Wells Cathedral

Review: Wells Art Contemporary 2021 Exhibition

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Bruton isn’t the only art hotspot in Somerset

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This month, Somerset is ablaze with artistic endeavour, says Sandy Carr

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Review: Wells Art Contemporary

Bruton isn’t the only art hotspot in Somerset. On at the moment until 26 September is Wells Art Contemporary, back live in Wells Cathedral after a two-year break due to the pandemic. Showing throughout the cathedral is an eclectic array of artists chosen from 3500 submissions from all over the world.

Twenty-seven installations occupy the nave, transepts, choir, chapter house and gardens. Among the highlights, is Candace Bahouth’s Let There be Light, a glowing, baroque extravagance of mixed media porcelain candlesticks with a clear religious theme and with an exquisite majolica Madonna and Child as its centrepiece. In complete contrast is Bob Spriggs’s Gathered from the Four Corners of the Earth, a cool but mesmerising kinetic sculpture, consisting of gently swaying glass and metallic balls that react among other things to the movement of people around it. Its uncompromising modernity perfectly complements the glorious light-filled medieval chapter house. And in the cloister garden When Things Come Apart, Deborah Davies’s tumbling timber tower, reminds us that the freedoms we take for granted are fragile and must be fought for by each succeeding generation.

Let There Be Light by Candace Bahouth

Let There Be Light by Candace Bahouth

The walls of the Cloister Gallery display 91 innovative and thought-provoking works – paintings, sculpture, prints, photographs. They encompass a huge range of styles from the relatively conventional, such as the meticulously executed portraits by Frances Borden and Katie Jones, to Sally Muir’s intriguing ghostly monotype Beyond Black 2, Matthew Askey’s oddly disturbing Pieta, a gem of a painting in the rarely used medium (these days) of egg tempera, and Conor Doyle’s frankly mischievous The Pigington Club, a trio of two-metre high soft sculpture piglets whose pink appendages caused some unease among the cathedral authorities.

Let There Be Light by Candace Bahouth

Let There Be Light by Candace Bahouth

All the works are for sale at prices ranging from £200 to £35,000. If you can’t visit the show in person (admission as for the cathedral), a virtual exhibition is also available online.

Coincidentally, on the outside of the cathedral, a new cast iron life-size sculpture by Antony Gormley and loaned to the cathedral from end August 2021, occupies one of the empty niches below the north-west tower on the magnificent West Front. Gormley explains, ‘The work attempts to invoke the feeling of being isolated and exposed on this corner of a Gothic masterpiece. My purpose is to engage the eye and body of the viewer in empathic projection, to consider our time in the shelter of other times.’ Entitled Doubt, it has attracted mixed reactions from locals and the Anglican hierarchy. Gormley counters, ‘I am very aware of the paradox of placing an object called DOUBT on the facade of a building devoted to belief. But it seems to me that doubting, interrogating, questioning, are all part of belief.’ With the sculpture in place until February 2023, there is plenty of time for the debate to continue.

And the Somerset art feast continues. From 18 September to 3 October, Somerset Open Studios presents arts and crafts in 200 studios and spaces across the county One particularly intriguing event could be the artists’ residency at the old Shepton Mallet Prison (now closed). Thirteen female artists will be resident in C-wing, the former women’s prison, for 16 days, each in their own cell, and their reactions to the prison’s gruesome history, including, for example, the imprisonment and torture of suffragettes, should be interesting.

VISIT

The Wells Art Contemporary 2021 Exhibition is now available to visit in person and online, until Sunday 26 September. wellsartcontemporary.co.uk

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