It was with a sense of trepidation that I approached the Private viewing of the most recently commissioned artwork for the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green. My knowledge of modern art is limited (much like, I’d hazard a guess, the vast majority of the British population) so I expected a room with an unmade bed, some scattered pickled animals, and maybe the odd diamond-encrusted skull. In contrast I was met with some startlingly fine work produced by the 7 young, east-end based artists chosen by Arts Admin: Bethan Lloyd Worthington, Kristian De La Riva, Sarah Baker, Corinne Felgate, Bernd Behr, Toby Christian and Michaela Nettell, all of whom are names to watch. Their task was to produce works that are both conversation pieces and embraced “a world of leisure, luxury, pleasure and romance”, whilst complementing the hotel’s architecture and design: itself an imposing mix of Edwardian and Art Deco architectural elements (as it was built between 1910 and 1940) and modern minimalist style, producing a space in stunning harmony with its history and the present.
During the process of an expert tour by the curator Manick Govinda we were able to glimpse all the works scattered throughout the building, perfectly situated to be stumbled upon by any unsuspecting guests lost in the marble and mahogany warren of the hotel corridors. Whilst these placements seemed at first random, Manick provided an insight into the intention that went into the location of each piece, such as Michaela Nettell’s Echoes, a photographic diptych showing a concertina of open windows, shot on film and transformed into a light box, providing a sense of airy lightness to the naturally dark and somewhat constricted space of the downstairs corridor where it’s hung.
Even more unusually placed is Toby Christian’s Finger (VI), literally a large marble finger placed on an Edwardian stairwell. The piece forms part of an ongoing series of sculptures called Appendages which toy with the idea of high-art as rubbish, a speck of a more important whole, reflecting Toby’s interest in fragmentation. The style echoes the classical sculptures in the hotel lobby, whilst the subject manages to instil the grandiose nature of the medium with humorousness.
Humour is a running theme throughout the works, matching the pragmatism in many of the commissions. Sarah Baker’s Do Not Disturb signs reference stripper pens and pin-up postcards, with the two sides depicting the artist as a maid (clean my room), and a pin-up in underwear, (do not disturb). Meanwhile the first of Corinne Felgate’s two pieces, Flim Flam, a collection of artificial plants flocked in white, appear ingeniously camouflaged next to the walls behind them, whilst solving the problems the hotel staff had with keeping their real plants alive.
Overall the collection of artwork and its placement is impressive, enough to sway even those who are not normally fans of modern art. Despite the fact that the hotel is perhaps intimidatingly luxurious, tours of the works are open to all, not simply guests, and on the basis of this viewing, come highly recommended.