The Garman Ryan Collection at The New Art Gallery in Walsall means it’s always worth a visit, but the temporary exhibitions on at the moment make now an extra good time to go.
The Humble Vessel on the top floor looks at the symbol of the simple boat as depicted by various artists through time, and made relevant now by sights of refugees fleeing so often by boat.
It includes a newly-commissioned work by Pakistani artist Fazal Rizvi, a three-screen video installation of what looks like a small fishing boat from anywhere in the world bobbing about on the water. There are concrete boats which will be going nowhere, by Bob and Roberta Smith, and in an 1873 painting by Jules-Ėmile Saintin a woman in black looks sadly out to sea, a reminder that the waters have often taken lives.
Eric Ravilious’s Storm is a wonderfully blowy, colourful work, and there are other appealing depictions of boats and harbours from the past century. The exhibition ends on July 24, but is worth toiling up to the top floor to visit.
The more recently opened Land, Sea and Air takes as its starting point artists who have used maps as their source material. The exhibition brings together works by seven international artists using maps in very different ways.
You can get pleasantly lost in Frank Bowling’s huge colourful Map Paintings, made between 1967-71 – if you step back parts of the world can be seen through the vivid and attractive colours.
Cornelia Parker’s works show a series of London street maps with burns in them from a meteorite which came down in Namibia in 1836, which has been heated and then burnt over the various locations.
Tiffany Chung’s mixed installation includes photography, a map on the wall showing a timeline, and pieces from history to tell the story of her father, shot down in a mission during the Vietnam war and held prisoner for her entire childhood. It’s a moving and intriguing work.
Shilpa Gupta’s There is No Border Here is very relevant because of recent and ongoing events. It’s a poem on the wall talking of battle, conflict and love, beautifully written in tape which reads “there is no border here”.
These are the highlights of a fascinating exhibition.
Finally, if you think you’ve seen the Garman Ryan collection enough times, think again. As part of a three-year partnership, there are interventions in the collection from the Tate. A total of 16 works from the Tate have been paired with the gallery’s own pieces, related by either artist, theme or subject matter.
It’s fascinating to wander around and read the interesting booklet which investigates the ideas behind these links. Sometimes it’s similarities in theme – there are two paintings of Suffolk with different sky scenes, by John Nash and John Constable, for example.
In other cases it’s the same artist – an oil and a watercolour landscape by Camille Pisarro, and a bronze sculture and ink drawing by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. There are also other big name artists featured – Picasso, Braque, Rodin, Modigliani, Degas, Gainsborough, Freud, Epstein, Eric Gill, and Odile Redon. One comparison puts a Bernard Leach fruit bowl from 1955 with a Solomon Islands fruit bowl from the nineteenth or twentieth century. My favourite is the huge Raoul Dufy painting of The Wheatfield from Tate paired with a much smaller Harvest Scene watercolour from Walsall.
It’s a great set of exhibitions to enjoy and explore in one building.