The term “Grand Tour’ evokes images of eighteenth- century British travellers exploring Europe, especially Italy and Greece, as part of their cultaural coming-of-age; in this context, the Grand Tour traditionally refers to experiences of living and practices of collecting that transformed elite living in the ealry 1800s. Encountering the term in 2015 is a bit unexpected at first sight, but as a project, it flags up the vision and initiative that has come to mark out the arts in the East Midlands over the last few years. This ambition has not only led to the inaugural East Midlands Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale (due to close at the end of July) but also to the
‘Grand Tour’ which brings together a range of institutions in the East Midlands this summer to explore a very distinctive set of institutions, and responses to this theme. Nottingham Contemporary, Chatsworth House, The Harley Gallery and Derby Art Museum are all hosting exhibitions and a series of special events between July and October that focus on the idea of the Grand Tour. In the absence of exhibition catalogues, either for the individual venues or for the conceit as a whole, the viewer is encouraged- and challenged- to define the parameters of the term Grand Tour for themselves, because really, the possibilities are endless. Is this a Grand Tour of locations in the East Midlands whose owners went on a Grand Tour themselves and as a result this affected the way in which these families fashioned their own image? This is certainly an argument that could be applied to Chatsworth, with its extensive and eclectic art collection, and with generations of owners adding and contributing to the collections in an ongoing act of fashioning the image of the family. This could also be a Grand Tour in the sense of the experience and learning of a gentleman (yes, normally a gentleman) whose education would not be complete without a prolonged exposure to the art and culture of continental Europe, and who would be expected to become more refined and sophisticated in his tastes as a result of this first hand experience of the Grand Tour. Maybe the Grand Tour 2015 transforms the visitor in the same way? It will certainly require time and effort to visit all 4 sites, something that is most definitely neither possible nor advisable to be undertaken within one day, given the distances involved! Exploring the Grand Tour will take time, will require travel, and will demand effort, and there is really something rather beautiful about the challenges this involves.
Every Grand Tour needs a starting point, and mine has been Pablo Bronstein and the Treasures of Chatsworth at Nottingham Contemporary and Chatsworth, two interlinked and complementary exhibitions spread across two sites. The show at Nottingham Contemporary (4th July- 20thy September) showcases 62 objects from Chatsworth House, which creates a fabulous juxtaposition between some flamboyant, quirky, Baroque and dramatic objects normally at home in the ‘safe’ surroundings of a stately home, and the sparse, clean ‘White Cube’ environment of Nottingham Contemporary. Actually, the objects have been framed through a display that evokes stage sets and recalls architectural frameworks, so Bronstein, who chose the objects, creates stories for them and gives them context.
Gallery 4 for example sports dramatic purple walls with a monochrome model of Chatsworth, which makes a super background for the actual display in the room, a few pieces of furniture grouped in the middle on a linoleum ‘rug’ to evoke a domestic feel. The pieces in the room are ornate, Baroque pieces but also Egyptian porphyry that was used as the base to mount sculpture. Its all about appropriation and legacy, about using pieces of documented antiquity to become part in a modern room set, but Bronstein, quite characteristically, plays with the viewer and refuses us the opportunity to look at pieces of furniture as functional pieces of furniture and instead makes us walk around the outside of his fantastical room set and in that process, gets us to look at the backs of chairs and ornaments, and so forcing a new perspective. That play continues- in Gallery 3, amazing, intricate gilt silver tableware is housed in a faux-Temple structure with crazy mirroring inside where the silver refracts in endless reflections, or where the Delft flower vases are raised up from the floor and displayed as architectural structures. Gallery 2 has been transformed into a cabinet, with wooden panelling framing some of Chatsworth’s most beautiful prints, such as a wonderful Albrecht Durer, or an equally stunning Annibale Carracci. The prints are interspersed
with paintings and some gorgeous Grinling Gibbons carvings- but just around the corner, in Gallery 1, its all about light and about Pablo Bronstein’s own works (of the Via Appia) framing the gallery which contains some fabulous chairs and antique fragments, so there is a dialogue between the displaced objects and the images on the walls that suggest a framework and context.
Where at Nottingham Contemporary Bronstein plays with objects he has selected, at Chatsworth House the focus shifts to his own works, with a collection of his drawings and prints brought together in the New Gallery. Now, I have to fess up and admit to not having seen any of Pablo Bronstein’s works before (Renaissance art historian….) but discovering his work has been quite a delight. What has intrigued me though more than the beautiful, quirky, fabulously stylish drawings is what the artist does with them, something which becomes especially apparent in the exhibition at Chatsworth House. Many of the works are displayed in old picture frames, some under old, discoloured glass, and this lends a particular charm to a selection oif works whose style of drawing and architectural subject matter links them, but where the display in variously- sized and varied frames disconnects them.
Take for example this great Palladian House in yellow in its majestic frame; as the frame is a one-off, so the image entirely fills that frame and stands (actually hangs rather…) on its own. in other corners of the New Gallery though, works have been grouped together, such as the three Venetian scenes below. The frames for these pieces go together, and Bronstein has picked up on this and used the frames for three scenes of Venice- clearly, the frames become an essential part of the narative in these scenes.
With two of the four locations for the Grand Tour now under my belt, time to make plans for a journey to the Harley Gallery at Welbeck, and then on to Derby. But first, I had better do my homework and get ready for August 12 and my Gallery Walkthrough! Its not every day that a Renaissance art historian gets an opportunity to get involved with Nottingham Cointemporary, and I am very much looking forward to it.
Derby Museum: Wright Revealed: Uncovering Two Lost Paintings
Pablo Bronstein in Conversation with Alice Rawsthorne, 8 July 2015
Mark Patterson, Nottingham Post, Art Review: Pablo Bronstein and the Treasures of Chatsworth, Nottingham Ciontemporary
Pablo Bronstein in Apollo: Pablo Bronstein on Chatsworth, the Grand Tour and his love of Delft