Koons, The Women Artists and Ana Maria Pacheco

A surprising number of people – from friends, to working artists, to random people visiting Brighton Museum – mention that they’ve found an unexpected, low key connection between two exhibitions, so I think it’s worth passing on. Especially if you’ve not yet visited the Jeff Koons. This suggestion is not a formal, planned thing; certainly nothing to do with the Koons content itself, yet it seems to work.

After you’ve seen the Jeff Koons, straight away (before you go anywhere else) check out the Women Artists from the Fine Art Collection exhibition across the corridor. This is Gillian Ayres’ remarkable tondo (round painting) ‘Sappho’ from 1988, a recent gift to the museum from the Jean and Eric Cass collection.

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©Gillian Ayres. Courtesy Alan Cristea Gallery

There’s something powerful in immediately contrasting Koons’ trenchantly self-absorbed hyperbolic vision, with such exceptional work by a cross-section of under recognised artists, who are female. It’s the hyper-famous attempting to live up to itself, set against the unfamous outshining expectation (to my untrained eyes at least). And with some gender thrown in; especially considering Jeff Koons’ underlying misogyny (which, even though this Brighton Museum exhibition limits itself to his politer work, does poke through) and the extent to which gender itself limited the exposure of the Women Artists. The contrast throws both experiences into sharp relief and I think this juxtaposition is enriching beyond either individual show.

There’s probably a more complex, nuanced point about ‘subject’ and ‘object’ to be made by someone more capable of art criticism than me. Even after someone pointed it out, it took me three visits to remember to look at both in one go. So I hope at least one expert or local public arts voice will spot these two exhibitions side-by-side and focus on the dichotomies therein.

Thinking back through the years, my single favourite ever exhibition in the upstairs gallery currently hosting the Jeff Koons actually dates back almost a decade to 2004, years before I got this chance to briefly act as an insider here. It was an astonishing walk through the quasi-primitive, intensely spiritual, larger-than-life human figures of Brazilian sculptor Ana Maria Pacheco, ‘Land Of No Return’.

I think the intimacy and three-rooms-in-a-row structure of that particular upstairs gallery perfectly suits stuff you’ll get enveloped in. It worked for the thousands of BIBA fans because they didn’t just ‘look’, they lost themselves in the stories of the work, especially as that exhibition was so stunningly well curated and labelled.

Years ago, I walked through the remarkably brief Ana Maria Pacheco exhibition and forgot everything else in the world while I was in there.

Chris T-T, Blogger in Residence

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