Cecil Vyse – one-time fiancé of protagonist Miss Lucy Honeychurch in E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View (1908) – is a pretentious character that perceives himself as a sensitive intellectual, resulting in a sense of obstinate self-awareness and an exaggerated style. In an exhibition filled with butterflies, boots, nudity and tartan, Vyse’s skewed mode of being provides the framework for The Prude, Anthea Hamilton’s (b. 1978) new show at Thomas Dane Gallery.
“I connect you with a view—a certain type of view. Why shouldn’t you connect me with a room?”
She reflected a moment, and then said, laughing:
“Do you know that you’re right? I do…when I think of you it’s always as in a room. How funny!” – Cecil Vyse and Lucy Honeychurch, A Room with a View, E.M. Forster
Hamilton has transformed both London locations of Thomas Dane Gallery into immersive installations where objects, sculpture and photographs combine within four distinct interiors. Everything, from floor to ceiling, has been domesticated with digitally printed wallpapers and airbrushed and textile-clad walls.
At 11 Duke Street, the viewer is greeted by a room covered in faux-fur tiles coloured in pink, yellow, orange and brown, reminiscent of a cut slice of Battenberg cake. Within these walls several pairs of wavy, wooden boots are presented on pedestals, items that might have appealed to Cecil Vyse. Turn the corner, and the soft textures and sponge-coloured space has been replaced by a monochrome, black and grey locale. Covered in a blown-up version of the Hamilton tartan – though the artist’s father is from the Caribbean and the Hamilton surname was adopted – the room plays host to a series of photographs taken at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge. The images – which were taken by Lewis Ronald while the gallery was closed – see multidisciplinary artist Carlos Maria Romero interact with various objects, which include brass rings and a jade ring made by Richard Pousette-Dart. The result of a collaboration with choreographer Lewis Ronald, Romero can be seen prancing about nude, flexing his muscles and resting his feet on the tables. And while others have commented on Vyse being “priggish”, and probably not in favour of such behaviour, I would argue that the character, often described as being someone with an inflated sense of self-importance who takes pleasure in fancying himself, would secretly relish at the opportunity of parading his body around a museum for the camera.
In the next room, a dreamy airbrushed haven of blue-green-yellow plays host to more fur and wooden boots, but it is not the walls this time that have been given the fur-treatment, but the sculptures. Several oversized textured moths and butterflies are attached to the walls, which has been inspired by the gradients in an Ed Ruscha’s paintings. Furniture is included here for the first time too, in the form of tiled sofas presented as sculptures.
“Come this way immediately,” commanded Cecil, who always felt that he must lead women, though he knew not whither, and protect them, though he knew not against what. – A Room with a View, E.M. Forster
In the street level gallery at 3 Duke Street, the three worlds presented at the first gallery collide. A larger-than-life woman, who completely takes over one of the walls, greets the viewer into the space. The female figure has been taken from a cover for Fate Magazine in 2000 by Robert Crumb, originally called Sasquatch – another term for Bigfoot – Lady. Grinning as she strolls into the explosive installation, she leads the audience into a new world inhabited by the furry moths and tiled furniture seen before. The walls this time have a greyish airbrush effect, and have been plastered over with the Hamilton tartan, which has now been pushed on its side. Another layer has been added now through the presence of a series of gargantuan African daisies, photographed by Hamilton in Tuscany.
But to Cecil, now that he was about to lose her, she seemed each moment more desirable. He looked at her, instead of through her…From a Leonardo she had become a living woman…with qualities that even eluded art.” – A Room with a View, E.M. Forster
While the “stuck-up” Cecil Vyse may disprove of this exhibition, Lucy Honeybunch – who escaped his influence – would most definitely have been a fan. A visual display of decadence, excess and at times the nonsense-ical, The Prude will have viewers completely enthralled.
Anthea Hamilton: The Prude is on display at Thomas Dane Gallery, 5 & 11 Duke Street, St James’s, London, SW1Y until 18 May 2019