Botticelli Reimagined

There is another great exhibition in Victoria and Albert museum: Botticelli Reimagined and this exhibition is on until 3rd of July 2016. Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) is an important figure in Early Renaissance Art and inspired many artist throughout the history. The concept of the exhibition is to show artworks that were influenced by Botticelli’s works. There are different types of artworks: video arts, sculptures, paintings, photographs, fashion costumes as well as movie episodes. In some pieces the reference and inspiration were more obvious than in others. Inspiration and reference mostly cam from Botticelli’s most famous paintings: The Birth of Venus and Primavera. However these two painting can never leave Florence there are more than 50 original works as well as works by Botticelli’s workshop and immediate followers.

There are three sections of the exhibitions and the artworks were organised historically backwards. First section is dark, with contemporary works, the second section with older works in a beige tones and fully lit. Final section was completely white showcasing Botticelli and his workshop. White space is an unusual choice for old masters but it looks great!

Century Vogue

National Portrait Gallery has many beautiful exhibitions this spring and one of them is a must for fashion lovers – Vogue 100: a century of style. It celebrates a birthday for an iconic British magazine and fashion bible. The exhibition is on from 11th of February until 22nd of May, so those who are in style still have plenty of time to visit it multiple times!

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The exhibition is dedicated to a long history Vogue gathering a wide range of photographs commissioned by the magazine. The retrospective is organised by decades: visitors start from the most recent room 2010s and then go backwards to 2000s and all the way to 1910s. It is nice to see it in reverse and follow how fashion was developing.

Every decade is different and you can see how trends changed in clothes, hair, make up. Some decades signify the revolution of women role in society, some address political issues in society and all this is done in a beautiful fashion manner.

Each room is full of A-list celebrities portraits by top photographers from different industries: fashion models, actors and artists. Exhibition also features 100 magazine covers and short films of how photoshoots were taken.

It is also fascinating to observe how people are dressed, it is no wonder they say that Vogue is the most iconic fashion magazine – it attracts stylish visitors.

Young Woman in Blue Reading a Letter

 

Johannes Vermeer, Young Woman in Blue Reading a Letter

c. 1662 – 1665
Oil on canvas
46.5 x 39 cm. (18 1/4 x 15 3/8 in.)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The subject of the painting is a woman who is reading a letter in front of the window. It is not determined who is the letter from. She appears to be pregnant, however, it is not necessary the case, because the fashion of the day was to wear loose dresses. There is a map of the Netherlands on the wall which can indicate that she is reading a letter from a travelling husband.

 

This painting is composed on geometric figures and all objects on the picture are related. There are horizontal and vertical lines that divide the space and creating three-dimensional effect. On the wall there is linen, which appears to be “real” because of the shadow underneath, which shows us that there is a space between the linen and the wall. The same technique is used with other objects on the canvas. Shadows in this picture emphasize the space between objects and make it more realistic. Moreover we can see that there are several layouts. Difference between foreground and background also work to create space in the frame.

Painting the Modern Garden

“I perhaps owe it to flowers that I became a painter” Claude Monet

Royal Academy of Arts presents new exhibitions devoted to gardens pictured by Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Avant-Garde. The title reads “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse” which is on from 30th of January until 20th of April. The idea is to explore how did gardens develop in art through late 19th to early 20th centuries. When talking about Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Avant-Gard usually french artists pop to mind, however, in this exhibition Monet’s works were taken as a starting point and  the subject was further developed by international artists.

Today was the first day the exhibition was open to the public and it was packed. Even though there are time slot allocations it was very crowded and a bit tricky to read captures and admire the paintings. Suggestions: it might be a good idea to go in the morning!

Gardens were a popular subject matter for late 19th century for painters as it became more common for society to spend leisure time in gardens. It was a protest against rapid industrialisation. Moreover, for the painting technique gardens are perfect for impressionists: it has bright colours, nature, natural light – all in favour to play and experiment with strokes and brushes.

