Painter Cecily Brown ‘infiltrates’ Blenheim Palace for subversive artwork present

Herald Series:

THERE’s a streak of mischief operating via Cecily Brown’s landmark Blenheim Palace present.

She could also be one of many world’s most revered – and positively most fascinating – painters, however she can be a insurgent. And this London-born, Surrey-raised, however New York-based artist is having enjoyable.

Having spent her childhood being dragged round stately houses she has now been given free reign over the best of all of them. Her present on the UNESCO World Heritage website is the visible equal of blowing away the cobwebs and turning up the audio system.

Her present for the Blenheim Artwork Basis is in stark distinction to final 12 months’s exhibition by Maurizio Cattelan, which made headlines world wide when its notorious strong gold rest room was audaciously ripped from its plumbing and stolen in a nighttime raid.

As an alternative of arch, excessive idea statements designed to shock, her work is, ostensibly, much more conventional – they’re, in spite of everything, correct work. However the content material – which rewards shut and repeated inspection – isn’t any much less provocative.

She is the primary British artist to have been featured by the artwork basis on the palace – which has beforehand hosted work by Yves Klein, Jenny Holzer, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Lawrence Weiner and Ai Weiwei – all very totally different to the plain talking, participating Brown.

Cecily admits that, for a British artist, it’s a dream come true. “I’m English and I’m working in a palace!” she chuckles. “Who will get to work in a palace?”

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She describes the method of pulling the present collectively as one in every of ‘infiltration’. She could also be English however she’s no aristocrat, and she or he know she doesn’t belong. Regardless of residing throughout the Atlantic for 25 years, class weighs as closely on her shoulders as for the remainder of us.

“An English particular person is used to visiting locations like Blenheim as a toddler – whether or not you prefer it or not, you’re steeped in school consciousness, so there’s something enjoyable about going again to someplace posh the place I’d by no means in any other case have been invited to.

“I’ve come into the palace as an artist however I don’t fairly slot in.”

She talks of making “a jarring impact” a “jigsaw” and “treasure hunt” – with recurring components – visible clues to that are laid out beneath a glass high desk within the Nice Corridor.

“It’s like seeing the substances in a recipe” she says.

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Michael Frahm of the Blenheim Artwork Basis

The one disappointment shouldn’t be with the ability to get to the palace to oversee the present’s set up, or be part of the standard launch celebration.

“It’s so unhappy I wasn’t in a position to get there,” she says, speaking from her studio within the Large Apple. “It’s bittersweet as set up is one in every of my favorite elements of the method. It was heart-wrenching not there however it’s not like I used to be doing it blind – 90 per cent of it was already determined and the remainder we did by whatsapp and video. Due to the time distinction, I’d be waking as much as 20 movies a day!”

Unable to journey, Cecily supervised the set up remotely. She isn’t any stranger to the palace and painted every image particularly for its location throughout the rooms, galleries library and corridor. Every work intimately responds to its setting, mimicking or satirising present portraits and looking scenes, chiming with the themes of heraldry and army may and complimenting the grand structure and pastoral views outdoors.

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Image by Tim Hughes

It’s the very definition of site-specific – and the images vary from playful – insolent even – to terrifying. She sabotages the forbidding classical artwork, including in components of savagery and loss of life.

Tapestries of the Duke of Marlborough’s troops marching into battle are juxtaposed with violent swirls of color which reveal horrific summary looking scenes. Cecily, a vegetarian, hates looking. These items are her manner of ‘sticking it to the person’.

Canines characteristic closely, taking up the position of observer.

A spotlight is her distortion of one of many palace’s most well-known photos, Reynolds’ The 4th Duke of Marlborough and his Household from 1777-78. She admits to discovering the work sinister – and darkly erotic. Her model, The Kids of the Fourth Duke is at first look a energetic copy, solely one thing is lacking. A number of issues. She has ‘censored’ it, smudging and obscuring the (admittedly already absent-looking) Duke, his spouse and their male inheritor, and leaving solely the 4 ladies enjoying with their spaniels.

It’s a large enchancment on the unique. Common guests may additionally discover that it replaces a extra classical copy of the portray.

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Image by Marc West

Whereas the work was accomplished earlier than the present row on ‘decolonisation’ constructed up its head of steam, it strikes a powerful up to date chord. It’s just a little piece of sophistication struggle and feminist activism – and is nice enjoyable.

Much less enjoyable, however much more spectacular is the present’s monumental ultimate image The Triumph of Loss of life. Painted in 4 elements (to suit the constraints of her studio) it was assembled for the primary time at Blenheim. It’s a vibrant however terrifying piece, that includes a skeletal horse and rider – a horseman of the apocalypse, perhaps – trampling over troopers or huntsmen in scarlet coats, purple poppies whereas finely dressed women sip champagne and look on oblivious to the horror.

The encircling countryside, with its personal Blenheim Palace is reworked right into a scene of carnage.

The message is evident and highly effective. Regardless of first impressions it’s not a reference to Covid. It was conceived earlier than the pandemic.

“I’m very glad it’s dated 2019 as I don’t suppose I’d have painted it now. It will have appeared too heavy handed; too callous.”

With masks and strict social distancing de rigueur, and solely a handful of individuals allowed in every room at a time, there’s an intimate really feel to the present. Each go to is a non-public view. And that provides to the journey of discovery – the enjoyable is recognizing Cecily’s work – a few of which inserts in uncannily with its environment.”

“It’s surprisingly seamless,” she says. “However I didn’t wish to make it look previous.”

“I really like the concept there shall be a special viewers at Blenheim – who will not be the identical individuals who would come to a gallery in New York. There could also be a bent of holiday makers to Blenheim to baulk at up to date artwork; this isn’t your typical ‘white dice’ viewers.

“However I really like the supplies of constructing, the color of the stone and the dimensions of the Nice Corridor.”

And whereas she was allowed nearly free rein, there have been somethings which had been out of bounds. “I had them take down the taxidermy, which I hated,” she says. “However I used to be not allowed wherever close to the topiary. That wasn’t doable!”

  • See Cecily Brown at Blenheim Palace till January 3, 2021.
  • Particulars on methods to e book from

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