Pearls at the Victoria and Albert Museum
I went to the opening night of Pearls at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but even amid the Boris Johnson speech, the free champagne and the impeccably dressed expensive attendees, this exhibition failed to sparkle.
Pearl divers holding onto the rope attached to the collecting baskets, reproduction of original photograph. © Qatar News Agency Archives
Past historical tale about the history of pearl trading, showcase of beautiful things past and present and travelogue for the Gulf, this is a slightly pointless and staid display overall. Of course pearls are an innately stunning thing, glittering and mesmerising they offer us a glimpse into wealth we will never possess. There are some mind-blowing pieces on show here, from the gorgeously frail and intricate to the biggest blingiest neck pieces you can imagine. Accompanying the jewellery are a number of interesting portraits and contextual prints. All of these elements should combine to create one of the exquisitely rich exhibitions which the V&A are so good at.
As you wander through the display a number of things are striking and stand out. It is a curiosity to see the oyster shells and the pearls in rawest form. When placed next to highly ornate finished products like the Snow White bracelet by Nora Fok or the impressive Gothic choker by Mikimoto you start to appreciate the scale of the journey that has taken place. Which of course leads you to the most pressing and obvious question you are inclined to have (and which will remain unanswered), how much are these worth?
The cynic in me would suggest that this exhibition fails as it’s trying to be too much to too many people. Partly (perhaps in large part?) funded by the Qatar Museums Authority, both museums are cited as equal partners. Who had the overall curatorial decision-making is impossible to tell but there is an unusual educational slant not normally present in shows at this museum of art and design. The end result speaks of a vanity project and the inclusion of a lot of contextualisation which simply won’t be interesting to a paying public who come to the V&A to be wowed by beauty. If they want a history lesson in pearl fishing they can consult Google.
Nora Fok, Snow White Wrist Piece ‘A Fusion of Winter Snow and Spring Flowers’ (2012). © Frank Hills
On display until 19th January 2014.
V&A Illustration Awards 2013
There’s plenty to see at the V&A without even having to venture anywhere near their pay-for-entry exhibitions. A wealth of art and design mastery is on display and you can lose literally hours wandering through the confusing network of gallery spaces. But by far the best thing I’ve seen there in a while is this year’s illustration awards, only disappointing in the tiny space they dedicated to the entrants.
The winner of the Book Cover, Book Illustration, Editorial and Student Illustration categories are all represented in hardcopy with original artwork while the rest of the shortlisted designs are shown on a rotating screen and have web space on the V&A website. If they’d actually wanted to do more to raise the profile of illustration as they might claim by hosting this annual award, you’d think they’d give it more prominence. The up-coming ‘Pearls’ exhibition (part funded by the Qatar Museums authority…) has got much more of a buzz surrounding it.
The winner of the ‘Book Cover’ category: Pietari Posti (represented by Début Art), Swallows and Amazons.
The winner of the ‘Book Illustration’ category: Anna and Elena Balbusso, Illustrations for Eugene Onegin.
The winner of the ‘Editorial’ category and ‘Overall Winner’: George Butler, Illustrations for ‘Syria: the point of no return’.
The winner of the ‘Student Illustrator’ category: Grace Helmer, The Fugitive.
Free display, on show until 1st December 2013.
It’s a fairly quiet month, there are some real gems coming up in London in October and November so you might want to save some energy (and cash) for those….
1 – Richard Avedon: Women
This Gagosian Gallery exhibition might contrast quite interestingly with the Somerset House Miles Aldridge show which was recommended last month. Try not to be put off by the passé title, this imaginative and inventive fashion photographer has a lively and dynamic body of work to his name so this should definitely be worth visiting. On display from 6th September until 26th October 2013. Free entry.
2 – Bacon and Moore: Flesh and Bone
Slightly further afield than normal, this recommendation stems from the vast ambition and scope of this exhibition project. The Ashmolean in Oxford haven’t played safe, bringing together some of each artist’s largest works in terms of scale and popularity. A one-off kind of event, this is on display from 12th September 2013 until 19th January 2014. Adults £8, concessions available.
3 – Mira Schendel
Opening right at the end of the month this one woman retrospective solo show follows in the vein of the big exhibitions Tate Modern has staged this year. This will be too dense and philosophical for some visitors but the Tate team will no doubt try and make this artists work as accessible as possible, and there are some never displayed works on offer. On display from 25th September 2013 until 19th January 2014. Adults £11, concessions available.
Henry Moore, Woman (1957-8). © Tate