Two large rooms are devoted to Monet’s early paintings at Giverny as well as his late works. Some paintings are “work in progress” and it is interesting to see two paintings of the same subject but in different colours side by side. The same bridge is painted in different tones: one is vibrant using bright greens and another one is done in pastel colours.

It is known that Monet was obsessed with lilies. There are 7 paintings of water lilies and not two of them are the same. Each painting has slightly different composition and amount of light.

There is also a greenhouse with flowers is the middle of the room as well as in every corner. It is a great idea how to support the subject by expanding it beyond paintings and by adding related journals, books, photographs and even live flowers.

One room is designed for visitors to learn more about the subject, there are tables with encyclopaedias and art books accessible to public, large photographs on the walls of different artists as well as short black and white silent film about gardens and how they were painted.

I overheard different conversations, some were about art (perspectives, textures, colours etc) but some people were sharing gardening tips inspired by the subject of exhibition.  Overall Royal Academy presented not so mainstream artists and it was interesting to see not so “traditional” impressionists techniques.

Shoes: pleasure and pain

V&A museum holds an exhibition, which is very exciting for women, as it is all about shoes! The exhibition is called “Shoes: pleasure and pain” and we know a lot about how hills are painful. The show started in June and is still on until 31st of January. Expect to see 200 pairs of the most extreme shows from the last 2000 years.

The exhibition is held in trendy and fashionable space with velvet curtains, the lights are dimmed and the atmosphere is intimate. The show is held over two floors: different “chapters” divide first floor and second floor has projections of shoe making on the wall. You can also feel leather and compare textures. The sound effect also enhances the experience: you can hear clicking shoes, like someone is walking in high heals.

The take on the subject is unusual: shoes are looked at as symbols and what they represent rather than footwear. Shoes are seen as transformation, objects of desire, position in society, status, sexual objects and means for self-expression.

The first idea is transformation: shoes can completely change the person’s life. There are some iconic pairs of shoes, like Cinderella crystal shoe. On the screen you can see fragments from famous movies and TV series with iconic shoes, for example, we can see how Mr. Big proposes to Carrie with a Manolo Blahnik blue shoe. In fact, they can play all episodes of Sex and the City because the main character is obsessed with shoes!

The second idea is that shoes are associated with status: like nowadays red sole of Louboutins signifies wealth and status in the society.

Another idea is that shoes determine they way people move and high heels make a woman more elegant and graceful.

Shoes can also be seen as sexual thing and be perceived as means of seduction. Here comes “50 shades of grey”. There is a pair of shoes on display that was designed to support dominant-submissive relationships: the heel is designed in a way that it is not possible to walk in these shoes, so the women who is wearing it has to crawl.

It also emphasized that shoes are work of art ‘ it is a combination of design, creation and engineering. It is also innovation – we can see 3D printed shoes on display.

On the second floor there is a description of shoe making as well as short interviews with famous designers such as Manolo Blahnik, Sandra Choi – Jimmy Choo designer and Christian Louboutin. The set up is interesting and engaging: the screen is surrounded by hundreds of shoe boxes. It is interesting how they dearly talk about what they do and how it can be challenging yet so interesting and inspiring.

This is exhibition may not sound particularly engaging, especially men who do not share women obsession with shoes (how 10 pairs can be enough?), but it is defiantly worth going!

The World Goes Pop!

The World goes pop is current exhibition in Tate Modern which is on unlit 24th of January, so you still time to catch it! This exhibition is very interesting from curatorial point of view as well as very informative. It has a different take on Pop Art culture: it showcases international artists, beyond traditional attribution to America and Britain.

The exhibition is created in 10 rooms each has different general theme. Like politics, consumerism, sexual revolution and civil rights. Each room has different colours on the walls which make the artworks stand out. There is a variety of medias showcased at the exhibition including flat art, sculptures and video installations. A lot of artworks combine different mediums such oil/acrylics with elements from domestic environment. Artists used a lot of non traditional art tools to create their artworks. Large canvases, bright colours of the artworks go well with bright colours of the walls. In fact, I admired how such vibrant colours as yellow, red, purple, cobalt blue can deepen the attention on the artworks and highlight the nature of exhibition.

