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11 July 2011

Peter Blake exhibition at the Holburne Museum, Bath

Last Monday I paid a visit to the recently revamped Holburne Museum in Bath (see third photo down). However, what I was really interested on visiting was the Peter Blake exhibition, 'A museum for myself' located in a modest sized room on the top floor. I wouldn't exactly say I'm a Peter Blake fan. Out of the British Pop art scene I'd say Richard Hamilton and Patrick Caulfield and David Hockney (if you would categorise Hockney as a Pop artist?) would have been my personal favs. I only really associated Blake with the Sgt. Peppers album cover; as fantastic as it is, it didn't actually inspire me in the same way that say, Roy Lichtenstein's 'Whaam!' did with its dynamism and energy. Ok, maybe that's not exactly a fair comparison, but anyway the point I'm making is that despite the fact that I have always and continue to have a personal love for Pop art, for some reason the work of Peter Blake has always just passed me by...
That is of course, until now. As I was saying, I had remained pretty ignorant of a lot of Blake's work until visiting this exhibition which I came to find through a very small review of it in my newspaper. I read the title, 'A museum for myself' and thought how appropriate given (to those of you who don't know) that my current project is based researching the agricultural tools in storage in my local museum in Taunton. 'Maybe it was time to give Blake a go.' I said to myself, 'after all he is a Pop artist so he's bound to like the 'everyday' and the banal, perhaps almost as much as me.' Turns out that this time the optimism paid off and upon entering the exhibition I'm surrounded by what I can only describe as a feast of 'stuff' for the eyes. Four large display cabinets stuffed with the most unimaginable tat from tacky seashell trinkets, to a massive collection of elephants, puppets, signed memorabilia, artworks from other artists, postcards, tins, stuffed animals and a whole bunch more of assorted ephemera adorning the walls of the gallery space. 'Cool.' Where to begin?'

Granted, that this sort of thing in a museum as a context, isn't exactly for everyone. After all, nothing here is particularly old, has a similar kind of history/art/skill/value to it in the usual way that regular museum artifacts do. Although, that's not to say none of it isn't valuable. The whole point of Pop Art to some extent was all about questioning the 'value' of things, of everyday things and how something mass produced and of relatively no value could be placed into the context of art and be made into something popular. Which isn't necessarily to say that something popular it also makes it valuable, but to some extent in the celebrity and media dominated climate we find ourselves in, its a reasonable enough statement to make. So here I was in this eclectic exhibition of work which if it hadn't been displayed in glass cases and box frames would have probably felt a bit like being in a car boot sale. A pretty fancy car boot sale, mind. A car booty that happened to have some Kitaj, Damien Hirst and The Beatles autographs on the walls...?...What I am trying to say is that it is the museum context, the museum modes of display and presentation that made it into an interesting, 'non-car booty' exhibition. Some of the work is collage where Blake has collected different scrapes and fragments and reassembled them into a pleasing kind of tapestry, and even the collections of actual 3D objects are treated like a collage in the way that they are ordered and arranged by formal qualities like, size/shape/material etc. In the piece 'Museum of black and white 8' (above) lots of tiny objects are displayed together because of the quality they share, that makes them similar in being black and white. Its almost Surrealism, I mean, why not have a cow next to a domino and a chess piece above a cigarette lighter? I genuinely find it really interesting and really enjoyed exploring these works of which there were many variations including a piece that consisted on nothing other than a collection of screws and hooks (fantastic! -especially because that's tools in a way)

As it transpires, guess I was wrong about Blake after all. Once you get past the Beatles, there's actually a lot more going on in his collages. Still not a fan of his paintings, but then you can't win them all can you? To some degree the whole exhibition is like a collage in the way it was made of lots of collections that came together as a whole and that 'whole' is really like an exhibition of all the different interests that make up the personality that Peter Blake is. You've got the celebrity, the collections, the collages, the theatrical, the weird and the everyday. So in Peter Blake's terms I guess he can really say, this is a museum of himself.

Peter Blake's 'A museum of myslef' can be seen at The Holburne Museum, Bath until September 4th

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