Tuesday, 24 July 2012

David Nash at Kew

Years ago, in New York, I was told off by a security guard for carrying a child on my shoulders as we wandered through the post-impressionist galleries of MOMA or perhaps it was the Met or the Whitney.  Galleries are places, after all, of piety, where one must stay quiet and respectful before the sacred forms and objects of modern secular religion.

Sculpture parks are quite different.  You can see the work of art from afar, walk around it.  Children may dash about it screaming.  And the irony is that if the work is good, then a gentle sense of awe will be unavoidable.  This is certainly the case at Kew Gardens, which has been transformed into a David Nash sculpture park.

David Nash is a sculptor of wood. He says that he learned to "speak wood", and he is fluent in it.  He carves it, chars it, slices it, assembles it, turns it into bronze or steel, occasionally loses it (the wonderful wordless 'Wooden Boulder' film in the Sherwood Gallery at Kew has the power of a novel), altogether loves it. The results are fascinating. Wood is made to resemble Chinese mountains, streaks of lightning, families, kings, queens - not explicitly or exclusively, but suggestively.  Suddenly one begins to take better note of the trees in the gardens, seeing in them different forms and shapes.  Metamorphosis moves from the actual to the imagined, everything turning into something else, delightfully.

Of all the exhibitions in London this summer, this surely must be the most enjoyable.


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