Haunch of Venison’s first show at Burlington Gardens is a spectacular one—not only for the chance to check out the gallery’s new digs—but for the chance to experience contemporary art through an anthropological eye. It is a group show of epic proportions, featuring eleven themed rooms and works in almost every nook and cranny of the building—in the entrance hall, on the landing and even hanging from the ceiling above the double staircase.
It is in the tradition of collectors like Sir John Sloane and the concept of the Cabinet of Curiosities that Haunch of Venison has attempted to explore the strange and mysterious myths that populate our world. Mythologies settles right in to the legacy of the gallery’s new building. 6 Burlington Gardens was once the Museum of Man, housing the British Museum’s vast ethnographic collection from 1970 until 1998. The exhibition has an aura of mystery and discovery—addressing evolution and the afterlife, the trauma of memory and loss, witchcraft, religion and the certainty of death.
Mythologies gets off to a shaky start, with several works lost to the bustle of the ground floor’s entrance, but the first floor is so cunningly curated, such faults are easily forgotten. There are works by big names—like Damien Hirst, Sophie Calle and Christian Boltanski—but the show’s most beautiful moments come from some of the less familiar ones. Anthony Goicolea’s Maternal & Paternal (2008) is the image of two young girls laid out in bones made of graphite powder, each in her own exquisite, museum-like glass case. The figures are like X-Rays, except for their faces, which are full-fleshed and overlaid to look in several directions at once—a claustrophobic acknowledgement of the certainty of fractured existence.
The show is dark and whimsical, offering as much information as art, and a great catalogue of supplementary texts. Walter Benjamin said that to live is to leave traces. With Mythologies, Haunch of Venison does just that.
-- Ashley Vaughan
All images courtesy the artist and Haunch of Venison.
Images from top to bottom:
(Installation View Mythologies, Haunch of Venison,London, © Haunch of Venison 2009. Photo: Peter Mallet; All images Courtesy The Artist and Haunch of Venison/ Mat Collishaw, Insecticide 24, 2008, C-type photographic print, 6x6 ft, © Mat Collishaw/ Installation View Mythologies, Haunch of Venison, London, © Haunch of Venison 2009. Photo: Peter Mallet/ Bill Viola, Small Saints, 2008, Colour High-Definition video polyptych on six OLED flat panels mounted on shelf,
15 Inch Screen, © Bill Viola, Photo: Kira Perov)