Artists: Bill Fontana, Lucy Blackstad, Kasia Morawska, Rosie Leventon, Humphrey Ocean, Stefan Gec, Tacita Dean
Curator: Katharine Stout
Cost: £200 000
Venue: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10
The National Maritime Museum’s first major contemporary art project makes a powerful and slightly unnerving impression on visitors even before they’ve got inside the Greenwich museum. Bill Fontana’s eerie sound sculpture provides an evocative soundtrack from eight speakers along the long path towards the museum entrance, setting the scene for the visit by bringing the relentless ebb and flow of the sea (recorded at Chesil Beach) to the forefront of visitors’ minds. Fontana’s stirring contribution is one of seven pieces within the New Visions of the Sea project commissioned for the Neptune Court extension.
Equally successful is Tacita Dean’s moving response to the true story of the disappearance of yachtsman Donald Crownhurst, who went missing after falsifying his progress in a round-the-world yacht race. Her work is in three parts: the poignant inscription ‘It is the mercy’ on a handrail is a reference to the last entry in his logbook; photographs of Crownhurst’s wrecked boat Teignmouth Electron on the beach in the Cayman Islands where it has languished since his death, and a film of the sea shot from a lighthouse between day and night. Dean’s project successfully uses an individual tragedy to help visitors appreciate the lure, power and danger of the sea.
Also moving is Rosie Leventon’s delicate glass sculpture Absentee, a response to the scandalous scuppering of the Trafalgar veteran ship HMS Implacable, which survived from 1800 to 1949, only to be sunk through lack of funds to restore it. The figurehead and carvings were rescued, and Leventon’s sculpture hangs opposite, evoking the fragile, broken form of the ship.
Perhaps because of their emotive subjects, these pieces seem to offer more to the visitors than the other New Visions projects: Humphrey Ocean’s painting of a contemporary ferry crossing, Stefan Gec’s spherical Faedm sculpture, embellished with readings of the depth of the ocean floor, Kasia Morawska’s The Bridge bronze sculpture, inspired by uniform epaulettes and Lucy Blackstad’s mesmerising film The Shipping Forecast.
The museum hopes to build on the success of the project with a second phase of commissioning for New Visions of the Sea, scheduled for next year.