Still life Bouke de Vries 2017
We’re pretty obsessed with Messums Wiltshire
at Country Calling. Here is a historical and brilliantly reinvented new space providing us with a blend of art, sculpture, music and literature more usually reserved for the capital.
It is, quite literally, a huge barn of a place (the largest tithe barn in the country) and this has provided the gallery with the opportunity to put together some really unexpected and thought-provoking shows.
Scale is something to be celebrated. Last summer Messums Wiltshire showed seven classic sports cars including the McLaren Formula 1, an ode to great automotive design. The barn has turned theatre to host contemporary dance from the Covent Garden Dance Company and sculptor Sean Henry’s giant but exquisitely lifelike human forms found the perfect home.
But the real emphasis and raison d’etre of Messums Wiltshire is to showcase the art of making in all its various forms.
Curator Catherine Milner says the trend for conceptual art has detracted from the image of craftmakers and artisans and the gallery wanted to redress that.
‘In recent times the contemporary fine art establishment has diminished the value of the hand-made object. We want to showcase beautifully made objects in a variety of materials.’
Each curation begins with a fascinating standpoint. The current exhibition, for example, Material Earth: Myth, Material & Metamorphosis (runs til April 2) – looks at both mythology and the wild landscapes of Northern Europe. The result is a magical mix of sculpture, painting, ceramics and taxidermy including Barnaby Barford’s life-size polar bear made from bone china and Bouke de Vries’s amazing winged birdcages. It’s an intriguing and glorious show, full of surprises. We fell in love with a wonderful piece from Alistair Mackie – a globe made entirely from mouse skulls. Look out also for the taxidermy sculptures from Polly Morgan. Messums Wiltshire likes to show star names from the art world (there's early Grayson Perry here rubbing alongside Andy Warhol) with lesser known but hugely talented makers. Morgan is a case in point. Fifteen years ago she was working in a bar when her mesmerising taxidermy sculptures caught the eye of Banksy and Damien Hirst, springboarding her onto the contemporary London art scene. Her exquisite, extraordinary pieces perfectly evoke the beautiful but creepy nature of taxidermy and have become highly collectable. Pictured below Ins and Outcomes
Coming next (April 6) the ceramicist Joanna Still (pictured below) holds a solo show – hinterland – in the Long Gallery. Still is intrigued by other, often ancient cultures, and her work, begun on the potter’s wheel but with gorges and scratches made by hand, brings to mind the image of prehistoric making.
Exhibitions are supported by talks and demonstrations – last week Polly Morgan spoke about the art of taxidermy – and there are often standalone sessions. Next Friday (March 30) Dr Antonia Bostrom discusses ceramic masterpieces from the V&A. And recently the painter Alexander Newley gave a spellbinding talk and slide show describing his celebrity childhood growing up as Joan Collins’ son - glass of Beckford Bottle Shop white in hand, a packed auditorium, this was a truly riveting evening.
There is also a strong focus on children and families at the art centre. A primary aim at launch was to help bridge the gap in arts education at primary schools. To this end Messums Wiltshire dedicates one day a week to working with local schools as well as offering a range of interesting, reasonably priced workshops for children (check out clay and print making in the Easter holidays). All of this before we get to the newly opened café – a bright, modern space, hung with paintings and serving spectacular coffee, tea and cakes. There’s a small but perfectly formed lunch menu too and at weekends a killer brunch. Think smashed chilli avocado on toast, poached eggs with lamb shakshouka, Thai style omelette. The chef is Australian and the frequently changing menu has pan Asian influences. We cannot think of a better place to kickstart the weekend.