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Thursday, 22 January 2015

Guildhall Art Gallery: Dichotomies of spirituality and consumerism

To coincide with its 15th anniversary, Guildhall Art Gallery has undergone a radical rehang for the first time since the current building opened in 1999. The £600,000 renovation improves the visitor experience through illuminating the artworks with a new state-of-the-art lighting system, and creating more flexible themed display spaces.

Julia Dudkiewicz, Principal Curator, says ‘The rehang has been a labour of love and it has been a great privilege to work with such outstanding and internationally significant collections. The Guildhall Art Gallery is a real hidden gem in the heart of the City. It was one of the first public galleries in London, predating Tate Britain by 15 years, and today houses one of the largest and best collections of Victorian art in the world.’

The Gallery shows a changing display of about 250 artworks from its collection of paintings, drawings and sculpture, in addition to a programme of temporary exhibitions. A rich variety of Victorian paintings can be seen as you enter the Gallery, displayed in original nineteenth century style. The collections illustrate the key artistic movements and influences of the Victorian period, from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, to Orientalism, Classicism and narrative painting. Among the Victorian paintings on display include Rossetti's La Ghirlandata, Millais' My First Sermon and My Second Sermon and John Constable's large landscape, Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows.

Dudkiewicz has explained that the Victorian room showcases dichotomies on each side of the room, Materiality (Home and Beauty) contrasts with Spirituality (Faith) and Imagined Realities (Love and Imagination) are contrasted with the Realities of Life (Work and Leisure). Further dichotomies can also be found in the Undercroft Gallery where London is explored in terms of 'the effect of the elements on the city (ice and fire), destruction and reconstruction, spirituality and consumerism, and public versus private space.'

The new collecting policy of the Gallery focuses 'on the often controversial themes of money, wealth, the economy, trade, commerce and capitalism.' This policy is currently represented by Mark Titchner's Plenty and Progress wall sculpture. However some of the Victoriana also relates as Dudkiewicz notes in relation to scenes of street children by Augustus Edwin Mulready: “Poverty has not gone away. Is the heart of the City a proper place to make people think a little of social and spiritual issues, that money and materialism are not everything in life? We are going to try.” In his commentary on City panorama entitled City of Holy Dreams Chris Orr states, 'a large number of churches in the City of London are now being choked and outgrown by the new temples of commerce and finance. Cities are maelstroms of competing ideas.' 

The topography of cities has been Orr’s long-time preoccupation, frequently referencing historic panoramas whilst, at the same time, commenting on the fallible nature of human perception. He also loves narratives which are culturally ingrained in us, like Bible stories ... because they give a golden opportunity to the artist to directly open a dialogue with the viewer.'

His contemporary representations of the rapidly changing London skyline feature in an exhibition exploring Tower Bridge as an enduring source of artistic inspiration for painters, draughtsman, printmakers and photographers. The show (which is part of the 120th anniversary celebrations of the opening of Tower Bridge) brings together a diverse chronological selection of artworks exploring the different ways British and London-based artists have pictured the Bridge.

The earliest views by the Victorian maritime painter W. L. Wyllie are juxtaposed with the modernity of Frank Brangwyn‘s working river, through the dramatic wartime imagery of Charles Pears and the poetic conceptualism of Judith Evans and Arthur Watson's The Spirit of London. In addition, the London-based Ecuadorian New Expressionist Mentor Chico has been especially commissioned to create a vibrant, up-to-the-minute painting of the relationship between Tower Bridge and the City entitled Forever Imagical Tower Bridge 2014, conveying the vibrancy of the Bridge in relation to the City visitors, vessels and vehicles.


Ralph McTell - Streets Of London.

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