Thursday, October 6, 2011

The world turned upside down

Matthew Buckingham's The Spirit and the Letter
On show at the Brooklyn Museum till 8 January 2012 is Matthew Buckingham's installation "The Spirit and the Letter", a homage to Mary Wollstonecraft, with spoken excerpts of A Vindication of the Rights of WomanThe New Yorker calls it "simple but striking", and gives him form ("When it comes to revisiting history, few artists capture complexities and contradictions with the kind of lyrical efficiency that Buckingham brings to the endeavor"). Buckingham's piece was co-commissioned by the Camden Arts Centre here in London, and in 2008 was exhibited a third of the globe away at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. 

Now that the video installation is in Brooklyn, it has been joined by some of the artifacts from the local library - as in, the New York Public Library, which provided much of the impetus for Shelley's Ghost. That exhibition, which I characterised half a year ago as "Mary, her husband, their daughter, and her lover (and their friends)", was beautifully displayed at the Bodleian, complete with Mary Shelley's silver toilet set and the tousle-hair'd poet's guitar. Bits of the exhibition are at Dove Cottage at the moment, visiting the Lake District poets for the summer; I had understood, reading the exhibition in Oxford, that soon the show would reincarnate at the NYPL. 

The review in Broadway World says:

The Spirit and the Letter places the viewer in a space that evokes inversion: a simple chandelier, glowing dimly, protrudes upward from the floor, and an upside down mirror hangs on the wall. A video image, projected onto a large wall, shows a room where the same chandelier can be seen in its "correct" orientation, hanging from the ceiling. In this room, a woman in 18th century dress paces across the floor. She exits but then after a moment reappears standing on the ceiling, disobeying gravity as she moves through the image, resembling a ghost of sorts. Portraying Mary Wollstonecraft, this actor delivers a erratic but impassioned exposition of Wollstonecraft's ideas, edited from Wollstonecraft's books, letters, memoirs and tracts, including A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

The Brooklyn Museum holds Judy Chicago's Dinner Party as the centrepiece of its Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Shame, shame, on D.C.'s National Museum of Women in the Arts, for missing the chance to acquire those 39 place settings, of which one is dedicated to Mary Wollstonecraft.

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