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2000 The New Millennium

The send-in this year was weak even by last year’s standard, which was poor. —Anthony Green1

Catalogue Forewords are typically up-beat, even breathless endorsements of the shows they introduce; not so this year. Anthony Green, the Senior Hanger, also offered further glum reflections on the Summer Exhibition of 2000: “it’s not attracting the younger professional artists”2 was his gloomy prognosis, echoed by Peter Blake in The Times.3 The art itself tells a more optimistic story, with a notably rich showing of figurative painting in all its many varieties. The paintings displayed ranged from the constructed, mathematical perfection of Norman Blamey’s work, with a special display to mark his death that January, to the more demonstrably expressive idiom of Rose Wylie and Roy Oxlade, whose vast canvases hung in Gallery IV. Between these poles was work by the likes of Balthus, with Odalisque à la mandoline, Ansel Krut’s Death of Acteon, and a large display of Adrian Berg’s verdant paintings in the Central Hall.

Not only did the pessimism of Anthony Green’s words subvert the Introduction’s purpose as a would-be-celebratory opening, they also contrasted with the wider context of the year 2000, a date which launched innumerable capital projects to mark the dawn of the new millennium. Some of this future-focused optimism can be perceived in individual exhibits: David Tindle’s The Hidden Egg, Norman Blamey’s The Unresolved Model (Fig. 1), even Rose Wylie’s Easels and Brushes—all in one way or another hinting at a generative, creative moment that could easily be identified with the millennial transition.

Explore the 2000 catalogue

However, the most intriguing example of a work pointing to the future was to be found in the Architecture Gallery: a model for the extension of Pallant House Gallery in Chichester (Fig. 2). The extension was the work of architects Long and Kentish, as well as Colin St John Wilson in more senses than one, for it was his collection of modern British art that was to form a significant part of the museum’s modern holdings. The model won praise at the time, including the Summer Exhibition’s AJ/Bovis Grand Award, but was also remarkable in ways that weren’t immediately apparent. Within the model’s miniature gallery were miniatures of the works it would display. These had in fact been created by the artists who had made their full-scale originals: Eduardo Paolozzi, Patrick Caulfield, and Howard Hodgkin all contributed diminutive versions of their own work for the architects’ model of the Pallant House extension. This made the model a peculiar, metronomic object, employing scaled-down re-creations of existing art to map out a space for scaling-up into actuality. That process was only completed in June 2006, when the extension finally opened, and when Colin St John Wilson’s collection was actually given to the Gallery.

What is ostensibly a very practical exhibit, diagrammatic and functional in its role as architectural model, can therefore also be read as a conceptual object which speaks to the ways in which design translates intention into being. The model plays with this exchange between the imaginary and the real, in making its model artworks “authentic”: through their authorship, they cease to be mere representations of artworks and become real works in their own right. This doubling of the object and its image or representation is further complicated by the abstract idiom of the art many of them “represent”. Abstraction emphasises the picture plane: in the place of illusion conjured by devices like perspective, it reveals the work’s existence as a painted surface. So when these miniatures depict—and are—abstract works, they replay or echo the twofold qualities inherent in abstraction. They are real and representation, or depth and surface, all at once.

In this case, the sympathy between an artistic model or replica and abstraction is amplified by a historical link, too: on loan to Pallant House since 1997 has been the Model Modern Art Gallery (also known as The Thirty Four Gallery), which was commissioned by the art collector Sydney Burney in 1934. The model features miniature versions of works created by contemporary artists, including first-wave abstract work by Edward Wadsworth and Stanley William Hayter, figurative work by Tristram Hillier and Cedric Morris, and much in between. Its presence in Pallant House meant that the model on display in the Summer Exhibition—mapping out a future space which was yet to be built, also had a historical equivalent. It therefore embodied a Janus-like view, looking backwards to an object on display as well as forwards to the new gallery space.

These slightly vertiginous, Alice-in-Wonderland-ish qualities of the Pallant House model resonated with its situation in the Summer Exhibition too. The Summer Exhibition is frequently taken as a register of the art-making habits of that year, not least by the press. So a year’s Exhibition itself functions as a model of art in Britain and, increasingly, elsewhere. And one constant of the Summer Exhibition, at this point virtually a cliché, is its accommodation of domestic-scaled pictures in galleries designed with much vaster pictures in mind. Walls that would easily fit Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa display pictures that could hang above a mantelpiece. A miniature gallery placed in these grand spaces highlights the Summer Exhibition’s many dissonances of scale. In some senses, it points behind the curtain to the apparatus behind presenting work in exhibitions like this. So the model is an example of microcosm illuminating macrocosm—it is as much a device for thinking about originality, reproduction, and display as it is a scaled simulation of how the Pallant House extension would eventually look.

  1. Green interviewed by Andrew Lambirth, Royal Academy Illustrated 2000, A Selection from the 232nd Summer Exhibition.↩︎

  2. Green interviewed by Andrew Lambirth, Royal Academy Illustrated 2000, A Selection from the 232nd Summer Exhibition.↩︎

  3. “There is Little That Would Frighten the Horses”, The Times, 29 May 2000, Section 2, 4.↩︎

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Explore the 2000 catalogue