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Events that shape our views

December 2 should see a big reopening, as John Evans reports

19 November, 2020 — By John Evans

JMW Turner, The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, c 1834-5, oil on canvas, support 30.2 x 44.4cm, Tate, Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

LOCKDOWN 2 in England sees a far healthier picture for viewing art for those with web access, with nothing short of an explosion of online initiatives made available since the UK-wide shutdown in March.

That’s in addition to the world’s great institutions opening up collections online, often in unprecedented ways and more material on various social media platforms.

The entire gallery and museum sector is now forced to look at future prospects for survival, perhaps best illustrated by reports the Royal Academy of Arts has contemplated selling Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo, a marble of the Madonna and child with the infant St John. And it is not alone in thinking about saving jobs by losing major works.

When the current closures end, which could be as early as two weeks’ time, there’s much catching up to be done.

Among shows not to be missed is Tate Britain’s landmark Turner’s Modern World, which examines how JMW Turner (1775-1851) reacted to the industrial revolution, as steam replaced sail, machine power replaced manpower and reforms transformed society.

It aims to emphasise Turner’s reaction to events and features some 160 key works.

There are those reflecting on two decades of conflict with France and the Napoleonic wars. And even his depiction of parliament in flames from 1834-5.

Enrico Paulucci delle Roncole (1901-1999), Barche (Boats) tapestry, c 1953, knotted wool, 170 x 250 cm (fringe 12 cm)

The curators point to his “…late style as a means by which the artist sought to develop a visual language fit for the modern world”.
They specifically challenge the contemporary view of John Ruskin (1819-1900).

In a show catalogue David Blayney Brown and Sam Smiles, note Ruskin’s “…claim that Turner’s greatest achievement was his understanding of the natural world has been a major impediment to appreciating how modern he really was”.

Highlights include the Fighting Temeraire on loan from the National Gallery being reunited with its oil sketch study Steamer and Lightship, which has been cleaned and conserved for the exhibition.

A late watercolour, loaned from Manchester Art Gallery, is included and has been renamed by the experts as showing Naples rather than Genoa. A number of engravings after works by Turner are also included.

A representation of his famous 1840 oil Slave Ship: Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhoon Coming On, (held by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) is on display, the original judged too fragile to travel.

The exhibition runs until March 7 next year at Tate Britain, Millbank, SW1P 4RG – tate.org.uk.

An innovative exhibition at The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in Canonbury, N1 2AN – estorickcollection.com, Italian Threads: Mita Textile Design 1926-1976 has been extended and will now run until April 3 next year.

It features the work of MITA (Manifattura Italiana Tappeti Artistici) which was founded in Genoa in 1926.

On display are original works, designs and photographs, with tapestries, rugs and carpets, art panels, fabrics, scarves and “major commissions that carried the banner of modernism from the 1920s to the 1970s”.

MITA collaborated with many leading artists and designers and this is a history of half a century of “bold commissions” which featured in major art fairs, private homes, clubs, and even ocean liners.

The Estorick say: “MITA’s textiles travelled around the world… bringing the avant-garde into everyday life.”

Estorick director Roberta Cremoncini notes: “Those working in the cultural sector have been forced to rethink how best to present their collections and to engage their audiences ‘virtually’ via social media platforms. Yet, as many have noted, while digital initiatives have been of vital importance they are no substitute for the individual’s direct, intimate encounter with the physical work of art.

“Of course, this experience is the reason why museums exist – and one that the Estorick Collection prizes above all else”.

They plan to reopen December 2.

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