Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Face2Face In The Dining Room

Torquay's historic Torre Abbey hosts Face2Face an exhibition of contemporary portraits. The newcomers, who are keeping company with the likes of Admiral Nelson and King George III, are causing a bit of a ruckus.

Richard Billingham, Untitled (RAL 49), 1995
Sarah Lucas, Eating A Banana from self portrait series, 1990-98

Torre Abbey sits on the seafront with the air of a country house, an historical document in stone with new additions of brick and glass. The permanent collection within befits the building and Face2Face, an exhibition of portraits curated by the Arts Council, has been introduced to converse with the masters. It is the type of show I like, old paintings alongside the new in an historical setting.

Bruce Bernard, Sue Tilly Posing In Lucien Freud's Studio, 1995

There seems to be a theme in the Carey dinning room, the women above the doorways are: Sue Tilly posing in Freud’s studio, Sarah Lucas eating a banana and sitting on a toilet and the beaming face of Richard Billingham's Mum. They all glance down at the viewer from high above the exit signs. They pass a certain kind of judgment, watching and asking the viewer to take care, look at everything, go back in time

I think that’s what I like about the mix of more contemporary pieces with master era works. The newer works ask us to think about the past, remind us of our own mortality, ‘look see, this is what went before, this is what will become of us as we slip into the past as well.’ A bit morbid I know, but it’s the new that brings the old alive in shows like this.

Sarah Lucas, Human Toilet Revisited from self portrait series, 1990-8

Of course Torre Abbey has its own large collection and permanent displays. In the dining room there is a real life (recorded) conversation going on. Talking heads glow upwards from dinner plates around the table as we are treated to a discussion between dinner guests including Nelson and King George III. The contemporary portraits in the room are distracted within their own worlds. Only half listening, they seem like visitors too. 

The Carey Dining Room, Torre Abbey

There is an element of the magical mystery tour about it, but hunting around to find the works from the arts council collection adds to the charm of Face2Face. And this exhibition is not without its edge. Some of these works are sharp, and threaten the serenity of the Abbey's collection, now so comfortable in its own skin. Here it enjoys somewhat of a shake up, but i think the permanent collection is robust enough to endure a bit more shaking.

Marc Quinn, Template For My Future Plastic Surgery 1992, 
Steve Johnston, Punk Portrait, 1970-77, 
Willian Strang, The Red Cap, 1920

Corinna Spencer

8 July - 3 September 2017
Torre Abbey

Bruce Bernard, Richard Billingham, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Monya Flannigan, Alasdair Gray, Iain Hetherington, David Hockney, Lucy Hutchinson, Paul Joyce, Sam Taylor – Johnson, Steve Johnston, Chris Kilip, Michael Landy, Sarah Lucas, Marc Quinn, Derek Ridgers, Sam Taylor – Johnson, Bettina Von Zwehl, Lala Meredith-Vula, Mark Wallinger.

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