Private View held by Richard Andrews
The North-West Passage: An Arctic Obsession examines the myths and realities of the centuries long British endeavour to find the 'passage round the pole'. The fabled North-West Passage, the sea route linking the North Atlantic with the north Pacific Ocean, was sought by explorers as a lucrative short cut for trade between Europe and the East. The exhibition looks at some of the extraordinary stories, feats of endurance and tragedies that surround famous attempts by Sir John Ross, Sir James Clarke Ross, Sir William Parry and Sir John Franklin. Franklin's expedition, of unprecedented scale, in vessels equipped with the latest technological innovations, was to become one of the greatest disasters of Arctic exploration, as both ships and their entire crews vanished. The display also provides a glimpse into the survival strategies used by 19th century explorers to combat the Arctic's harsh climate (including on Franklin's expedition, cannibalism when the food supply was exhausted). Over 120 objects - portrait and landscape paintings, letters, maps and ethnographic items, together with food supplies and equipment retrieved by later expeditions - highlight British attempts to explore and map the Arctic. Highlights include drawings that record early encounters with the Inuit, from John Ross's 1829-33 expedition; the flagstaff which Sir James Clark Ross erected to mark his discovery of the North Magnetic Pole in 1831; and letters and relics, including snow goggles and a pocket chronometer, recovered from Franklin's doomed voyage of 1845. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, until 3rd January.
Rank: Picturing Social Order is the first exhibition uniting artists, researchers and information from public agencies, to look at how British society has been represented, from the Renaissance to the present day. It brings together nearly 100 contributors, placing masterpieces from national art collections next to images made for the urban poor from the Working Class Movement Library, and those for Victorian middle class collectors from libraries and archives. The show reveals the shape of society through objects from different social strata, as well as representations of 'ranks', 'classes', 'orders' and 'estates'. Thus, pictures of myths and stereotypes of national life sit alongside those based on hard fact. All seek to visualise the ways in which societies are, and have been, ordered and classified. Among the objects old and new are Fra Didacus Valades's 'The Great Chain of Being'; Thomas Hobbes's 'Leviathan'; George Cruikshank's 'The British Bee Hive: A Penny Political Picture for the People'; William Frith's 'Derby Day'; Ernest Jones's 'The Factory System as Hell'; Eric Gill's 'Dumb-Driven Cattle'; Victor Bergin's 'Possession'; Ciaran Hughes's 'Meet Mr and Mrs Average'; and Evan Holloway's 'Capital'. Though not all the images here can be described as great art, collectively they provide a striking portrait of social disparity - and how it has changed - through the centuries. Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland until 11th July ~ Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, 24th July until 5th September.
Tom Hunter: Flashback is a series of portraits by photographer Tom Hunter, commissioned in anticipation of new Galleries of Modern London, which will open next spring. Hunter is known for making photographs of contemporary subjects inspired by classical paintings, often including newspaper headlines. Here, taking some of the people involved with the new galleries, Hunter created stage sets using objects from the museum's collection. Like a time lord travelling from one period to the next, Hunter has stolen moments from several eras, juxtaposing historical London with modern icons, such as a Vespa scooter with a museum designer dressed in a 1770s panier dress; a project assistant wearing a 1960s mini dress standing in front of a 1920s Lyons Corner House window; the chairman leaning on a Model Y Ford 8 car in a 1750s silk frock coat and periwig; and a project manager wearing a 20th century 'nippy' waitress's mob cap and black dress in an 18th century prison cell. Hunter's intention was to convey the freedom to travel in time, as visitors do when they walk through a museum, but unlike a museum, which sets out to make sense of history, he sets out to confuse, by creating surprising portraits that steal from different times and fashions. The portraits are rich with colour yet intensely dark, reminiscent of the old masters style. Museum of London, until spring 2010.
