The Sir John Soane’s Museum is probably one of the most fascinating places in London. The collection of objects amassed by the neo-classical architect Sir John Soane during his lifetime (1753-1837) amounts to a manifestation of artifacts that most of us could only dream of owning. Following his death, his house and its contents was left to the nation, which has captivated and intrigued the public with its interior for over a century. Amongst the antiques, paintings and sculptures that range from ancient Egypt to renaissance Italy, a series of new additions of contemporary art have recently been added in the form of Marc Quinn’s All About Love series.
Quinn’s fiberglass sculptures are each formed from casts of Quinn and his muse, dancer Jenny Bastet, who has also been his partner for the past three years. In each form Quinn’s body is embracing Bastet’s, in some sculptures the pair are holding hands, while in others, Quinn’s arms are wrapped around Bastet’s waist. The duo are presented nude across the series, and, while all of the works are headless and often missing limbs, they appear incredibly tender and loving.
In each piece Bastet is positioned in front, with Quinn clutching his beloved from behind. The focus is completely on Quinn’s muse, who he presents to his viewer with pride, whilst also snatching her away from them, keeping her to himself. He presents himself as incredibly possessive, as well as taller in stature than he is in real life. The figure Quinn presents at Soane’s towers over Bastet, cradling his arms around her, while, in reality, it is his muse who is taller than her partner.
What is most interesting about the exhibition is how, while Quinn’s sculptures appear to blend in so effortlessly with Soane’s collection, they completely move the viewer’s attention away from the historical objects. With their soft shades of creams, greys and tans, it would seem that the All About Love series should disappear amongst plaster casts and pre-historic articles, yet with their delicate nature they command the viewer’s attention. This sense of fragility comes in the way that the backs to the sculptures have been left open and in the display of broken off arms and legs. This may also explain why the pair appears to cling on to one another so tightly, in fear of the other being damaged irreparably.
The titles of all of the works in the series are extremely light and airy: Breath, Eternal, Eyes, Heaven, Hot, Life, Nature, Shake, Shines, reflecting the tenderness embodied in the sculptural forms. These words embody emotions associated with love and whilst they probably are a little overly sentimental in nature, they are the perfect adjectives to describe the series of both public and physical displays of emotion.
The awe-inspiring cabinet of curiosity that encompasses the Sir John Soane’s Museum now has some new additions. While the nude figures may be construed as erotic, the interlinked arms that love and support each other display a softer more gentle display of affection, which I would urge everyone to see before they are removed from the collection.
Marc Quinn: Drawn from Life is on display at Sir John Soane’s Museum until 23 September 2017