. although there were a limited number of works, the exhibition included contextualising pieces by Sonia Delaunay, Sol le Witt and others. In 1959, Golding published Cubism: A History and an Analysis 1907-1914, this is widely regarded as a seminal text for scholars and artists. Personally, it was Golding’s use of colour that was impressive. Despite the very human tendency to want to seek out something recognisable in an abstract work, in Golding’s paintings, there seemed to be sheer joy in the application of paint and the play of colours against each other. I felt he was also methodically exploring form on a flat surface. Some of the group debated depth, how one could see distance and complexity in flat blocks of colour. Golding’s work takes the eye into spaces suggesting depth; maybe it is the shapes he creates, into which we can bring our own imagination offering us possibility and multiple readings.
Study visits are a great way to get to know fellow students, whatever course you are studying on and at any level. Having conversations in front of actual work is invaluable, sharing ideas and progress on your courses, learning how other students make work, what their ideas are and sharing challenges is useful. Look out for visits in your area here
Further information on the exhibitions and artists mentioned above can be found online at the following sites: