Tuesday, 12 May 2009

High camp/high art

Love it or loathe it there is no denying the sheer splendour of the Baroque, which the current exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, exemplifies in good measure. Several years in the making, it looks at the way the Roman Catholic church, the aristocracy and the state saw the Baroque as a way of exhibiting and reasserting their power and authority at a time of great scientific and technological development. Armies of architects, painters, sculptors, musicians, actors, writers and craftsmen produced work that was lavish, ornate, highly detailed and ostentatious in its use of precious material. Pottery, then relegated to second place by the sheer beauty and technical sophistication of imported Chinese porcelain, does find a modest place in this confection, namely in the Tulip Vases. Standing some five feet tall, the impressive structures, intended to show off the newly imported tulips – and other flowers – was built in sections and decorated with highly detailed blue and white patterning, While the form was essentially European, the decoration was a liberal interpretation of Chinese blue and white. Despite forebodings before I went, fearing too much sweet and not enough angst, I enjoyed the show, partly because the work had the courage of its convictions – it found little support in the more puritan atmosphere of Britain – and partly for its sheer celebration of skill. High camp or not, it unashamedly revels in the material world. Baroque 1620-1800 continues at the V&A until 19 July.


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