The exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery stands up to its title. The objects are bizarre and beautiful, the viewer is attracted and confused. What is real, what is imagined, what is the message? Delicate mushrooms fashioned from velvet, frightening papier maché flowers, larger than life but perfect botanical models, animated by a coloured light show and the skull of a tuna fish, every bone marked and named jostle for space in the dark space. Is their role to entertain or to inform?
The objects belong to George Loudon, collector extraordinaire. Of this collection he says:
“The material I collect has lost its original purpose. It has disappeared from view in museums and universities and been consigned to storage. But by losing its original purpose it has become open to new meanings and especially new visual interpretations.”
Made to inform and to teach mostly in the 19th century, in the days when preserving tissue was difficult, these objects have lost their purpose. This adds to the uncertainty surrounding them. The viewer cannot but marvel at the skills of their creators and yet be repulsed at the same moment. Freud’s unheimlich has come to town, horror is its shadow.
The artist Salvatore Arancio has curated the show and included some of his work among Loudon’s collection, adding to the feeling of dislocation.
Is it art? It is enough that it makes you think and wonder.
Whitechapel Gallery 25 August 2018 – 6 January 2019