Breathing new life into historic collections is a theme that brings new audiences into historic buildings and museums. Versailles does it on a larger scale than most, as sculptors such as Anish Kapoor in 2015 take over and transform the gardens. But, here in London, Marc Quinn has done the impossible – added more to the museum in which there is no spare space, the Sir John Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn’s Fields, and Rachel Kneebone has added new work to the Renaissance and Sculpture galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Quinn’s exhibition of 12 sculptures “Drawn from Life” focusses on the love he has for his partner, his muse and, here, his goddess, the dancer Jenny Bastet. Emphasising the relatively short life for the exhibition, each of the white fibrecast casts is fixed on top of a plywood packing case, which is both a plinth and a message of arrival and departure.
In contrast to Quinn’s calm smooth classical forms at the Sir John Soane Museum, Rachel Kneebone’s sculptures at the Victoria and Albert Museum are a mass of writhing bodies, like something from Dante’s Inferno. Kneebone explores human experiences of life, death, mourning and ecstatic vibrancy – all together, while her work in porcelain purposely balances the relationship between strength and delicacy, set here against the classical sculptures of the Renaissance galleries and Rodan’s sculptures in the Sculpture Gallery. Her sculptural column “399 Days”, the largest sculpture Kneebone has ever produced, following on from its display at the White Cube Gallery, sits like a modern interpretation of Trajan’s Column, a plaster cast of which is in the Cast Court of the Museum
Bringing contemporary artists into historic collections gives both new meaning and introduces new audiences to both the new work and the old, which is to be encouraged, as long as it is relevant, as boundaries between old and new are blurred. So more of this please…….
(Annoyingly the Soane Museum, although publicly owned, does not allow photography – even though the National Gallery now does. The photographs are therefore from the web. An out-of-date policy – the Museum would achieve more exposure and increase visitor numbers if it came into the 21st century…..)