New exhibition features five centuries of art and displays major new acquisitions for the first time

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New exhibition features five centuries of art and displays major new acquisitions for the first time
Thomas Jones, The Bard, 1774. © Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales.

CARDIFF.- In a brand-new exhibition, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales takes a bold approach to displaying its art collections at National Museum Cardiff as it opens The Rules of Art? (runs through 16 April 2023).

In the most ambitious large scale, cross century art exhibitions in the museum’s history the exhibition explores new relationships between art pieces from the national collection and ask pressing questions about representation, identity and the environment in which we live.

The exhibition brings together five centuries of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, film and ceramic and feature work from artists such as Rembrandt, Thomas Jones, Pablo Picasso, Gwen John, Bedwyr Williams, Helen Sear, Rachel Whiteread and Clare Woods. The Rules of Art? also unveils a series of major new acquisitions by John Akomfrah (2017 winner of Artes Mundi 7), Caroline Walker, Zoe Preece (winner of the National Eisteddfod Craft and Design Gold Medal Award in 2018), and Simon Ling.

Works are displayed thematically around the hierarchy of genres, first introduced by the French Academy in the 17th century. These are: History Painting, Portrait, Scenes of Everyday Life, Landscape and Still Life.

The Rules of Art? questions this hierarchy and the social and political power it underpinned by showcasing art in eclectic groupings from across Amgueddfa Cymru’s rich historic, modern, and contemporary art collections.

Key pieces from the national collection in the exhibition include ‘The Bard’ by Thomas Jones; ‘In the House of my Father’ by Donald Rodney; a newly restored ‘Spring’ by Maximilian Lenz and; ‘Untitled (History)’, a sculpture by contemporary artist Rachel Whiteread. Rodney’s moving photograph highlights the fragility of life, Black identity and generational inheritance, a reflection on his battle with sickle cell anaemia.

A key piece loaned to the museum for display in The Rules of Art? is ‘David Nott Interview’ by artist Bob and Roberta Smith – a five-metre-high transcript of a conversation between Welsh consultant surgeon David Nott and broadcaster Eddie Mair where he recounted the harrowing experience of working in war-torn Syria.

Neil Lebeter, Senior Curator, Modern & Contemporary Art at Amgueddfa Cymru is responsible for the exhibition. Neil said, “This exhibition is about celebrating Wales’ national collection of art, one of the finest in Europe. It also seeks to open up questions around the structures that exist within art that have shaped our collection over the last century. These ‘rules’ have impacted the way artists worked – be it swimming with or against the current – and how Museums have collected and displayed their work. Amgueddfa Cymru is an important part of that story, and our collections are a mirror of that history. Our collection is one of representation, but also of absence.

“Many of the exhibition’s artworks have never been shown together before. At its heart, this is a really exciting experiment that will introduce new relationships across the centuries, whilst highlighting some of the contemporary social issues faced today. We often think of art in distinct and separate blocks of time. This exhibition is about throwing that idea out the window and seeing what happens; it is the start of a conversation, rather than the end of one.”

Dr Kath Davies, Director of Collections and Research at Amgueddfa Cymru, said, “This exhibition is an eclectic showcase of Wales’ national collection of art, exhibiting it in a new and exciting way. Visitors will see some of their favourite works in new contexts, alongside recently conserved paintings and some significant new acquisitions. Amgueddfa Cymru’s contemporary collecting underpins our existing collection and we hope that The Rules or Art? highlights that continuity, whilst asking our audiences to interrogate those ‘rules’ and the exhibition itself.

“We’re extremely grateful to all of our partners and funders, in particular the Derek Williams Trust, Art Fund, Contemporary Art Society for Wales, Contemporary Art Society and Colwinston Charitable Trust, who we have worked with over the past few years to bring such amazing artwork into public ownership for us all to enjoy. We would also like to thank the Gwendoline and Margaret Davies Charity and The Gibbs Charitable Trust for their support with this project.”

To complement the exhibition, the museum has been working with artists, writers and young people to create a series of podcasts. The podcasts will dissect the themes of the exhibition and explore individual artwork and their connections to them.

Amgueddfa Cymru will also produce films that will be features on social media and on the museum’s website. The films will feature interviews with the museum’s art curators and artists and will explain a little more about the concepts and themes of the exhibition.

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