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Culture

Colors and historical clashes in new London art show

LONDON: In the second in a series of exhibitions showcasing works from Britain’s huge Government Art Collection, artist Cornelia Parker has chosen a rainbow color scheme to present her favorites.

Parker selected over 70 works from the collection of around 13,500 pieces which grace the walls and corridors of embassies, official residences and other state buildings worldwide. It is believed to be the world’s biggest collection of British art after the Tate gallery.

The show, free of charge and entitled “Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain,” opens at the Whitechapel Gallery in east London on Friday and ends on Dec. 4. The third exhibition in the series opens on Dec. 16.

It is named after the mnemonic used to recall the key colors of the spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

The one-room exhibition follows the color pattern, beginning with predominantly red paintings and works of art and running through the colors before fading to black and then white.

For Parker, the fact that all of the works came from a state-owned collection meant they were in a way political, a point underlined by the choice of colors – many of which represent political parties. “There is a sense,” she said, “that all these works of art have quietly eavesdropped on many an important conversation over the years.”

So Nils Norman’s 2006 red, bloody silhouetted head in “Imaginary Portrait of our Lord Protector Gentrificator General” was hanging in the British Embassy in Tbilisi.

Daniel Myten’s portrait of Lady Anne Montagu dated 1626 came from the ambassador’s residence in Ireland while Parker’s own “Feather from Freud’s Pillow” was a favorite of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he was finance minister.

Parker plays images off against each other, deliberately placing a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I opposite one of Mary, Queen of Scots, the rival whose execution she ordered. In similar fashion, Oliver Cromwell hangs higher on the wall than King Charles I, whom he overthrew and had beheaded.

Queen Elizabeth II appears at least twice, in Andy Warhol’s screenprint of 1985, which comes from the British consul-general’s residence in New York, and in a photograph of the queen being painted by Lucian Freud.

Alongside formal portraits from centuries past are a series of works by so-called “Young British Artists” who burst on to the scene some 20 years ago with images that shocked and provoked.

Gillian Wearing, Gary Hume and Jake & Dinos Chapman all feature in the show, which is the second in five planned exhibitions based on the Government Art Collection.

Parker said the shows gave people a chance to see works flung far across the globe, often out of sight of the public.

“None of these works get shown,” she said. “Some haven’t seen the light of day for a long time so it’s a chance to do that and also for me to be playful.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 20, 2011, on page 16.

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