Organisation of the work of MC Escher is a highly intriguing concept, and one that I imagine the curators of this touring show took extremely cautiously, as the work itself defiantly avoids classification. At the start of the exhibition, on now at Dulwich Picture Gallery, the introductory panel states that Escher is considered a “one man art movement”, and although there are hints at defined modern themes, the viewer is told immediately to assess the art on the various aesthetic ideas that the artist conveys.
Of course, with the flux of images we process on a daily basis, this is a hard task for the twenty-first century viewer, as we are always trying to deconstruct and contextualise the visual cultures of everyday life. However by the end of the exhibition we find that we are witnessing the world of MC Escher unravel and, forty-three years after his death, his work still feels refreshing, compelling and often amusing.
As the content of the exhibition proves difficult to present thematically, it is perhaps most efficient to present ‘The Amazing World of MC Escher’ chronologically. Themes and landmark moments in Escher’s life instead form the pathway for the exhibition. Informed that over a hundred works are on display together, the viewer notices that the potency of most of MC Escher’s art makes it somewhat unnecessary to curate such a vast collection of his oeuvre.
So with the pieces packed densely in the exhibition space, there is no distraction from immersing yourself within Escher’s world, which is fortunate, as the work has many different ideas to contend with and try to understand. This includes the artist’s ongoing fascination with different perspectives, prevalent throughout including the popular ‘Tower of Babel’ woodcut from 1928. Showcasing a view above the Tower, which in the Bible was built by the Babylonians to be closer to God, is majestic in the fact that we, as the viewer, are able to adopt an elevated stance above the human one.
Coming face to face with Escher in his first ‘Self Portrait’ from 1923, we see that there is much to be inferred from the intensely sharp gaze of the subject. Intriguingly, the gaze and general aesthetic of the piece further enhances the power of the intricate, geometric line work. This acts as the first point at which we realise that Escher has somehow been able to curate the show himself, in that the artwork provides its own narrative beyond the supporting texts. Moving through the various sections, it is interesting to see exactly how the exhibition has been divided.
The content of the exhibition speaks volumes and it is certainly an exciting prospect to see the familiar and unfamiliar of Escher’s work displayed together and in a linear order. Thus we are forced to observe his work in the way that is usually dictated to us, in that the artist’s life is paramount to the process and product. The viewer leaves the gallery content that Escher’s endeavours, including the many optical illusion-inspired pieces, such as ‘Drawing Hands’, would not benefit from being classified within a specific movement. The exhibition, thanks to its rich and transfixing content, leaves an impression which raises questions about the way we are currently so intent on classifying works and assessing the cultural and personal lives of contemporary artists.
Words by Issey Scott
The Amazing World of MC Escher, Dulwich Picture Gallery, until 17 January 2016.