Monday 23 October 2023

Synchromy with R.B.Kitaj

Kitaj’s paintings and drawings may be strange and provocative, but they are always engaged, as Michael Ajerman finds at a new show in London. 

After almost a decade a new R.B. Kitaj exhibition rises to the surface in London. Covering over 50 years of art-making, this show at Piano Nobile is split over the gallery’s two individual large-scale spaces, divided by a brisk walk across the street. This helps organise things tremendously well. Here we have Kitaj before 1980, and after.


The show begins with Kitaj’s diptych of Francis Bacon peering at you through the diamond shaped glazing of the gallery’s door. Synchromy with F.B.- General of Hot Desire is Kitaj’s homage to his hero of bodily depictions and British (Irish) painting. Many of Kitaj’s Royal College classmates, and countless others for decades, would be inspired by Bacon. It is a painting that celebrates all of the many strengths of Kitaj’s 1960s pictures. The strange gallivanting modernist architecture used in these paintings enables him to bring a monumental feeling of space and possibility. A playset, and arena, he fills with his people, places, and ideas, realised with flat stumbled brushwork and saturated colour.

R.B. Kitaj, Synchromy with F.B. - General of hot desire 

On the left we are given Bacon looking more like WC Fields in an odd outfit that screams new money and the bad fashion choices that come with it. To the side we are given a female nude fractured into pieces, possibly Henrietta Moraes, Bacon’s friend and muse who inspired his body paintings of the time. She seems like a sphinx with a stiff rendered face, adorned with a single Michelangelo-esque female breast dipped in florescent colour, while her inner thighs and genitalia, with pubic hair, seems to reference both Courbet’s best and photographic erotica. The figures have been transplanted into an Orient Express train carriage as a bright European countryside flies by. All the while white hands, that strangely seem anything but threatening, grab for her throat.


The right-hand panel feels more like the real Bacon, a bit more intense in profile, his hidden muscular strength suggested by plump forearms exposed by a rolled-up shirt sleeve. Kitaj gives him green and yellow, comic book, x-ray vision, his superpower allows him to look through men, women, animals, and hubris. It is a solid vision of an artist who is busy seeing, thinking and dissecting everything, all at once.


Downstairs explores the many approaches to drawing that became Kitaj’s passion in the 1970s. He was no longer painstakingly making charcoal drawings onto canvas that would later be obliterated in colour for completed paintings. Drawing was now to stand on its own, working with a combination of charcoal and pastel on his porridge paper. Think of a rough yellow watercolour paper and imagine it crossed with elephant hide.

R. B. Kitaj, Marynka on Her Stomach

Comparing the Fauve nude in Synchromy to Marynka on Her Stomach is an important matter.  The diptych nude seems derived from photography creating a chilled separation. In contrast there is a quietness and a deep responsibility felt when looking at Marynka posing on a day bed. She appears confident to show her body, in full, from behind, nothing is made up here. Everything from the cushion embroidery up the inner thighs is rendered slowly. However, from the waist up the figure seems less defined, possibly to give the sensation of the figure moving through space on an awkward diagonal. There is nothing of art school life-rooms here, instead it is more about the working and trust of artist and model – decisions made between them in private.


Dominie (Dartmouth), seen in the flesh after so many years only in reproduction, does not disappoint. Kitaj’s three quarters profile of his daughter in her teen years captures an essence of her – his determination to catch the emotions and energies in her head is palpable. The upturned arm holds echoes of the mechanics of Balthus’ tonal Italian figure drawings, while the level of focus on the head and hair is touching, skilful, and the artist’s own.  

R. B. Kitaj, Dominie (Dartmouth)

In the second space coming in at around seven feet by twelve inches is the painting, The Gentile Conductor.This is the sister piece to the absent The Jewish Rider, a large painting starring writer Michael Padro as a worn passenger traveling through a beautiful countryside to visit the Death Camps after the war. With The Gentile Conductor we are given the spin off series. This painting, tall as a professional basketball player, looks sinister, yet because of its extreme slenderness, goofy. The conductor’s hat is too small for his head and fits clumsily, while his arms gesture to the side, giving the impression of being preoccupied in another train carriage. In the movie in one’s mind, the painting’s dual points of view allow us to imagine the scar faced creep in the distance, while the red velvet carriage walkway leads directly to our own feet. Kitaj puts us there, making us wonder if we have our ticket and documents deep in our pockets for inspection, or if we need to hide in the toilets to avoid the conductor for a stop or two.

