We are delighted to present Stephen Farthing's Museums of the World, a collection of 19 paintings produced between 2015-2017, by Royal Academy Exhibitions Committee Chairman Stephen Farthing RA, of the interiors of public and private museums around the world. They were inspired by his involvement with British museums including the Royal Academy and the Ashmolean and by years of travelling the world as the husband of an American diplomat. The work combines a probing look at the history of collecting while painted with Farthing's usual good humour.
The first two weeks of the exhibition was split across two venues – the Candida Stevens Gallery in Chichester and the rarely accessed private museum of art collector, Simon Draper. The former Chairman of the Virgin Music group built Manor Place Museum close by his West Sussex country home, Monkton House, to display his collection of works by artists such as Howard Hodgkin, Richard Hamilton, Bridget Riley and Patrick Caulfield. This made for an interesting dialogue about the importance of the Collector, the Collection and the formation of museums.
Charles Saumarez Smith, Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Arts, introduces the catalogue for the exhibition, writing: “The works demonstrate Stephen’s worldliness, his ability to travel in the imagination, his knowledge of the conditions of art display, and the contrasts between the ways that art is displayed on different continents, in different milieu, in private and in public. Intelligent and knowing wit is not something which we normally look for in contemporary art, but it is evident in the work of Stephen Farthing.”
Throughout his peripatetic life, Stephen Farthing has felt compelled to visit the collections of the museums and galleries wherever he has lived. He observes and reconfigures both the space and the works of art within, through his own eyes. His paintings record and respond to the function of being a collector and the purpose of having a collection. They look closely at the process of accumulation and pose questions about perceived value, the behaviour behind collecting and the legacy of a collection.
Stephen says: “You arrive as a stranger in a foreign city and you are looking at a way to relate to it. The museums and galleries are the places that I naturally gravitate towards, feel comfortable in, and want to spend time in. You can just sit there and look at the people and the art and try and work out how you’re going to fit in. In very practical terms, it’s a way of me trying to integrate myself into a new environment.”
Farthing’s work has often focused on interiors and this new series puts the viewer right into the setting of gallery spaces. Stephen is the guide by which we enter these institutions, we see their collections and exhibitions through his eyes – “You're not just looking at a painting, but at a painting in a situation” he says. “Nothing in these pictures comes from my fantasy. Everything in them can be traced back to historically real sources, though I've taken great delight in juxtaposing vastly different periods.”
The works on display at Manor Place Museum, were playfully curated to show paintings of museums, in a museum, as part of a museum, alongside pieces of Simon Draper’s personal collection, which includes works by Patrick Caulfield and Bridget Riley. Simon Draper says: “I have long been addicted to collecting, so the chance to open up my museum and host a body of work, by an important British artist, that uniquely reflects back on that activity, and the environments that collectors create, was something I have a real curiosity and interest to see and share.”
"The role of collector and collections is shifting again. In this time of globalisation and digital acquisition the way in which art can be seen, preserved and bought has evolved dramatically. The traditionally, Western influenced art market is opening out and new collectors have begun to emerge in South America, Asia and the Middle East, where some of the earliest known collectio- ns began. It will be interesting to see if international, eclectic collections will develop and respond to this moment – perhaps even provide a new age for museums. Yet, for all these changes over the centuries, the behaviour of collecting remains largely the same. Acquiring art still grounds us to something tangible by which we are moved. It remains a deeply human and enduring activity, inspired by creativity and intellectual curiosity, and offers us a physical exploration and connection to both our collective and personal histories." Extract from catalogue essay by Candida Stevens.
Museums of the World features interiors of illustrious institutions that will be immediately recognisable to art lovers, including The Royal Academy (The Museum of Vernal Entertainment: London), The National Gallery (The Museum of Good Painting: Trafalgar Square), The Metropolitan Museum, New York (The Museum of the American World View of Global Visual Culture, Manhattan), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (The Museum of the Slice of America, Madison Avenue), Yale Center for British Art (The Museum of Art from a Small Island, New Haven) and The Wallace Collection (The Museum of the Boudoir, Manchester Square).
A limited number of associated works on paper will be displayed in the gallery.