To be honest, I am not a huge fan of contemporary art, but it was very refreshing to explore Pop art international and have a look at it as a mean of protest, rather than traditional view of consumerism. Although the last room was dedicated to consumerism and western influence.

The exhibition is surrounded with different social events and talks hosted by Tate so lovers of Pop culture can engage more. Overall it was a very colourful, bald and exciting. Hurry up but you still have a chance to go and see for yourself!

The Fabric of India

V&A India Festival, which is now coming to an end, presented many exhibitions, displays, and events to explore culture of South Asia. Victoria and Albert museum showcased exhibition “The Fabric of India” as a highlight of V&A India Festival. The exhibition was on display from 3rd of October until 10th of January.

Exhibition hall had dimmed lights which helped visitors to concentrate on the objects, the sound effect also helped to relax and fully explore the world of textiles. When you enter the exhibition you can see large floor spread. It was used in a Mughal palace in summer time to cover the sitting area inside the palace. Flower pattern created indoor garden for people who were sitting inside. This is a great piece to open the exhibition as it grabs attention with its size and pattern. Each letter of the title of the show “The Fabrics of India” connects to the opposite wall by red threads.  It created depth and perspective and goes well with the concept of exhibition.

IMG_1545The exhibition covers not only India but South Asian region. This region included Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. It was well-explained how different climate zones and geographical regions enable masters to access different variety of plant fibre. Some regions are famous in particular type of textile: Assam – golden silk, Bengal – fine cottons, the red dyes of south-east India. It is very helpful that each object has a dot on the map where it was created; it provides a better understanding of the subject.

The textiles were explained from different perspectives: technical side, how it is all manufactures, and cultural side, how the textiles were applied. There was a display with different dyes and explanation of how the colour was reached. For example, if indigo plant was left at the sun longer the plant gives paler blue colour than the one that flown on the shadow.

IMG_1543Overall it is very informative exhibition, describing the history of textiles, how the trade began between India and European countries, how machine mass production of textiles and tariffs affected the industry. From the curatorial point of view, the exhibition was very well put together and was very engaging. Information was delivered through short video clips, as well as description of each subject. There were also some samples of silk, cotton and other textiles, which were accessible to public.

Sao Paulo Museum of Art

One of the most important art museums in Sao Paulo is San Paolo Museum of Art (Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo, MASP). Brazilian diplomat, Assis Chateaubriand, and Italian curator, Pietro Maria Bardi, founded this private non-profit gallery in 1947. It is a landmark of Sao Paulo: a two-storey building made mostly from glass and concrete designed by Italian born Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi. MASP houses the biggest collection of European Art in Latin America.

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The two floors of the museum are very different. The first floor does not have any inside walls and paintings are randomly hung on the walls. The idea behind it is to display art that is rarely shown to the public. Even though the paintings are not organised by genre or time, the room looks fresh and does not look chaotic.

First Floor

First Floor

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However, the second floor has walls and is clearly structured. The structure of the space is intelligently created. There are windows from one room to another, so the viewer can have a preview of what is coming next. The majority of artworks are in good condition, though some need varnishing.

There are two exhibitions at the moment: “The triumph of details and then nothing” and “The passages by Paris”.

The Exhibition “The triumph of details and then nothing” leads us through a journey of time. The paintings show the viewer how the amount of details vanished through art history. In the 16th-18th centuries the more details the better the painting was regarded. Gradually paintings with fewer details were more appreciated.

The first room of the exhibition presents large and significant portraits from 16th – 17th centuries. All portraits have massive gold frames and they are placed against a deep blue coloured wall, which highlights the importance of people captured on the canvas.

The second room concentrates on landscapes from different periods. The room is painted in vibrant red so the pallet of the landscapes looks brighter.

Finally, modern and contemporary art is shown against white walls. The paintings look bold and showing their simplicity and absence of details.

