A Collaborative Conversation: The Power of Metamorphosis at the National Gallery

9 Jul

I’m not enjoying this weather.  Waking up in July and putting on winter boots because of the rain and puddled pavements just doesn’t seem right.  The mixture of clothes is so incongruous.  Some are determined that it’s July and are donning summer dresses and flip flops no matter what.  While others are more resigned and have brought their Uggs back out.  So, it was with a heavy heart that I set off in the dank this morning to the National Gallery.

But I’m pleased to say that with Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 the National Gallery has once again pulled it out of the bag.  The exhibition is part of a much larger collaborative scheme which sees artists, choreographers, composers, poets and librettists responding to three paintings by Titian. Each visual artist (Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger) has been afforded one room at the National Gallery as well as space in which to illustrate their costume and set designs for newly commissioned ballets that will be performed by the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House.  Two of each of their costumes are shown here: Ofili’s using his trademark vibrant colours, Wallinger’s employing a tile pattern derived from Siena Cathedral and Shawcross’s using configurations of geometric spirals that originate from the light patterns created by his robotic Diana.

Chris Ofili’s costume designs. Own photograph.

The source of all these new works in various media is the three Titian paintings, displayed here together for the first time since leaving Titian’s own studio.  The dark and enigmatic curation of the exhibition means that the paintings shine from the walls.  The only downside of the darkness is that the wall labels are practically illegible but in terms of the atmosphere it conjures up it’s worth the loss.  There is no cop-out here with dim lighting, this is dark, powerful and evocative.

Titian, Diana and Actaeon, 1556-59. Image courtesy of the National Gallery and via www.nationalgallery.org.uk

I have been a Conrad Shawcross fan since I first saw one of his works but, even without this bias, his Trophy is the clear winner (although in no way are the works intended for comparison).  Shawcross’s Diana is a robot, reminiscent of not only his past works but also Tim Lewis’s mechanised pieces.  His Diana moves around her glass case in a beguiling way, her seductive movement leaves us heady.  Actaeon is represented by a wooden antler and, here, Diana examines her trophy with a light at the end of a wand.  The work is mesmerising and hypnotic.   By looking at Diana through innovative modern and technological design, Shawcross has redesigned Titian’s figures so they are now in tune with our modern world.  I came back to this work time and time again, following Diana’s journey and joining her in this ritual.

Conrad Shawcross, Trophy, 2012. Own photograph.

Mark Wallinger’s work superbly plays with the ideas of voyeurism found in these Titian pieces.  He has created a bathroom within a closed box which we are able to look into through peepholes.  By doing this we invade Diana’s space and ruin her privacy, recalling Actaeon encroaching on Diana’s sanctuary.  Wallinger explores Diana bathing through a contemporary motif by using a real Diana to explore the themes of Titian’s paintings. The piece is very physical and six actual women called Diana will play the role throughout the duration of the exhibition.  It’s brilliant – you can’t help but look and want to see more.  One viewing hole is a broken pane in a frosted window (even in high heels, I had to strain on tiptoes to see through, which may make the work a bit too obtuse for those of us on the smaller side) and another opening (better for those in flat shoes) can be found in the slats of a wooden window.  Intentionally, this only affords us partial glimpses of the scene.

Mark Wallinger, Diana, 2012. Own photograph.

On one side are two eyeholes that reveal the model in more detail and it is this that diminishes the work slightly for me as I felt that here the piece lost part of its mystery.  Notwithstanding, this is still very powerful and very Wallinger.

Mark Wallinger, Diana, 2012. Image courtesy of the artist and Anthony Reynolds Gallery and via www.nationalgallery.org.uk

For me, Ofili’s works are the least effective and are partly lost alongside the other two responses. His body of seven new paintings embraces the female form, transposing the Classical world to his home in Trinidad. These works don’t have the force or immediacy of the others.  Placed in between Shawcross and Wallinger they didn’t grab me in the same way.  Maybe they would have been better set apart.

Some of Chris Ofili’s new paintings. Own photograph.

There is also a choreographic room affording a glimpse into the work of the seven choreographers and a room showing working models of the artist’s sets.  The exhibition is designed to give a taster of the overall project and it certainly does this.  I now want to go to see the ballets at the ROH, I want to spend more time with Shawcross’s Diana.

Conrad Shawcross’s Royal Opera House set design. Own photograph.

I was disappointed that a publication hasn’t been produced to accompany this exhibition although I’m told that a leaflet is to follow.  I find the cross-media conversation intriguing, especially as there can be no doubt that it’s been a success and has resulted in some very powerful new works.

Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 is at the National Gallery from 11th July until 23rd September 2012, www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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3 Responses to “A Collaborative Conversation: The Power of Metamorphosis at the National Gallery”

  1. artdone July 12, 2012 at 12:14 am #

    Hi, I just got out of the plane from London so I had a chance to see the exhibition at NGL. I wish I could see the ballets… I love your blog and your positive attitude – great posts!

    • chloenelkin July 12, 2012 at 7:51 am #

      I’m so glad you got to see the exhibition and thank you for following and for your comment. I’m really pleased you’re enjoying the blog, do keep reading.

  2. Gary Kahn August 8, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    Only just read this. Very important. Thanks.

    GK

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