The Box, the flagship building for Plymouth's Mayflower 400 commemorations, will open on Saturday, 16 May with a stunning programme featuring major contemporary artists, and an internationally-important exhibition about the Mayflower that will debunk myths and tell the story of one of the world’s most significant journeys.
‘Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy’ is the national commemorative exhibition for the Mayflower 400 anniversary. It is Plymouth's largest-ever loans exhibition and has been co-curated with the Wampanoag Advisory Committee to Plymouth 400 in the USA.
Forget everything you thought you knew about the Mayflower… the exhibition will debunk myths and explore how one ship connects four nations over 400 years.
Powerful perspectives will be shared through images, ideas and objects including the first Bible to be printed in America, the last known record of the Mayflower, the oldest existing state document of New England, drawings, diaries, maps, plans and portraits, and the first piece of Wampanoag art commissioned by the city.
It will feature 300 items, on loan from 100 museums, libraries and archives from around the world, including Native American items from The National Museum of the American Indian and the Harvard Peabody collection.
The exhibition will be free to Plymouth residents and under 18s. Tickets for non-residents will be just £5.
One of the historic items that will be on display at The Box
Cllr Peter Smith, Deputy Leader of Plymouth City Council, said: “It’s fantastic to finally reveal the launch date and programme for The Box – the largest museum and art gallery to open in the UK this year. The opening programme is exciting, varied and ambitious and showcases Plymouth's rich heritage alongside contemporary art.
“With acclaimed artists from Europe and America and a myth-busting ‘Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy’ exhibition that brings objects from both sides of the Atlantic together, there’s going to be so much for visitors to enjoy. Roll on 16 May!”
Shadow leader, Ian Bowyer added: “The programme is nothing short of incredible. This project has always been ambitious – from the building design through to the plans to keep visitors and residents coming through the door – and it is really coming together!”
‘Making It’ is the first contemporary art exhibition at The Box and aims to contrast the labour intensive process of making and Plymouth's history as a city of makers with the ‘15 minutes of fame’ culture that exists in today’s social media age.
The exhibition includes works by five international artists: Leonor Antunes, Eva Grubinger, Alexandre da Cunha, Christopher Baker and Antony Gormley.
Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes’ work responds to the renovated architecture of St Luke’s church. A new floor work and a series of rope elements interconnect with hanging brass sculptures and glass coloured lights. These will be shown alongside the stained-glass window Antunes is creating for the building.
Video still from Hello World. Picture: Christopher Baker
Austrian sculptor and installation artist Eva Grubinger focusses on everyday objects. Her ‘Fender’ is a giant ship’s fender made from vulcanized rubber and steel that dovetails with many of the maritime objects in The Box’s collections.
It will be near the suspended flotilla of 14 monumental ship’s figureheads, referencing Plymouth's history as a major naval, shipping and fishing port as well as a place of exploration and expedition.
Brazilian artist Alexandre da Cunha’s uses existing and found items, inviting audiences to see them with a new perspective. His sculpture ‘Figurehead II’ is made up of four stacked chamber drainage rings, stands over six metres tall and its stature makes a direct reference to the post-war buildings and reconstruction of Plymouth.
Chicago-based artist Christopher Baker’s explores the relationship between society and technology. ‘Hello World! Or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise’ is a large audio-visual installation comprising 5,000 video diaries gathered from the internet. Each one features a person speaking candidly from a private space such as a bedroom or kitchen.
Viewers can listen to individual speakers or immerse themselves in the overall ‘wall of sound’. The installation explores how social platforms give people the chance to be heard, but the more people speak, the more they drown each other out.
Kehinde Wiley ‘Narrenschiff’, 2017. Copyright: Kehinde Wiley. Courtesy: Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Picture: Mark Blower
The Box’s opening programme is completed by Kehinde Wiley’s video installation ‘Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools)’, which is presented in partnership with The Arts Institute in the Levinsky Gallery at the University of Plymouth.
The artist, who painted former US President Barack Obama’s portrait in 2017, looks at historical and contemporary histories of migration, connecting with Plymouth's past as a starting point of great voyages. The work was acquired in 2018 through the Contemporary Art Society’s prestigious Collections Fund Prize and will be accompanied by a 1498 book also called ‘The Ship of Fools’ from The Box’s nationally important Cottonian Collection.
The ‘Making It’ and ‘Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools)’ exhibitions will be free, as will a series of incredible permanent galleries that highlight The Box’s natural history, human history, art, archive, film and photographic collections.
Phil Gibby, South West Area Director for Arts Council England, said: “We are delighted to invest in The Box through our National Portfolio funding and other strategic funds, including our Capital programme.
“The opening of The Box as part of the Mayflower 400 commemorations will strengthen Plymouth's reputation as a cultural capital, both nationally and internationally, and will secure a tangible legacy for Plymouth to be enjoyed by generations to come.
“We are extremely pleased to support The Box’s ambitious contemporary art programme, featuring world-class artists from Antony Gormley and Leonor Antunes to Kehinde Wiley and Eva Grubinger, which furthers Plymouth's growing reputation as a major visual arts destination.”
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