Tracey Emin, Mat Collishaw and Paula Rego: at the Foundling Museum

Mat Collishaw, Tracey Emin and Paula Rego are to show new and related works at the Foundling Museum in London throughout its eighteenth-century interiors as well as outside spaces. All of the works link to the story of the Foundling Hospital, Britain’s first home for abandoned children, and its themes of childhood and separation. The exhibition will include paintings, works on paper, bronzes and installations throughout the Museum as well as external spaces.

Curated by Gill Hedley for the Foundling Museum ’s contemporary art strand, this exhibition brings together these three acclaimed artists for the first time. Each artist is well-known internationally for powerful responses to pain and anguish associated with aspects of childhood, motherhood, abortion and loss. The works shown here reveal both toughness and tenderness and follow the long tradition of artists as social commentators, from Hogarth onwards, in showing new work at the Foundling.

Paula Rego has made a major new work combining several paintings in the form of a devotional altarpiece with life-size figures of foundling children in the powerful installation “Oratorio”. Depicting the fall from grace of women in the eighteenth century and the devastating repercussions, this work combines images of seduction, rape and infanticide with a specific reference to Hogarth’s famous “ Gin Lane ”, on permanent display in the Museum, as well as little scenes of childhood tenderness. Based on the traditional altarpieces Rego grew up with in her family home in Portugal , “Oratorio” stands over 3 metres high and will dominate the first floor landing of the Foundling Museum .

In the Exhibition Gallery, seven of Rego’s preparatory drawings will be displayed alongside seven works on paper by Tracey Emin from her latest book “One Thousand Drawings”. Mat Collishaw will be showing photographic works including his series “Idle Young” depicting Indian street children with eighteenth-century backdrops. Collishaw will also be showing works within the traditional spaces of the Museum including a lightbox image referencing the narrative of Romulus and Remus as children nurtured by savage wolves, and a new snowdome work made especially for the Foundling.

Tracey Emin will include items from her series “Baby Things”, discarded baby items like a tiny sock, mitten and a teddy cast in bronze. These were originally shown as part of the Folkestone Triennale in 2008 highlighting the issue of teenage pregnancy. In addition Emin will be showing text and personal ephemera in the historic spaces of the Museum relating to memories of family and lost children alongside some of the tokens left by mothers with their babies at the Foundling Hospital . While Emin’s practice is widely perceived to be bold and provocative, these works are surprisingly subtle and fragile. In addition, Emin will include her blue neon work exhibited on the exterior of the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and originally conceived as a piece of public art near the Foundling Museum . “Foundlings and Fledglings”, a work of text and bird image has been remade especially for the Museum’s façade to bring it back to its original context.

The backdrop of the Foundling with all its traces of so many children given up for care, especially the poignant tokens left by mothers in the hope of reunion one day, will lend an extra element to Collishaw’s lightboxes and photographs of children in extremis, Emin’s extraordinarily powerful and autobiographical references to loss and Rego’s disturbing and touching new history of a group of foundlings.

The Foundling Museum
40 Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1AZ
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