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Conrad Shawcross: Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery and contemporary art are not words you hear together very often…. I’d even go so far as to say they’re an oxymoron (although perhaps that’s a little harsh!). Currently however an energetic series of sculptures and an accompanying lightwork installation by artist Conrad Shawcross are on display, adding interest to the quaint south London gallery. “Counterpoint” the name given to the installation is displayed in the Gallery’s atmospheric mausoleum, and the industrial oak and steel frame contrast beautifully against the marble columns and stain glass of the Gallery founders’ burial chamber. In addition, three robust cast iron maquettes (scaled-down versions of the larger Shawcross sculptures recently erected in nearby Dulwich Park) punctuate the length of the enfilade, and deliberately get in the way of visitors usually clear passageway through the Gallery. These too conflict and jar with the heavy red walls, Old Masters paintings and Regency architecture of Sir John Soane’s purpose built space. It is an abstract visualisation of musical harmonics, and displaying the installation and sculptures together allows visitors to appreciate the journey the artist has been on. To summarise; the installation has four spinning arms and at the tip of each arm is an electric bulb, and at the base of each arm a bevel gear. Each gear is set to a different ratio (representing either the octave, fifth or fourth within the harmonic scale) and the patterns of light thrown by this create different ‘knots’ of light when captured using a slow exposure photograph – and it is these ‘knots’ of light which inspired the three sculptures. Love it, hate it or be confused by it – this installation is certainly stimulating conversation and getting people to question what’s in front of them, which is exactly what art should do in my opinion.

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