The Dreaming House, an exhibition of art textiles from the collections of Nottingham Museums is currently on display in Newstead Abbey, ancestral home of Lord Byron. The exhibition is only open at weekends (12-4pm) and for a few weeks only, and seems to have almost slipped under the textile press radar. I’ve seen little about it online or in print which seems a terrible shame when art textiles get so little attention as it is. All this aside, it is worth venturing to see if you are able over the next two weekends before the end of September.
I visited during the free entry Heritage Open Weekend, which meant it was phenomenally busy, full of families and casual visitors who had little, if any, interest in the work displayed, making it hard to find and view some of the pieces. Exhibition catalogues had run out and one of the rooms containing two major pieces was closed ‘because it is too busy’. Despite all this, I found the exhibition exciting as it introduced me to new artists and works I had only seen in photographs. It is more common for art works displayed in a historic houses to be newly commissioned, inspired by the building and its stories rather than existing works, already in museum collections, being re-displayed in a new (old) environment. Without the context of an overall commission, the works are quite disparate though. The labels in the rooms are limited and tell the casual viewer nothing whatsoever about the meaning or making of the work, so the catalogue is essential – although it offers no map of finding the work in the large, rambling house and is not presented in the order that you find them on the fixed route around the house.
Taking work like this out of a white-wall gallery context is definitely enlightening. The work has been effectively displayed and the spaces and rooms are well-matched to the works. I was particularly enthralled by Naoko Yoshimoto’s work (above) where second hand textiles are unravelled and new narratives created.
Work by Heather Belcher and Caroline Broadhead are shown in a more traditional white-walled gallery space which seemed a bit flat after the other work in historic rooms. Interestingly, these pieces were not framed or protected unlike most of the other pieces and were being touched, as there was no staff presence in the room. The lack of frames or barriers does make the work so much more accessible though, something I am working on for my own exhibition, which will be largely frame-free.
It was a joy to see large scale works presented in the historic rooms, placed to make an impact. The catalogue gives some curatorial explanation of why certain pieces were in certain rooms but I would have preferred more discussion of this. Most of the pieces certainly looked like they belonged and had been intended for these spaces, which shows considerable curatorial forethought. It was a shame though that the Shelly Goldsmith piece was on some kind of metal tray, which was not explained.
The positioning of Shelly Goldsmith’s Cincinnati Children’s Home Dresses in a cabinet surrounded by Byron memorabilia is an intriguing and thoughtful choice, full of resonance and meaning. In contrast, Grayson Perry’s Claire’s Coming Out Dress is dramatic and bold displayed in a large, social space.
I was unable to see Lucy Brown’s work or Judy Liebert’s new piece made for this exhibition which was a shame. I also failed to make a connection to the Japanese prints included in the exhibition. Even the catalogue doesn’t really explain the connection. I am sad to have missed out on the Grand Tour walks by artist Alison Lloyd but pleased to read about Lacy Days, a reminiscence project linked to Nottingham’s lace industry. Overall, this is an excellent exhibition of fascinating and thoughtful work but sadly destined to be seen by very few people.