Open Art

Open art exhibition.

Words which, especially when combined with ‘local’, make me cringe. Such an exhibition must obviously consist of amateurish attempts at conceptual sculpture, shoddily executed abstracts and an abundance of dull, oily landscapes. More arrrgh than art.When the Poole Open was announced this was the horrorshow hung on the walls of my mind, so it was with a sense of mild dread that I ventured into the gallery.

The inaugural Poole Open invited UK-based artists to submit work with a link to the main themes of the Poole Museum collection. Since the collection can mostly be summed up as pots, yachts and pirates, a lot of boat paintings were expected. Homelife, worklife and wildlife are also recurrent themes throughout the collection. The selected pieces are displayed in Poole Museum until 5 May 2014.

I’m relieved to report that the exhibition was not dominated by the maritime equivalent of ‘Pony Painters’ and the number of twee watercolours and overcooked concepts was fewer than expected.

With any open there are bum notes; an unoriginal subject or a good idea poorly finished are frequent clangers. However, this show had a few nice surprises.  In fact some of it was actually quite good and overall it appears to be a well balanced group. Having not seen the other entries it’s difficult to tell. A man stopped for a chat and informed me, with authority and at some length, that his log boat painting was better than the one displayed. Not bitter at all mate are you?

Fifty artists made the cut and over 60 pieces are on show in a variety of media, from painting and sculpture to mixed media, film and photography. Much of it is available to buy, although I suspect sales will suffer from overconfident pricing. And there were a lot of boats…

Most of the work is hung in the gallery spaces but found pieces, prints and sculptures also sneak between the permanent glass cabinets and AV’s catching visitors off guard.

One gems were nestled beside the museum’s  boatbuilding display is a tight pen on paper by James Mclellan. “Lovely on the Water”* depicts a boat which wouldn’t look amiss in an illustrated The Owl and the Pussycat Went to Sea.  A cartoonish pirate of cardboard protrudes from a frame near a display on Harry Paye. On the ground floor several sheets of paper pinned to the wooden pillars belong to the artist Joseph Young. Their cut out lines replicate the pattern that pinhole borer beetles already made in many of the beams and pillars around the museum. The beetles are long dead, of course, leaving only their tracks behind.

Hiding on the backstairs are Jessica Polglase’s listed building installations. Thin black lines of tape on skimmed walls follow the outlines of Poole’s oldest buildings, cleansing and simplifying their bricks and rafters into something graphically pleasing.

In the upper gallery space a video work takes main stage. “Analogue Kingdom” is Esther Johnson’s sensitive, lyrical portrait of Gerald Wells, a wireless radio collector/geek/obsessive who stole his first radio at age 13. It is worth the 24 minute viewing time and I don’t normally have the patience for video.

Pinhole photography, photoshopped prints, textile interpretations of wildlife and a random but entertaining Google Street View painting on newsprint are also on offer. There’s something for every aesthete. Even Mother would appreciate some of the delicate colourwashed views of Poole.

Among the pieces which raised the bar was Anna Falcini’s “Incarcerated (Vitrines)”. Delicately pencilled ships inhabit tiny vials ‘moored’ along a stylised map of the Thames estuary. The ships in bottles each reference a repurposed naval ship used to house slaves and prisoners along the Thames in the 1800’s. The resulting art is intelligent and beautiful; my favourite kind of art.

As always a group show is only ever as good as the curator, or in this case the team of selectors. While not all to my taste this varied, and occasionally off-kilter, group is worth a gander.

*There were no dates on most of the pieces. I’m not sure why.

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