Gallery, n. An apartment or building dedicated to the exhibition of works of art.
If you’re looking for art, this is where most of us would head to find it. A trip to a purpose created enclosure certainly showcases the art, but leaves the spectator, well, myself at least, with a case of aching feet and depleted blood sugar. Surely, for the artwork to come to life its recipient needs to feel alive too?
Thankfully, the relationship between art and its viewer is constantly evolving. Our interest is nourished by the diverse ways we can enjoy it. Street art. Marketplace caricatures. Palatial national galleries scented like dust and velvet and warm wood. Websites that allow you to zoom in forensically on a painting’s colour and texture without the watchful eye of the curator. Prehistoric caves with their charcoal frescos. Pop up exhibitions. The Antiques Roadshow. A private house. These more unusual exhibitions should be celebrated and encouraged as a means to propel art into the deepest, darkest corners of the world of the Playstation generation.
Living in Cambridge places me at the heart of the divide between old and new ways of looking at art. The Fitzwilliam Museum showcases a traditional British art gallery at its finest. The building itself is a masterpiece of gilt, mosaic and marble and the range of pieces, from a Han dynasty jade burial suit to works of the Venetian Renaissance, makes this gallery an excellent way in to the world of art. However, has the static gallery experience become stale in our age of flux?
The entrance to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
In contrast, Kettle’s Yard, whilst technically being a gallery, offers the spectator an innovative and definitely more natural means of enjoying art. Formerly owned by Jim Ede, curator of the Tate Gallery in London in the 20s and 30s, Kettle’s Yard is a private house holding a distinctive collection of 20th century artwork dispersed throughout a comfortable living space, complete with squishy sofas, ramshackle bookshelves, trailing houseplants, bars of soap and intimate bedrooms. Everything in the house has been positioned precisely to create the single and complete vision of a particular collector in his living environment. As my guide showed me, a butter yellow disc in the corner of a Miro piece was mirrored across the room by a lone lemon embellishing the window sill, whose slightly greenish hue reflected diagonally across to an impressionistic picture of apples. From then on, I noticed connections between works throughout the house; the pieces in one room had similar lines and shapes that metamorphosed into new forms as I passed into the next space. Once given the opportunity simply to sit, spectate, and discover, the merits of the experience began to extend beyond beating the aching feet and escaping the clutter of the audio guides and handbooks.
A typical, quiet corner in Kettle’s Yard
I couldn’t help but reflect upon the fact that decoration and artwork around the home and hearth is a practice that stretches back to the earliest humans. Family visits to Pech Merle and Font du Gaume caves let me glimpse some of the earliest forms of art. Pech Merle’s horse gallery, around 25 000 years old, acts today as a breathtaking mural. But the cave is undeniably and almost eerily a very human space- in the midst of the paintings the lone footprint of an adolescent male can be seen calcified in the mud as the cave was sealed off during the thawing of the last ice age. The artists who sheltered in the mouths of the caves and the surrounding environs used these spaces as a canvas to express themselves. We cannot help embellishing our surroundings as some form of primal instinct.
The Pech Merle horses
It is unsurprising, therefore, that Ede curated Kettle’s Yard to encapsulate a sense of continuity. Rather than curating a static catalogue Ede’s vision was to represent “a continuing way of life… in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.” But given the acceleration of change in our society during the years since Ede’s death is this stability being disrupted?
Perhaps. And this is why spaces like Kettle’s Yard need to be seen by everyone, if not just to explore different ways of enjoying art, but to reflect on our basic human nature. In parallel, we should commend, publicise, and develop projects such as Own Art, who make collecting art more accessible with the provision of interest free loans from £100-£2000. Art should not limit itself to a contrived, agoraphobic and sterile row of squares on a whitewashed purpose-built wall, but work with and transform everyday spaces, just as the caves did for early humans and as Kettle’s Yard is doing for its visitors. Why do I feel that it is so important to celebrate and promote this more homely way of viewing art? It is because I would like to see more art dispersed and displayed within our day-to-day life. It is the art that my parents have collected that help to transform the cold bricks of my house into the warm walls of my home. That way, home is where the art is.