Installation: The Second Hand

With The Second Hand: Art Reworked Over Time opening this week we asked Coralie Malissard from our MA Curating the Art Museum course to tell us about how it’s been going….

Its hard, staring in front of this empty Word document to know where to start. How to express in a few words just how much of a roller coaster these last 10 days were for all of us? I personally haven’t had the time to ponder over these fast paced, jam-packed days spent basically living in the gallery space. I’m still jittering because of the amount of caffeine and sugar I’ve ingested to keep me going. My limbs are still tingling due to all the emotions I’ve been through. Although we had all been preparing The Second Hand: Reworked Art Over Time for the last six months – and had spent much time scrupulously planning this installation week – none of us could fully conceptualise just how much of a ‘journey’ installation would be.

It all started when a van rolled into Somerset House on Friday 5th with the temporary structure for our film booth. What was, customarily, an overly female environment was somewhat jolted by a team of contractors who were busy drilling, hammering and sanding away. The galleries were then revamped over the weekend by a team of expert decorators. What a reassuring feeling to see that the wall colour we had chosen from a colour chart had come out wonderfully! As part of the installation team, it was great to see this ballet of art handlers, conservators, technicians, electricians and decorators I had helped choreograph.

Gainsborough hanging

On Monday 8th we recorded podcasts to go up on the website. From Tuesday onwards, we experienced the sheer excitement of seeing the works in the flesh once they had carefully been removed from their protective crates and polyethylene wrappings. It was Christmas all over again! The works were then carefully condition checked with the help of a raking light, binocular headband magnifiers and the conservators’ expert knowledge.

Kate Edmondson explains condition reports and conservation

Looking back, I salute the team of art handlers who expertly got on with their job while 12 pair of eyes looked over their every move. We were like anxious mothers looking over their children… Talking of parental emotions, we were beaming with pride when our posters went up on the railings around Somerset House; when our project unfolds in the space harmoniously and when the vinyl for our introductory panel was successfully peeled onto the wall. For me, the cherry on the cake was seeing our exhibition come to life thanks to John Johnson’s expert lighting advice. Witnessing these finishing touches washed away the more stressful or tiresome moments, like when we went through each wall label and catalogue page with hawk-eyed scrutiny.

The Second Hand posters outside Somerset House

All in all, this was for me one of the most exciting and challenging projects I’ve worked on. There were some tense, stressful and teary moments, but the feeling of utter pure joy I got from working with incredible works of art made it all worth it. Even now, the works continue to unravel more meanings and surprises, more juxtapositions, correspondences and dialogues between themselves. And now, with the Private view just one day away, we can finally sit, back, relax and enjoy it.

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The Second Hand: Art Reworked Over Time is the collective, culminating project of the MA Curating the Art Museum course at the Courtauld Institute of Art. This year, the 12 students were challenged to respond to The Courtauld Gallery’s summer showcase Unfinished… Works from the Courtauld Gallery

The Second Hand: Art Reworked Over Time is at The Courtauld Gallery 18 June – 19 July 2015

Introducing: The Second Hand

The Second Hand: Reworked Art Over Time is the collective, culminating project of the MA Curating the Art Museum course at the Courtauld Institute of Art. This year, the 12 students were challenged to respond to The Courtauld Gallery’s summer showcase Unfinished… Works from the Courtauld Gallery running concurrently and adjacent to our own exhibition.  Equipped with special access to The Courtauld collection and the Arts Council Collection, the MA Curating team has responded with The Second Hand, which is running at The Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House, London, between 18 June and 19 July 2015.

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It all started with a ripped drawing. A mysterious, jutting tear at the top right corner of Wyndham Lewis’ 1920 drawing of Ezra Pound effectively decapitates the seated figure and acts as a boundary between Lewis’ drawing and that of another hand. It was in this torn, incomplete state that 37 years later, and after Lewis’ death, fellow artist and close friend Michael Ayrton found this work and took it upon himself to reunite the body with a new head. He “re-finished” it, if you like. Their mutual admiration of each other’s work gave Ayrton the confidence to replicate Lewis’ stylistic draughtsmanship and return the drawing to a state of completion once more: an act which raises questions of authorship, authority, homage, collaboration, and even forced artistic interventions. Why did Ayrton feel the need to intervene and somehow salvage the damaged sketch? What right did he have to add his own drawing of Pound’s head?  What would Lewis have thought of this intervention, had he been alive to witness the result?

