Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Art and the Pleasures of Knowing

The Hayward Touring exhibitions that have been running around the nation lately tend to grab my attention. Admittedly, this one starts in Margate, which isn't on my usual beat (I did make it to Nottingham last week, and I have an ambition to visit Peterborough in April). But anything with a title like Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing is going to intrigue me. And this one is in association with the New York art and culture magazine Cabinet.

Since it is based in New York, I assume it is cooler than I am. 

The cabinet is the key: back in the seventeenth century, when I was in the process of inventing the foundations of my current critical position - I was calling it baroque subjectivity then, and it involved finding the most complex patterns to relate an art work to Jesuit philosophy - the cabinet was king. They used to stuff them full of curiosities and art, juxtaposing different items in a sort of mash up of a Believe It or Not freak-show and a more formal exhibition.

In fact, they have a little room in Nottingham Contemporary in which they have four cabinets for exactly this purpose. It was one of the many things that attracted me to the gallery on my holiday.

Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing uses these cabinets as a model for "a detailed and spectacular meditation on the nature of wonder, fascination and inquiry." It sets diverse artifacts together (including Nina Katchadourian’s photographs of herself dressed up like a seventeenth-century Flemish portrait in a aircraft toilet) and has a fascination with how the past and present artist indulges their curiosity. 

It's worth pausing to list the attractions. 

  •  Matt Mullican on video, under hypnosis, getting into his shoe 
  • Tacita Dean films the artist Claes Oldenburg in his studio as he cleans the objects on his bookshelves
  • A collection of ravishingly patterned and coloured stones that belonged to the Surrealist writer Roger Caillois
  • German glassmakers Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka exquisitely detailed models of aquatic creatures
  •  Centre for Land Use Interpretation, a scholarly-artistic institute based in Los Angeles, will exhibit a series of Rolodexes and index cards that once belonged to the US nuclear facility at Los Alamos
  • Katie Paterson has images of darkness sourced from observatories all around the world
  • Paterson prepares a fragment of meteorite that will be taken into orbit by the European Space Agency in 2014, becoming the subject of live webcast lessons in astrophysics
  • Gerard Byrne films and photographs the territory around Loch Ness, and produces a compelling map of the frontiers between art, science and fantasy
  • Three examples of Leonardo’s drawings of emblems, puzzles and curious objects
  • Dürer’s celebrated woodcut of a rhinoceros, of 1515
  • Nicholas Maes’s Eavesdropper, a1655 painting of a scene of domestic spying. 
  • A book with an essay by Marina Warner

Brian Dillon, curator, said:

“Curiosity is the desire to uncover what lies beyond our present understanding of the world. Alongside wonder, which was traditionally considered the origin of philosophy, curiosity is valued because it leads us into new territories. But historically it has been condemned too as a form of distraction, an attraction to novelty for its own sake or a desire to unveil what is actually none of our business. Like the cabinet of curiosities, which mixed science and art, ancient and modern, reality and fiction, this exhibition refuses to choose between knowledge and pleasure. It juxtaposes historical periods and categories of objects to produce an eccentric map of curiosity in its many senses.”

Victoria Pomery, Director of Turner Contemporary, said:

‘Artists’ curiosity about the world and how it informs their artistic production is at the heart of this exhibition. The show brings together a wealth of wonderful artefacts and artworks by leading historical and contemporary artists. The opportunity to see such an extensive range of material allows visitors to think more about the role that curiosity plays in all our lives.’

25 May - 15 September 2013 
28 September – 5 January 2014
June – August 2014

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