Neoclassical architect Sir John Soane was a rambunctious art collector. Since his death in 1837, his London home has been left like a mausoleum. Today, still untouched at his request, the parlours and hallways are filled with piles of his own sketches, endless architectural drawings, and a bounty of antiquities pulled from all pockets of the globe.
Now a popular London museum, Sir Soane’s overflowing home has (somehow) found space for 12 new sculptures from artist Marc Quinn. Each intimately depicts the sculptor's muse, dancer Jenny Bastet, who follows the likes of artist Alison Lapper and Kate Moss in inspiring Quinn.
One of a handful of contemporary exhibitions displayed in the museum (recall the work of Sarah Lucas last year), this new offering is a particularly radical one. Quinn was one of the trailblazing Young British Artists who were scarcely out of the headlines in the early 1990s. His cultural capital and art-world celebrity ballooned with news of controversial sculptures of his own penis, and an infamous self-portrait made from buckets of his own blood. Though his new works highlight Quinn's more muted, sentimental tendencies, his legacy as an agent provocateur remains.
‘All About Love, Hot', in the Monks Parlour at Sir John Soane's Museum. Courtesy of Marc Quinn Studio
Fragments of Bastet’s exposed body, cast in skin-thin fibreglass, dance around the museum, weaving between pre-existing exhibits (elaborate mirrors, patterned rugs and stained glass windows). They depict her careening or stoically posing, rapt in the arms of another dancer (or lover?). They are hollow, headless, insufficient, playing on Quinn's longstanding interest in disjointed, fractional works.
There's no question that Bastet's raw nudity is at odds with the tight-lipped furniture in the Soane Museum's drawing rooms. ‘As with the Sarah Lucas exhibition, we did have a warning that it contained nudity,’ says the museum's current director Bruce Boucher. ‘I think there were only two objections. We have around 2,300 visitors a week.’
But would Soane have approved of what currently stands in his living room? Probably, argues Boucher, who has been at the helm since last year. ‘When Soane was alive, he was very much into contemporary British art, he bought a lot of contemporary paintings and sculptures. He tried to encourage young British artists, hoping they would be inspired by his collection. We feel like we are carrying out his mission.’