See The Real Ideal At The Millennium Galleries In Sheffield

By James Murphy | 27 September 2005
Shows a photo of a work by Cornelia Parker featuring 30 silver plates, spoons, forks and serving platters suspended abovea wooden floor.

30 Pieces of Silver by Cornelia Parker, courtesy the artist and Frith Street Gallery.

James Murphy ventured in to the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield and discovered the real ideal...

Exploring and challenging our perception of the present and future, Sheffield’s Millennium Galleries’ new exhibition The Real Ideal is a sensory treat.

The fantastic collection of works from some of the world’s most respected contemporary artists confronts how we see 21st century life at every turn.

It encompasses an eclectic mix of styles and media from painting and sculpture to dioramas and video installations that capture the imagination.

The Real Ideal makes for an unusual experience as John Forbes, visiting the exhibition, told me: “It’s a really great exhibition but there is definitely something a bit disturbing about this stuff, it’s a little unsettling.”

Shows a photo of a diorama featuring a drawing of a castle with a moon and stars in the background.

Untitled, 2005 by Sarah Woodfine.

All of the pieces encourage us to examine and look beneath the surface of our lives with a glance towards our future, which may not be as rosy as we would like to believe. The exhibition exposes the tensions between appearance and reality and rips apart any ideas we have of it.

There are pieces of staggering visual beauty with rich and vivid colours; and scenes, which superficially at least, seem to represent a harmonious and touching world. But look for just a second longer and you begin to notice that everything is not as it first appears. There is an ominous undertone to the work which hints at sinister implications for the future.

The pieces range from the bizarre to the beautiful but are all linked by a common desire to interpret ideas of the future and their truth, however disquieting. On the surface the work in this exhibition may seem to predict and represent an emerging utopia but the dystopic lurks in the dark.

In his poem The Hollow Men, TS Elliot wrote: “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.” This exhibition shows us that shadow, whether we want to look or not.

Shows a photo of a vase of flowers with what appear to be dead wood pigeons on a table underneath it.

Flowers with Wood Pigeons, 2004 by Heather and Ivan Morison.

Separated by brilliant white partitions the pieces form their own little microcosms, their own individual glimpses into our lives. The artists have tackled both the tangible and the emotional.

Theo Kaccoufa’s GM Bears confronts the emerging and burgeoning field of genetic modification and its implications for the whole planet. The metallic sculptures of a child’s toy bear seem harmless enough but in an ominous and horribly prophetic twist they have been given tentacles, fins and wings.

Shows a sculpture that resembles a metal teddy bear with octopus tentacles instead of legs.

Genetically Modified Bears, Squid Bear, 2001 by Theo Kaccoufa.

Other artists have also explored our physical future and our relationship to nature. Katie Deith’s surreal, hallucinatory images of uninhabited landscapes combine startling natural beauty and vivid trippy colours with an inescapable darkness and sense of foreboding.

Shows a stylised painting of tropical island with a sea in the foreground

Leopoldina, 2000 by Katie Deith.

She plays with our point of view and what we see is not as straightforward as it may first appear. Michael Samuel's sculptures Happy/Bleedy and Save What you Can seem on the surface to present images of paradise, island escapes in a vast and clear blue ocean, but are we really looking at inescapable prisons?

Examining the emotional aspects of our lives is one of the most arresting pieces in the exhibition, a video installation from the Swiss artist Pipillotti Rist.

Accompanied by the artist’s unique rendition of Chris Isaac’s Wicked Game the video Sip My Ocean represents the death of love. It begins with optimism and excitement but ends with sheer devastation. The splendour and tranquillity of the ocean is whipped up as Rist’s striking voice becomes more and more frenzied. Idols of domestic bliss sink and our original peace is turned on its head.

Shows a painting of a street scene at night with a solitary car passing a traffic light

Untitled, Beneath the Roses, 2004 by Gregory Crewdson.

Unmistakeably beautiful with a menacing and subversive undercurrent are the impeccably staged photographs of Gregory Crewdson. With an eerie sense of a story not yet fully told the photographs have a great stillness, the calm after the storm. Presenting shattering images of suburban, middle class America the images display a tempestuous vision of domestic life.

Other pieces like Cornelia Parker’s 30 Pieces of Silver and Sarah Woodfine’s creepy dioramas also seek to highlight the dark and the threatening truth underlying all our lives.

The second of the Millennium Galleries’ major contemporary art shows and the centrepiece of Art Sheffield 05 (beginning October 29), the Real Ideal is a thought provoking, mesmerising and sometimes harrowing exhibition.

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