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Sir John Soane’s Museum London + Emily Allchurch

Collage of the Titans

After organising a hugely successful and academically driven Irish Georgian Society London work-in-progress tour of Pitzhanger Manor, Sir John Soane’s country home (due to reopen to the public next year), an invitation to breakfast at his townhouse  museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields proves providentially irresistible. Morning sunlight pierces the shadowy interiors, soaking the sarcophagi, the inimitable collection lit by shafts of coloured light through stained glass cupolas and lanterns and domes. Nowhere in the capital is there such a multilayering of art and ideas. As Bryan Ferry used to sing, “All styles served here…”

We’ve heard of the Soane style being heralded as the forerunner of modernism – think of his streamlined later work – but today’s proclamation is about his postmodernism aesthetic. Applying such plaudits, bestowing such honorifics to the ultimate disruptor, is but a fitting tribute. Dr Bruce Boucher, Director of Sir John’s Soane Museum, says, “In many ways Soane was postmodern. He’d no fear of adapting different styles. Even the double coding of this building as a house-museum and workplace is postmodern.” A diorama of China Wharf by the cleverest postmodernists, CZWG, takes pride of place in the first floor gallery space. The custard yellow egg in the custard yellow drawing room looks strangely familiar. Turns out it’s from Terry Farrell’s TV AM building.

There’s also an exhibition on the ground floor of what Bruce calls “remarkable digital collages”. It comprises three works by the artist Emily Allchurch. She trained as a sculptor and has an MA from the Royal College of Art. Emily was inspired by significant works by the artist Giovanni Piranesi and the architectural illustrator Joseph Gandy in the Museum’s collections. “The light boxes are windows into another world,” she explains. “My practice creates a dialogue between historic artworks and the present day, using hundreds of photographs and a seamless digital collage technique to recreate the original image in a contemporary idiom. I always take my own photographs. Visiting the buildings is part of the journey.”

Grand Tour: In Search of Soane (after Gandy) is a reworking of Soane’s built projects. Its companion piece Grand Tour II: Homage to Soane (after Gandy) is neoclassical architecture around Britain with “unbuilt” Soane additions. The roofscape of Calke Abbey is amusingly spruced up by three splendid domes. Such euphoric recall! Punchy. Like Joseph Gandy’s work, both these pieces were exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The third piece is Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (after Piranesi).”It’s a conversation about London and Rome,” Emily confirms, “a reminder that empires can collapse.” There’s a weight and confidence to her work. It displays great artistry. And super wit. A “Dead Slow” sign next to mausolea; “If you lived here you’d be home now!” graffiti beside Pitzhanger Manor.

Soon, it will be time for the Irish Georgian Society London to return to its roots. A party to celebrate half a century since the restoration of Castletown House in County Kildare, the Society’s first major success story, awaits.

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