Curiosity: Art & the Pleasures of Knowing, Turner Contemporary
One of this summer’s seaside attractions in Margate is an overstuffed walrus, but day-trippers won’t find it in the town’s Museum of Monstrosities. The taxidermic freak, on loan from the Horniman Museum, is the star exhibit in the new show at Turner Contemporary. Against the backdrop of a North Sea painted by Turner, the adipose Arctic mammal is out of its element. The fact that it’s also uncomfortable in its overtight skin (thanks to an overzealous Victorian taxidermist who had never seen a live specimen in the sagging flesh) makes it doubly curious - and doubly qualified for inclusion in the latest Hayward Touring exhibition, Curiosity: Art & the Pleasures of Knowing.
Curated by Brian Dillon, UK editor of Cabinet magazine, this is certainly a curious exhibition: an informatively captioned anthology of intriguing objects - ancient and modern, natural and man-made, real and fictitious - that refuse to fit neatly into the categories of art or science. It features five sheets of doodles by Leonardo and that famous woodcut of a rhinoceros by Dürer (also zoologically incorrect) alongside works by contemporary artists such as Gerard Byrne, Tacita Dean and Jimmie Durham. It opens with John Evelyn’s empty curiosity cabinet (pictured below) and closes with the Horniman’s Walrus, taking in a diverse range of oddities, animal, vegetable and mineral, in between.