David Burlak – Monday, 9th March 2015.

Barkcloth wedding dress by Samoan designer Paula Chan Cheuk, New Zealand, 2014, commissioned with support from the New Zealand Society UK and private donors © The Trustees of the British Museum

Barkcloth wedding dress by Samoan designer Paula Chan Cheuk, New Zealand, 2014, commissioned with support from the New Zealand Society UK and private donors © The Trustees of the British Museum

An out of the ordinary exhibition, “Shifting patterns: Pacific barkcloth clothing” is at the British Museum, London.

This small exhibition is focused on barkcloth, a material of many different usages. The barkcloth use is dated at least 5,000years ago in the islands of the Pacific.

Cloth made from the inner bark of trees is a distinctive art tradition. Barkcloth and plaited leaf fabrics were the two principal textiles people produced in the tropical island environments of the Pacific, where there were few land animals to provide fur or wool.

Probably introduced to the Pacific region by the first human settlers, barkcloth is made from particular trees – predominantly paper mulberry. Bark is the outermost layers of stems and roots of woody plants, such as trees, woody vines, and shrubs. Bark is a nontechnical term referring to all the tissues outside of the vascular cambium of the plant. It overlays the wood and it consists of the inner bark and the outer bark.

The inner bark includes the innermost area of the periderm. The basic techniques of making barkcloth are the same right across the Pacific. Once removed from the tree, the inner bark is separated. It is repeatedly soaked, scraped beaten to produce a cloth of the desired thickness and softness. The way you beat and the time you do it determines the quality of the material.

“Shifting patterns: Pacific barkcloth clothing” exhibition is dedicated to clothing and adornment made from barkcloth,

Barkcloth dance skirt, pā’ū, by Dalani Tanahy, O’ahu, Hawaiian Islands, 2014 © The Trustees of the British Museum, Courtesy of the artist

Barkcloth dance skirt, pā’ū, by Dalani Tanahy, O’ahu, Hawaiian Islands, 2014 © The Trustees of the British Museum, Courtesy of the artist

displaying a range of garments, headdresses, masks and body ornaments. Present in the region from New Guinea in the west to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the east, barkcloth is made in numerous styles and designs, reflecting the distinct histories of each island group and the originality of the producers.

This is the first British Museum exhibition focussing on barkcloth. It exhibits seventy-seven objects from the museum’s extensive Oceania collection of almost nine hundred items. Barkcloth must be carefully prepared for display, and many hours of conservation using the British Museum’s new World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre have been invested in the pieces exhibited. The exhibition includes works from the late 1700s collected during British voyages of exploration to the Pacific Ocean through to garments nowadays produced.

Barkcloth garments, wrappings and adornment can be worn as everyday items and on ceremonial occasions, including those linked to key life cycle events such as weddings and funerals.

There is extraordinary diversity between barkcloth made in the different island groups of the Pacific. Some are plain, while others have textural or applied patterns, which can be painted, dyed and stencilled onto the cloth.

The British Museum exhibition also examines the different changes of the form and importance of barkcloth clothing through time. Following the impact of missionaries, Pacific Islanders adopted new forms of clothing as a sign of conversion to Christianity. Therefore, from the beginning of 1800s new ideas inspired an explosion of innovative decorative devices.

Oc,HAW.19 Barkcloth, kua’ula, Hawaiian Islands, Eastern Polynesia, late 18th Century © The Trustees of the British Museum

Oc,HAW.19, Barkcloth, kua’ula, Hawaiian Islands, Eastern Polynesia, late 18th Century © The Trustees of the British Museum

Another important change was the introduction of machine made cloth into the Pacific which led to a decline in barkcloth-making in some places.

However, the tradition continues in other places and new developments have also come out. For example, many artists from Pacific Islands moved to urban centres such as Auckland (New Zealand) following an exodus from their communities. Those artists integrated barkcloth into high fashion designs which take both western and indigenous clothing styles as inspiration. In the Hawaii, instead, in 2011, a leading hula group performed for the first time in dance costumes made from kapa. This challenged kapa makers to produce cloth that was flexible and durable enough for these vigorous performances.

