Contemplating the naval
Julia Weiner visits two exhibitions by Jewish artists with a maritime theme
Queen’s House, London SE 10
National Maritime Museum, London SE10
THE NATIONAL Maritime Museum in Greenwich, South-East London, is not be the obvious place to find contemporary art. But the museum regularly commissions new work and two celebrated Jewish artists currently have pieces on display.
Paris-based artist Esther Shalev-Gerz has created an installation in the Great Hall of the historic Queen’s House, which is next door to the museum and houses its collection of maritime art.
It consists of three elements. On opposite sides of the hall, speakers play two murmured soundtracks in which people who work in the building speak about its history and their experiences there. On the other side of the hall, two screens project images of the people speaking.
Gerz is fascinated by the hall’s missing ceiling paintings, which were removed in the 18th century and showed the female figure of Peace surrounded by 23 other women representing arts and sciences. To replace them, she has created computer-generated images of women that she particularly admires. Photographs of all 24 are on display.
Sadly, the installation does not quite work. It is difficult to hear the sound- tracks because they play simultaneously and the room echoes. This is a pity, because the stories help further an understanding of the building.
Next door in the main museum, a solo exhibition by the influential American artist Lawrence Weiner explores the navigational concept of the rhumb line, which represent the easiest, although not the shortest, way to steer from one place to another.
Weiner uses language as his primary vehicle and here there are texts inscribed on the walls which reflect on the sailors’ experiences as they kept to the rhumb line, shown alongside drawings and a film. It is absorbing, but more information on how rhumb lines work would help. Esther Shalev-Gerz: Echoes in Memory is at the Queen’s House until March 2, 2008. Lawrence Weiner: Inherent in the Rhumb Line is at the National Maritime Museum until December 9
Esther Shalev-Gerz’s computer-generated figure ( above) and Lawrence Weiner’s rhumb-line installation at the National Maritime Museum