Sunday, 7 September 2014

Government Art Collection with London Historians - 13th August 2014

Peas Are the New Beans
Bob & Roberta Smith 1999
vinyl paint on wood panel
Another excellent outing with London Historians with more than a touch of the magical mystery tour to locate the collection tucked away off the main thoroughfare of Tottenham Court Road. The entrance  is in an architecturally interesting courtyard surrounded by a well maintained 1930's office block all beautiful bright and white.  Of course I cannot give you the exact location or I will have to kill you!

The security was very strict as one signed for all! Security at reception insisted that NO photographs be taken (unless a member of staff was present?) as he would know by a special monitor on his phone. We all agreed we would switch our phones off and keep them in our bags. I have a feeling he was joking - but not sure...

We were greeted by Clive Marks who asked us to make oursevels comfortable on a series of sofas whilst he made gave us an introduction. The collection consists of over 13,500 works of art spanning five centuries, the Government Art Collection is the largest most dispersed colleciton of British Art in the world. Two thirds of the works are on display in British Government buildings in nearly every capital city, placed in offices and official residences.  The idea of course is to promote British art and histroy while contributing to cultural diplomacy.

Tacita Dean's work was hung at HM Treasury. A photoset of six pieces.

The works are placed in locations with which they have a direct historical, geographical or cultural connection, for example Jazz Singers by Edward Burra has been displayed in New York City and I What What My Heroes Think of the Space Race by Derek Boshier has been displayed in the embassy in Moscow (the painting refers to the 1961 flight by Russion cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin).


Reflection by Bridget Riley (1982)
The painting hung in Cairo at the Embassy
BR influenced by wall paintings in the dark tombs of Luxor

There is always a small exhibition of current interest, presently there are paintings and prints dating to World War I and this is where we started. There was a scrabble for the phones when Clive granted us permission to take photographs (not me you will notice due to lack of pictures here), with the usual copyright provisos and no flash. All the majority of works are available to view on the web site.

We went into the storage stacks and were like kids in a candy shop. Clive pulled out the stacks on request and half us would be on one side as he moved it out, exclaiming in delight and awe what we saw, whilst an 'echo' of our exclamations came back to us from the other side. A relay of moving people from one side to another as we worked our way through the art - portrait, landscape, seascape, abstract, prints, photography, installations;  all shapes and sizes - miniature, huge, small, frames with crowns, frames without, no frames, textiles, on and on it went!  We even managed to get into the sculpture store where I came up close to a Calder mobile (the hangind type not phone!) Great shapes and Cubist palette.  Then on to the Receiving and Despatch room with an ever changing scene as paintings arrive and/or despatched to far off places.

There was a policy tocommission art but this is currently on hold. Nothing is sold, and purchases when they happen are through art dealers. There is strong drive to keep the collection up to date with current artistic trends as and when they can.  The collection is not insured as it is priceless and irreplaceable, but security is obviously high.

By the end of the visit we felt that it would be an excellent idea if the GAC could be available to the public on a say, three weekly loan basis, we come in borrow a work of art and bring it back for another. If only!  Open House features the GAC but sadly it is fully booked. You can book groups and there is a plan to open at lunch times for a 1 hour tour. So keep an eye on the web site, it is worth the time and the effort to visit this outstanding collection.

The War Office
The War Office c 1918 by William Monk (1863-1937)
etching - purchased 1978 GAC 13696
By kind permission of GAC

This print featured in the exhibition of WWI art the GAC, it really is quite beautiful in its detail of the neo-Baroque building on Horseguards Avenue, Whitehall, the London home of the War Office between 1906 and 1963. The night time scene and the silhouette of horse-drawn carriages in front of the building from which powerful searchlights shoot upwards into the night sky create an atmospheric war time view.

Apologies for lack of photographs I really did not know where to begin.


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  2. The most remarkable thing about this collection is that it has been visited in person by every Prime Minister and member of the Cabinet in living memory. The choice of something for your new office can't be delegated to your secretary. Talking about a painting is a wonderful ice-breaker and you don't want to be flummoxed when your Presidential visitor admires the artwork above your desk.

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