R.B. Kitaj, The Gentile Conductor, 1984-85

From the 1970s on one of Kitaj’s many obsessions was ‘his Jews’. In the following decade he declared in writing that his individual Jewish diaspora art was not a movement, but rather his own club, with a membership of one. If that Groucho Marx joke is now ringing in your head, you get a gold ribbon. Furthermore, he was adamant in wanting to see a Palestinian diaspora art flourish, just as he supported the blossoming of Black American and queer art.


History has once again returned to the deep and tangled question of the Middle East with the events that have come to a head this October in Israel and Palestine. The impossible-not-to-watch television tirelessly presents interviewees avoiding questions in order to promote their own agenda. It is endless, and I along with many others, fear what is to come. Kitaj’s late painting, Arabs and Jews (After Ensor) (not in the show), has been on the back of my eyelids, I wish it would leave and it won’t. Of this painting Kitaj wrote: ‘This is my third painting called Arabs and Jews, a fight I expect will never end. This picture is based on Ensor’s painting The Fight. You may choose which is Arab and which is Jew.’ 

R. B. Kitaj, Arabs and Jews (After Ensor) [not in show]


We bring ourselves, our history, our light and dark, to life and to viewing art. We decide who is who in this painting. Are both figures on the brink of blind rage?  Who is the culprit, who is being attacked, who is in self-defence? This is a painting that is needed now more than ever – not for our own propaganda but for us to contemplate why we think the way we do. Kitaj had an unwavering belief in the two-state solution in the Middle East, something to be achieved by talking on both sides, with debate, understanding, and some well needed humour as a cushion. Let’s hope he was dead wrong about it being a fight that will never end.


Was Kitaj the most controversial easel painter? I don’t know and personally, I don’t care. We need his artwork more than ever – the hits and the misses. This exhibition holds true gems deep from the ocean. The show is on until early next year. The Central Line is the quickest way. 

Michael Ajerman

October 2023

R.B Kitaj: London to Los Angeles 

25 October 2023 – 26 January 2024 

Piano Nobile Gallery, London

Tuesday 17 October 2023

Matthias Groebel at DREI, Frieze London 2023

You can almost hear the static

The surfaces of Matthias Groebel's (b. 1958, Aachen, Germany) paintings are ultra flat, stuttering. Depicting close-up mugshots, corralled from quotidian television programmes from the late 1980s and 90s, the portrait paintings included on DREI’s Frieze London booth are strangely resonant. Picturing their protagonists in the moments before impending action, here, wide-eye facial expressions twist and contort, bruised coloured, conveying in their stiltedness something of the non-diegetic sounds used in the cinematographic industry to give shock and suspense a shallow sheen of seductiveness.

Matthias Groebel, works from Broadcast Paintings series, installed at Frieze London 2023

Coming from Groebel’s wider series of Broadcast Paintings (painted between 1989 and 2001), these faces each have a somewhat sun-bleached tone, one that casts their protagonists in a nostalgic light—or at least a soft-grain light I associate with the low-resolution screening technologies of the late 20th-century. This is not to say that Groebel’s works are sentimental or dewy. With their dulled, blotchy skin the faces pictured shine out from their mat material body (acrylic on canvas), radiating with a cold heat. In a counterintuitive way, to me, this aesthetic quality echoes something of the perceptive feel found in Dan Flavin’s neon works. That is, to me they accentuate a sense of alienation found in mass-media technologies and the numb ring of the entertainment industry. (With a focus on the maximisation of pathos, the spectacular way these industries export emotion ultimately renders their subject—perhaps wider social life—debased of actual human feel; in this type of cinematographic staging red-hot rage or cool-blue thinking, becomes nothing more than tepid corner lighting.)

Groebel’s painting process riffs on this aesthetic debasement of human emotion. Indeed, his works riff and re-screen the shallow scripting of human emotion, turning these spectacular snapshots outwards through a process of tactical machine-aided painting. Inspired by the newly available technologies of the 80s, specifically the technologies that allowed analogue images to be transferred into computer pixels, Groebel sought to push this process of transference one step further by creating a machine which allowed him to ‘paint’ these pixilated images directly onto canvas. Constructed from found photocopiers and windshield-wiper motors, this painting machine is what gives Groebel’s protagonists their sense of stuttering strangeness. Like an old-school printer, this machine can only paint with one colour at a time, meaning that the final painted images have a bleedy fuzz feel — their soft grain bruisedness.

