The Forth Plinth in Trafalgar Square was originally intended to hold an equestrian statue of William IV, however insufficient funds led to it remaining bare for over 150 years until the late 1990’s. The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce conceived an initial project for the plinth in 1999 which lasted until 2001 featuring works by Mark Wallinger, Bill Woodrow and Rachel Whiteread. Following this projects’ instant success, The Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group was established and subsequent works have included Nelson’s ship (HMS Victory) in a bottle with sails made from printed African fabric by Yinka Shonibare, a bronze boy on a rocking horse by Elmgreen & Dragset, a 4.72 metre high blue cockerel by Katharina Fritsch, a bronze human thumbs-up gesture by David Shrigley, and a recreation of a winged deity from 700BC Ninevah destroyed by Isis by Michael Rakowitz amongst others. Preamble over, and onto the current installation by Heather Phillipson entitled ‘The End’. It is the tallest work to grace the plinth at 9.4 metres high, and is an oversized dollop of whipped cream with various toppings; some traditional (a cherry and a fly) and some less typical (a drone, which transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square and the works’ audience). As well as it’s obvious questioning of state and surveillance, the work was originally intended to comment on global uncertainly post-Brexit and in the wake of the 2016 Unites States elections, as the whipped cream suggests instability as well as being something excessive but nutritionally poor. However, coronavirus meant that its’ installation was postponed by four months, and the public’s perceptions will have inevitably changed during 2020, and the work will now be viewed in a different sociological context. As uncertainty prevails and we live in time of increasing political, social, and economic upheaval where Trafalgar Square will undoubtedly be host to numerous protests, celebrations, and activity – what an interesting time to capture this all via an innocent looking dollop of cream!
Spotlight on… Benjamin Franklin House, a Grade I listed Georgian townhouse located in Charing Cross and lodgings for Franklin – the scientist, diplomat, philosopher and Founding Father of the Unites States – for nearly sixteen years between 1757 and 1775. The house is normally operational seven days a week offering a Historical Experience utilising the building, a live actress in period dress, projection and sound, as well as Architectural Tours, and an active schools programme. However the current pandemic resulted in its temporary closure, but the aptly timed ease in UK government restrictions from 4 July (US Independence Day) meant that they could responsibly re-open this weekend for Architectural Tours, and will do again from Friday 10 July onwards with the hope of re-starting the Historical Experience later in the summer. There are also plenty of virtual offerings to keep you going in the meantime, including online tours of the building using Googlemaps and viewing some of their collection digitally, including Franklin’s leather wallet shaped like an envelope and inscribed with this London address, as well as letters and newspapers of the era. There are a series of virtual talks available via their YouTube channel covering topics from ‘Character Virtues for the 21st Century’ to ‘Reflecting on the US Primaries’ and the ‘Joys of 18th Century Cooking’, with upcoming talks in July on coffeehouses and private bankers in Franklin’s London. Every Tuesday at 3pm they are offering live online science classes for children, based on Franklin’s own experiments around electricity, energy, forces, and light. These lessons also explore sound via the Glass Armonica, a musical instrument invented by Franklin using glass bowls of varied circumferences and played similarly to a piano. Their website also gives you the opportunity to learn more about the bones discovered when conservation work began on the building in 1998, which are remnants of an anatomy school run from the house by the son in law of Franklin’s landlady in the 1700’s. This unassuming house down a cobbled side street is brimming with history and an array of characters, stories and activity – and its’ website is equally as compelling to explore.
Image: Benjamin Franklin’s Parlour © Benjamin Franklin House
Spotlight on… Charles Dickens Museum, a Victorian townhouse in Bloomsbury and former family home of Dickens where he penned classics including Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and Pickwick Papers. Typically open to the public it offers an insight into the private life of the author; his study, dining room, family bedrooms and serving quarters as well as a display space for the collection, a courtyard garden and café. The current pandemic and its’ temporary closure has meant that the museum has lost almost all of its income, but visit their website and you can still delve into the collection and go behind the scenes whilst the doors are closed. An interactive tour gives you a 360 degree view of each room in the entire building, and the opportunity to explore privately and have the space to yourself. At the end of April, they launched their Collections Online site giving virtual access to furniture, paintings, photographs, letters, manuscripts, rare editions and Dickens memorabilia such as a 1968 handmade doll of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations and a ceramic and textile pin cushion of Mr Pickwick circa 1900. On Instagram Dickens’ great great great grandchildren have been reading extracts from his novels, including a fitting passage about a smallpox epidemic and quarantine in Bleak House. Their online newsletter also keeps you informed with teasers about their upcoming temporary exhibition due to open once restrictions are lifted, named Technicolour Dickens: The Living Image of Charles Dickens which will feature images of the author throughout his career as well as clothing, personal items, and a selection of original photographs from their collection which have undergone colourisation. Purchases from their aptly titled ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ are still available online, with jigsaw puzzles, tote bags, books and mugs all based around his famous novels for sale – items arguably more sought after than ever during the lockdown!
