The Appeal of Naked Ladies
Cat Chapman | 27 February 2017

The exhibition was part of the Cultural Olympiad, which wassubject to a fair amount of scoffing because it was the government'sidea.  I, myself, thought it was a bit unnecessary; but whilst otherelements of the Olympiad may be questionable, I think Metamorphosis fits thebill perfectly. It combined virtually all art forms (literature, drama, dance,film, fine art, fashion design - you name it) in away that anyone could relateto. For those who appreciate the classics, everything in the exhibition was aresponse to three Titian paintings, which were themselves responses to Ovid'sepic poem (called Metamorphoses, if you hadn't guessed already). For the moreliterarily inclined, fourteen contemporary poet shave made contributions andyou can find videos of them reading their poems on Youtube. The exhibition wasin partnership with the Royal National Ballet, featuring ballets (alsoavailable on Youtube) composed to correspond with the Titian paintings.


Being an art student myself, I was mostly concerned with theworks of the artists Conrad Shawcross, Chris Ofili and Mark Wallinger. Theyeach designed sets and costumes for one of the three ballets. Ofili'scontribution was impressive: cut-out and blown up, childish paintings of vinesand flowers in lucid colours hung around the stage, with similarly colourfulcostumes. Shawcross' rotating robot-come-torch design baffled me at first,until I learnt that the machinewas programmed to translate the dancers'movements into its own robotic choreography -- crazy! Mark Wallinger had agigantic concave mirror for his set which, along with the atmospheric lighting,had an intensely dramatic effect.


The artists each had a room in which to display theirresponses to Ovid's work. Shawcross' Trophy installation featured his roboticdancing torch thing again, illuminating a set of antlers. Ofili had done aseries of expressionistic (and, as usual, colourful) paintings to illustratethe various poems. Finally, Wallinger's installation Diana featured the nakedlady. For this, there was a smaller room within the room: inside this room, Igathered, stood the performer in a bath, sponging herself. I say 'gathered'because the only way to see her was through a couple of tiny holes in thewalls. Bending down to look through the keyhole in the door, I was immediatelyembarrassed, and quickly abandoned my efforts to see more of what little I did.Despite being the same sex as the woman, and younger than her, Wallinger hadforced me into the position of the voyeur in Ovid's poem, which is pretty cool.


All in all, Metamorphosis was a remarkable exhibition. If Ihad one complaint, it would be that it was particularly male orientated -- butthen again, I suppose that was the point of it. As you may deduce from my enthusiasticwriting, I liked it a lot, and if you look it up online, you'll probably likeit too.

James Routledge 2016