Tag Archives: Ivor Davies

The Museum Critics An insight into National Museum Cardiff by Amelia Seren Roberts

Young Critics, 3rd Act Critics and Kids in Museums volunteers are working in partnership with Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales (ACNMW) http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/ on a new free project focusing on the quality and standards of exhibitions and programming at their sites across Wales. Those involved recently spent a day with the staff at the National Museum, Cardiff. We will be featuring the responses to the day from the participants our last response is from artist Amelia Seren Roberts.
This blog post is reproduced from Amelia’s original blog which can be found at 
At the Natio… http://ameliaseren.blogspot.com/2015/12/ivor-davies-and-destruction-in-art-at.html?spref=tw


At the National Museum of Wales.
Curated by Judit Bognor.
I recently attended a tour of the Ivor Davies retrospective hosted by Judit Bognor, co-curator of the exhibition and tutor on the MFA at Cardiff School of Art & Design.
Judit began by explaining that the show was a solo show, rather than a group exhibition. In terms of curatorial practice, if the show is to contain different works by a group of artists, a topic or theme may be chosen before or after the exhibiting group is decided.
In this case, NMW was to show a retrospective of Ivor Davies’ practice. It is unusual for a gallery or museum to show a single artist’s work unless they are well-established.
The usual format of such retrospectives is a chronological one, starting at the early works and ending at the newer works; the intention of such is to show the development of an artists practice throughout their career. Other, non-chronological, approaches to displaying the pieces may include grouping by topic or materials.
In the case of Ivor Davies’ exhibition, the works are shown in reverse-chronological order, starting at the most recent works, and developing to focus on more early examples. The freedom Judit was allowed to curate with was partially due to the artworks being largely sourced from outside collections. When an artwork is in a permanent collection, the owner has say over when, where and how a work is presented, as such the curators input may be limited.
Judit drew attention to the relationship that exists between the artist, curator and institution when organising exhibitions. She spoke of the conflict often experienced between the ideas of the curator, the artist’s intentions for the work, and the institutional context.
Judit expanded on the reasoning behind the title of the exhibition; a common thread that her colleagues and herself had recognised within the work over the whole of the artist’s career was that of destruction and creation, material transformation, and of durational thought. This was evidenced in works that developed during a symposium Ivor co-organised in the Sixties on the topic of destruction in art. Works related to the theme, as well as an archive of over 300 documents are shown alongside informative texts.
What interested me about the consistent theme of this exhibition was its relevance to a contemporary political context. A large number of the works having been created around the time of the Cold War, when the risk of nuclear devastation was a very real threat, the questions the works raise about destruction seem all the more poignant. Whether a deliberate comment or not, the timing of the exhibition, which coincides with Britain currently seeming on the brink of conflict, means that its concerns have become relevant once more.
It is important when considering whether an exhibition and the specific works within it require accompanying texts, the establishment within which the works are shown. It is more likely that simple, explanatory text in large print would be seen alongside works in a public museum, than would in a contemporary art gallery. This is because the curator must consider whether such interventions are appropriate in the context of the work and venue, and within this must select written supporting materials which suitably reflect the varying interests and academic capabilities of the reader. In this case, because the exhibition is sited at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, the audience is varied in age, ability and interests and thus large, simple explanatory text is appropriately shown in each room, whilst smaller texts are shown alongside specific works should the viewer choose to engage with the show in more depth. It is the viewer themselves in this case who decides their individual level of interaction with the show.
An interesting question thrown up by the curation of the exhibition is of how the viewer might experience a performance durationally. In this case, the curator has chosen to display a video recording of the performance, as well as a re-staging of one performance itself. Alongside this, an archive of materials surrounding the performance are exhibited which detail documentation of the memory of the event, instructions (or scores) for the performance, sketches and other ephemera.
Judit spoke briefly about the difficulties the team had experienced when considering how best to re-stage a historic performance in a contemporary setting. This is a topic that I have discussed once before whilst at the New Walk Gallery in Leicester, following their purchase of a performance piece by contemporary artist, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. The difficulties in the conservation, and re-staging of a performance piece (especially a historic example) lie in the inability of the curator or institution to ever accurately re-create the exact context in which the work was first performed. Judit has approached this, whilst in conversation with the artist, by following the original scores of the performance, whilst adapting a proportion of them to fit more appropriately in to a museum context. Working in this way raises interesting questions about where the artwork exists and whether a performance work can ever truly be recreated or owned.
For me, the highlights of the exhibition include a painting by Ivor Davies which invites the viewer to ‘Ysgrifennwch graffiti prioddul ar fur y capel gyda’r sialc sydd yma’ (Write graffiti on the side of the chapel with the chalk); and in the archive, a darkly humorous newspaper article written by Robin Page entitled ‘Death and Art’ which cynically reports on an artform which involves the expressive act of stamping frogs to death whilst wearing a silver jumpsuit.
To see more information about the show, please visit the National Museum Wales, or take a look at their website here.


