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Cutting Edge Art at Messums Wiltshire

Cutting Edge Art at Messums Wiltshire

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.’

Coming this weekend (26 May to 8 July) is Henry Lamb: 'People & Portraits' from the estate of Henry Lamb, the well known portrait painter.
The exhibition includes rare portraits of T.E. Lawerence, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Lady Ottoline Morrell. His work shows influences of Gaugin and was included in a collection of Post Impressionists in 1913. This is going to be such an interesting show for anyone fascinated in portraiture. It includes sketches, preparatory drawings, oils and watercolours of some of the artist's most impressive portraits.

Below TE Lawrence by Henry Lamb

The exhibition launches on Saturday with a summer party in aid of the brilliant Headsmart, a charity which works to promote knowledge and therefore early diagnosis of the symptoms of brain cancer in children and teenagers. An excellent cause, one close to our hearts, and one thing you can be certain of, Messums know how to throw a banging party.

Opening in the Long Barn on Saturday 28-8 July is Revelation of the Head, an exhibition which encapsulates enduring fascination with this body part and promises to astonishing. Works range from ancient Greek and Egyptian heads to contemporary  pieces from Tim Yeo, Gavin Turk and Sean Henry. The show examines how "certain reiterations of the head are eternal, seemingly pulling themselves through to the modern day by means of a creative osmosis'. 

Two recent shows highlighted perfectly the diversity of this cutting edge space. 

AS IT WAS NOW a solo exhibition by sculptor Tim Harrison celebrated his work with ancient British stone and reflects an ongoing interest in minimalism, landscape and history. His stunning vertical sculptures, reminiscent of sites such as Stonehenge, were shown to perfection in the cathedral like setting of the barn.


At Messums Wiltshire each curation begins with a fascinating standpoint. The last exhibition,Material Earth: Myth, Material & Metamorphosis – looked at both mythology and the wild landscapes of Northern Europe. The result was 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 was 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. The gallery 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. 

Exhibitions are supported by talks and demonstrations – Polly Morgan  spoke about the art of taxidermy – and there are often standalone sessions. Last month Dr Antonia Bostrom discussed 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.

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