The second exhibition, “The passages by Paris”, which is devoted to modern art in the 19th century in Paris is full of big names such as Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh, Matisse and Gauguin. It is a pleasure to walk through rooms with rare paintings of famous artists on the wall.

The collection is not large compared to museums in Europe, but it looks rich and worthy. Sao Paulo Museum of Art was a true pleasure to visit.

What are the key challenges that museums face?

The art world is constantly changing and so are art museums. The nature and purpose of museums have been changing from purely cultural involvement towards a social experience. Different types of museums face different challenges when trying to adapt. Contemporary art museums have to accommodate large-scale multimedia pieces, which require new spaces, whereas traditional art museums face problems with maintenance of an old building. Regional museums close because of low visitors number; on the other hands big city museums are trying to manage large number of tourists. This essay will discuss the challenges that museums face in economic, social, technical and ethical fields and analyse possible solutions.

The main challenge that the majority of museums have is a funds deficit. It has been announced that in 2015/2016 museums in the UK will experience a further reduction of 5% of government funding (BBC news, 2012) on top of 10-25% reduction in previous years. In the USA museums experienced 20-40% cuts due to the 2008/2009 economic crisis (Black, 2012). Museum Association “Cuts survey” (2013) indicates, that from 2011 to 2013 the majority of museums experienced more than 10% reduction in overall income. Decrease in income may have adverse consequences such as poorer maintenance of the building, redundancies, failure to fund new projects and update collections. Lack of resources may also lead to dusty displays at museums with art objects sitting on the shelves in an old-fashioned manner. Lack of dynamic change in the museums eventually results in decreasing number of visitors, reduction in opening hours and possible closure. In 2012 according to BBC News 22% of museums have closed during the year.

There are two ways to adjust to budget restraints: to cut costs or to increase profits. Cutting costs does not necessarily mean reducing staff or opening hours: museums can benefit from shared storage and shared transportation costs. Museums from “Cultural districts” can have joint storage and, hence, split transportation costs. Another possible way to attract more visitors and split costs is through creating alliances: multiparty membership can cut advertisement costs, printing costs etc. Museums can increase their profits in many ways: “gift shops”, libraries, online shop, publishing, commercial filming, licencing, brand and product development. The strategy of increasing profitability depends on brand name, available funds and creativity. Many museums still have free admission entrance to their main collections, but charge for exhibitions. The debate about if the museums should be free of charge for educational purposes and how admission charges endorse inequalities, because only those who can afford to pay can go to the special exhibitions. In theory, the best way from a social perspective is to make entrance fees to temporary exhibitions optional: however, this might be possible only when museums generate enough profit to compensate the absence of income from these exhibitions.

Another financial problem is that museums are very dependant on donations and sponsorship. Donations are not predictable and may vary from year to year. Whereas sponsorship is more reliable, but it might raise some ethical issues: how appropriate the business of the company is – is it acceptable to sponsor art with the profits of tobacco companies. Moreover sponsorship may involve bias and excessive control of the exhibition (Kirby, 1988). For example, BP’s long-lasting sponsorship of the British Museum (according to its website), provoked various protests and performances (eg Viking exhibition). John Sauven (2010) in “The Guardian” on the topic of BP sponsoring Tate Britain raised an ethical question of how a respectable museum can associate itself with the biggest source of pollution in the world. Many people suggest that museums should refuse such sponsorship, Jonathan Jones (2010) art critic and journalist presents a different opinion. He argues that usually the public is not even aware of which company contributes to exhibitions and “If they [museums] can get money from Satan himself, they should take it” to stay free and open for the public.

