Monday, 3 October 2011

Art in Movement (at the RA and the V&A)

Curious, how two exhibitions which seemingly have nothing to do with each other are  creating a beautiful mosaic in my spotless mind (spotless due to a month break from any exhibitions and museums). 

The first one - a modern wunderkammer "Power of Making"  in the V&A   (on until 2 January 2012),  the second  -  "Degas and the Ballet. Picturing movement" in the Royal Academy (on until 11 December 2011). 

Degas  exhibition is arguably the most gracious pas the RA has performed recently. It presents  an impressive load of stretching, resting, swirling,  'arabesque-ing'  figures drawn, painted and even photographed by the french artist  along  his  life.  Private and state Institutions from all over the world have contributed to the show - ranging from the Pushkin Museum  to the MOMA,  from Jasper  Johns's to University of Oklahoma's collections.   
Portrait of Marie Sanlaville in the 
costume for Don Juan,
 c.1866-1870, BNF, Paris

Degas was fascinated by the movement -  and made his models freeze for hours trying to capture  what was not a movement  by definition anymore. Camera was progressing slowly (with exposure taking much longer than the artist required to make  a sketch of an object), but by 1895 Degas's interest in photography became obsessed - corresponding to a gradually growing ability of apparatus to capture "a moment in eternity".

The exhibition pays tribute to Eadweard Muybridge, an author of pronounced high-speed photographs of horses and humans,  who influenced Etienne-Jules Marey, a French scientist exploring locomotion, who in his turn influenced Degas and his explorations of moving ballerinas. Following Muybridge and Marey, Degas  would create wax and clay models, as well as drawings of a figure in a sequence of  unfolding ballet steps. 

On the picture above you can see straps supporting the hand of the model who had to pose still for many hours

A little dancer, aged fourteen,
1880-1881, cast c.1922 

The point of correspondence  with the V&A show for me was an exhibition hall number 3 "Mobile Viewing" devoted to the creation process of "The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen", a lovely sculpture of a lovely  little ballet student Marie van Goethem. At this time it was an artist performing a dance rather than Marie: to execute the sculpture Degas has made approximately 20 drawings of the ballerina all taken from different points of view. The girl was standing still, while Degas moved around her sketching at every angle.  Degas's predecessors have taken these experiments much further: Francois Willeme created what was called photo-sculptures. A circle of cameras simultaneously recorded an object posed in the centre, the resulting images were transferred to a block of clay with a pantograph -  in the end a  sculpture of  photographical likeness to the original was achieved. And this likeness was three-dimensional, since the pictures were being taken from all around the model!

Edweard Muybridge, Woman Dancing (Fancy),
plate 187 of Animal Locomotion, 1884-1886, Royal Academy of Arts
Opponents of photo-portraits often argued that they lacked character, soul and creative spirit of both the sitter and an artist. The photo-sculptures were understandably blamed for the same reasons. However, I am not going too far into the philosophy of art, since my main point here is unexpected allusion to the hymn-of-craftsmanship-exhibition" Power of Making"  -  a deja-vu  which I experienced strolling through Burlington halls. 

                    Grand Arabesque, c. 1885-1890            Dancer: Fourth Position Front on the Left Leg, c.1883-1888  

V&A autumn show presents an eclectic mishmash of 100 exquisitely crafted works, each of which takes you by surprise. Out of those 100, the objects that extracted the biggest wow out of  me, even if not of  esthetic origin,  were 3D-printers.  3D-printers allow you to become a jinni and make things appear  almost as simply as by rubbing a button. 
Marloes ten Bhömer's Rapidprototypedshoe

(-Mommy! I want  a new Barbie!!!
 -Honey, go print you out one!  )

These complex structures, which seem to me to have unembraceable  potential,  have become a curious point of reference to  "Little Girl" and photo-sculptures in the Royal Academy.  Could Willeme struggling with his photography-based clay models imagine  such a device back in the 1860s? Would he still be considered an artist if he did have one?  And how many moving ballerinas would Degas have printed in fascination? 
One can only feel a great sense of relief: 3D-printers not being invented, Degas, Muybridge, Marey and even Willeme had to Struggle, to Make, to Create, allowing us to enjoy what  was their 19th-century "Power of Making".

Thus, 2 Power Of Making exhibitions in London at the same time separated by 150 years in date of objects and 4 tube stations along the Picadilly line. Don't miss it!

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