The depth of Ordovas's selection goes 20,000 miles beneath the sea.
For many centuries the sea has a been a rich source of inspiration for artists. Dutch and Flemish artists have painted heroic seascape tableaux with fleets in battle or rich displays of seafood still life paintings. JMW Turner painted seascapes with dramatic skies, and Katsushika Hokusai painted gargantuan curls of a breaking wave.
The sea has also been a source of inspiration for curators. The late Belgian curator, Jan Hoet, paid tribute to the sea in the last exhibition he conceived before he passed away in 2014. At several locations in the city of Oostende the show highlighted how the sea has been depicted and interpreted by artists from mid-nineteenth century until today.
Now, the Mayfair gallery Ordovas, presents ‘The Big Blue’ which explores some of the ways in which the sea influences art, spanning almost two millennia. The idea for the exhibition was conceived by Damien Hirst and his work ‘Heaven’ (2008-9), a follow up of his shark preserved in a tank of formaldehyde, is centrally-positioned in the gallery. It is a facing a wall with compelling works with Francis Bacon’s ‘Figure in Sea’ positioned in the middle as it was the starting point for the selection process. The overall selection is eclectic and consists of seascapes, water deities, the goddess of love ‘Venus’, sea flora and fauna.
In previous exhibitions, the founder of the gallery, Pilar Ordovas, managed to display exclusive masterworks such as Rembrandt’s ‘Self-portrait with Beret’ (1659) and head studies by the Seventeenth century painter, Annibale Carracci. This show features historical works such as a fragment of a Roman sarcophagus (dated to the second half of the second century), ‘Paysage de mer’ (1869) by Gustav Courbet, and two seashore nudes by Pablo Picasso; ‘Baigneur et Baigneuses’, (1920-21) and ‘Les Trois Baigneuses’ (1932). I ask Ordovas if the show in terms of curating has been the most challenging so far. “I guess the most challenging aspect was were to stop as artist have looked at the sea for centuries!” she answers. “The aim was to provide a historical context to the lost contemporary work and to show that the theme of the sea, life, death have been approached by artists for centuries”.
What is refreshing is that the selection process is a mixture of abstract and figurative works, and various art forms such painting, photography, sculpture and installation. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s serene, seascape photograph borders on the verge of abstraction and figuration. The sea and sky are captured in black and grey rectangular squares and interact nicely with another depiction of the sea in the form of a colour: Yves Klein’s ‘IKB 127’, an ultramarine coloured canvas. Further to the right hangs Klein’s, ‘Sculpture éponge rose’, that has a structure reminiscent of coral.
With the 15 works on display, the subject of the sea has been approached from various angles and the works in the show complement each other. The sum is greater than the parts or as endless as the sea can be.
Written by Thierry Somers
Damien Hirst, Heaven, 2008-2009. Glass, painted stainless steel, silicone, monofilament, shark, formaldehyde solution.
The Big Blue installation view, Photography by Mike Bruce, Damien Hirst artwork © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd, all rights reserved. DACS 2015
The Big Blue installation view, Photography by Mike Bruce
Gustave Courbet, Paysage de mer, c.1869. Oil on canvas.
Hiroshi Sugimoto, North Pacific Ocean, Ohkurosaki, 2002. Gelatin silver print.
Yves Klein, IKB 127