On our last Sunday in London, I wanted to allocate all my time to the museums and the exhibitions that I haven’t been.
I started with the National Portrait Gallery. The Gallery, founded in 1856, holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the World.
I first visited the BP Portrait Award 2014 exhibition. Fifty-five of the most outstanding and innovative new portraits from around the World were on display in the exhibition. It features a variety of styles and approaches to the contemporary painted portrait. I was particularly fascinated by the Brooklyn based artist David John Kassan’s work “Letter to my Mom”(Image 1). Kassan won the Third prize with this portrait and I was heartened by the serenity in the pose of Kassan’s mother, who was modelling for him for this work. The Hebrew text painted onto the portrait above the sitter reads: ‘Dear Mom,/ This painting is my way to spend more time with you./ My way to meditate on our life together./ And all of the earliest memories I have / All of my earliest memories from you.’
I continued with the Virgina Woolf exhibition celebrating her life and achievements through portraits. (Image 2) The Show includes more than 140 objects. As well as paintings of Woolf and her crowded circle of family and friends, there is rare archival material including two suicide letters and the walking stick found on a riverbank by her husband Leonard on the day she went missing in 1941. The design of the exhibition was delicate that caught my attention. It enables the visitors to understand the narrative of the exhibition and the elaborate style gives the chance to know how remarkable writer Woolf was.
After seeing the impressive permanent display in the National Portrait Gallery, I made my way to the National Gallery. It was my first time in the Gallery and I was very excited to see world’s greatest collections of Western European paintings, which is about 2,300 works by roughly 750 artists dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. When I entered the gallery, where the masterpiece The Arnolfini portrait by Jan van Eyck is on display (Image 3), I had a magical moment to have a closer look to the painting. I gave myself a good amount of time to celebrate this stunning work, tried to discover every detail of it. As the Gallery just recently lifted the ban for taking photographs on personal cameras and mobile phones (see the link), I was able to have some snapshot. Taking photos is a long discussion among museum professionals but fighting against mobile phones gives the gallery staff hard times.
Although I very much would like to spend hours and days in The National Gallery, it is impossible to see all the galleries in one day. Without seeing many paintings of the most renowned artists I headed to the stunning summer exhibition of the Gallery “Making Colour”. (Image 4) I am so glad that I was able to see this exhibition as it was a very good example in different aspects (exhibition design, curating, conceptualizing, interpretation, methods of displaying…). The show guides the audience through the spectrum of materials used throughout history to create artists’ pigment. Each room focuses on a specific colour and the multiple materials used to make it over time. Drawn from the National Gallery collection, the exhibition takes a view of National Gallery paintings alongside special loans and featuring research by Gallery experts. The function of the works on show seems to be to illustrate different pigments and demonstrate how various materials have faded with time and with exposure to light. The exhibition was truly an eye-opening one, a great opportunity for me to understand the quest of colour.
I left the brilliant exhibition and hit the road to see Phyllida Barlow’s massive work at Tate Britain. I entered the museum from the Millbank entrance that opened almost a year ago. The £45 million transformation project was held by the architecture firm Caruso St John. I walked towards the new staircase that spirals down from the centre of the domed rotunda. (Image 5) A circular balcony around the rotunda had been closed since the 1920s. I found the new look of the entrance very impressive especially the different architectural elements that were employed for the dome and the balcony. (Image 6)
I saw a part of Phyllida Barlow’s work “Dock”, and it pulled me straight into the huge gallery that it is installed. (Image 7) Commissioned by Tate Britain, Barrlow’s sculpture is her largest work on exhibit in London. It is made up of a series of works, using everyday materials such as cardboard, fabric, timber, polystyrene, plaster and cement, spreading throughout the Duveen Galleries. It reaches up to the roof, falls to the floor through its wooden structure. One might think that it is a mess from the first sight. It is an ambitious, immense work inspired by the view from Tate Britain’s Millbank entrance with an aspect the river Thames. (Image 8)
Before the museum closes I rushed into the galleries where the paintings of Turner are on display. I ended my visit in the gallery of Olafur Eliasson’s work “Turner Colour Experiments”. (Image 9) Eliasson has analysed seven paintings by Turner and created schematic arrays of colours on round canvases, which isolate and record Turner’s use of light and colour. The first effect is having shining CD’s mounted on the wall. But the Colour Wheel like canvases explore the importance of light and atmosphere for Turner, who was using innovative technique in his decade. It was surprising for me to see these paintings, since Eliasson is an artist who is best known for installations and projects.
I had one of my busiest days during ITP, but delighted to spend my entire time in Museums by seeing outstanding artworks and getting new ideas on displaying and interpretation.
Şeyda Çetin, Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations / Turkey