Ezra Pound by Wyndham Lewis

Thanks to the ripped drawing, a number of questions and ideas began to germinate in our minds. Is this type of “re-finishing” a common artistic practice? How does it manifest in art history? What are the reasons behind one artist physically altering, changing, or adding to the work of another? What are the different ways in which artists “re-work” existing art? They lead us to explore both the Courtauld and Art Council collections with a more focused intent: to discover works of art that had, at some point, been touched by more than one artist’s hand. And so began our search for the ‘Second Hand’.

Visit the blog of the MA Curating students to read more

Image credit:
Wyndham Lewis; repaired and reworked by Michael Ayrton,
EZRA POUND, 1920 (reworked 1957). Pencil, 35.5 x 51 cm.
The Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust:
On long-term loan to The Courtauld Gallery, London ©
The Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust/ The Bridgman Art Library

Work in Focus from Impress: MA Curating Exhibition 2014

By Charlotte North, MA Curating Student

 

In Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art, now showing at The Courtauld Gallery until 20th July, we have defined ‘print making’ as any physical act of pressure that leaves behind an indent or impression. For us, prints can be conceptualised in this way whether or not their production has involved a printing plate, ink or paper.

Two Richard Long works displayed in Impress illustrate the pressure and physicality involved in this expanded definition of printmaking: A Line Made by Walking (1967) and River Avon Mud Hand Spiral (1984).

Installation view of A Line Made by Walking in Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art. Photograph by Jack Cornish.

Installation view of A Line Made by Walking in Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art. Photograph by Jack Cornish.

 

A Line Made by Walking was created through the method that its title suggests. In a field in Wiltshire, Long walked repeatedly along a patch of grass until his action produced a visible impression in the landscape. Long then photographed his performative—and otherwise transient—gesture, making it permanent as an art object.

Long’s use of his own body in the natural environment to create a work that was both ephemeral and enduring was considered to be radical at the time. In fact, A Line Made by Walking is still considered to mark a seminal moment in art history, particularly because of the important role it played in the development of British Land Art.

To create River Avon Mud Hand Spiral, Long collected mud from the River Avon near his hometown in Bristol. He then dipped his hand in the natural material and impressed it repeatedly to a sheet of paper in the form of an immense spiral.

Installation view of River Avon Mud Hand Spiral in Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art

Installation view of River Avon Mud Hand Spiral in Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art. Photograph by Jack Cornish.

 

When viewed in the gallery, River Avon Mud Hand Spiral expresses a powerful sense of dynamism and energy; the force in Long’s movements can be seen in the splatter effect that surrounds his handprints. The repeated action also suggests a ritualistic routine and a sense of determination or even urgency.

Despite being visually divergent, these works by Long reveal several key similarities: they were both produced through a physical engagement with the landscape; they make use of simple, geometric forms; and they are both impressions that have been brought about by the weight and movement of the artist’s body.

It is this latter aspect of the works that made them integral to our thinking when planning this exhibition. Long’s works are not considered to be prints in the conventional, media-defining sense of the term, but they are the results of very direct and physical acts of impression. They can therefore be understood as compelling examples of expanded print making in contemporary art.

 

Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art runs until 20 July 2014.
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Work in Focus from Impress: MA Curating Exhibition 2014

By Jazia Hammoudi, MA Curating Student

Great Mosque, Samarra, Iraq is one of two superb blind embossed prints that the London-based artists Langlands & Bell generously lent for Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art, on display in The Courtauld Gallery until 20 July.

The print is one of ten ground plans of famous mosques from around the world represented in the Enclosure and Identity portfolio. Langlands & Bell have long been interested in the socio-political implications of architecture. Dealing with religious buildings, along with political infrastructure, cultural institutions, and historic sites is part of their rich artistic practice.

View of Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq. Courtesy of Langlands & Bell

Great Mosque, Samarra, Iraq. Courtesy of Langlands & Bell

Blind embossing, a kind of stamping without ink, creates visually subtle prints that emphasize texture and dimension.

In Great Mosque, Samarra, Iraq, this process accentuates the mosque’s precise geometry, making for an elegant, sculptural image.

As an example of print making expanded, it speaks to the ways that centers’ of worship organize our lives and communities, sometimes invisibly.

The prints in Enclosure & Identity use architecture to investigate how religious institutions, along with secular and political organizations, play a major role in structuring identity within societies and in global contexts.

A view of the Great Mosque of Samarra‘s minaret, Malwiyah. Image courtesy of Architecture & Design Website

A view of the Great Mosque of Samarra‘s minaret, Malwiyah. Image courtesy of Architecture & Design Website

On another note, displaying the architectural plan of this particular mosque feels particularly relevant in light of recent history. This historically significant building has been heavily damaged in recent years due to intermittent warfare.

