No gold at the end of this rainbow

Colour Coded at Weston Park, Museums Sheffield

It was always going to be a tall task. The temporary exhibition space at Weston Park has barely the same floor footage as a two-bedroom flat, and Colour Coded aims to ‘celebrate[s] the history, science and significance of colour throughout the ages’. Colour and man’s gradual harnessing of it is a huge and multi-faceted topic. It feels as though the Curators stumbled upon a  broad idea and then haphazardly filled in the blanks of the exhibition with as much stuff from the collection as possible. The result is a chaotic medley of items, some of which are no doubt very pleasing to look at, but where a more focussed approach could really have resulted in an interesting show.

One of the main draws for the Museum are the selection of Patrick Caulfield prints which take up a significant space near the entrance and command immediate attention. For those who haven’t been able to make it down to London to the Tate show of the artists’ work this could act as a (much reduced) substitute. There are some other nice items, the pretty yellow tea dress from the 1950s appealed to my inner Sandy, and the 1960s Fidelity record player was probably the coolest I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to remain interested in the dialogue, though, as the show seems to concentrate on the different technological advances in colour dyes through the passage of time whilst having a real paint by numbers approach to the ‘emotional power’ of the topic.

Girls Tea Dress (1956-7). © Museums Sheffield

Girls Tea Dress (1956-7). © Museums Sheffield

The inclusion of contemporary artist Ella Robinson confuses things further, especially when each of her works features a price tag. Robinson’s practice is craft-driven rather than fine art, making pieces from driftwood; here in Colour Coded are rainbows of found plastic detritus ordered beautifully within plain white frames. They would look nice on the wall of a children’s nursery (with the exception of the cigarette lighters) but what are they saying here? That today’s young artists are still interested in colour? There must be many more interesting illustrations of this claim than this bland selection. It seems obvious that pretty coloured things are pleasing to look at, but for this simple discovery you could go to a shop. I failed to see the impact.

Weston Park has given six months of display time to this exhibition. For a museum which boasts such varied treasures as a stuffed polar bear called Snowy, Peak District stone carvings, a mummy and recreation dinosaurs this probably seems to them to make sense. School groups must be one of the biggest target audiences and there are enough vividly bold, pretty and intriguing objects for them to look at here. If you’re looking for a potted history of colour, dyes and fashions in both this could provide something of what you’re after, if not I wouldn’t rush to visit.

Ella Robinson, One Little Lie (2011), found beach plastics and glass. © Ella Robinson

Ella Robinson, One Little Lie (2011), found beach plastics and glass. © Ella Robinson

On display until 26th January 2014.

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