Monday, 27 June 2011


(c) Matthew Day Jackson   Photo: Peter Mallet
HOUSER & WIRTH 27.6.11

You are prepared for most things – from taupe spats to discreet hats - as you walk along Saville Row’s gentlemen’s outfitters, some of which have been creating "the finest bespoke garments for over 200 years". But you are hardly prepared for this magnificent sculpture: the reconfigured cockpit of a B29,  which glitters and glows, seeming almost to billow out from Hauser and Wirth’s  huge plate glass windows. It's an arresting piece, dwarfing mortals as they stroll by. Inside its surface, polished to a high mirror finish, reflects back distorted images of the kind you see at a fun fair.  You cannot detach yourself from this monster. 

This sculpture is constructed from a reconditioned B29 cockpit – the first pressurised bomber, and the type of aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Inside the cockpit is a Wunderkammer, a cabinet of archeological and anthropological curiosities. In the past such cabinets contained collections gathered  by individuals for their own pleasure and learning, and many became the nucleus of our national collections and museums. Indeed when I was a student, the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology had more in common with a Wunderkammer than with the clean lines of its present day counterpart.

Axis Mundi means ‘axis of the world’, something which symbolises a place or time where earth and sky (heaven) seem to connect. Jacob had his ladder in the Old Testament, churches have steeples.  People’s experience differs from culture to culture but you could argue for an underlying communality. Only last month Nick Mayhew Smith published Britain’s Holiest Places, a guide to 500 sacred sites, designed to appeal to people of all faiths or none. It includes entries on the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Gallery and the British Library, all Wunderkammer of a sort.

Day Jackson's Axia Mundi has been described as a modern day ark, containing within it 'the beginning of a new world through the use of the world's most destructive technology'. Wonder, beauty, terror intermingled. It's surrounded by other pieces in the gallery which demonstrate Day Jackson's versatility and justify the exhibition title Everything Leads to Another.

 ‘The aim of all commentary on art now should be to make works of art – and , by analogy, our own experience – more, rather than less, real to us’. So said Susan Sontag about 50 years ago in her essay ‘Against Interpretation’.   ‘Our task is not to find the maximum amount of content in a work, much less to squeeze more content out of the work than is already there. Our task is to cut back on content so that we can see the thing at all’

You might look out for a showing of Harrier and Jaguar by Fiona Banner which once filled the Duveen Hall at Tate Britain - a decommissioned Sea Harrier and a Jaguar Jet, former killing machines of great beauty and awesome elegance, now challenging our concept of war. (See my Blog No 1).

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