Creating the Countryside
Exhibition: Creating the Countryside: Thomas Gainsborough to Today
Held at: Compton Verney Art Gallery, Warwickshire, 18 March – 18 June 2017
Curated by: Dr Rosemary Shirley and Verity Elson
Creating the Countryside was a large-scale exhibition featuring almost one hundred works of art from the seventeenth century to present day. Artists included: Blake, Constable, Gainsborough, Claude Lorrain, Mat Collishaw, Grayson Perry and Ingrid Pollard.
It investigates the rural idyll as a powerful force in our national imagination. In our increasingly urbanised society, physical disconnection has increased the cultural importance of the countryside, therefore it becomes imperative that these cultural representations are subject to critical attention.
This show examines how key moments in art history and modern art have shaped the concept of the idyll and how contemporary artists continue to access and often challenge this concept. It moves beyond the familiar idea of critiquing pastoral images in order to replace them with a more “realistic” portrayals of the countryside. Instead, it asks: even though we know they are unrealistic, how do these images retain their charge? How are they re-enacted, adapted and used in contemporary society?
Creating the Countryside offered new understandings of our contemporary relationship to the rural through the innovative integration of art and objects from everyday life including computer games, air fresheners, advertising and TV programmes.
We rejected a traditional chronological display choosing instead to place historical art works into dialogue with contemporary pieces creating new connections and conversations.
The exhibition also featured newly commissioned artworks including a piece by Delaine Le Bas, which creates new dialogues with the collection of Gypsy ephemera held by the Museum of English Rural Life.
I was fully involved in every aspect of the curation of this exhibition from concept, research, studio and collection visits to loan applications, exhibition design and caption writing.
The exhibition was seen by c.15,000 visitors, reviewed in the Guardian, Telegraph, Mail on Sunday, Country Life, Art Quarterly, and featured on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row and BBC Radio 3’s The Verb. It was accompanied by the publication Creating the Countryside: The Rural Idyll Past and Present, Edited by Verity Elson and Rosemary Shirley (ISBN 9781911300106)