Writer Beth Exley / Photographer Jessica Whitty
Walking into the first-floor gallery at Ikon, one of the last things you expect to see are huge, gilded frames containing masterpieces from the Italian Renaissance, but that’s what you’ll get when visiting Carlo Crivelli: Shadows on the Sky.
For an organisation known for its work with contemporary artists, it is quite a radical move to show such works. But, for some reason, Shadows on the Sky feels like an organic and logical extension of Ikon’s usual work. Located on the first floor of the gallery, the white walls and pared-back display of Ikon allow the exhibition to really shine.
In the first room, you’re greeted by two small canvases that wouldn’t look out of place in a church. In a space that is often dominated by large abstract works or projection screens, long-time Ikon visitors may at first feel a little shocked or confused. However, upon closer inspection, these works hint at something beyond your typical fifteenth-century altar painting.
In both ‘Saint Mary Magdalene’ (c. 1491-94) and ‘Virgin and Child’ (c. 1480) the women are presented with elongated hands and necks – typical of the baroque-offshoot style called mannerism. However, Crivelli was painting in this style about fifty years before it became popularised by figures such as Parmigianino and El Greco. Now, I may be slightly biased as mannerism is one of my personal favourite artistic styles from this period, but it feels truly exciting to have works of this nature shown in a contemporary arts space.
Ikon Director Jonathon Watkins has long championed Crivelli as being ‘ahead of his time’ due to his understanding of the relationship between art and what it represents: a concept that became a mainstay of modern art almost 500 years later. Watkins points to Crivelli’s exploration of ‘material and spiritual realities’ within the same canvases as evidence of this claim.
This idea of the relationship between art and representation is explored throughout the exhibition – particularly in the largest work the ‘Annunciation with Saint Emidius’ (c. 1486) which illustrates the meeting of heaven and earth and plays beautifully with pictorial space. Crivelli’s works are rich and luxurious to behold, but they also have an impressive depth; you can truly get lost in them.
If you’re anything like me, you may find the use of QR codes for online exhibition guides popularised during the pandemic annoying – it makes me feel bad to be staring at my phone when trying to admire and understand a person’s artistic output. However, the exhibition assistants at Ikon usually have a few paper copies secreted away.
I’m glad I’m reading a copy as I walk around the space because I’m a little confused by the selection of Susan Collis’ work in the final gallery room.
Upon first sight I think some pieces of equipment have been missed out from the clean-up after install, but these contemporary works embody the same sense of irony captured by Crivelli which is the main basis for the exhibition. Everyday objects are inlaid with precious gems, which appear to be in the gallery by accident when you first see them.
The show is open until the 29 May. You can find more information about Carlo Crivelli: Shadows on the Sky here: www.ikon-gallery.org/event/carlo-crivelli/