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Courtauld's MA Curating the Art Museum programme opens "Imagining Islands: Artists and Escape"
John Everett Millais (1829-1896), The Parting of Ulysses, c. 1862. Watercolour on paper, 11.8 x 10.3 cm© The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London.

LONDON.- The Courtauld Institute of Art’s MA Curating the Art Museum programme presents Imagining Islands: Artists and Escape, its annual exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery. The exhibition responds to the Gallery’s Summer Showcase, Collecting Gauguin: Samuel Courtauld in the ‘20s, and draws on works from The Courtauld Gallery and the Arts Council Collection.

In 1891 the artist Paul Gauguin travelled from Paris to the Pacific island of Tahiti in pursuit of a haven away from Western civilisation. Artists have long been drawn to the elusive ideals and tantalising fantasies that islands embody. Imagining Islands explores artists’ fascination with other worlds, real and imagined, and the perennial search for utopia. By bringing together works from the 17th century to the present day, the exhibition explores the concept of the island in poetic, evocative, and experimental ways.

Imagining Islands is a trans-historical exhibition displayed in two rooms immediately following the Gauguin showcase. The first introduces the island as a place of escape, isolation, and lost innocence. Upon entering, the viewer is confronted by Ernst Kirchner’s Fehmanküste (1912) and Max Pechstein’s Woman by the Sea (1919). These works create an immediate historical and aesthetic link to those of Gauguin, and were similarly inspired by exotic cultures and landscapes as well as a desire to escape modernity. By contrast, Barbara Hepworth’s Icon (1957) explores the artist’s spiritual and emotional experience of the Greek islands whilst coping with the tragedy of her son’s death. A central feature of the room is a series of major works from The Courtauld Gallery’s prints and drawings collection including an engraving of 1799 of Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Adam and Eve in Paradise (1615) and John Everett Millais’ The Parting of Ulysses (c. 1862). These artworks present different perspectives on the island as an object of artistic fascination.

The works in the second room further abstract the notion of the island. Marc Quinn’s Garden2 n°7 (2000), Mary McIntyre’s The Lough V (2006), and Mariele Neudecker’s Stolen Sunsets (1996) address the sublime, romantic visions of paradise, and the search for a utopia in nature. These works highlight the artifice of ideals, and embody the intersection between real and imagined worlds. Charles Avery’s conceptual project The Islanders exemplifies this intersection as he constructs the island as a space for imagination, cultural experimentation, and philosophical debate. Three drawings from Avery’s project are included in this show and serve to explore different aspects of his fictional island world. Imagining Islands culminates in Tacita Dean’s film installation Bubble House (1999), a work that has been central to the conception of the exhibition. The film offers a study of the failure of dreams that have been attached to islands and the subsequent nostalgia for the traces they leave behind. This will be the first time in its history that The Courtauld Gallery has presented a film projection.

Now in its sixth year, the MA Curating the Art Museum programme aims to produce the art curators of the future. The students, with diverse backgrounds and art-historical interests, have come together to form an ambitious display, shining new light on these prestigious collections.

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