The Robot Zoo is a menagerie of moving creatures that gives an insight into animal anatomy, based on the book Robot Zoo: A Mechanical Guide To The Way Animals Work, by John Kelly, Philip Whitfield and Obin. It consists of larger than life sized robot animals: chameleon, giant squid, rhinoceros, giraffe, grasshopper, platypus, house fly and bat, plus 11 interactives, which allow visitors to explore animal adaptations in more depth. Realistic sounds and atmospheric lighting contribute to the sense of immersion in each species habitat. The robot animals are constructed with cutaway sections showing the everyday machine parts that have been used to demonstrate their internal organs: pistons represent muscles, brains are computers, and filtering pipes serve as intestines. The robots move realistically thanks to hydraulics. The chameleon rocks as it turns its head, looks around, and fires its tongue at its prey. The platypus swims in breaststroke style while its tail moves up and down. A fish struggles in the grip of the giant squid's 8m tentacles, while the squid's beak-like mouth opens to reveal a spinning food grinder. Video technology is used to demonstrate the chameleon's ability to camouflage itself. Visitors can test their own reflexes against those of a house fly (revealing why flys are so hard to swat). Detailed illustrations give a deeper insight into animal physiology, such as muscular structure and its impact on movement, and reveal how incredibly specialised and adapted to their environment these animals have become. Horniman Museum, Forest Hill, London SE23, until 8th November.
The Elizabethan Garden, lost to the world for 400 years, has been recreated as part of a £3m restoration programme. The garden was originally created for Queen Elizabeth I by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, at a time when he still hoped to marry her. Now, using advances in garden archaeology, along with the survival from 1575, of an extraordinary eyewitness description by Robert Langham, an official in Leicester's household, visitors are once again able to experience the sights, sounds and scents that would have greeted Queen Elizabeth I, when she first walked its paths. The garden is approached from a terrace, with obelisks, spheres and Leicester's symbol of the bear and ragged staff set at intervals on pedestals, from where the division of the garden into four quarters with intricate geometrical patterns, is best seen. In the centre of each quarter stands a pierced obelisk 17ft high, an ancient symbol of rulership. Magnificent carved arbours, reconstructed from an engraving by the 16th century French architect and designer Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau; a bejewelled two storey aviary, with pheasants, guinea fowl and canaries; planting abundant in colour, perfume and fruits, based on a contemporary drawing by the architect and garden designer Hans Vredeman de Vries; and an 18ft high classical fountain carved from Carrara marble, are some of the glories that make it the most complete picture of an Elizabethan garden anywhere in the world. Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire, continuing.
Fast Forward: 20 Ways F1 Is Changing Our World reveals how manufacturers and researchers from diverse backgrounds and disciplines are transferring Formula 1 technology to other fields of innovation. Suspended from the ceiling is a McLaren MP4-21 racing car built for the 2006 season, made up of over 11,000 components that took 16 months to put together, which Lewis Hamilton used as a test driver. Beneath this, the new and cutting edge items on display include: K2 All Terrain Wheelchair, which incorporates the incredibly strong carbon fibre shell known as the 'monocoque' at the heart of every modern racing car; Ovei Wellbeing Capsule, an immersive diagnostics tool, designed to capture healthcare data and send it to doctors, therapists, psychologists around the world; Baby Pod II, a self-contained structure for transporting sick babies to hospital, similar in design to the driver's cockpit, made from materials light enough to allow the carrier to be placed in a wide variety of vehicles from cars to helicopters; Surface Table, a dining table made from carbon composite so strong that stretches to 4m in length yet measures just 2mm thick; Guardian Wellington Boot, which reduces workplace accidents by using special rubber material and tread pattern developed from tyre technology, in anti-slip protection footwear for people working on wet and greasy surfaces; and Gen3 Leg Brace, a lightweight leg support that helps reduce damage and injuries to the knee, by employing hydraulic dampers, developed to absorb energy from bumps and keep cars on the road. Science Museum, until 5th April.
