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Maggs beneath the Covers

Twelve artists have been commissioned to create works inspired by books or manuscripts from Maggs An exciting new Arts Council England sponsored project, Maggs beneath the Covers responds to rare and unique publications not normally available for public view. The collection will explore the interface between craft and fine art practice. It includes a ‘food-belt-rope-ladder' inspired by Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and a sculpture of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browningon their balcony at Casa Guidi, recreated from prints of the literary couple and their letters.

21st September - 21st December 2012 Maggs Bros Ltd, 50 Berkeley Square, London W1J 5BA

It is an unprecedented opportunity for artists to work with unusual and rare books, explore a rich seam of heritage and offer the public a glimpse of previously unseen areas of Maggs's historic Georgian buildings.

Stella Harding
Above: Stella Harding

The project developed after one of the Maggs directors visited a successful group exhibition, Unravelling the Manor House, organised by the unravelled group of artists at Preston Manor inBrighton. The bookseller decided to invite artists to explore the usually private workings and contents of Maggs Bros. Ltd. in Mayfair.
Robert Harding, director at Maggs, says: “We are very excited about this exhibition; we see it as a celebration both of our incredible collections and the creativity it inspires in this amazing group of artists.”


Penny Green, curator of Maggs beneath the Covers, says: “We are thankful to Maggs for this opportunity to make work that draws out the relationship between contemporary and historical art shown in the unique establishment of 50 Berkeley Square.”


Stephanie Allen, Visual Arts Relationship Manager, South East, Arts Council England, says: 'It's exciting to see artists that explore the space between fine art and craft being inspired by historic spaces and places. Maggs beneath the Covers supported through our National Lottery funded Grants for the arts is commissioning works in partnership with historic bookseller Maggs, bringing a new dynamic and source of inspiration to the South East artists involved and providing a magical new platform for showing experimental work which will engage and intrigue a wide range of audiences. '


The exhibition runs from 20th September - 21st December 2012.

James Hunting
Above: James Hunting

Artists taking part

Robert Cooper, Amy Douglas, Gavin Fry, Penny Green, Stella Harding, James Hunting,Lyndall Phelps, Freya Pocklington, Nigel Slight, Matt Smith, Clare Thornton and Russell Webb.


Amy Douglas

Inspired by the Autograph Letters department, Hinda and Polly - The Archivists, archived explores the thoughts and feelings of the work they handle, and what they love, recorded using a form of printmaking and letterpress.


Nigel Slight

Considers the cultural preciosity of antiquarian books and documents, and the theme of human-initiated devastation.


Penny Green

Working from two prints of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning together with their joint autographs and their letters, Green has endeavoured to reconstruct the famous pair sitting on their balcony underneath the orange tree at Casa Guidi.


Stella Harding

Basketry techniques have been exploited to weave a piece in response to a small 16th century bookprinted in Latin. The book’s owner had hand-written his defence to the Roman Inquisition 'between the lines' of print whilst in prison awaiting trial for heresy. The work emphasises the plight of contemporary writers imprisoned by oppressive regimes. 

James Hunting

Exploring the dichotomy of Victorian exploration and repression through the layering of stitch, a great nineteenth century occupation. Volumes by the explorer Sir Richard Burton will be constrained and suffocated by an over-layer of Berlin woolwork – a technique considered daring and vibrant by theVictorians, but now vulgar and colour saturated.


Lyndall Phelps

Inspired by a World War I Aircraft Recognition poster discovered in Maggs’s basement, Bellicus Lepidoptera continues the artist’s interest in combining two unlikely areas: the military and naturalhistory. These subjects are not prominent amongst Maggs’ collections; they have become camouflaged in a multitude of books.


Matt Smith

Triptych is a response to the first edition of Colm Toíbín’s 2009 novel about emigration, Brooklyn. Made to be propped on a mantelpiece, the piece reminds us that while we may crave an ideal of a safe and stable home, the reality of life is full of complexities and contradictions.


Clare Thornton

A sculptural piece for the stairwell, reflecting on how a book might leave a visual trace, or imprint, on the building as it does upon the mind of the reader. Responds to a book on performance art in the Japanese Photography and Design department, Unetsu - The Egg Stands out of Curiosity by the Sankai Juku Butoh company.


Freya Pocklington


Using an un-catalogued scrapbook of New Zealand warships with some photographs of sailors with adog, Sea Dog uses ‘moving drawing’ or animation to look at the place of animal mascots on 20th century warships.


Russell Webb

Has used 'messianic' texts from early manuscripts, books and more recent works of counter-culture to inspire a reworking of an 18th century moral handbook 'How to Use the World'.


Gavin Fry

Has chosen from Jonathan Swift’s Travels of Captain Lemuel Gulliver (1735) Gulliver's visit to The Grand Academy of Lagado where he is exposed to experiments for the extraction of sunbeams from cucumbers, the mixing of colours by blind apprentices, spiders’ webs produced by a diet of beautifully coloured flies, and language machines for the production of speculative knowledge. Challenges the notion of craft utility by making a ‘bucklefoodladder' for Gulliver to traverse philosophical boundaries, ecological invention and the variable girth of his waist as he moves through Liliput.


Robert Cooper

Works with clay in a variety of ways. Impressed by Maggs' vastness of books, Cooper has used fused stacks of recycled ceramic tiles to express the power of books to hold knowledge even whenunopened.

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