Degas to Picasso at The Ashmolean Museum

The Ashmolean Museum has long since been one of my favourite Museums in Britain; Its grand exterior, huge collection and extensive range of content have always drawn me, from my first visit nearly 10 years ago on a school Latin trip.


The artists featured in the exhibition

Having learnt Ballet from the age of 11 I’ve always been enthralled by Degas’ beautiful oil paintings of dancers from unique, novel standpoints; the impressionist fluidity brings beauty to the eye of all beholders! I recently started learning more about Pablo Picasso, after visiting a wonderful exhibition at my favourite modern art museum (Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark) entitled ‘Picasso before Picasso’, housing many of his early sketches and pieces produced while he was still studying. Naturally, having seen a sign on the Underground “Degas to Picasso”, my interest was peaked, and a return megabus trip to Oxford was booked!

Housed across a single floor at the top of the museum, the exhibition isn’t the largest space you’ll see names such as Matisse, Chagall and Renoir displayed, but it’s certainly not cramped! Going on a quiet Thursday afternoon in term time, I was surprised at how busy the exhibition was, and I can’t imagine what it must be like on a Saturday afternoon, expect queueing to see your favourite artists works!


The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The exhibition takes you chronologically from the start of the artistic revolution. Historically starting post French Revolution and beginning with the works of Jaques Louis David, often perceived to be the founder of the Neoclassical movement in the art world. His painting The Oath of Horatii was wildly popular within the 1785 Paris Salon. Along side this you will discover a wide range of works, including Géricault’s often brutal and realist paintings of war, balanced against some lighter political satire from the 1860s by Daumier; think classical Banksy.

From the revolutionaries the exhibition takes you forward to a new era in art history. In 1874 a small group of artists split from the Paris Salon to pave the way for an astounding new artistic movement; Impressionism. Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissaro and Cezanne set a blazing trail in to the unknown genre, free from any prerequisite rules of the classical art world.

Gris Painting

Still Life with Guitar – Juan Gris

The final section of the exhibition focussed on Picasso, and other innovators of cubism, modernism and surrealism. The Ursula and R. Stanley Johnson Family Collection provide a selection of both his work, and the work of artists such as Braque. My favourite pieces in this section, were those by Juan Gris, demonstrating the beauty of cubism, as seen on the left (image borrowed from Google).

Overall, the exhibition is a fantastic introduction to this era of art. It may not be the longest exhibition, but it is well worth the trip to the museum! It’s not often you find yourself with the opportunity to be in the same room as so many great pieces of art work; 5*s!


Pennys,  Trains and Butts – The Turner Prize 2016

The Turner Prize for modern art, first awarded in 1984 is a celebration of modern, innovative, British art. Awarded annually to an artist born, living or working in the UK, aged 40 or under, the prize has caused much controversy over its 32 year history.

In 2016 Helen Marten,  Anthea Hamilton, Josephine Pryde and Michael Dean all vie for the £25,000 prize, and the critical acclaim that accompanies it.

The Turner Prize Installations, housed at the Tate Britain, comprise of 4 rooms, one per artist. The £9.50 Student concession price does seem rather steep,  particularly if the prize is designed, at least partially, to inspire a new generation of British artists!

The first room, belonging to Helen Marten was probably my least favourite, and left me feeling distinctly underwhelmed. Whilst the ornate, multisegmented insects hanging from the walls were visually appealing, striking they were not! I may be vaguely biased on this matter; the incessant screeching of the alarm signalled that, yet again, a small child in clumsy Lelly Kellys, playing hopscotch over the “Do Not Cross” line had narrowly avoided damaging the artwork, as her mother gazed on, disinterested.

Anthea Hamilton’s exhibition was the space I knew the most about before arriving. Based on her New York exhibition Anthea Hamilton: Lichen! Libido! Chastity! for which she was nominated, her Tate installation has attracted huge public attention, particularly for the ginormous butt pictured above. Countless selfies and photos flood the instagram hashtag with Project for a Door (the official name for the derriere in question) which was inspired by designer Gaetano Pesce’s plan for a New York doorway. Reactions from my fellow museum goers ranged from the very British embarrassment,  to mildly amused through to 3 gleeful children, excited about this rather large ‘taboo’ presented before them. I found it oddly entrancing, and almost hard to look away.

The other half of Hamilton’s room is dominated by a floor to ceiling photo of the June London sky. In front of it hangs several silver chastity belts, decorated with rosemary, or with ornate carvings.

Room number 3; Designed by Josephine Pryde, this room is probably the simplest design, but in no way does this detract from the effectiveness. A Class 65 diesel train, decorated with graffiti, sits on tracks that span the length of the room, almost inviting the viewer to clamber aboard.

Around the room photographs adorn the wall, part of Josephine Pryde’s Hands “Für Mich”, mainly focused on, as the name would suggest, hands, sporting immaculate nail varnish. After the more explicit nature of Anthea Hamilton’s room Pryde’s room felt all together more soporific. The photos on the wall all contain a message about society and/or feminism, however they aren’t thrust into the face of the viewer, she simply allows you to seek the message if you wish.

The final room was arranged by Michael Dean. Probably my favourite room, the majority of floor space was taken up by a huge mound of pennies, £20,435.99 worth to be exact. Out of the pennies sprung a corregated steel family of 4, they gaze over the money that represents their poverty line. On completing the room Dean removed a single penny, effectively putting the family below the poverty line. Coming together with concrete sculptures, ink-died books, and seemingly random models of fists, this piece of art is a beautifully jumbled commentary on modern society, strongly influenced by Dean’s Newcastle upbringing.

Michael Dean’s art was definately the most disordered, and least ‘readable’ beyond the poignant carpet of coins; Ironic, as the starting point for his work is usually writing. The room was increadibly busy, with artwork popping up in unexpected locations on the floor, and narrow spaces for visitors to pass through, it certainly kept you on your toes!

Overall this was a great afternoon out, albeit fairly busy with limited space for people to move around between the pieces of artwork in some rooms.

Having spent £10 on the exhibition, being the cheap student I am, I obviously wanted to get the most out of my money, so I watched every film at the end, flicked through every book, and read every comment on the comment board. Whilst doing this I discovered that the artists had envisioned, or produced far more tactile pieces of work than we were allowed to engage in.

Anthea Hamilton had designed her suit and boots to be handled and felt, and yet we couldn’t enjoy this aspect of this exhibition. Josephine Pryde had intended visitors to her exhibition to ride on the train and from here enjoy the photos on the wall, and yet we just admired. Finally, Michael Dean initially allowed visitors to walk over his mound of coins, to feel the sea-like movement, and hear the metallic clatter.We could only observe, transfixed by the gleaming mass before us.

For modern art, tactility can often form a large dimension of the experience, and yet this was taken away from us; how then can we truly judge the art work? Isn’t it unfair, too, for the artists who worked and laboured, only to have their greatest works admired only in 3D, instead of its full 4D glory?

I really hope in future the Tate will allow artists, and visitors to produce,  and engage in more immersive pieces, and truly allow us to connect.  Especially if they’re gonna charge us a tenner for it.

The Turner Prize Installations are running at the Tate Britain until 2 January 2017 . Price range from £9.50 to £12