The Buddhist Sculpture Gallery, which has just opened, is the first gallery for Buddhist sculpture in Britain, with examples ranging in size from monumental Chinese temple sculptures, to tiny portable gilded Buddahs. Around 50 sculptures, created between AD 200 and 1850, explore how the Buddah has been represented in Asian art. They reveal a diversity of artistic expression, reflecting the differing Buddhist practices in India, Sri Lanka, the Himalayas, Burma, Java, Thailand, China and Japan. Highlights include: a 4th century image of the meditating Buddah from India, which is on public display for the first time; a gilded copper figure of Bodhisattvar Padmapani from Nepal, richly decorated with jewels; an 18th century monumental gilt bronze seated Buddah from Tibet; recently restored 19th century oil paintings recording the 5th century murals in the rock cut Buddhist monasteries of Ajanta in central India; a 7th century Chinese marble torso of the Buddah; life size replicas of the sculptural reliefs from the 8th century Javanese temple of Borobudur; the head of a monumental Buddah once carved into the rock face of a 6th century cave complex in northern China; a white Tara, one of the few females in the gallery, set in gilded copper, decorated with semi precious stones; and a rare surviving 3m high piece of the Mandalay Shrine from the now destroyed royal palace in Burma, complete with offering vessels, attendant figures and manuscript case. The gallery includes a display explaining the meanings of the hand gestures and poses used in Buddhist sculpture. Victoria & Albert Museum, continuing.
The Pitt Rivers Museum, known as 'the nirvana of universal oddities', an ethnographical collection featuring some 300,000 objects from many cultures around the world, has celebrated its 125th birthday with a £1.5m refurbishment, masterminded by Pringle Richards Sharratt. The reinstatement of the museum's original entrance has restored the dramatic 'entrance panorama' of the building, with the maze of traditional glass cases on the ground floor - augmented by 8 new ones, holding even more artefacts than before - an East African sailing boat hanging from the rafters, and a Canadian totem pole in the distance at the far end. Other favourites include a Witch in a bottle (a small glass flask, silvered on the inside, corked and secured with wax, reputed to contain a witch; shrunken heads from tribes in the Upper Amazon; and the world's smallest doll (1.3cm tall, with jointed arms and legs, living in an egg)
Across The Caucasus is a display of John F Ballerley's photographs and manuscripts from 19th century Russia, accumulated when he was the St Petersburg correspondent of the (Evening) Standard.
Carolyn Drake: Photographs Of Central Asia comprises contemporary images of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan by the Istanbul based photographer.
The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, Across The Caucasus until 6th September, Carolyn Drake: Photographs Of Central Asia until 15th November.
Butterfly Jungle explores the life cycle of some of the world's most beautiful creatures in an explorer's trail and tropical butterfly house. The explorer's trail takes visitors on a journey from egg to caterpillar, and chrysalis to butterfly, shrinking them to the size of a caterpillar, so that they can experience what it is like to have to navigate past the perils of predatory spiders and sticky plant traps. Those that survive emerge from a chrysalis, and take flight on a zip slide aerial runway. In the butterfly house there is a hatchery, where butterflies constantly emerge from their pupa, and join the hundreds of butterflies and moths from North and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia fluttering freely among the exotic plants. Around 40 species with wildly different colourings and markings are on view, including the Glasswing butterfly, which has transparent wings, and the Madagascan moon moth, which has the longest tail of any moth. Accompanying jungle creatures (safely behind glass) include a Jaguar carpet python, frogs, a red knee tarantula, giant centipedes, emperor scorpions, and a green iguana. Meanwhile, inside the museum itself, there over 8 million preserved butterflies and moths, including representatives from about 90,000 species, with specimens dating back as far as 1680. Natural History Museum until 1st September.