This exhibition gives a new perspective about the barkcloth and its employ. It is a material not used outside of the Pacific area, and it might be of inspiration for fashion stylist, even architects, or similar.

“Shifting patterns: Pacific barkcloth clothing” is at the British Museum from 5th February until 16th August 2015, Bloomsbury, London.

 

David Franchi – Thursday, 26th February 2015.

Houndstooth sari by Abraham and Thakore, Hyderabad 2011 Photograph courtesy of Abraham Thakore

Houndstooth sari by Abraham and Thakore, Hyderabad 2011 Photograph courtesy of Abraham Thakore © V&A Museum, London

This autumn the India Festival 2015 will be inaugurated, at the V&A Museum, London. It will explore the past and the present of the abundant and diverse culture of India, with a series of exhibitions, displays, events and digital initiatives.

The India Festival 2015 will highlight the 25th anniversary of the opening of the V&A Museum’s Nehru Gallery. It is also 25 years since the launch of the Nehru Trust for the Indian Collections (NTICVA), which encourages the study, conservation and display of art and cultural legacy of India.

The V&A Museum has one of the greatest collections of South Asian art in the world. It is particularly renowned for its Mughal court arts, textiles, paintings and sculpture.

The Nehru Gallery was launched in November 1990 to give a suggestive location to the Museum’s important collection.

The Nehru Trust for the Indian Collections (NTICVA) was set up in India. It was established because the V&A Museum wanted to make its collection, and those of other UK institutions, more available to scholars from India, through assignment of grants and awards. The Trust has bestowed nearly 500 awards in total and created a vital network of linkages between scholars and professionals in the two countries.

The main events of the India Festival 2015 will be: The Fabric of India; Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection; Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1854-1860; and a display of Warli Paintings.

The highlight of the India Festival will be The Fabric of India (3 October 2015 – 10 January 2016). It will be the first exhibition to fully explore the incomparably rich world of handmade textiles from India. From the earliest known Indian textile fragments to contemporary fashion, this exhibition will illustrate the technical mastery and creativity of Indian textiles. Celebrating the variety, virtuosity and continuous innovation of India’s textile traditions, The Fabric of India will present approximately 200 objects made by hand that illustrate the skills, variety and adaptability of Indian textile makers, including previously unseen treasures, ranging from the earliest known Indian textile fragments to contemporary fashion.

The major exhibition will be Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection (21 November 2015 – 28 March 2016).

Pendant brooch set with diamonds and rubies 2011 by Bhagat Mumbai India © V&A Museum London

Pendant brooch set with diamonds and rubies 2011 by Bhagat Mumbai India © V&A Museum London

This exhibition will present around 100 spectacular objects from or inspired by the jewellery traditions of the Indian subcontinent. The objects are drawn from the recently-formed Al Thani collection, notable for the quality and size of its precious stones, both unmounted and set in jewellery. It reflects India’s position over many centuries as an international market for precious stones. It will showcase magnificent precious stones of the kind collected by Mughal Emperors in the 17th century and exquisite objects used in royal ceremonies. It will reveal the influence of India on jewellery made by leading European houses in the early 20th century and display contemporary pieces with an Indian theme made by modern masters.

“Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1854-1860” (24 June – 11 October 2015), will be a display of some of the earliest and most striking views of the landscape and architecture of India and Burma, by a pioneering British photographer. This exhibition is collaboration between the V&A, who acquired Tripe’s works in the 1860s, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Additionally, there will be a display of “Warli Paintings” at the V&A Museum of Childhood. It is a tribal form of art originating from the Thane region, north of Mumbai. It has had little exposure in the West. It is developed in collaboration with A Fine Line.

Moreover, a digital exhibition created in partnership with Darbar, a South Asian classical music organisation, and the Horniman Museum in London. It will display 19th-century musical instruments from the V&A’s collection juxtaposed with footage of leading contemporary musicians playing similar instruments of more modern date, enriched by interviews with the musicians and other experts. A number of the 19th-century instruments will also be installed within the Nehru Gallery, complimented by live performances in the Museum.

Besides, a broad and varied programme of debates and lectures will be organised, including the annual Benjamin Zucker lecture on Mughal Art.

