Wednesday, March 05, 2014

What’s in that crate?

At the moment nothing is in the crate. The object that was in it (a wooden writing desk) is now sitting on top of it in the City Gallery so here is the tale of that desk (as best as we can remember) as told to us by Simon Starling.

Thinking of Australian connections for exhibitions in Melbourne and Brisbane, Starling noticed that an Australian museum had the desk of writer Patrick White in its collection. Turned out that when White was living in London he'd known Francis Bacon who was working as an interior designer.  "I got to know Francis when he designed some furniture for my Eccleston Street flat. I like to remember his beautiful pansy-shaped face, sometimes with too much lipstick on it." The furniture Bacon designed included a writing desk but White sold it and the other pieces when he returned to Australia after the war.

Almost immediately regretting the sale White tried to make amends. He gave a photograph of the Bacon-designed desk (probably the top photograph above) to an Australian cabinetmaker to make another one. Unfortunately he largely missed the spirit of the Bacon and produced a bit of a clunker.

Enter Simon Starling.

Starling sent the photograph White had probably used of the original Bacon desk to a cabinetmaker in Berlin asking him to make a replica. The new desk was then photographed and this image sent to a cabinetmaker in Australia. He repeated the process making another desk based on a photograph of the German replica and in turn sent a photograph of his own effort to a cabinetmaker in England with the same instructions.

The three desks are exhibited on top of the crates that initially shipped two of them to Australia and now all of them to New Zealand. Chinese whispers desk style, but as the City Gallery's Robert Leonard said in his talk last week, even all that’s not the whole story. 

Starling’s ingenious and engaging exhibition is on at the City Gallery in Wellington until 18 May.

Images: Top, the crate that is used to ship the German replica. Middle, the original desk designed by Francis Bacon in Patrick White’s flat in London’s Eccleston Street. Middle, Patrick White in 1973 sitting on the replica he had made in Australia (Photo: National Library of Australia) and bottom, White at his Australian desk as painted by Brett Whitely.