Matthias Groebel, Untitled, 1993, acrylic on canvas, 95 × 95 cm

On his website, we can see a short video of Groebel’s machine in action. Here, following the beep, beep, tickerly tap tap of early computer start-up screens, we are able to see a flicking image and then the ambivalent arm of Groebel’s contraption as it goes about its laborious work of painting this image pixel by pixel, layer by layer. There is something trance-like in watching this machine at work; there is a sense of mystery and intrigue that hold me in suspense. Much like his completed paintings, this cropped encounter has a seductive opaqueness, something that inverts narrative exposition, highlighting the hallucinatory affect of digital image technologies on contemporaneous way of living.

Toby Upson

Tuesday 3 October 2023

Dinu Li - A Phantom's Vibe

Loosely inspired by the sleeve notes for the first Roxy Music album, William Garvin travels beyond academic art criticism, to comment on a challenging show by Dinu Li.

Photo by Jules Lister

within dimly-lit space an evocation of night markets in hong kong: the presence of pallet dollies, crates, tarpaulin emphasising the makeshift/transitory...

(where are we...?) 

sculptural assemblages punctuate a personal narrative ghosting through post-colonial aftershocks - from hong kong to blues parties in manchester's hulme/moss side. accumulations/pilings of random artefacts: abandoned wing mirrors; pom-poms;  twisted hair extensions; small model budgerigars (roll up, roll up) ~ jarring juxtapositions, the sensory/information overload of a far eastern market - or is it? 

("to all reggae lovers around the world...) 

 where are we? where was i? over the speakers a story told in music/sound system vibrations. skanking hawker intersperses extracts of chinese tribal mountain song in/amongst floating dub echoes/clatter (producers: sleepy ignota/rocksteady ray/keefe west, in collaboration with the artist) ~ also within the mix always together (a chinese love song) stephen cheng: rocksteady classic (1967) ~ mandarin vocal ~ sung in the style of chinese opera (cheng abetted by chinese-jamaican musician byron lee) drifting in & out of gallery space...

 (nunchaku dub/background)

...reverberations/displacements of history ~ chinese coolies (low paid workers) brought to work jamaican plantations after the abolition of slavery (transported in the same slave ships) ~ a subsequent history of chinese-owned recording studios helping shape the sounds of bob marley, lee "scratch" perry & augustus pablo, amongst others (search: "chinese influence on reggae", "vp records/history"...) 

Photo by Jules Lister & there, lengths of sugar cane (plantation echoes...) a preponderance of ropes (slave ship echoes...)

("he walked all the way into darkness")

nation family ~ video installation (2017), based upon the experiences of a cousin sent to work in a chinese labour camp in the 1970's (same location presently a booming domestic tourist destination) ~ recurrence of dr zhivago theme (film set against the backdrop of the russian revolution & ensuing civil war/banned in the soviet union). grainy home movie beach footage/unexpected swerve into 1970's light entertainment stylings. six dancers in spangly tops & black leggings moving to dr zhivago theme (k-tel disco revision) white(washed) background/plastic pot plants (history remade/remodelled?)  

so much to process amongst vibrant imperial reds/reconfigurations in kitschy maximalist arrays. unexpected histories/transitory, ghostly identities in our chaotic, globalised world...

William Garvin                                                                                                                             

Dinu Li, A Phantom's Vibe 
ESEA Contemporary, Manchester
July 22 – 29 October 2023 

Friday 15 September 2023

Muted Slicer Sessions

Jennifer Caroline Campbell appreciates Tenant of Culture’s cutting skills in a new show at Soft Opening


Haul (series)2023, plastic, garments, thread, ribbon

At around the age of six I had my scissor-obsession phase. I snipped and sliced my way through a mega mix of soft items: my hair, my sister’s hair, my Sindy’s hair, magazines, newspapers, bedsheets, clothes, tablecloths and cushions all fell victim. I didn’t have the nerve to slice through an unopened letter or new packaged item though. I regret this hesitation now, as I examine the meticulously sliced and over-stitched works by Tenant of Culture, currently on display as part of her solo exhibition Ladder, at Soft Opening, London. In the series Haul she has seemingly attacked unopened packages of fast fashion mail-order garments. Geometric lines cut and stitch through the plastic packets, revealing snatches of their sabotaged contents. These almost crystalline geometric formations destroy and transform in the same moment, imposing a new order that is both structure and surface. They also disrupt the divide between what is outside and what is inner, allowing a flow of quenching contamination into the sanitary vacuum. 

