David Roberts, Vincent Honoré Do the Private-Collection Museum Right
David Roberts Art Foundation, London October 12 to November 15, 2012
POSTED: OCTOBER 19, 2012
The David Roberts Art Foundation in London is a uniquely conceived art organization. The real-estate developer David Roberts uses it to host a growing private collection of contemporary art and also to serve as a project incubator for artists and curators.
The inclusion of curators as part of the mandate is a special surprise. Given the general erosion of curatorial support in the market-driven art world of the past decade, a private-collection museum with curatorial practice at its heart is both contrary to norm and, in the long run, visionary.
The hiring of the Paris-based curator Vincent Honoré to develop shows and installations and push the Roberts Foundation ahead is also a promise of its serious commitment. We are watching a private foundation become not just a collection display venue, but also a place for measured elaborations on how to think with and about art. The overlay of purpose reminds us of what, in the end, drives most engaged collectors. It also underscores how private collections can make the transition from private interests to the realm of lasting public good. Time and history usually manage that transition, but the David Roberts Art Foundation skips a generation or two. It presumes to function as a museum of contemporary art production.
The latest show at the foundation is a case in point. It inaugurates a new expanded exhibition venue (located just north of the Mornington Crescent tube station in Camden Town) in which artworks by nearly 30 artists—from established stalwarts like Louise Bourgeois, Man Ray and Tony Cragg to more unfamiliar names like Victor Man, Shannon Ebner and Matthew Day Jackson—are knit together into a fascinating exercise in connection and reverberation between the works and the exhibition space.
Honoré titles his show “A House of Leaves,” and it refers to a series of four shows that will succeed one another over the next six months. Imagined as “a symphony structured in three movements and an epilogue,” each of the component exhibits of “A House of Leaves” relates to a key generative work—Echo VIII by Louise Bourgeois in the current show; Fuji by Gerhard Richter in the second; and Silent Score by Pierre Huyghe in the third. The concluding component exhibition concentrates on the space itself.
Bourgeois’s Echo VIII is a late work by the artist produced in 2007. It is installed in the first of the five rooms that comprise the new space. The white-painted bronze shows a stretched sweater aligned vertically on a square base. It registers as a disabled body—a ghost figure—on a quest to outreach itself. Its physical simplicity and allusive complexity sets the tone and substance of the other works that Honoré has gathered together. They range from text works to paintings to photographs to other standing sculptures. These include Kris Martin’s Mandi VIII (2006)—a plaster, serpentless version of Laocoön—and Tony Cragg’s The Fanatics (2006)—a shifting, ascending tower of polished stainless steel—which stand in a direct line of sight with the Bourgeois and triple up on the associative cluster of ghosts and snakes and discomfited bodies.
In the second room, near the faux-Laocoön, is Matthew Day Jackson’s remarkable August 6, 1945 (2011), an assemblage wall work of scorched wood and lead on panel. The title references the bombing of Hiroshima, but the image shows an aerial view of London. It neatly shifts history and fate across decades and continents and, perhaps more relevantly for Honoré’s show, materializes the missing snake from Mandi VIII as the leaden river Thames. This connective tissue of associative open metaphor between works is the hallmark of Honoré’s show; from room to room, the artworks take on an aggregating density as visual element to visual element gathers on the trunk of curatorial investment.
In a recent review of a new book on Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady in the London Review of Books, critic James Woods writes this about the use of metaphor in James: “…the pleasure is in witnessing metaphor moving, driving on the thought; watching it, in effect, gain the authority of its claims, so that metaphor leaves the hypothetical or pictorial and becomes fact.” The same could be said about Honoré’s direction of the first installment of “A House of Leaves.” This is curating that is second to none.
The next time the Frieze Art Fair is on in London, go to the David Roberts Art Foundation first and see what a curator and a generous-minded collector can do for art.