This week I have the pleasure of working for All Visual Arts, invigilating their incredible show: Metamorphosis: The Transformation of Being. This exhibition features over 100 works by 48 artists, and was curated in the same number of hours due to a run-in with the infamous owner of Portland Place; however you would not believe it upon entering its new venue, the crypt of One Marylebone.
The show itself is spectacular, and it’s hard to believe it would have suited another venue any better than this; the vast array of surreal, otherworldly sculptures and paintings breathe with the same mystery and darkness as the space itself, resulting in an absorbing and at times sinister tone.
The work ranges from Francis Picabia to Cindy Sherman, from Durer to the Chapman brothers; but is tied together thematically with every piece being both visually stunning, yet completely bizarre. The comfortable coupling of Polly Morgan’s Archipegalo and Durer’s Malformed Foetal Pig epitomise this show, which through careful curation and a vivid and overriding taste, breaks down barriers between eras, movements and mediums.
Although taxidermy may be overdone currently, Polly Morgan uses it to create pieces far more sensitive and powerful than most: the tragedy of death and strength of nature are potent, the taxidermy and sculpting so skilful that these animals look just passed, still warm. On the same thread is Kate MccGwire whose oil-black feather pieces undulate with seemingly infinite curves, with names like ‘Yearn’ which function as onomatopoeias for these organic, pulling forms.
The faces of Tim Noble and Sue Webster are strong presences within the crypt, staring out from either side of the basement floor in cold polished bronze with Spinning Heads and as eerie silhouettes with Dead Things – another of their series of grotesque taxidermy which sees horrific piles of, well, dead things, lit by spotlight to cast uncannily perfect shadows of the artists across white walls. Another famous pairing, the Chapman brothers, present One Day you will be Loved; controversial as always, they have brushed a Dorian Gray-like decomposition onto the faces of these 1750 Vanitas images – while Tim and Sue bring pure forms from putrid beings, the Chapmans turn the handsome, horrific.
Lesser-known artists such as John Isaacs, Wim Delvoye and Thomas Leroy adorn the central passage of the crypt with a colossal cube of raw meat, waves of delicately glinting silvered bronze, and paintings which glow with soft blues, deep greens and vibrant reds; the space feels ecclesiastical and rich – far from the gloomy atmosphere expected within a crypt.
This exhibition is outspoken and assured, and is absolutely unique – maybe it’s the huge variety of works, or the theme which is so clearly carried through each and every piece, whatever it is, it separates this show from much of what is on view elsewhere at the moment. Commercial enough to be attractive and unchallenging, yet conceptual and intellectual enough to retain its interest – this can be said for the entire show, but is exemplified by the work of Alastair Mackie. His two huge framed works are at first just panes of black and white, but upon closer inspection one shimmers with the bones of hundreds of cuttlefish whilst the other is dappled with rows of police-tape yellow hornet’s heads. Small and striking natural wonders controlled, ordered, preserved: transformed.
Metamorposis: The Transformation of Being is an extraordinary exhibition: it is rare to a title so seamlessly and completely depicted through an entire show – especially one whose work spans four centuries.
Frieze may have the quantity, but this has serious quality, so come and have a look.