Marc Quinn: ‘Great art is emotional time travel’

All About Love - Untrimmed, Soane Corridor. Courtesy of Marc Quinn

All About Love - Untrimmed, Soane Corridor. Courtesy of Marc Quinn - Credit: Archant

BRIDGET GALTON discovers how Marc Quinn’s contemporary sculptures create a dialogue with Sir John Soane Museum’s classical antiquities

All About Love - Breathe, Soane South Drawing Room. Courtesy of Marc Quinn

All About Love - Breathe, Soane South Drawing Room. Courtesy of Marc Quinn - Credit: Archant

It was during a dinner at Sir John Soane’s Museum that artist Marc Quinn got the idea for an exhibition.

Every nook and cranny of the house at 13 Lincolns Inn Fields is filled with Soane’s priceless collection of books, paintings, and classical antiquities – many of them incomplete statues or fragments of friezes, capitals and cornices from ancient buildings.

The 53-year-old takes up this theme in 12 ethereal fibreglass sculptures of his disembodied arms clutching the nude body of his muse and partner Jenny Bastet.

Placed in arresting locations around the house, they use the iconography of historical artefacts to echo the treasures around them in a way that curators say aids our understanding of the contemporary world.

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Quinn, who lived for years in Primrose Hill with ex wife Georgia Byng, said the work “explores the notion of the fragment, and set in the extraordinary surroundings of Sir John Soane’s Museum their reflecting of history will be apparent. These sculptures build on my longstanding interest in refracting the language of classical art to make it relevant to contemporary culture.”

Like Soane, Quinn is a collector whose work draws on the ephemera and objects with which he fills his Clerkenwell studio.

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Part of the YBA group who shook up British art in the 90s, he is famed for monumental works such as Alison Lapper Pregnant, and autobiographical, biological sculptures like Self, a bust created out of his frozen blood, and Lucas made from his son’s placenta and umbilical chord.

Soane Museum senior curator Owen Hopkins said the life casts also pushed the body to its limits, requiring Quinn and Bastet to hold tricky poses for long periods.

All About Love - Hot, Soane Monks Parlous. Courtesy of Marc Quinn

All About Love - Hot, Soane Monks Parlous. Courtesy of Marc Quinn - Credit: Archant

“It was a drawn out process which meant Marc and Jenny holding each other covered in a pink silicon dental gel.”

Technicians then built a plaster case around the couple to embed the body shape and in the catalogue Quinn comments that Bastet fainted several times under the weight of the cast and the pressure to stay still.

“It recreates the skin surface detail in an astonishingly naturalistic way and gives a quality of transient movement and fluidity,” adds Hopkins.

In the catalogue Quinn adds that: “An artwork has its own life once it leaves its creators hands and even more so once it leaves it’s creator’s time. It’s valuable to subsequent generations depending on its resonances with the world so a great work of art is always in the present. The fact we are doing this proves that the Soane Museum is still in the present moment.”

He draws a distinction between a work of art and an artefact like a bit of old pottery which is: “something that tells you about the past time but doesn’t tell you about the current time. Great art is time travel, emotional time travel and the Soane is a great example. The museum will affect the feeling of my works and my works will affect the feeling of the museum.”

Hopkins adds that Quinn’s sculptures are an “almost solid fragment” with “ambiguous detail some smooth some rough from the casting, that can evoke the past but point to a future completion.”

An architect and professor of architecture, Soane arranged his extensive collection so that students could learn from them. In 1833 he negotiated an Act of Parliament to preserve the house and collection intact after his death in 1837.

Bruce Boucher, who lives in Belsize Park took over his “dream job”as museum director last May.

Marc Quinn

Marc Quinn - Credit: Archant

He hopes the exhibition will be the first of several collaborations with artists musicians and creatives “to fulfil what we think of as John Soane’s legacy”.

“This was contemporary art in 1837, Soane invested heavily in modern British art and promoted artists like Turner. He created what he referred to as an Academy of the Arts and wanted pupils to come here, see the collection, be inspired by it and create something new.”

The former UCL Art History professor said for enlightenment artists fragments of classical antiquities represented an “evocation of a lost past.”

“Contemporary artists make wonderful interlocutors with our collection as a way of looking afresh at what Soane has put together in what Marc Quinn calls an ongoing work of art.”

Following a £7 million fundraising campaign over the past seven years the museum has been extensively restored with previously closed spaces opened for visitors. Museum directors hope to boost the 120,000 visitors a year and continue their programme of working with Camden schools, introducing children to architecture and the built environment.

The exhition runs until September 23. Marc Quinn in conversation with psychoanalyst Darian Leader on May 17 at the Royal College of Surgeons.

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