Eastern Promise; CULTURE with 2008 Drawing to a Close, Terry Grimley Looks Back at the Artistic Highlights

The Birmingham Post (England), December 30, 2008 | Go to article overview

Eastern Promise; CULTURE with 2008 Drawing to a Close, Terry Grimley Looks Back at the Artistic Highlights


Byline: Terry Grimley

Andrew Franklin was a civil servant who worked in the Foreign Service from 1937 to 1974and it was Birmingham's good fortune that his daughter chose to study at Birmingham University.

For Mr Franklin's great passion was Chinese ceramics and other forms of applied art, and his visits to Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery persuaded him that it would be a suitable eventual home for the exceptional collection he built up over many years.

When 70 items went on display early in 2008, it was just the first taste of one of the most important bequests the city has received for many years, totalling nearly 700 items spanning 2000 years.

This was the first of a number of exhibitions and other events celebrating Chinese culture in the year of the Beijing Olympics, although the other one in Birmingham, Beijing Map Games - responses from a variety of international artists and architects to rapid change in the Chinese capital - seemed more exciting in prospect than it did in reality.

Another important collection of Chinese art in the West Midlands, the bronzes at Compton Verney - received designated status as being of national importance during the year.

Margaret Lemon as Erminia, a fullsized replica of a portrait which hangs in Blenheim Palace, was one of the highlights of Behind Closed Doors, a pioneering exhibition which opened at the Barber Institute in January and gave a glimpse into the world of private art collecting in Birmingham.

Other little gems which came to light in this exhibition included paintings by Boudin and the chronicler of the early 20th century Black Country, Edward Butler Bayliss, who then seemed to crop up throughout the year, most comprehensively in a display now showing at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Also at Wolverhampton Art Gallery was Passage to the Future, an interesting survey of recent Japanese art, including the hilarious work of artists' cooperative Maywa Denki. This group straight facedly mimics corporate Japan, referring to itself as a company, with lead artist Nobumichi Tosa as its president and dressing in identical blue overalls.

However, the products it designs and makes, while not necessarily useless, are certainly eccentric. All of them are inspired by fish, so that you have, for example, a crossbow in the form of a fish's skeleton and a mechanised fish-shaped stack of glasses for doing the wet finger on a wine glass trick.

In April the School of Jewellery played host to Schmuck 2008, the world's largest open exhibition of contemporary jewellery. While it contained items in precious metal, it also challenged conventional notions of jewellery with pieces made of cardboard, pigskin, noodles, thorns, screwed-up paper and nylon stockings.

The mac, usually one of the liveliest presences on the West Midlands visual arts scene, closed in April for its major redevelopment. It will eventually reopen late next year with a completely new gallery.

The Public, West Bromwich's troubled new media arts centre, never quite managed to open properly during the year, but The Herbert, Coventry's museum and art gallery, made an impressive return. …

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