Pallant House Gallery
South East England

Contemporary Eye: Crossovers.


An email announcing the inclusion of works by Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin in an exhibition entitled: Contemporary Eye: Crossovers at Pallant House in Chichester was bound to attract attention. In fact, due to the value of their work and the resulting constraints of conservation, these pieces are the least successfully curated in what is an ambitious, and in many respects, great project. Would it not have been braver to refuse Tracey Emin’s chair (There’s a lot of money in chairs’ 1994) which is installed in a domestic setting yet sadly encased in a vast Perspex box? And Grayson Perry’s magnificently subversive pots miss the opportunity to stand proud in the Queen Anne townhouse, they lurk, denuded of their power by purple labels and an ugly showcase.

Mistakes of this nature made a potentially great show into a patchy one.

The exhibition aims to enable new interpretations of the permanent collection housed in the 18th century rooms of Pallant House through contemporary interventions and also to provide opportunities for interesting juxtapositions of old and new, domestic and fine-art in the galleries of the new extension.

Pallant House Gallery is prepared to take risks and has a strong history of commissioning artists to create site specific works such as Susie MacMurray’s spectacular installation ‘Shell’ in 2006/7. Crossovers is not a site specific work by a single artist, rather it consists of loaned works from private collections which extend throughout both house and contemporary gallery spaces.

Artwise Curators and the Collections from which the works are loaned are acknowledged in the catalogue and website, but nowhere can I find a complete list of the artists or the works. It is a curators’ exhibition and it is in this light therefore that the exhibition title ‘Crossovers’ should be challenged.

The curators write that the exhibition: ‘…explores the importance of artistic process, with a specific focus on artists who incorporate elements of traditional craft approaches…’ they speak of the relevance of ‘the hand of the artist…’

Surely we have been here before? Is the question of how particular materials relate to traditional craft skills or to fine art practice really still an issue?

The works included in Crossovers are in concept and execution variously: installation (eg. Butterfly wallpaper by Damien Hirst as backdrop to Debbie Lawson’s Spider 2008), sculpture (eg. ‘Nina’s Luggage, Katy’s convoy’ by Nina Saunders) and image (eg. Georgie and Orchids by Gary Hume). True, in all cases the making is of fine quality and technique and fabric matter. Yet how does this differ from Marc Quinn’s marble portrait of Alison Lapper on the fourth plinth? Nobody mentioned craft in that context, so let’s move on. We will disregard the title and view the work for what it is: exquisitely made, sensitive and often subversive work which becomes all the more accessible for the juxtaposing of one piece with another or with the setting / siting itself.

Questions relevant to the art and craft debate were more interestingly raised by artist Bouke de Vraes who is concerned with issues around imperfection and breakage which render a valuable craft object virtually worthless. In his reconstruction of ceramic pieces he assigns equal value to the original object, the shards themselves and to the spaces between (Guan Yin 2009 ).

Livia Martin continues this theme in ‘Broken Things’ (Obsidian Mirror – plaster with silk screen print), a serene modernist installation in the foyer referencing broken willow pattern plates, whereas Mona Hatoum’s brilliantly coloured Murano glass grenades, (originally in the Querini Stampalia as a site specific installation. 2009 Venice Biennale) threaten to explode a showcase of 18th century Irish glass.

Taxidermy features in the work of many artists. Polly Morgan’s ‘Rest a Little in the Lap of Life’ 2005, a small rodent, perfectly asleep in a champagne glass under a miniature chandelier is perfectly placed, masquerading as a bedside light beside a four-poster bed. And a macabre installation by Neil Hammon at the foot of the stairs (The City Lights Shone Brightly in their Eyes 2005) is well situated to disturb the complacent visitor.

There are many artists featured (too many to list!). There is film, light installation, photography, and ceramic. It is an exhibition to enjoy with young people, family and friends as there are so many issues raised within the choice of works and the presentation.

Suffice to say that despite some missed opportunities there is plenty to see in this exhibition which you will experience all the more intensely because of the challenge Artwise Curators were given and have attempted to resolve.

Also at Pallant House (to 6th March) is the moving installation Desconocida (Unknown) by Lise Bjørne Linnert (sewn name tags of missing women) and accompanying film Senorita Extraviada (Missing Young Women 2001) by Lourdes Portillo. It’s worth the visit just for this.