Image at Messums Wiltshire

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Was able to visit the ‘Image‘ exhibition at Messums Wiltshire, yesterday. Lovely show.

First of all, it is a beautiful space, with the Long Gallery, the (huge) Barn, and outdoor sculpture spaces. Quite a special venue.

In fact I chatted a little with Johnny Messums, about whether they hire out the venue. They do not, at present, though we agreed to stay in touch as I explained the Cambodia project and the Installation I am thinking of.

It is a commercial space, so they do need sales – hence the fact that they program quite expensive work.

The Image show is their first of the season, and splits into two halves.

In the Long Gallery, a stunning collection of work by Peter Beard, Andy Warhol, Mick Rock, Charlie Wheeler, Angus McBean, Ray Bellisario, Lewis Morley, Nancy Bundt, Norman Parkinson, Cecil Beaton, Neal Slavin and Angela Williams. To quote the book accompanying the show:

‘The portraiture in the Long Gallery uses the mechanism of humour to comment on individuals and groups in the same way that stand-up comedy is able to reflect – and often criticise – current figures in the media’.

Perhaps because of my love of music, I was especially drawn to Mick Rock’s work. He has a way of making celebrities human, and his approach engages the subject in unguarded moments. By contrast, Cecil Beaton’s work, whilst lovely, is more formal. That part of the exhibition also featured work from Neal Slavin’s book Britons, which frankly I did not know. His ambitious use of large scale polaroids is fascinating.

The Barn is 13th Century, reckoned to have the largest interior space in England, and the restoration is breath taking. It is used as a performance and teaching space, as well as for exhibitions.

In the Image show,  Messums are featuring the large-scale work of female photographers Polly Penrose, Maisie Cousins, Natalie Krick, Juno Calypso and a collaboration between Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp. Intriguingly, all were curated via finding them on Instagram (timely, given this is an area of discussion in the SP Module).

I enjoyed Juno Calypso’s work. Again, to quote the accompanying book:

Calypso’s Breakfast (2014) resists any sense of objectification with the subversive undercurrent to the image. By being both photographer and photographed … Calypso succeeds not only in reclaiming the subject matter of the female body throughout her oeuvre but in the artistic gentrification of the ‘selfie’, transforming this everyday genre into something beautiful.

Slightly wordy, and a little art speak. But nevertheless an impressive, strong series of images executed with self conscious satire, and requiring contemplation.

I think, though, my favourites in that section of the show were from the collaboration by Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp. Smaller images, with a  sense of mystery and story, especially when seen as a series. The header image, used to advertise the exhibition, is in fact from their collaboration.

If anyone reading this that has time to go, I’d rate it as a ‘do not miss’ – especially as Messums has a lovely restaurant, perfect for brunch.

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