National Highlights – Wolverhampton Art Gallery

In the latest instalment of our National Highlights blog, featuring works selected by staff and volunteers at our partner organisations, Roma Piotrowska, Curatorial Officer at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, chooses two very different works that both have a personal connection.

Keith Piper, Body Type 1 and 2, 1982
Image: Keith Piper, Body Type 1 and 2, 1982, pencil on paper. Courtesy the artist. Installation photograph by Elona Photography.

It is very difficult for an art professional to have a favourite work of art. There are pieces that I am proud we have in the collection because they are by artists whose practice I follow and admire, for example works by Richard Billingham, Siobhan Hapaska, Lubaina Himid, Keith Piper, Larissa Sansour, Yinka Shonibare and Gillian Wearing.

Sometimes items that may seem to be less interesting, become fascinating in the right context. We have for example a collection of memorabilia connected to Royal Weddings, which normally wouldn’t be of my interest. We wanted to represent different stages of family life in relation to our Wolverhampton and Me exhibition, so we chose objects connected to Royal Weddings, such as stickers, commemorative beer bottles and ‘Charles & Diana’ brick. It was fascinating to learn more about those quirky objects and display them in a completely new context of an exhibition about family ties.

I’ve joined the team quite recently and still don’t know many of the objects in our collection, which I am hoping to learn about in the near future! These two works by Keith Piper are close to my heart as they were exhibited in the first show I curated at the Gallery. The black male and female figures are presented naked and with only part of their heads visible, suggesting an incomplete identity. The text around each of the figures describes notions of fear and desire. The portraits explore power relationships and the objectification of the black body – themes that were to recur in Piper’s work over the following decades.

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet
Image: Edouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882. © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

It was also very difficult to pick just one work from The Courtauld Gallery’s collection since you have so many amazing pieces. I love your Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection, for which you are of course the best known. It gives me this wonderful feeling of nostalgia, taking me back to my teenage years when I started being fascinated by art. Paintings by Edouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gaugin and Vincent van Gogh were my starting points for further exploration of art history, which subsequently led me to study it at a University. I was not only captivated by paintings themselves but also by bohemian lives lived by the artists, often reflected in their art.

For this blog, I’ve decided to choose A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet as my favourite work of art in your collection. It is one of your highlights, but I also have a personal connection to it, as I remember studying it carefully as a teenager. Manet’s representation of a bustling café bar influenced my teenage imagination and transferred me to 19th century Paris. It was the time when people’s lives shifted from home life to a more social environment of cafes, restaurants, art galleries, theatres and cabarets. It was the start of cultural life as we know it today. The cultural life I miss in the current unusual Covid-19 circumstances.

Find out more: 

The Courtauld Gallery website has a page dedicated to A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, including talks, films and the latest research.

The Wolverhampton Arts and Culture website has more information about Keith Piper’s Body Type 1 & 2, including the recent exhibition, as well as opportunities to explore their collections virtually.

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