Kuniyoshi is the first exhibition in Britain of work by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, one of the greatest Japanese print artists, in nearly 50 years. Featuring over 150 works, the exhibition presents Kuniyoshi as a master of imaginative design. It reveals the graphic power and beauty of his prints across an unprecedented range of subjects, highlighting his ingenious use of the triptych format. Kuniyoshi was a major master of the 'floating world', or Ukiyo-e school of Japanese art, and dominated 19th century printmaking in Japan. Kuniyoshi considerably expanded the existing repertoire of the school, particularly with thousands of designs that brought vividly to life famous military exploits in Japan and China. He portrayed historic heroes of Japan's worrier past and brigands from the Chinese adventure story The Water Margin, giving dramatic pictorial expression to the myths and legends. Kuniyoshi developed an powerful and imaginative style in his prints, often spreading a scene dynamically across all three sheets of the traditional triptych format, and linking the composition with one bold unifying element - a major artistic innovation. Kuniyoshi was also very active in other genres including beautiful women, Kabuki actors, landscapes, comic themes, erotica and commissioned paintings, in each of which he was experimental, imaginative and different from his contemporaries. He transformed the genre of landscapes by incorporating Western conventions, such as cast shadows and innovative applications of perspective. Highlights include rare original brush drawings, a selection of extraordinarily dynamic triptych prints, and the only known example of a set of 12 comic erotic prints. Royal Academy of Arts until 7th June.
Picasso: Challenging The Past reveals how the greatest artist of the 20th century pitted himself against the European painting tradition. Seizing on the signature themes, techniques and artistic concerns of painters such as Velazquez, Rembrandt and Cezanne, Picasso transformed the art of the past into 'something else entirely', creating audacious paintings of his own. Sometimes his 'quotations' from the past were direct, at other times more allusive, and occasionally, full of parody and irreverence. This exhibition features over 60 of Picasso's seminal works, and focuses on the enduring themes of European art history and his own career. There are sections on the self portrait, from 'Self Portrait with a Wig' to 'The Artist in front of his Canvas; characters and types, including 'Portrait of Jaime Sabartes' and 'Child with a Dove'; the nude, from 'Large Bather' through 'Women at their Toilette' to 'Nu couche'; still life, with 'Still Life with Glass and Lemon' and 'Skull with Jug'; and the later 'Variations' after masterpieces of the 17th and 19th centuries, such as 'The Infanta Margarita' and 'Las Meninas'. Every major period of Picasso's diverse output is represented. The exhibition makes reference back and forth between the works of Picasso and the Old Master paintings on display other rooms of the gallery, and thus visitors are invited to re examine these through the eyes of Picasso.
Picasso's Prints: Challenging The Past is an accompanying display of 13 prints by Picasso, which expands on many of the themes of the main exhibition, particularly his 'Variations' after the Masters. These prints contain echoes of pieces by Manet, David, Rembrandt and Cranach, and two Rembrandt etchings are included for comparison.
National Gallery until 7th June.
George Scharf: From Regency Street To The Modern Metropolis is the first exhibition devoted solely to the work of George Scharf, the artist and illustrator who has been described as the pictorial equivalent of the literary chronicler of early Victorian London, Charles Dickens. Scharf studied in Munich and became an expert in lithographic printing and miniature portrait painting. He settled in London in 1816, at a time when the capital was undergoing a dramatic expansion, and spent the rest of his life in the city. The rapidly changing face of early Victorian London is depicted in this exhibition through some 60 works. Scharf's vivid, detailed drawings capture every aspect of ordinary life, showing people going about their daily business in fine detail - from the boots on their feet to the buttons on their coats and the hats on their heads - recorded with an immediacy that is almost photographic. Not only do the pictures offer an interesting insight into London's inhabitants, Scharf also precisely recreates the architectural landscape of the city. His work combines a sensitive observation of the individuals in the pictures with architectural accuracy to give a full picture of the city and its people as he saw it. In the 1820s and 1830s London experienced a huge growth in what would now be described as 'consumer culture' and Scharf's pictures depict the advertising hoardings and shop signs that started to appear all around the city. They also reflect how society changed, with the introduction of gas lighting, which made the streets safer, and meant that London could start to develop a nightlife, leading to the opening of the first music halls. Sir John Soane Museum, London until 6th June.