Young Critics, 3rd Act Critics and Kids in Museums volunteers are working in partnership with Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales (ACNMW) http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/ on a new free project focusing on the quality and standards of exhibitions and programming at their sites across Wales. Those involved recently spent a day with the staff at the National Museum, Cardiff. We will be featuring the responses to the day from the participants over the next few days, next up is Kids in Museums volunteer Annette Wells.
The Remarkable Maps of William Smith
This exhibition is upstairs and to be honest, if I didn’t have to go in, I may not have done -or at least, I would have looked at other stuff first. I get why the bust of William Smith, flanked by giant maps is the first thing you see, but it failed to give me the WOW that exhibitions can do (and should do?). But out of the corner of my eye I spotted a cabinet. THis is a reconstruction of the system William Smith used to display his collections of fossils..all sloping to the right because that;s what geology does, I now know!
The maps are huge and I have to admit, mightily impressive. I’m sure there is a lot of interesting information on them, but it is so small, that even with the A4 magnifying sheets I still couldn’t read it. Note to self – ALWAYS REMEMBER TO TAKE YOUR GLASSES TO EXHIBITIONS! Our group was fortunate enough to be shown around by members of staff who filled in some of the missing bits, but if you’re not that fortunate, then just marvel. And I did find myself marvelling by the time I left.
There is just enough information on the panels. I’m not much of a reader, so once I’d looked at the objects – geology specimens and William Smith’s notebooks mainly – I did have a read. I’m glad I did. William Smith led an extraordinary life. From humble beginnings he led the way for geoloical map recording and in so doing put a spanner in the works for the many unscrupulous Victorian geological surveyors who up til then seemed to have free reign to ‘find’ and charge what they liked to hopeful/greedy/innocent/naive (delete according to your own convictions) landowners hoping to make a fortune from the mineral deposits under their feet. I also learnt that he spent time in a debtors prison.
The exhibition design was very traditional. The panels made for easy reading and the object labels complemented them, which I liked. There was the obligatory interactive, and I mean that in a positive way. It was beautifully constructed and thought out, but it flummuxed me. But that might have been just me! The exhibition is bilingual and the lighting and contrasts are good.
Although I grew to enjoy this exhibition, It is unclear whether this is an exhibition of the maps, which are remarkable actually, or whether it was an exhibition about a remarkable man. You go. You decide. But do visit!image_preview
The Ivor Davies Destruction in Art Archive
This exhibition is in THE BEST SPACE EVER! Immediately it felt monumental. The exhibition charts Ivor Davies’s work from 1950s to his more recent work, but concentrating on his work in 1960s with the destruction in art group. There is alot to look at. Running the length of both walls and a lot of it is very similar. In the centre of the gallery is a reworking of his Swansea project. Worth watching for a while, although I’m not sure I saw anywhere near all of it. Maybe that’s the point..that you can come in and out? Well thats what I did.
As usual, the arty farty way of labelling contemporary artworks which means that you have to search for information, prevails. This simply serves to make anyone who may be out of their comfort zone, even more so. Please don’t do it. If something needs a label make it obvious. If it doesn’t, then leave it out.
This exhibition is bilingual too, but I felt that the contrast was not strong enough for the Welsh text which may mean that some people might struggle to read it.
I have to say that I wasn’t overly keen on the work on display and prefer other works that wern’t there, but as an experience, it is an exhibition you should give a go. If only to look knowledgeable next time you have to name an internationally important Welsh artist!