Haul (series), 2023, plastic, garments, thread

Unlike my childhood impulses, carried out in disobedient secrecy, Tenant of Culture knows that these destructive gestures are a public performance, to be viewed via its traces. In particular, that they will be seen under the bright and magnifying light of the art gallery, which renders each micro-decision visible and loaded. What kind of action is being performed then, and what kind of statement is being made? What is released and what passes through these newly permeable membranes? 


A rich history of garment sabotage and damage mimicry is conversed with here, including the renaissance fashion for slit-covered clothing (symbolising political alliance and hierarchy), the mid eighteenth century cutters movement and silk weavers fight for stable wages. Asking how acts of sabotage and protest can find power and voice within the tightening grip of a profit-obsessed system certainly feels poignant in the current moment. Damage-as-decoration is a complex sign to unpick in this era of increasing wealth inequality. The recent vogue for pre-damaged garments feels particularly uncanny in the hands of Satisfy, a spenny athletic clothing brand whose signature t-shirt ‘Mothtech’ has a scattering of realistic looking moth holes, ‘strategically placed for ventilation’. These punctures are of course carefully designed not to ladder or further destroy the garment. In the Mothtech t-shirt, there are no hungry moths and the damage is not a wage protest or a signal that the wearer is either poor or punk. Yet I always think there is something to a trend, something that people in a certain moment are drawn to for a reason, something trying to speak. The works in Ladder give space for me to chew on this slippery web of signs, fashion, impulse and process.  


However, for me, the power of the works in the Haul series is in the tone of its language: like a muffled scream, these works contain a compelling mix of restraint and abandon, a meticulous rashness. The act of the transforming of these common objects pulls them away from enforced replicability and towards a unique and ineffable presence. There is something both adult and angsty in the tone of this treatment. Acts of performative sabotage take on a ritualistic flavour. Rhythmic mutating gestures hold on to the visceral, while keeping things dry and neat. It makes me think about a quiet kind of fury, one that knows it must sustain itself for the long run. An awareness, that the current absurdity of the world will not let-up any time soon, produces necessity for a slow burning outrage. So the rage takes careful paths across these mass-produced, click-of-a-key-board purchases, tightening and warping them like a piercing lattice of armour. A brow knitting and re-knitting causes the furrows to delve deep and stay put. 

Haul (series), 2023, plastic, garments, thread, ribbon


Some of the folds and cuts in Haul are garnished with ribbons or rivets, lending an aura of elegant certainty, so that these new forms convince me that they are the true forms. Proud and posing in their changed state, they quietly delight in the specificity that the world never meant them to have. 


Jennifer Caroline Campbell


Tenant of Culture, Ladder

Soft Opening,  6 Minerva Street, London EC2

8 September - 21 October 2023

Friday 7 July 2023

Star Gazing in the City

Alex Michon spends an astrologically themed afternoon in London visiting ‘Yevonde: Life and Colour’ at the National Portrait Gallery and Wes Anderson’s ‘Asteroid City’ at the Garden Cinema.

Asteroid City (Wes Anderson, 2023); Yvonde, Lady Glendovan, 1936

When I saw Madame Yevonde’s photograph of Lady Glendevon at the National Portrait Gallery I literally gasped, bewitched by its breathtaking beauty. The exhibition: Yevonde: Life and Colour is the most comprehensive to date of the British photographer, Yevonde Middleton (1893-1975) who signed her work simply as Yevonde but was also known as ‘Madame Yevonde’. Having been an ardent suffragette, Yevonde was a pioneer, a celebrated portraitist, innovative colourist and advocate for women in the profession. She championed the use of colour photography and was the first person in Britain to exhibit colour photography.


In contrast to some of the more sumptuously coloured photographs in this exhibition, the Lady Glendevon photograph is relatively subtle. It was this understated quality that I found so appealing; the inky, lilac greyish fading sky with its am-dram stuck on stars backdrop, mirrored in the pinky white camellias on our Lady’s dress as she strikes her pose. Perfectly coiffured, be-pearled, exquisitely manicured, and sporting Hollywood glamour makeup, she stares thoughtfully at a half-glimpsed globe. Perhaps she is regretfully anticipating the inevitable decline of the British Empire? 

Yvonde, Lord and Lady Mountbatten, 1937

There is no escaping the fact that many of these photographs are portraits of white upper-class privileged aristocracy. Lord and Lady Mountbatten were considered to be the most beautiful couple in England when they married in 1922. In Yevonde’s portrait, Lord Mountbatten is shown gazing smugly at his beautiful wife as if she were just one more bauble on his overblown tasselled, silver-starred and robed regalia. But here too there are subtle small gold stars bedecking the theatrical curtains used as a backdrop which undermine the puffed-up finery on show. 