Furthermore, it is planned a lively programme of educational events for adults, children and families comprising talks, performances, courses, screenings, storytelling and special events. A cultural festival focussed around Diwali is planned for October half term (24 October – 1 November).

The festival will also mark the culmination of an online cataloguing project, funded by the Parasol Foundation Trust, which has resulted in full catalogue entries and new photography of 8,500 paintings, textiles and hardstones being available on the V&A’s Search the Collections database.

The India Festival 2015 will open at the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London, from June 2015 until January 2016.

 

David Franchi – Monday, 23rd February 2015.

The exhibitionCotton to Gold” is a remarkable experience, at Two Temple Place, London.

Katshushika Hokusai Mishima Pass in Kai Province, from the series Fugaku Sanjürokkei (36 Views of Fuji), c.1826-33 Woodblock print Lewis Collection Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

Katshushika Hokusai,
Mishima Pass in Kai Province, from the series Fugaku Sanjürokkei (36 Views of Fuji), c.1826-33 © Lewis Collection
Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

Cotton to Gold: Extraordinary Collections of the Industrial North West” is focused on the legacy of some Lancashire tycoons, wealth people who accumulated a significant quantity of artworks during the early years of the last century.

The exhibition “Cotton to Gold” tells the story of the Pennine area of Lancashire, where, from the middle of the 19th century, the manufacture and commerce of cotton textiles boomed. Running this business was a group of magnates, who emerged also as private collectors. They amassed fine works that were competing with the best collection in the UK.

Cotton was introduced in Britain in the sixteenth century. It succeeded, at the expense of wool, because it was cheaper, easier to be processed and to be cleaned. The Pennine area was very well located and good organised to respond to this growing demand for cotton cloth.

The mills could count on local coal mines or good rivers and streams. Liverpool docks allowed the importation of raw materials and a quick export of finished products. The technologies and the high level of engineering in the North West supported this industrial success. The workforce needed caused a large scale of migration from the rural areas to the cities. It was an appalling movement of people that also created poverty and social disadvantage.

The gap between rich and poor widened and it was of discomfort for the late Victorian society. The great prosperity reached represented both opportunities and responsibilities. The newly rich got involved in a lavish life style, but however, Christian principle of charitable duties led them to return some money to the community, for instance opening schools or hospitals.

Charitable actions may have eased the moral debt of the wealthy magnates, in an effort to realise a sort of ethical fairness with labourers. According to this approach, the idea of a philanthropic legacy became a fact.

Many of the collections displayed in Cotton to Gold were donated to local museums by collectors, during their lifetime or after their deaths.

The legacies are still held by the partners of this exhibition: Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery; Haworth Art Gallery in Accrington, and Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museum in Burnley.

The wealth of the North West started to lower with the First World War because of difficulties in export, so that

John Everett Millais, Male nude study, c. 1847 © Dean Collection, Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museum

John Everett Millais,
Male nude study, c. 1847 © Dean Collection,
Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museum

foreign production started. In between the First and the Second World War, the production constantly reduced, over 300,000 workers left the industry, and some 800 mills closed. Ironically, it was in part the export trade of Burnley power looms that had equipped foreign nations so well to compete. By 1958 Britain was a net importer of cotton cloth.

The “Cotton to Gold” exhibition draws on the holdings of these museums, focusing on eleven local magnates, exploring their outstanding and sometimes particular collections. Everyone of the magnate collected according to his own taste and preferences.

The collection of the books of Robert Edward Hart is notable in quality, spanning from almost the entire story of the written word, from Assyrian tablets to 19th century editions printed on ink and paper, passing through Medieval miniatures. He also collected coins, including Greek, Greek Imperial, Romans, Byzantine and British.

Thomas Boys Lewis was a passionate of Japanese prints, of which he collected over 1,000, from early 1700s to the nineteenth century. He also left a group of Orthodox Christian icons, made between the late 1600s and the early 1800s, and originating in Greece, Russia and the Eastern Mediterranean.

