It is good to return to the Design Museum, that new museum smell is beginning to fade but the new museum excitement still lingers in the 1960s former Commonwealth Institute’s cathedral like space. I am off down to the basement to see a new exhibition, Breathing Colour by Hella Jongerius.
The space features a number of newly commissioned installations that take a deeper look at how colour behaves. There are woven textiles, beautifully sculptural ‘Colour Catchers’, crystal beads and over 100 ceramic vases that seek to help us explore the effect different light conditions have on colour and form.
From morning glints of blue and green, the freshness of a new day, to the full glare of the afternoon sun that brings pigments to life. The dusky evening light brings dark, flatness and shadows are explored in all their soft fudginess and hard defined projections.
In a way it is a shame that an exhibition about light and colour is in a basement with no natural light, it feels like the beads of crystal that refract the light are lacking the impact they might have had. I see a slight rainbow reflection but it just leaves me wanting more.
There is clearly huge amounts of research that Jongerius had done, not only in her physical making of objects and materials but also the historical context of how artists and designers have used and mixed colours. While the interpretation touches on this, in a way I feel this could have been expanded. The accompanying booklet talks of JMW Turner painting the morning light and of Rembrandt and Caravaggio, how they brought faces, bodies and flesh to life through the careful study of shadows. I would love to see comparison pieces. Why not give Jongerius the freedom to not only curator her own work but that of other artists to really highlight all the knowledge, experience and practical application in colour she has within her.
It is an exhibition that invites you to take time to really look and compare colours. I became quite swept up alternating my photography between my camera phone and Canon DSLR as it quickly became apparent they capture the colours completely differently.
There was a wall of greens, the slight folds made it look as if there were a variation in shades but it was just the light hitting the surface in different ways. I enjoyed playing with the light box, moving objects to see how they changed under different extremities of light.
Everywhere you look shadows play with your perception of colour and form. There was a fascinating short video that showed the variations in colour of a red sphere at different times of the day. The changes on the time-lapse imperceptible but the final shot of comparison quite stark in its differences.
Before leaving my eye was drawn to the colour wheel, developed to explore variations in tone and hue resulting from incremental changes in colour mixture. Each paper disc contains a tab in the centre showing the original pigments that have been combined to produced the final colour. There was a white, bright, with pigments of blue and red. It reminded me of a gallery tour I took at the Guildhall Art Gallery where the guide explained how the Pre-raphaelites painted on white backgrounds to really make their colours ‘Pop’.
Breathing Colour does make you realise how we completely take colour for granted, it is good to have an exploration not only of how artists and designers use colour but how we use colour in our homes and the restraints of commercial standardised colour systems.
On the way home I found myself looking all around me on the tube at different colours, appreciating different shades and hues. I will never look at Ikea in the same way again…
Breathing Colour by Hella Jongerius is on at the Design Museum from 28th June – 24th September 2017. For more information and tickets please see the website – https://designmuseum.org/exhibitions/breathing-colour-by-hella-jongerius