However, there is so much more to Yevonde’s work than portraits of the posh. There are a stunning series of surrealist images from her 'Goddess' series which have a beguiling Jean Cocteauesque theatricality. This otherworldliness echos the words of the film director Wes Anderson who in describing his methodology said: ‘the kind of movie that I like to make is where there is an invented reality and the audience is going to go someplace where hopefully they've never been before. The details, that's what the world is made of.’

Yvonde: Lady Bridget Poulett as ArethusaEileen Hunter (Mrs Ward) as Dido; Baroness Gagern as Europa

Anderson and Yevonde share this love of the creation of an otherworldly universe and this correlation is what struck me when I went on to watch Asteroid City. Coincidentally, Tilda Swinton who plays Dr Hinkerlooper, a scientist at a local observatory in Anderson’s film, is a collector of Yevonde’s work. 


Set in the 1950s, Asteroid City features a series of behind-the scenes sequences in black and white, presenting a theatre troupe on the East Coast rehearsing a play called Asteroid City which tells the story of how people are intrigued by the fact that an asteroid has fallen to earth. As we go on to see the various acts of the play, the film bursts into colour. 


The film is a loving, detailed homage to 50s Americana and is full of symmetrical close ups, saturated colour and impeccable costume and set design. Anderson’s films have been criticised as being style over substance. But if, like me you are partial to style, colour, inventive quirkiness and a singular vision, then Yvonde’s Life in Colour and Anderson’s Asteroid City are the places to head to. 

Alex Michon

July 2023

Asteroid City (2023)

Yevonde: Life and Colour 

National Portrait Gallery, London 

until 15 October 2023


Asteroid City is currently on general release

Wednesday 21 June 2023

The Divine DIVA

The big summer exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum covers a lot of bases but fails to delve below the surface glitz. Cathy Lomax basks in the glow of the glamour


Marilyn Monroe projected on the ceiling of the Victoria and Albert Museum above the DIVA exhibition

DIVA begins (naturally) with ‘Act One’ in which the scene is set by two white marble portrait busts of Juno and nineteenth century opera star Adelina Patti. This poetic start neatly leads us to French writer and critic Théophile Gautier who first described the female opera singer as a diva (the Latin word for goddess) as he considered her talent to have been divinely bestowed. Although today's diva still has the heavenly looks the term has expanded and now denotes a flamboyant performer who is also what we might call a prima donna.


Hollywood costumes as worn by Judy Garland, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford

I think I first became aware of the term when the film Diva (1981) was released and as I understood it, it described a highly strung, temperamental opera singer. In the DIVA exhibition opera swiftly gives way to theatre with Sarah Bernhardt and Ellen Terry effectively trailing my favourite section – Hollywood stars. There is some pure gold here with representation from the early days of cinema through to Elizabeth Taylor’s turn in Cleopatra in the 1960s. The film costumes on display are quite spectacular in terms of their importance to film history with this classical Hollywood fan practically swooning at Joan Crawford's Mildred Pierce dress, Bette Davis' satiny All About Eve ensemble and Marilyn Monroe's little black Some Like it Hot dress (other costumes on display include those worn by Clara Bow, Josephine Baker, Theda Bara, Mary Pickford, Carole Lombard, Judy Garland, Vivien Leigh and Mae West). Many of the costumes are brought to life by photographs and well selected film clips. Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra commanding Richard Burton’s Marc Anthony to kneel before her is perfect high camp! Beyond the visual delights the complicated tussle between the exploitation and agency of stars (and women in Hollywood more generally) is suggested in accompanying texts but this is never quite explored thoroughly or argued convincingly. 


Cleopatra (1962)

A note here about the audio guide which rather than the usual dull and user-unfriendly offering was cleverly broadcast from a set of headphones that sit above the ears and respond automatically to exhibits providing musical and film sound accompaniment rather than wordy (often tedious) explanations. This soundtrack propelled me through the exhibition and helped to smooth over some of the more clunkily and tenuous inclusions of the chosen cast of mostly female stars. 

Bob Mackie talks Cher


Upstairs in ‘Act Two’ the emphasis is on ‘the diva today’ and it is musical stars (of all genders) that dominate. Alongside Beyonce, Rihanna and Lady Gaga, there is a stunning centrepiece featuring some of Cher’s figure-hugging bespangled outfits designed by Bob Mackie. It was only after circling the exhibit that I realised that the dapper elderly gentleman being interviewed was Mr Mackie himself! 