J.M.W. Turner, Tynemouth Priory, c. 1822, Donated by E.L. Hartley © Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

J.M.W. Turner,
Tynemouth Priory, c. 1822, Donated by E.L. Hartley © Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

Edward Stock Massey was one of the most charitable collectors. In 1904, he disposed to leave a weird, but honoured, bequest of £125,000 to the administration of Burnley. The massive amount of money today is still providing fund for purchases. At Two Temple Place, his collection of J. M. W. Turner watercolours is displayed.

George A. Booth gathered an extensive collection of taxidermied birds and mammals over a period of thirty years. The most substantial gift of Arthur C. Bowdler was a collection of beetles, a very popular hobby at the time. The collection of George Eastwood is made of ivory works from the 1700s to the 1900s, made across Europe, Africa, and Asia.

William T. Taylor offered Towneley Hall Museum several gifts from his most recent trip to Peru, including a preserved mummy of a twelfth –century Incan nobleman and several huacos, ceramics artefacts often found in burial sites. Additionally, on display the diary of his Peruvian expedition a book extraordinarily bound in woolly llama skin.

Wilfred Dean was a passionate of drawings. Remarkable is his collection of Millais, a Pre-Raphaelites artist. Jesse Haworth, instead, preferred to gather print and engravings of Sir Edwin Landseer. James Hardcastle amassed small drawings and paintings made for book illustrations. Joseph Briggs brought together an important Tiffany glassware collection, including mosaics, vases, and wall -tiles.

It is nothing new people spend their money in artworks, for instance see the patricians of ancient Rome. Nowadays, we are assisting to the same phenomenon, rich buyers are rocketing the market. Which is also raising questions about art or market: which one is prevailing? And about emerging artists are they keen to money or to production?

‘Cotton to Gold: Extraordinary Collections of the Industrial North West’ shed lights on the history of an area of Britain. Through donations, it describes an historical period of a specific area, that however concerns us all and that explains our present.

Moreover, the venue where it is located is wholly appropriate. Two Temple Place is a spectacular neo-Gothic mansion on London’s Victoria Embankment that was property of William Waldorf “Willy” Astor, 1st Viscount Astor. When he bought the mansion, he commissioned an extensive $1.5 million renovation. The house was designed by John Loughborough Pearson, to be used primarily as Astor’s HQ office. Astor had immigrated to England from USA in 1891. He probably was the richest man in the world and no expense was spared when work began on Two Temple Place in 1892 and it was finished in 1895. Today the mansion is owned and run by the charity the Bulldog Trust.

The exhibitionCotton to Gold: Extraordinary Collections of the Industrial North West’ is ongoing until 19th April 2015, at Two Temple Place, Temple, London.

 

David Franchi – Wednesday, 4th February 2015.

Renato Guttuso: Painter of Modern Life’ is a fascinating exhibition, at theEstorick Collection, London.

Still Life with Lamp (Still Life with Skull and Lamp), 1940-41, Co. Galleria d’Arte Maggiore, Bologna © Estorick Collection, London

Still Life with Lamp (Still Life with Skull and Lamp), 1940-41, Co. Galleria d’Arte Maggiore, Bologna © Estorick Collection, London

This is the first major exhibition in the UK for almost 20 years about the Italian artist. Renato Guttusois one of post-war Italy’s most significant painters. His work was iconic for many artists as well as for common people. For decades he expressed the sense of discomfort of people. As he lived in the UK, his connection with the country is strong.

The Estorick exhibition is organised in collaboration with Galleria d’Arte Maggiore, Bologna (Italy). ‘Renato Guttuso: Painter of Modern Life’ is the first major exhibition in the United Kingdom to focus on the career of this important artist for almost twenty years. It offers to the British public the opportunity to explore the work of a key figure in modern Italian culture.

The exhibition is organised in the three rooms of the Estorick Collection. The first is ‘Renato Guttuso: Painter of modern Life’ a general survey on the artist and his work.

Aldo Renato Guttuso was born in Bagheria, near Palermo, in Sicily, on 26th December 1911. His father was a watercolourist, and so an inspiration to little Renato, who started to paint as early as he was thirteen years old and firstly exhibited when he was just seventeen (1928).

The Guttuso were a liberal family, so they had many difficulties during the Fascism. However, Renato managed to go to the university. He was also able to join art movements and to spark life in the Italian art world suffocated by the regime.

