When: 30th June – 30th September 2018
Where: Compton Verney, Warwickshire CV35 9HZ
£: Day tickets cost £15 for adults, £5 for children and £33 for a family
What is it?
Roll up, roll up for Compton Verney’s Marvellous Mechanical Museum! This new event at the Warwickshire art gallery will offer a rare opportunity for visitors to see an exhibition devoted to kinetic art and the history of automata.
The Marvellous Mechanical Museum will reimagine the spectacular automata exhibitions of the 18th century and invite us to step into a world which explores the boundaries of what is lifelike and what is alive; a place where artists, inventors and engineers collide.
The exhibition traces the history of the early automata shows and androids, alongside work by contemporary artists; much of which has never been exhibited publicly before or has been created especially for the show. Appropriately, the exhibition coincides with the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
The concept of automata – a Latin word derived from the Greek phrase for ‘acting of one’s own will’ – can be traced back over 2,500 years. The Marvellous Mechanical Museum will include 57 works, dating from 1625 to the present day, which will – quite literally – come to life before your very eyes. The show will include loans from across the UK, including from the British Museum, the V&A and the Royal Collection. The smallest piece is an intricate Fabergé elephant that stands just 4cm tall; the largest is a 15 metre long exhibit, A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley by Walt Disney collaborator and famed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang designer Rowland Emett OBE. Emett created A Quiet Afternoon in response to Dr Beeching’s infamous railway branch line closures.
In the 18th century, clockmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz with his son Henri-Louis and Jean-Frédéric Leschot, made a trio of automatons: The Musician, The Draughtsman and The Writer. When first exhibited in 1775, these creations sparked a golden age of automata which lasted two centuries. It is believed that Mary Shelley may have visited the Jaquet-Droz androids on her tour of Europe two years before she wrote Frankenstein. A rare British Museum print of the automata will be on show, as will the Bodleian Library’s collection of promotional material for a number of Georgian android exhibitions.
London-based Taiwanese artist Ting-Tong Chang, whose work is a mixture of robotics, taxidermy, electronics and sound, will be challenging and exploring the realms of digital possibility. Peng’s Journey into Southern Darkness (2016) is a taxidermy crow that has been intricately engineered to recite rejection letters the artist has received during his career. Chang is also recreating a symbolic version of Jacques de Vaucanson’s Digesting Duck of 1739, which appeared to be able to eat, metabolise and excrete grain, and has also created a mesmerising response to the Frankenstein legacy.
18th century dandy John Joseph Merlin, enjoyed nothing more than dressing up as a waitress and careening about on roller-skates at parties in order to promote the automata he was creating to wow London society. One of his most famous creations was The Silver Dancer, which was once owned by none other than Charles Babbage but is now sadly lost. For The Marvellous Mechanical Museum it will be recreated for visitors by Fire the Inventor and displayed alongside material related to Merlin from the Bodleian Library.
Paul Spooner’s contemporary automata organ, which pays homage to the 1907 painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, pays tribute to women in art and history. The characters of Picasso’s original paintings come to life and move around Manet’s Olympia; Joan of Arc is surrounded by wafting flames; Margaret Thatcher pops in and out, stealing a milk bottle.
The exhibition also celebrates German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann’s uncanny short story The Sandman (1816), which explores an ill-fated love affair between a man and a clockwork doll. Taking this story as his inspiration, illustrator Stuart Patience has in turn created a series of new works for the exhibition.
Introducing a slightly more sinister tone to the exhibition, will be Tim Lewis’ Crimson Prince, a four-metre high creation of a moving hand that suggests technology is poised to take over; as well as a new work by artist Harrison Pearce, whose practice references philosophical ideas about the mind, language and human experience in the context of new technologies and post digital cultures.
Running concurrently with The Marvellous Mechanical Museum, will be Rodney Peppé’s World of Invention. Peppé’s career as a toy, automaton and model-maker, children’s author and illustrator, creator of children’s TV series, and graphic designer and artist, promises plenty of wonderful things to see.
Often creating amazing models from household rubbish and recycled materials, Peppé’s gentle sense of humour and huge imagination will transport visitors of all ages to a magical world where an old boot can become a mansion for mice, a tin kettle transforms into a pirate ship, and a simple basket can take to the air as an ingenious flying machine.
Compton Verney is an award-winning, national art gallery in Warwickshire, based in a Grade I-listed Georgian mansion and set in 120 acres of Grade II-listed Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown parkland. With six permanent collections (Naples, Northern European Art 1450-1650, British Portraits, Chinese, British Folk Art & The Marx-Lambert Collection) and a schedule of thought-provoking changing exhibitions and events, it is an accredited museum, a registered charity, and the Chinese collection is nationally designated.
More info: www.comptonverney.org.uk