Saturday, May 29, 2010

Exhibition Review: The Enchanted Palace

 Photo credit: HRP
The princess will fall into
the arms of the beloved. She will be
happy, for a while.
On her wedding day
there will be angels
passing, gods pronouncing
sages advising, and
crowds strewing the
roads with roses
red as desire.
But the shadowy form
has always been behind
She was running towards love
and dancing with death
all her life.
                                             by Mercedes Kemp

This excerpt of a poem called Charlotte at the Kings Staircase by Mercedes Kemp encapsulates the exhibition The Enchanted Palace now open at Kensington Palace in London. Not your run of the mill installation, this collaboration between fashion designers and artists including Vivienne Westwood, Stephen Jones, Boudicca, Echo Morgan, Aminaica Wilmont and William Tempest remakes Kensington Palace into a contemporary art gallery.

Focused on the lives of seven royal princesses, the exhibition challenges the viewer to actively engage in the installations. The thematic rooms incorporate site-specific art, fashion and poetry to give the viewer clues as to which princess the room is paying tribute to, but it is not until the end of the exhibition that the answers are revealed in light boxes which cleverly turn into mirrors. Undoubtedly frustrating for many of the visitors that were expecting to see more run-of-the-mill, fusty royal displays, I laughed with delight at the whimsy and incredible creativity of the artists and designers who participated in this project. In fact, I felt somewhat jealous that I hadn't been part of it! 

Seven former residents of Kensington Palace served as the inspiration for the exhibition and included:
Queen Mary II 1662-1694
Queen Anne 1665-1714
Queen Caroline 1683-1737
Princess Charlotte 1796-1817
Queen Victoria 1819-1901
Princess Margaret 1930-2002
Princess Diana 1961-1997

The three installations that were in my mind the most enchanting included:

In the Cupola room, there were three mannequin's torsos suspended from the ceiling with sculptural elements that looked like steel crinoline hoops and metal time pieces. I'd hazard a guess that some people walked into this room and didn't even look up to the ceiling to see these extraordinary works by Boudica and William Tempest.

Photo by Richard Lea-Hair HRP

A Dress for a Rebellious Princess was a magnificent Vivienne Westwood gown suspended on a back staircase to look like a headless princess running down the stairs. The saucy button on the bodice reads "I AM EXPENSIV" (sic).

Dress of the World by illustrator and set designer Echo Morgan was a washi-paper dress sculpture which takes the shape of Kensington Palace's infamous 17th century Rockingham mantua. This dress sculpture was covered in tiny drawings and set on top of a wire frame with baby carriage wheels. This room also included a curiosity cabinet filled with whimsical artwork.  

 Photo by Richard Lea-Hair HRP

In the realm of the royal Kensington Palace, these engaging artworks take on a deeper significance alluding to the nightmarish and often troubled fate that befell most of these princesses.

She is dressed each morning
she is fiercely corseted,
encased in dresses that
feel like coffins.
                           by Mercedes Kemp

This exhibition created in association with WILDWORKS was a mash up of fashion, site-specific installation art, history, poetry and performance. It really and truly was enchanting. Kensington Palace's show The Enchanted Palace continues until January 2012.

Hyde Park
London, England

Note: All images were provided by HRP and are under copyright.