It was commissioned by the Abbasid Caliph (head of state) Al-Mutawakkil in the 9th century, and is one of the largest mosques in the world, measuring 240 meters long by 160 meters wide. It is particularly famous for its spiral minaret, the Malwiyah — ‘snail shell’ in Arabic – which stands 52 meters high.

Part of the top of the Malwiyah, was bombed in 2006 during the Iraq War. As a result, UNESCO declared the city of Samarra, including the Great Mosque, a World Heritage Site in 2007. Hopefully it will remain intact and inspire artists for centuries to come.

 

Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art runs until 20 July 2014.
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Final Stages and Opening: MA Curating Exhibition 2014

Kirsten Tambling and Bethany Wright , MA Curating The Museum Students

And we’re open! Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art opened its doors on Thursday for a special private view.

View of the galleries during the opening of the MA Curating Show, Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art

Opening of Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art

It was exciting to see the exhibition space turn back into a public gallery at the Courtauld, because over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been spending most of our time there – hanging the works, lighting the works and putting up the interpretation panels.

One of our artworks, Nicky Hirst’s Wall 1, had to be specifically installed by the artist, using electrical cabling and a drill. So for three of those days we had the privilege of seeing Nicky at work bringing her piece to life, and drilling holes in the walls.

View of the Artist Nicky Hirst installing her artwork called Wall 1

Artist Nicky Hirst installing ‘Wall 1’

When we actually got in the space after months of planning and talking, we found that some of the works we’d chosen had a different sort of ‘presence’ from the one we imagined – perhaps they were slightly bigger, or more imposing, or seemed to have a different sort of emphasis.

So even though we’d planned our layout reasonably clearly in advance, we still spent a lot of time reordering things and trying new things out – which became part of the fun.

One of the works that became an anchor for us throughout these discussions was Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral. Its massive size and its power from a distance made it an ideal ‘vista picture’ – a work you see through the door of the previous room – and we knew we wanted it to be the first thing visitors saw.

View of the Final exhibition 'vista', Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral

Final exhibition ‘vista’, Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral

We had been imagining the sightline from the entrance to our show for months, and seeing the interplay between the two Richard Long works, Mona Hatoum’s + and –, and Anna Barriball’s Sunrise/Sunset V was a poignant moment for us all.

When we had the works up and arranged, the next task was to light them. There are a lot of works of paper in our show, and these usually have to have a light level below 50 ‘lux’ – the standard measure of light for conservation – and so we had to make sure we kept measuring the light levels and reconfiguring them as necessary to keep them low.

View of a member of staff standing on a ladder to light the gallery space for the exhibition

Lighting the exhibition space.

A particularly challenging work to light was Cornelia Parker’s Small Thought, a circuit board covered in silver filigree.

We wanted the silver to shimmer gently as it hung on the wall, but we found with head-on lighting this was impossible. After experimenting with lots of different options, eventually we discovered that the best way to achieve the effect we were after was to light the viewer, rather than the work, so that they reflect the light back onto the work, and make it glow.

View of artwork 'Small Thought' by Cornelia Parker, in the hands of a student installing the show

Installing Cornelia Parker’s Small Thought

Impress responds to the Courtauld’s current Bruegel to Freud: Prints from the Courtauld Gallery.

This explores The Courtauld’s collection of prints, one of the biggest parts of their collection but also the least known. When we came to discuss our own exhibition, and how it would respond to The Courtauld’s show, we decided that we wanted to consider the act of ‘print making’ more generally.

Since all the best known printing techniques – etching, engraving, woodcut, and so on – involve the exertion of physical pressure onto a surface, we decided that we would take this idea of pressure as our cornerstone.

One of the works that was part of our discussions from the beginning was Richard Long’s photograph A Line Made By Walking. Here, the pressure of the artist’s body on the grass creates a ‘line’, like a footpath, in a field. It’s a ‘print’, but it doesn’t use ink, plate or paper.

The final exhibition includes ‘blind embossed’ prints, pencil rubbings, engravings created by the pressure of the sun and, of course, Richard Long’s handprints in River Avon Mud Hand Spiral. Another work, Richard Wentworth’s Nature, Mort reduces ‘print making’ to its essentials: it’s a metal bolster lying on a pillow.

The private view was an opportunity to show the final exhibition to everyone who has contributed to it, and helped us, over the last few months. It was a very proud moment for us all – and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made it possible.

Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art runs until 20 July 2014.