The nature of museums has been changing over the last decades: from being purely educational and cultural to becoming more of a “social hub” (Black, 2012) involving all sorts of activities. Gift shops, libraries, restaurants and cafés, lectures and debates are very common in modern museums. The question is if these changes are driven by severe competition with media, the entertainment industry and technological progress. It was argued more than 2 decades ago (ed. Lumley, 1988), that television gives people better access to cultural places and museums are becoming redundant. Recent technological development might have worsened the situation, because Internet and TV offer high quality documentaries and museums’ virtual tours are accessible at home. However, media and museums have found a way to co-exist in modern environment. More and more museums have audio-guides, mobile apps, Wi-Fi and virtual tours. Multiple surveys confirm that people are still very interested in actual face-to-face experiences with art, as well as the opportunity to socialise and be physically involved.

It might be argued that museums can benefit from further cooperation with the TV and the entertainment industry. A costume exhibition from the TV series Downton Abbey attracted almost 20,000 visitors in Nuneaton Museum according to “The Country Telegraph”. This type of project can be very beneficial, especially for regional museums: they can increase profit by attracting more visitors as well as increase brand awareness through associating themselves with popular cultural media.

Apart from financial and social issues, museums can suffer from a technical problem – lack of display space. Only 5-10% of collection is shown in the museums, the rest stays in storage and some pieces might not be on display for years. This raises an issue of “unusable” heritage that stays outside publics’ knowledge. Lack of funds makes it difficult to change displays, because of the high costs of transportation, insurance, hiring a curator and setting up the exhibition.

However, emerging markets and globalisation offer some solutions, such as franchising. Major museums are expanding nationally (Tate Liverpool) and internationally (Louvre Abu Dhabi), creating an opportunity for more parts of the collection to be presented to the public.

Another possible solution is to sell part of the collection, which gives stored art a fresh audience. It will also partially solve financial problems in museums: however it undermines public trust (Kirby, 1998) and provokes issues such as selecting the pieces for sale, deciding on which subjects are less important than others and predicting future tastes. On the one hand, there are parts of the collections that were donated to museums and might be unwanted; on the other hand if the piece is sold and in twenty years there is increasing demand for such art, the museum is unable to satisfy publics’ interest because of the decision made years ago. Even though the Museum Association has strict guidelines of selling collections it is still subject to debate. For example, Northampton Museum and Art gallery sold a 4000 years old sculpture,which was covenanted never to sell. This sale raised a large amount of money (Apollo, 2014), but undermined Art Council accreditation and provoked differing public opinions.

Unlike old museums, modern museums have already adapted to a changing nature of art and were built considering the scope and scale of art works. Contemporary museums may have a semi-permanent collection or not have a collection at all. For example, in China museums like the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai or the Times Museum in Guangzhou provide large spaces for exhibiting collections of international museums (Jouanno, 2013). Such international cooperation can benefit both emerging and established museums.

The survey carried out by “Britainthinks” for the Museum Association (2013) revealed that the three main purposes of museums are caring and preserving heritage, educating the public, especially children, and improving the economy by attracting tourists. In order to “care and preserve heritage” art should be looked after in certain ways – maintaining temperature, level of humidity etc. As the number of visitors increases, the risk of damaging the art works increases as well; hence, to fulfil the main purpose of preserving heritage, museums will have to limit the number of people visiting museums in the future.

Increasing number of visitors raises a lot of different maintenance issues, because buildings wear out, walls get soiled, and floors deteriorate. If the flooring is original from the XVIII-XIX centuries it becomes a part of history and heritage, which gets damaged over time. In 1987 the Louvre separated the stream of visitors by opening additional entrances, however, this might not be a viable option for other museums. Extended hours may be a solution to disperse visitors, but it significantly increases running costs (eg security, electricity, extra staff).

Museums in the XXI century are in transition; they face different financial, social and ethical challenges across the world. Museums have to become more self-sufficient and operate more like a business. In order to do that they have to define objectives such as increasing customer base, increasing brand awareness etc. and creating a business case around it. Advertisement, loyalty schemes and membership cards will help to increase interest in permanent collections rather than one-off exhibition. Some problems may be regarded as “positive challenges”, as they provoke change and stimulate the progress of museums. Solving those problems means that the public will receive independent, modern, educating institutions with updated technology, accessible to everyone and appealing to different social groups.

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