Thursday, 23 May 2013

Curiouser and curiouser...

I have no idea what the weather was doing today - it was warm in the morning and then randomly started hailing and then cleared up a bit only to rain again on and off all day. Despite the weather, Middle B and I made it to the private view of Curiosity: Art and the Pleasure of Knowing at the Turner Contemporary. There was a talk at 6pm that we missed because of the combination of work and train times, so we had chips by the seaside and then went in to see the exhibit.

I am fascinated by the Victorian idea of Cabinets of Curiosities. In the Renaissance, they were originally whole rooms of interesting bits and pieces, usually rarities collected on travels or various animals that were taxidermied or other such novelties. (Hence the German term Wunderkammer). By the Victorian age they had been trimmed down to cabinets, but some of those were incredibly intricate, the cabinet being a wonder in itself, with lots of tiny compartments often with amazing carving and inlaid with mother of pearl and gemstones.

A Victorian Cabinet of Curiosities

The collection was rather like a Curiosity Cabinet in that it had lots of sections to it, all of which were very different, but had an overarching theme. There were some sketches by Leonardo Da Vinci, there were some amazing charcoal rubbings of plates for science books, and many photos and paintings of beautiful curious things.

One of the biggest highlights for me were some extraordinary glass sculptures of sea life. They were made by a father and son team Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka at the end of the 19th C starting with illustrations in biology books and eventually going to aquariums and using real sea life as models. Each piece was a couple of inches, if that, and they were almost completely biologically accurate, even down to the colour. Many people have tried to figure out the method they used to make the sculptures but it remains a mystery.

A glass jellyfish, circa 1890

There was also some interesting taxidermy by Thomas Grunfeld called 'Misfits'. One of them was the body of a dog (possibly a golden retriever) with the face of a sheep, and the other was a penguin body with the neck and head of a peacock. I am not usually squeamish about ethically taxidermied things, but for some reason the idea of a combining two species did make me somewhat uncomfy. Luckily on the opposite wall was a long strip of animal pictures called 'a Continuum of Cute'.

'Misfits' by Thomas Grunfeld

And then we gradually made our way out towards the museum shop - because who doesn't adore a good museum shop? As we made our way out, we got told no less than 7 times that the gallery was closing and we needed to leave.. that's got to be a record. Needless to say, we did make it out of there in our own good time and there were still plenty of people milling about drinking wine so we didn't feel too bad.

Obviously, since it was a private view there were many people around, so it wasn't the best day to sit and look at all the curiosities presented. I really enjoyed it though and I think it would definitely be worth another look when I have more time and space to absorb the different pieces. It was a shame that we missed the opening talk, but it was beautifully curated and well worth braving the rain for.

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