Image: Study Newangle, Copyright, Charles Dickens Museum
Spotlight on… The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Breaking away from the London-centric focus of this blog, largely due to my inability not to write about digitally reworked paintings depicting their sitters with now ubiquitous Covid-19 face masks, but more on that later! It houses an encyclopaedic collection of over half a million objects spanning the ancient world, paintings, drawings and prints, applied arts, coins, medals, manuscripts and books. Typically offering free entry to the public, but temporarily closed due to the pandemic, the museum has made an original and cogent contribution to digital museum offerings. In April they launched their Look, Think, Do virtual family activities, utilising objects from their collection including a coffin lid of Ramases III from 12th century BC Egypt, a Mosque Lamp from Damascus circa 1355 and an engraved printed plate titled ‘American Flamingo’ produced between 1827-30. May saw them announce The Fitz Stitch seeking 45 craft volunteers to contribute squares to a quilt which will be hung in the Courtyard Entrance by the end of September 2020, all pieces will be linked to the collection but in as abstract or literal a representation as participants would like. Building on their already successful Dancing in Museums initiative working with older people in isolation, they have addressed wellbeing and released seven films which all begin with a guided relaxation followed by an exploration of a painting by Monet, Sisley, Alma-Tadema or Renoir amongst others. Last week they also announced ‘Masterpieces 2020’ where renowned paintings have been digitally altered and released as greetings cards reflecting the current circumstances; Belgian artist Alfred Stevens ‘La Liseuse’ shows his subject wearing a delicate lace face mask whilst reading her book, pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais’ ‘The Bridesmaid’ features an added yellow silk face mask matching her dress, Renaissance master Titian’s ‘Venus and Cupid with a lute-player’ shows all three figures wearing face masks not just the reclining nude, and Dutch artist Jan van Meyer’s ‘The Daughters’ depicts the four girls each with a unique face mask matching their dresses. Though the grand neo-classical building and collection may have a traditional reputation, these virtual offerings highlight their progressive and dynamic capacity.
Spotlight on… Camden Art Centre, an imposing yet welcoming red brick building in north-west London originally constructed as a public library. Open as an art centre for five decades, it combines the original architecture with modern spaces and a serene garden, offering the public free access to exhibitions, courses, talks and events. Although currently closed due to Covid-19, this has not halted their programme as the new exhibition ‘The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and The Cosmic Tree’ has gone ahead with a online offering to accompany the physical one postponed until later in the year. It explores the relationship between plants and humans in various religions, global cultures and civilisations throughout history via drawings, watercolours, photography, film, archaeological artefacts, textiles, ceramics, isomorphology, written texts and multimedia commissions. Collectively it spans everything from moss, to potatoes, flower formation, plant organisms, indigenous groups living alongside plant-life in rainforests, astrology, mandalas, the hallucinatory and stimulant properties of plants and much more. A virtual Family Art Club was launched at the end of May which will run until early July, led by current artist in residence Renata Minoldo and tied into themes related to the exhibition, with new activities released every two weeks on Sundays online. Their Youth Collective initiative which typically offers people aged 15 to 21 a space to engage with and discuss visual arts with their peers is continuing virtually, via weekly artist-led workshops and monthly digital events, with the hope of hosting the annual Youth Collective Curates exhibition onsite later in the year. They have also partnered with Central Saint Martins giving twelve students Instagram takeovers, offering an insight into how the next generation of artists are responding to and indeed continuing their practice during the pandemic, aptly titled ‘15713’ as this number represents the accumulative miles these students are from Camden Art Centre, either working from their homes across the UK or overseas. There is also a bookshop and café on site, and their café partner – Cantine London – fed frontline workers at the Royal London Hospital in March and have launched a delivery service where the public can order and donate a meal to NHS staff. In congruity with the “botanical” theme, their digital offerings are evolving and growing with new content added each week.
