LONDON – The world may never learn the truth about the mysterious death in 1962 of Marilyn Monroe, but there is no question that the screen goddess lives on in the popular memory on both sides of the Atlantic.
Who better, then, than Miss Monroe to help The American Museum in Britain celebrate its bi-centenary in 2011. Anyone who hasn’t yet made the trip to Claverton Manor, the early nineteenth-century country house outside Bath that has been home to the American Museum since it was founded in 1961, will have very good reason to do so in 2011. Two major exhibitions — ‘Marilyn: Hollywood Icon‘ and ‘Fab@50: 1961-2011’ will celebrate the fifty successful years since the museum was founded by two expatriate Americans, Dallas Pratt (1914-1994), a psychiatrist, and John Judkyn (1913-1963), a dealer in English antiques.
Particularly rich in American folk art, Shaker furniture, decorative arts, early American maps, and one of the world’s finest collections of quilts, The American Museum in Britain also fulfills an invaluable educational mission in informing visitors about the cultural history of the United States.
However, while cigar store Indians, Grandma Moses and Philadelphia highboys have proved perfectly capable of drawing the crowds over the past fifty years, it was decided that a rather more statuesque icon was needed to add a touch of sparkle and celebrity glamour to the Museum’s 50th anniversary. Enter Norma Jeane Mortenson, aka Marilyn, who despite being $35,000 in debt when she died nevertheless bequeathed costumes and other memorabilia that has grown significantly in value ever since.
Most of the Marilyn material has been loaned to The American Museum in Britain by David Gainsborough Roberts, whose collection of the Hollywood icon’s gowns, original photographs, posters, and personal items is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Included will be the twinkling, sequinned, split-skirt gown Marilyn wore in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (1953) and the pink ‘wiggle dress’ from ‘Niagara’ (1953) that helped establish the star’s ‘Blonde Bombshell’ image. After seeing the movie, the actress Constance Bennet was heard to quip, “There’s a broad with her future behind her.”
While Marilyn’s memorabilia is sure to pull the crowds to Claverton, other attractions, albeit of a rather more sober nature, await the visitor. Those interested in early photography will appreciate the collection of powerful images of early North American Indians, including works by Frank Albert Rhinehart (1861-1928), while few other museums in the UK can offer an eclectic display that embraces everything from nineteenth-century vernacular wood carvings from New Mexico to mid-twentieth century poster art by Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954).
By November, the UK had already seen its fair share of snow, which normally arrives here in late January, February or March. Given how it can wreak havoc on the transport system, with many airports often forced to close, art and antique dealers will be hoping that we’ve seen the worst of it, particularly with some important events on the near horizon. Among the forthcoming attractions is London Art Fair at the Business Design Centre in Islington from 19 to 23 January, always a popular event with the general public, while elsewhere in town in January, the Fleming Collection — the London home of Scottish art — will be staging an exhibition of truly international contemporary art…but with a Scottish twist.
As its name suggests, the Glenfiddich Artists in Residence programme is an initiative devised by the famous Scottish whisky company William Grant & Sons, who own the Glenfiddich brand. Since 2002, they have been inviting artists from around the world to come and make art at their Speyside location in Scotland. Some 70 artists from 26 different countries have participated in the scheme and now a selection of works will go on display at the Fleming Collection at 13 Berkeley Street, London W1, from 25 January to 26 February under the apt title ‘The Spirit of the Highlands’.
Although the majority of works are by Scottish artists, the Residency’s international flavour is clear from the inclusion of such talented artists as New York-based American painter Michael Sanzone and Beijing-based Qi Xing. Both these painters’ oblique takes on Scottish themes reveal that despite the traditional nature of the Scottish whisky company which sponsored the residency, the art it inspired was anything but.
Turning from painting to sculpture, Robert Bowman, one of London’s most prestigious dealers in modern and contemporary sculpture, is holding an exhibition of Modern British works at his showrooms at 34 Duke Street, St. James’s from 28 January to 7 April. The show has been scheduled to coincide with a major exhibition of twentieth-century British Sculpture at the Royal Academy of Arts in January and February. Early press releases from the Royal Academy show reveal it to be attempting a deliberately provocative survey that ill be as notable for what it excludes as for what it includes.
Such strategies can only be good news to those very few London dealers, Robert Bowman among them, who are capable of sourcing a sufficiently broad range of high quality objects to match the kind of works that will be on display at the Royal Academy a short distance away. Star objects at Mr Bowman’s exhibition include a superb, vigorous portrait bust of Albert Einstein by Sir Jacob Epstein, dating from 1933, and Horse and Rider by Dame Elisabeth Frink (1930-1992). While the Royal Academy’s curators may choose to ignore the ‘Geometry of Fear’ sculptors such as Lynn Chadwick and Kenneth Armitage, fine examples of work by Chadwick will be on view at Osborne Samuel in Bruton Street and by Armitage at Robert Bowman.
Increasingly, major museum exhibitions are providing a valuable fulcrum for the London trade. The major exhibition of the work of British ‘Op-Art’ painter Bridget Riley, on view at the National Gallery until 22 May, and the forthcoming Royal Academy sculpture show, have prompted enterprising London dealers into staging coordinated exhibitions of related work. The continuing strength of the market for Modern British sculpture at auction — despite the prevailing recessionary gloom — augurs well for London dealers exhibiting in January.
All that is required now is for the weather to improve.
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