Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AZ


Foundling Museum

27 May - 4 September 2016

Review by Emma Rae Warburton

Currently on show at the Foundling Museum, the UK’s first children’s charity and first public art gallery, is a curious and sentimental group exhibition curated by artist Cornelia Parker entitled ‘FOUND’. The exhibition involves nearly sixty artists, each of whom has contributed a single ‘found’ item – either ‘found’ in terms of a revelation it prompted within their own work and practice, or an object possessing special meaning for them that they discovered and were compelled to keep. In line with the Foundling Museum’s history, ‘FOUND’ celebrates the power of artistic collaboration. In the early years of the Foundling Hospital’s foundation, renowned and respected artists of the time donated their works annually to ‘ornament’ the hospital and support its charities and visions. Drawing inspiration, too, from the objects mothers left with their babies at the hospital in the latter part of the 18th century, as tokens of identification in the event of their return, ‘FOUND’ is a collection of artefacts personally valued and identified with by the artists involved in the show. Each of the works is accompanied by a text that narrates its discovery, highlights its unique personal history and embeds within it a symbolic value.

The display appears throughout the museum’s lower and upper galleries, beginning in the basement and continuing upstairs to the ground floor. The basement features a concentration of works selected and curated by Parker solely for ‘FOUND’, whereas the upstairs space integrates pieces selected for the current exhibition from the museum’s existing displays. One of Parker’s aims was to ‘bring together individual elements that [would] strike off each other and create a different sense of the word ‘found’.’ Indeed, within the basement space the notion of ‘found’ is imbued with rich and diverse connotations through the variety of objects that both compliment and contrast with one another in their shared space. Here one finds objects discovered by artists and left unaltered, cherished for their unique aesthetic and compositional properties, such as Tacita Dean’s ‘Found Fortress’, an embroidered fortress on a piece of fabric discovered by the artist at a flea market in France. The embroidered image is aesthetically extraordinary in its eerie appearance, as it reads like a photographic negative rather than a positive. The basement space also includes works discovered and manipulated by artists as an extension of their practice, such as ‘Villa Mondrian’ by Pascal Rousson, a ceramic house found by the artist in a discarded box left on a pavement. The sides of house have been repainted to mimic the colours and patterns of a Mondrian painting. At the time of discovery, Rousson was coincidentally ‘working on some paintings related to Mondrian,’ and the little model ‘reminded [him] strongly of traditional Dutch houses.’ Intermingled among the retrieved objects in the basement display are also works dealing lightly with notions of things ‘lost’ and things ‘found’, and corresponding judgments of value. David Shrigley’s work ‘Lost’, for instance, advertises a nameless, commonplace city pigeon on a lost poster, appealing to anyone who has seen the ‘grey and white pigeon with black bits’ to call the telephone number at the bottom of the sign. In a comical yet contemplative way, the piece highlights how items acknowledged as both lost and found are often imbued with societal rather than purely personal value.

As the exhibition continues upstairs, its title takes on yet another layer of meaning, as works are integrated with objects of the Foundling Museum’s permanent collection, camouflaged in existing displays. Pieces curated by Parker thus must be ‘found’ and the visitor is engaged in their own quest of discovery. Largely the objects in the upstairs galleries communicate their significance in the texts narrating their discovery and symbolism. Humphrey Ocean’s ‘Hubcap’, for instance, appears behind glass in a display of old metal plates and disk-shaped artefacts. Perfectly disguised with the surrounding objects, ‘Hubcap’ might be easily overlooked without the accompanying story telling of how, since discovering it on Peckham Road many years ago, the artist has kept the piece permanently in his studio, where it remains a constant trigger-for-thought on technological change, human ingenuity and the possibilities the future may hold in terms of social and cultural transformation. Modestly displayed and easily missed against the original wooden structure of the space is a contribution made by artist Ron Arad entitled ‘1951’. The piece appears as a simple stack of paper on string, however its back-story described on the accompanying text reveals that it is in fact a 2.5 metre long chain of skewered pawnbrokers notes, tracing an entire year of hard-times experienced by miscellaneous individuals the same year of the artist’s birth. Speculatively, many of the notes record failed relationships or moments of desperation, as a vast number of them are sales of GWRs - or gold wedding rings.

Parker’s curated exhibition ‘FOUND’ is one rich in curiosity, discovery, intimacy and nuance. The diversity of objects provides, of course, plenty of visual stimuli and aesthetic variety, but the narratives and unique details that accompany these objects could be an exhibition of their own. The installation is layered in history, storytelling, poetic nostalgia and personality – it simultaneously celebrates individuality with collective creativity, while elegantly retaining its connection to the founding principals and motions behind the Foundling Hospital as a historical and creative site. Any person who visits ‘FOUND’ will undoubtedly discover something curious, something memorable, something surprising, something symbolic, and most certainly something relatable, to carry away with them.

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