RSVP: Contemporary Artists at the Foundling

28 September 2007 - 18 November 2007

Fifteen contemporary artists from the East of England were invited to create works inspired by the art and social history collections at London’s Foundling Museum. Their responses – including a cascade of kinetic sculpture, a wallpaper of children’s names, and a lollipop opera based on Handel’s Foundling Anthem - were on show in a seven-week exhibition and programme of public events during the autumn of 2007. 

The RSVP artists were Matt Cook, Tom Cox-Bisham, Lorrice Douglas, Sandra Flower, David Kefford, Simon Liddiment, Nicola Naismith, Alex Pearl, Emily Russell and Kristian De La Riva, Sarah Sabin, Rob Smith, Townley and Bradby, and Zory - Farngis Shahrokhi.

They were all participants on Arts Council England East’s Escalator Visual Arts programme, initiated and developed by Commissions East. Commissions East has a track record of commissioning contemporary art in historic locations, most notably at Wymondham Abbey, Felbrigg Hall, Orford Ness, and Dunstable Downs. “The collaboration enables artists based in the East of England to work with an internationally renowned venue,” says David Wright, Director. “A previous project, Stay, in 2005 at the Great Eastern Hotel, London, involved eleven artists, such as Susan Gunn, and Richard DeDomenici, who successfully used the opportunity as a springboard for their careers.” 

RSVP was the first major contemporary art show at the Foundling Museum, continuing the tradition begun by Hogarth to encourage emerging contemporary artists to submit their work for display. Gainsborough, himself from the East Anglian town of Sudbury, produced his first well-known work The Charterhouse (1748) for the original Foundling exhibition at the age of twenty one. Nearly two centuries later, we once again brought new artists to public attention.

Gill Hedley, previously Director of the Contemporary Art Society, curated the exhibition, and led tours as part of the public programming. “I have long been fascinated by the Foundling story, not least because artists at the time the Foundling Hospital was set up – such as Hogarth and Gainsborough - supported the charity as well as cleverly creating a platform for their own works of art. It's a real pleasure for me to work with these contemporary artists to stage an exhibition which will respond in a variety of ways to the fascinating history and collections of the Foundling Museum.” Gill Hedley also curated Mat Collishaw, Tracey Emin & Paula Rego: At the Foundling.

Drawing for the Foundling Opera, 2007, unique laser print, 15cm x 10 cm by Alex Pearl © The artist

Alex Pearl created a ‘lollipop stick opera’, inspired by paintings in the Museum that depict key moments in the passage of a Foundling through the Hospital, set to Handel’s Foundling Anthem.  Accompanying this was a lenticular portrait of the Foundling’s current governors, in the style of the traditional eighteenth-century group portrait of a society’s worthies.








Unaffected Alterations, 2007, mixed media, dimensions variable by Matt Cook © The artist

Matt Cook suspended a chaotic jumble of wires, cassettes, mirrors and motors from the ceiling at the top of the elegant staircase, cascading it down to the ground floor.  Sounds inspired by the Museum – snippets of Handel, a chiming grandfather clock, children’s voices – emanate from the piece, subverting the politeness of the Museum space.


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