The austere Edith Piaff exhibit

I am not any clearer about what exactly it is that the exhibition defines as a diva – profiles of performers as disparate as Nina Simone, Siouxsie Sioux, Edith Piaff, Elton John, Sade, Ella Fitzgerald, Janelle Monáe, Prince, Kate Bush and PJ Harvey are closely clustered together. Is a diva a show off? Or maybe a successful entertainer who likes dressing up? The press release describes the ‘Act Two’ divas as reclaiming the title and using it as ‘an expression of their art, voice, and sense of self’. But surely Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald made a living singing and their emphasis was on music rather than image. I suspect the pull will be the contemporary ‘divas’ with their Met Gala outfits who in effect operate as successful business people rather than artists per se. Rihanna, we are told, is the wealthiest female musician in the world with her $1.7 billion fortune mainly built through her 'suite of companies'. But there are efforts to link these contemporary divas with their Hollywood counterparts. Such as a 2017 sketch of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty makeup which recalls a caption describing Mary Pickford’s makeup line of the 1930s which is displayed alongside her makeup case in Act One. And of course Elizabeth Taylor demanded and received a $1 million dollar fee to play Cleopatra, which made her the highest earning performer in Hollywood history. So maybe little has changed!

Sketches for Rihanna's Fenty Beauty makeup, 2017

Mary Pickford's makeup case, circa 1938


There is a lot to enjoy here but it is only a very brief introduction to the style and careers of the very many talented people represented. Maybe more of a focus on a particular era, or a reduced list of featured artists, would have made for a better exhibition? As it is the diva premise feels a little woolly (film director Lois Weber may have been a female pioneer in early Hollywood but not sure why she is a diva) and this is really a mere introduction to these magnificent performers with extra work from the viewer essential to fill in the details of their dazzling and fascinating careers. 

Cathy Lomax

June 2023


Victoria and Albert Museum


24 June 2023 – 24 June 2023

Tuesday 20 June 2023

The Folly of Follies: The Wedding Cake at Waddesdon

Rosemary Cronin indulges her inner child by climbing into Joana Vasconcelos' giant ceramic wedding cake at Waddesdon Manor 

Do you remember the first artwork that captured your imagination when you were a child? I have a few, but a really vivid memory is seeing Karl Lagerfeld for Dior’s Piano Key cocktail dress in the Victoria & Albert Museum. I think I must have been eight years old, and every half term my mother would take me up to London and we would see things that would just fill my little heart and mind with delight. But that dress really made my imagination take flight… I imagined who might wear it, an elegant beautiful woman at the best party in Paris, drinking champagne and falling in love – I was eight years old remember! Young and naive I didn't realise that the dress has rarely been worn, and probably went straight from catwalk to the vitrine in the museum, or even worse storage.


Imagine then, if you can in this hyper virtual world, being taken as a child today to a 12-meter-tall, ceramic, wedding cake building that you can climb up! One made up of edible colours like pink blancmange, baby blue icing and yellow fondant, with fibre optics that light up at night! And this cake building of wonder is on a fairy-tale-like 1800s manor estate surrounded by forests, fountains and a rather spectacular aviary. Surely you would be captivated and spellbound, and in a feeling akin to a sugar rush – a little delirious ?!


Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos has found in Lord Rothschild, in her own words, ‘someone who is as eccentric as me, and someone that can believe has high and wild as me’. Together over the last five years they have created ‘impossible dreams, impossible artworks – we all have them!’ and whilst they flippantly referred to Wedding Cake as a folly of follies, it actually feels like something far more special and magical than most people could dream of. Seeing them talk together was a beautiful moment, a friendship of two souls that have made magic together and have clearly found a solution to any problem that may have arisen in making this spectacular installation.


Waddesdon Manor with its treasure box of artwork, jewels and precious furniture pieces, with Wedding Cake has added : ‘a temple for people to be happy and to have a moment that they will never forget’. If you haven’t been to Waddesdon then I thoroughly recommend a summer sojourn to the estate to see both Wedding Cake and Mia Jackson’s curation of the Rothschild Treasury – a truly wondrous display of more than 300 objects made from rare and precious materials. 

Rothschild and Vasconcelos’ triumphant partnership proves that fairy tales can come true, and are even available to the public to enjoy!

Rosemary Cronin

June 2023

Visit Joana Vasconcelos: Wedding Cake at Waddesdon Manor until 26 October 2023

Waddesdon Manor


Buckinghamshire HP18 0JH