Spotlight on… The Line, an outdoor sculpture trail that follows the Greenwich Meridian and runs from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to The 02. It creates an opportunity to explore London’s often ignored waterways and allows the public to enjoy art, nature and heritage for free. It recently celebrated it’s 5th birthday, and following Covid-19 and the lockdown measures, has also adapted quickly by launching The Line Online, enabling access via an interactive virtual map. The new website also showcases collaborations with The British Museum, Getty Images, the National Portrait Gallery, Royal Museums Greenwich and Museum of London, who have all provided fascinating historic images of life along these waterways and the different areas The Line passes through. These include black and white photographs of elephants returning to London’s docks following a touring circus, the construction of the Thames Barrier, and female workers at Bromley by Bow Gas Works having tea. Although the trail route is set, the artworks are regularly refreshed with certain sculptures removed and new pieces added. Current monolithic works include Richard Wilson’s ‘A Slice of Reality’, a vertical section of an ocean sand dredger now situated on the foreshore of the Thames exposing the living quarters and engine room, Joanna Rajkowska’s ‘The Hatchling’, a large scale replica of a blackbird egg complete with the sound of hatching chicks recorded by ornithologists emitting from the egg which acts as a speaker, Abigail Fallis’ ‘DNA DL90’ made from 22 shopping trolleys in the shape of a double-helix, and Antony Gormley’s ‘Quantum Cloud’ comprising 29 x 16 x 10 metres of galvanised steel. Past participating artists include Martin Creed, Damien Hirst, Sterling Ruby, James Balmforth, Eduardo Palozzi and Bill Viola amongst others – and future works are set to come from Rana Begum, Thomas J Price, Anne Hardy, Larry Achiampong and Yinka Ilori. As The Line is outdoors, the public can now safely walk, run or cycle its length responsibly. Moving forwards it will continue to add interest to these often overlooked parts of the city, connect people and place, and support mental and physical wellbeing for those venturing out again after months of lockdown.
Spotlight on… Freelands Foundation, a charitable foundation that supports artists, art education and cultural institutions across the UK. The Foundation also has a gallery space in London located between Chalk Farm and Primrose Hill which is currently closed to the public due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but that has far from stopped their educational, grant, partnership, research and other broad ranging activities from continuing apace. The Foundation has committed £3 million to emergency funding for all artists and freelancers across the UK affected by the pandemic. Of this sum, £1.5 million will be for their new Freelands Foundation Emergency Fund offering grants between £1,500 – £2,500 to applicants in England and Northern Ireland, in addition to the £1 million already contributed to Creative Scotland’s Bridging Bursary, and £500,000 to Art Council of Wales Urgent Response Fund – collectively helping to support creatives across the country who are falling through the gaps of existing government support. In collaboration with Artangel, the Foundation has also launched the ‘Thinking Time’ initiative to fund twenty early to mid-career artists living and working in the UK to research, reflect and develop their ideas through £5,000 grants and mentoring over the next six months. For the last five years, the Foundation has been collaborating with the Institute of Education, University College London and Hato Design to create an exhibition with art teachers on the Arts & Design PGCE course. This year the final exhibition ‘Must, Should, Could’ is a virtual offering due to coronavirus, and can be viewed on their website. Other educational activities include their Artist Teacher forums which typically take place each half term, and have not been suspended but instead are now digital, with the first online forum taking place earlier this month where teachers and educators could engage with their peers and share ideas, projects and possible collaborations. The Foundation have also launched a new Freelands Painting Prize to celebrate talent of undergraduate level artists, which will culminate in an exhibition in the autumn (though it remains to be seen if this will be in their physical gallery space or online, depending on the pandemic). The eight winners have been announced and represent talent from all areas of the UK, coming from the University of Brighton, Plymouth College of Art, Lancaster University, Edinburgh College of Art, University of the Creative Arts, Dundee University, City & Guilds Art School and Manchester Metropolitan University. For more information about Freelands Foundation and the work they do, and how they are adapting and supporting artists during these unprecedented times visit their website.
