in Collaborations , Videos | 11 JUN 21

The Box: Discovering the Art and History of Britain's Ocean City

Jennifer Higgie visits Plymouth’s new museum to explore its rich collection spanning centuries, geographical locations, and artistic media

in Collaborations , Videos | 11 JUN 21
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Filmed before the museum recently reopened to the public, this video explores the extensive collection of art and artefacts at The Box in Plymouth, dedicated to celebrating the city's cultural and historical legacy.

‘It is about the past’, says Nicoletta Lambertucci, Curator of Contemporary Art at The Box, ‘but I think [it is about] how our past lets us think about our future.’ 

Ten years in the making and opened in 2020, The Box, Plymouth is a museum, gallery and archive that spans centuries, geographical locations and artistic media. Jennifer Higgie, editor-at-large of frieze recently visited The Box to see what role a museum with such a rich historical collection can play in understanding the past while also creating space for present-day audiences to be inspired by the art and history of Britain's 'Ocean City'.

Thanks to the Contemporary Art Society’s Collection Fund at Frieze, in 2018 The Box was able to acquire the first major three-channel film by American artist Kehinde Wiley. The presence of water, hint of light and themes of migration mean this piece ‘holds in many ways all of the threads that we want to bring into the collection of contemporary art’ explains Lambertucci. Creating a timely connection to the maritime history of the museum, the title of the video work, Narenschiff (German for ‘Ship of fools’) directly references a 1498 book which is part of the Cottonian Collection, an archive housed at The Box going back to the early 1600’s.

The gallery spaces present a selection of newly commissioned artworks. The featured artists have responded, in their own way to the specificity of the museum's collection and its history. Inspired by the marbled end paper in a 1705 book published by pioneering scientist Maria Sybilla Merian, Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes, known for her sculptural pieces, created a permanent installation on the window of St. Luke’s church. Figurehead II, a commission by Brazilian artist Alexandre da Cunha references portholes and ships and, like the museum, works on ‘many metaphorical and symbolic levels’. Not unlike Plymouth itself, it is ‘looking out into the world, looking out into the sea’.

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