The Explorers. Part One

25 May–22 Oct 2018
V–A–C Zattere, Venice

The exhibition revisits and expands two displays from the V–A–C collection, first seen at the Whitechapel Gallery (London) in 2014-2015.

The Explorers. Part One is a result of a journey made by two artists and curator Iwona Blazwick through the V–A–C collection, bringing their discoveries to Venice. Renowned painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, winner of the Jarman Award and Turner Prize nomineer recently celebrated in a solo show at the New Museum, and filmmaker James Richards were invited to explore the entire V–A–C collection. They found themselves drawn to art devoted to nature in the widest sense, from flora and fauna to the manifestations of human nature.

The thrumming rhythms of Stravinsky’s 1913 revolutionary ballet and orchestral work The Rite of Spring introduces visitors to a display of paintings, prints and photographs that plot a bucolic journey through nature as still life, wilderness or sensory arcadia. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye reaches across the century to bring together paintings by artists such as Aristarkh Lentulov (Bathers, 1910), Enrico David (Rite of Spring, 2012) and Gary Hume (Garden Painting #2, 1996) to show the human figure as part of the natural environment and a metaphor for primal energy and sexual desire. While Andy Warhol’s Cow (1966) shows how nature has become industrialised, Nikolay Bakharev’s sequence of bathers photographed on Russian beaches (Novokuznetsk, from the Relationship series, 1980-1995) show nature as a worker’s paradise. Human nature is the subject of James Richards’ immersive audio environment To Replace a Minute’s Silence with a Minute’s Applause (2015) emanating from a single canvas — Francis Bacon’s Study for a Portrait (1953).

A middle-aged man is seated in what could be a throne or an executioner’s chair. Richard’s symphonic work translates paint into sound, evoking its material and philosophical poetry. In attendance is a chorus of single figures: from Pierre-August Renoir’s sensuous reclining nude Femme Nue Couchée, Gabrielle (1903) to Alberto Giacometti’s Figure Grise (Téte en Gris) (1957) — a male figure looming through a grey void; from Chaim Soutine’s stylish woman exiled in Paris Le Femme au Grand Chapeau (1919) to Cindy Sherman’s modern girl at large in Manhattan Untitled (#58) (1980).