Flight and the Artistic Imagination @Compton Verney (August 2012)
(This review was syndicated )

Compton Verney goes from strength to strength. Its visitor numbers are seventy per cent up on last year and the recently opened exhibition Flight and the Artistic Imagination will I’m sure be a hit with the public. It has something for everyone.
The academically inclined will appreciate the opening galleries with their focus on myth and legend, saints levitating and pioneering ballooning. Icarus carried away with the joy of flight oblivious to the danger of flying too close to the sun inspired many of the images including the famous Matisse cut out. Nowadays we easily forget Icarus’s wonder and take flight for granted. The joy of this exhibition is that the artistic imagination can recover the amazement and the mystery.
Those seeking great paintings will not be disappointed by Paul Nash’s Battle of Britain and Peter Lanyon’s Soaring Flight. The fusion with contemporary art is seamless. My personal reaction to the installations in the galleries beyond the Chinese bronzes was a big tick to all five of them.
But Mark Wallinger’s Angel is found, in the opening galleries because his video installation focuses on Biblical creation myths. My reactions to that were mixed. The allusion to Jacob’s ladder was, for me, a success. Handel’s Zadok the Priest soars in the background while Mark, in the alter ego of Blind Faith, stands on the Underground escalator reciting the opening lines from Genesis. Those words are full of power and poetry and there lay the problem for me. They are delivered in a strange swallowed manner, backwards and forwards, which irritated where they should have inspired.
Hiraki Sawa’s video presentation is pure delight. Humour, surrealism and serenity are all present in Dwelling which is set in his West London flat close to Heathrow but I’ll leave the content to surprise the viewer.
Layla Curtis’s two channel video installation Sky Drawings (night and day) reflects the ceaselessness of air traffic which she traces over a 24 hour period. The points of light in the night sky were poignant reminders of human beings up there in the last frontier. The day time traces were mesmerising.
Joe Tilson’s Transparency Yuri Gagarin 12 April 1961 was a pop art take on the first man in space and life imitates art in mysterious images like Spiral Galaxy taken by the Hubble telescope. This combination of art and science is not new. On loan from The Royal Collection is Leonardo’s A bird’s eye view of the Val di Chiana. Science, engineering and art are united in his mind.
The artist Paul M Smith was commissioned by Compton Verney to produce a digital photograph in a light box of him jumping between two of the buildings, as part of his Action series. The pictures are suspended from the ceiling and children viewing them from the bean bags will love the flying super hero. The exhibition ends with a dramatic work called Downed by Al Johnson honouring women’s working in the aircraft industry during WW2.
The exhibition continues until September 30. Go to www.compton verney for details of connected events, workshops and lectures.