In my last two posts I have explored what museums and galleries are doing to engage the public with their collections or artists whilst their physical doors are closed. However, they have also come up with a creative range of digital fundraising initiatives to support the Covid-19 pandemic efforts. Gagosian has started the #GagosianChallenge by releasing a customizable poster designed by Michael Craig Martin, with the words ‘Health Workers Thank You’ on it, and is encouraging people to post their completed versions on Instagram by 11 May. Hauser & Wirth and Rashid Johnson have released the series ‘Untitled Anxious Red Drawings’ online, with a percentage of all sales donated to the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. White Cube and Harland Miller launched a coronavirus fundraiser, selling editions of the artists’ ‘Who Cares Wins’ print for £5,000 each. They all sold out within 24 hours with proceeds split between the National Emergencies Trust in the UK, the New York Community Trust and HandsOn Hong Kong, as well the York Teaching Hospital Charity to support NHS staff in hospitals across Yorkshire, where Miller was born. Damian Hirst has also designed ‘Butterfly Rainbow’ and a limited edition is being produced, which will be sold with all profits going to the NHS. Maureen Paley in conjunction with other galleries and over 200 photographers have donated prints for #photographsforthetrusseltrust, each selling for £100 with proceeds going towards 1,200 food banks which have seen a 300% increase in demand since the pandemic outbreak. Over thirty artists and creatives including Wolfgang Tillmans, Katherine Hamnet, Vivienne Westwood, Polly Nor and Jeffersen Hack have collaborated with Dazed in the #AloneTogether campaign to contribute works to raise funds for Barts Health NHS Trust, which has launched an emergency Covid-19 appeal to support their frontline staff. Tillmans has also enlisted forty artists, including Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Elizabeth Peyton and David Wojanrowicz to donate posters of their works for his #2020Solidarity campaign, which he is paying for printing and distribution of, to support informal places of culture, nightlife and music venues at risk of going out of business because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Art4Changes have collaborated with Roger Ballen, David Datuna, Ultra Violet and other artists to support the Covid-19 crisis by selling artworks, memorabilia, merchandise, music tracks, lectures and books, with all proceeds donated to either the Red Cross, World Health Organisation or Centre for Disease Control in any country the buyer chooses. Outdoor sculpture trail, The Line, has released 100 editions of an Abigail Fallis’ print of her shopping trolley installation, DNA DL90, for £100 each with 30% of profits being donated to Covid-19 frontline workers, and more prints will be released over the coming weeks. Mixed media artist Dan Pearce is reworking iconic film posters to help share NHS messaging in a fun, light-hearted way and is releasing a new reworked A2 poster every week, which will go on sale for £75 each with proceeds going to NHS Charities Together Covid-19 Urgent Appeal. Wimbledon Art Fair will be a purely virtual event this year, and their #ArtSOS running from 14 – 17 May will showcase thought provoking artworks depicting defining moments of the current pandemic, with a percentage of total sales being donated to the NHS and St George’s Hospital in Tooting. Andrew Salgado and Rachel Howard amongst other artists are also donating signed, limited edition posters with a percentage of sales going to The Hospital Rooms via #artistssupportpledge, a charity that transforms impatient health units with contemporary art – and increasingly pertinent in the current circumstances. This is just a handful of the online offerings, so have a look to see what’s out there and maybe even nab yourself a bargain artwork whilst supporting the current pandemic efforts!
Whilst museums and galleries are likely to remain closed for the coming months, that doesn’t have to stop you engaging with their collections and what better time to think, innovate, discuss and debate online – when we all likely have some extra time on our hands during the corona-crisis. The National Gallery offer virtual tours via Google Street View, and you can sign up to their newsletter and YouTube channel featuring lunchtime talks, curator and art restoration specials, and snapshots on artists or specific works. The Victoria & Albert Museum is currently airing a six part behind-the-scenes series (Secretes of the Museum) available on BBC iPlayer, has a blog, and vast learning section with educational offerings from primary school age through to museum peer learning. You can still explore the British Museum via Google Street View and over four million objects within its collection online, as well as podcasts offering talks from curators and other staff (the most recent episode focussing on women and how they have shaped the museum since its opening in 1759). Tate have a podcast subscription covering varied subjects ranging from the Art of Love, to the Art of HipHop, Innovation and Remembering as well as Tateshots; approximately six minute short films about artists, their lives and practice, or from curators. Tate Kids also offers an online “make” section, video tours, games, quizzes, accessible information on artists and movements, and a virtual gallery where budding Picasso’s can display their own works. The Natural History Museum also offers virtual tours, and each room featured allows you to zoom in on objects with links to more detailed information about certain specimens. Moving away from the nationals, Somerset House is offering a digital programme of films, podcasts, artist interviews and live streams – and the adjoining Courtald has digitised its collection allowing great online access since its closure for restoration in 2018. The home to the incurably curious (otherwise known as The Wellcome Collection) offers topical articles on Covid-19 as well as a stories section which invites anyone to submit words or pictures which explore the connections between science, medicine, life and art, with its most recent post fittingly a graphic novel about isolation. Barbican have a series of 30 minute podcasts or playlists ranging from Japanese innovators, to masculinity, jazz and autism in the cinema, as well as articles, long reads and videos available. Though the physical doors to our museums might be closed, the digital channels are well and truly open!