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Artwork by Patrick DolanMore Information

Really Old Contemporary…like 100 years and Re-Presenting Prints

Nottingham CastleBlessed as we are with the new Nottingham Contemporary gallery, we might have forgotten that the Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery was where we used to go for “contemporary” art.  They have reminded us with the current exhibition Now for Tomorrow: 100 Years of Collecting New Art in Nottingham, showcasing some of the work in the Nottingham collection which came from the Contemporary Art Society.

The exhibition, which opened on 20 March, is not well publicised. It doesn’t feature on the City Council webpage for Art at the Castle, and is not listed in the current and future exhibitions there, although it is listed in WhatsOn.  The exhibition is mentioned on a CAS webpage, although even that focuses on the MOOT curated, separate exhibition, of which more below.

According to the exhibition information on the walls of the Gallery, Nottingham took the first exhibition of CAS work in 1912, two years after the society started.  But Nottingham did not become a subscriber until nine years later.  In the almost 80 subscribing years since, Nottingham has gained many works of art, some of which are shown here. The exhibition seems focussed on more recent works, more visibly “contemporary”, mixed media and works which combine images and objects.  Whether that is a true reflection of the collection, or the whim of the curators, isn’t known since there are no programme notes or other descriptions beyond the small tags on the walls.  One would think that at least the words on the wall could be concatenated and printed out. 

What the exhibition does remind one is that what might be strange and challenging at the time may pass into the standard repetoire fairly quickly.  Augustus John, Lucien Freud, Wyndham Lewis are all represented here, and even the example of the Vorticist William Roberts would not raise an eyebrow in the main gallery.

The exhibition quotes from an unnamed Art Director from the late 1940s, giving four reasons why contemporary art is a Good Thing. These are, summarised in my words from my notes:

  • to ignore contemporary art is to be always behind the times
  • it is cheaper than Old Masters
  • to encourage living artists is a priviledge and a duty
  • the prestige of Nottingham will be enhanced.

The building of the new Nottingham Contemporary would demonstrate that these still animate our art scene.

As interesting as the CAS exhibition is, the absolute star of the Art Museum is the parallel exhibition A Stranger’s Window.  Thirteen artists and collaborators were given the chance to select items from the Print collection here, and then present their choices, or re-present the work, in an innovative fashion.  It is brilliant!  Curated by the MOOT gallery, the resulting “pairings” are enticing mixtures of (mostly) old art and new, flat and texture, monochrome and colour, silent and video.  Apparently simple presentations, such as the collage of Aline Bouvy & John Gillis which frames the print of Napoleon’s death mask, ask questions about the British response to the French leader.  The print of the composer Purcell is re-presented by a performance and video work of Simon Raven, the video looping on a monitor positioned about a picnic rug of objects used in the video.  The video also includes a health-and-safety defying string trio, recumbent, playing the Purcell tune many of us recognise from the school favourite: Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.   And to make my pleasure complete, there is a handout, a one page list of the exhibition, giving details of the prints and the modern artists work which complements them. Thanks, MOOT.

The exhibition is continues in the Cafe where some selected prints are inset in tables. My attempts to view these, during lunch time, had to be curtailed as the customers found my staring at their plates was putting them off their food.

Entrance to the Art Gallery requires entrance to the Castle grounds which is expensive, although free to Nottingham city residents and those who work there (a City library card or a Citycard will get you in for free, possibly other documents will as well).  The exhibitions run until 13 June.