Saturday, 30 August 2014

Was I a bit churlish to come away from the Tate's British Folk Art exhibition feeling unenthusiastic? On the whole, I agree with the Royal Academy's decree of 1768/9 that 'no needlework, artificial flowers, cut paper, shellwork, or any such baubles should be admitted.'

(I wouldn't admit Phyllida Barlow's bloody awful installation either, which looks like the contents of a builder's skip, but the Duveen galleries - one of the grandest spaces in London - have been a dog's dinner ever since they moved the sculpture out.)

But folk art ... I can see that some of it has charm, but a museum setting renders it lifeless. The goose lady collage is one of many churned out by an enterprising tailor to sell as tourist souvenirs. The chicken was skilfully made out of dinner bones by a French prisoner of war.

Then there is the truly dire ... like the crewelwork Old Masters worked by Mary Linwood who had an international reputation and whose gallery in Leicester Square was the first to be lit by gaslight. Think of the skill and the hours of painstaking work that went into stitching Rembrandt's mother or a portrait of Napoleon or a simpering Reynolds' maiden ... so much female effort to such banal effect. But at least she seems to have made a successful living from it.

It isn't a big exhibition, but by the end I was bored ... en masse it's just stuff. I caught it just before it closed at Tate Britain, but it's moving on to Compton Verney - where the folk art collection is beautifully displayed - and I suspect it will look better in a more domestic space.

On my way home, I stopped off at the Photographers' Gallery - for no particular reason, only that I was passing - and happened on this exhibition of early Russian colour photography that turned out to be  fascinating. Free to get in, with some unexpected insights into Russian history.


Toffeeapple said...

It doesn't look very inspiring at all. As for the 'installation', I can't see any artistic merit in that.

mary said...

The very word 'installation' fills me with dread, Toffeeapple.