During the early 1930s Guttuso moved to Milan. Then he travelled between Milan and Palermo and in Rome he got in contact with the movement of the Scuola Romana. In 1937, he settled in Rome.

At the Estorick exhibition, the room ‘Corrente and the Art of the War Years’ shows the period of Guttuso involved in the group Corrente. The members came together around a magazine with the same name founded in Milan in 1938. The Corrente group referred to the Scapigliati, which literally means ‘dishevelled’ or ‘unkempt’ – an Italian bohemian movement born in the 1860s. Corrente opposed to the official culture of the regime, refusing the cultural isolationism of the Fascism. The importance of Corrente is to have laid the foundation of the Realism movement, which was to dominate the Italian cultural panorama in the post war.

In the 1940 Guttuso became a member of the clandestine PCI (Communist Italian Party). Many of his works were

Heroine (Garibaldean Heroine / Assassinated Partisan), 1954, Co. Galleria d’Arte Maggiore, Bologna © Estorick Collection, London

Heroine (Garibaldean Heroine / Assassinated Partisan), 1954, Co. Galleria d’Arte Maggiore, Bologna © Estorick Collection, London

commercialised in the clandestine market, because the thematic were anti – Nazis and anti- fascist, but also anti – clericalist. However, he continued to participate and winning prizes in exhibitions supported by the government. During the Second World War years, next to members of the Communist Party, Guttuso actively participated in the Resistance.

The room ‘The Post- war period’ shows that in the late 1940s and the following years, Guttuso was one of the most significant artists, who also shaped a style ruling Italian culture. Determinedly popular, his imagery continued to chronicle Italy’s frequently turbulent political life and the changing of its society for over 40 years. The Realism found favour in the PCI (Italian Communist Party).

In 1947 Guttuso joined the Fronte Nuovo delle Arti a movement polemic against the formalist tendencies of many abstract artists, from which he split later.

Strongly confident about his beliefs that art should be ‘useful’, Guttuso continued to use his vigorous and accessible style to socio-political themes over the course of his career.

During his life, Guttuso loyally remained a member of the PCI, the Italian Communist Party, for which he even realised the emblem used until the dissolution of the party in 1991. He was also elected twice (1976 and 1979) member of the Parliament in the Senato chamber.

In the Post- war period, Guttuso was internationally recognised as artist and politician. In 1950, he received the Peace Prize by the World Peace Council. A number of monographic exhibitions were organised outside of Italy, including London (1950 and 1955), New York (1958), Paris (1971) and Moscow (1961).

Neighbourhood Rally, 1975, Courtesy Galleria d’Arte Maggiore, Bologna © Estorick Collection, London

Neighbourhood Rally, 1975, Courtesy Galleria d’Arte Maggiore, Bologna © Estorick Collection, London

At the Estorick exhibition, a special area is dedicated to ‘Guttuso in Britain’. In the years following the war, he was very well considered in the British art world. He found a strong support in the Marxist critic, John Berger, and friendship with Roland Penrose and Kenneth Clark, and of course Eric Estorick. A number of letters and documents on display at ‘Renato Guttuso: Painter of Modern Life’ show these relationships he had.

The third room upstairs, ‘A friendship across Europe: Renato Guttuso and Peter de Francia’ is focused on the relationship between the two artists, who met in Italy during the post war. The British artist De Francia (1921 – 2012) was born and brought up in France, and lived in Italy for a while. He was painter, teacher and writer. He exhibited widely in Milan, London, New York and Delhi. He was teaching in the Royal College of Art. His works are currently on display at the Tate, V&A Museum, MoMA, and the British Museum. Guttuso wrote and introduction to De Francia exhibition in New York (1962).

Guttuso died in Rome, on 18th January 1987. Before his death, it seems he was reconnecting to the Roman Catholic religion. He now rests in his hometown Bagheria, at the Villa Cattolica, where a museum dedicated to him and his work has been established.

The exhibition ‘Renato Guttuso: Painter of Modern Life’ is ongoing, at the Estorick Collection, Canonbury, London, until the 4th April 2015.