‘A Curious Dream’

A review of ‘Curiosity; Art and the Pleasure of Knowing’ at Turner Contemporary 2013


I feel as if I have just awoken from the most surreal, fantastical dream. It was full of strange objects and creatures,and took place in rooms which felt familiar yet I did not recognise them. I encountered a Narwhal’s horn, a delicate glass sea anemone, a collection of split hairs and a penguin with the head of a peacock. Hazy memories of walking towards a wooden door with a brass door knob, and a glow from below, only heighten this eerie feeling. It was too much to take in all at once. My head aches with joy. I want to go back to that place, back to those rich chambers of curiosity.

Unlike most such dreams, whereby I have the disappointing realisation that I can not return, in this case I can! For the experience I write of was indeed real, and is open for all to enjoy down in Margate at the Turner Contemporary.

A feast for all the senses, the ‘Curiosity; Art and the Pleasure of Knowing’ exhibition curated by Brian Dillon, sees the galleries completely transformed into an encyclopaedia of wonders. The display and publication contains both artwork and artefact, sourced from a long list of respected institutions and contributors.
This exhibition creates a new benchmark for curators, in terms of how to bring together contemporary art with stuff of real-life fascination. Art galleries on occasion seem to be places which protect artworks from the ‘real’ world outside them. As if those works could not survive or would have no value, if they weren’t supported by the white walls and polished concrete floors. This separation of art from reality is sometimes necessary, but often vacuous. When an exhibition such as ‘Curiosity’ seemingly mixes these two worlds in a coherent and transformative manner, it creates a bridge between them.

It is a testament to the strength of the artworks chosen that they can be placed next to rare artefacts and still hold their ground. Similarly, the museum objects have been reinvigorated in the company of their new neighbours. For example the Horniman Walrus has lost his isolating iceberg plinth and has gained an expression of regal melancholy which is most endearing. One can also peer in closely at the beautiful detailed drawing of a Flea by Robert Hooke, which I was delighted to discover has been reproduced in the catalogue.

It is impossible to summarise this exhibition in a brief anecdote. ‘Curiosity’ demands to be seen in the flesh (just be prepared for some involuntary phantasms the evening after).

The exhibition is on at the Turner Contemporary, Margate from the 24 May 2013  till the 15 September 2013.