The Medal Show
27 November - 31 January 2014
What is a medal? In an age when all art forms are open to question and subversion and the boundaries between media are blurred, this is not an easy question to answer.
Art medals, like artists' prints, are an invention of the Renaissance. And like prints, they have changed radically over the centuries - in their production, their function, and their meaning. Although the principal message of the medals produced by the artists of Renaissance Italy was invariably and very obviously laudatory, the precise means by which this message was conveyed could often be deliberately obscured, so as to provide the viewer with space for debate and intellectual engagement. By contrast, in the succeeding centuries it was generally the unequivocal aspect of medals that triumphed, and, although often splendid in appearance, medals came to be valued more narrowly as vehicles of persuasion and tokens of prestige.
As the British Museum's 2009 Medals of Dishonour exhibition showed, the strident assertions of conventional medals have in recent times been accompanied by the muted voices of more considered works produced by artists who understand that there is more to be gained from a more nuanced approach. Liberating medals from the spheres of commemoration and glorification, these artists have reclaimed the medium for themselves.
The works included in the Sladmore Gallery's exhibition may be playful or melancholy, challenging or comforting. Their dimensions may be small but the range is immensely broad. The more you look, the more you find. The more you hold, the more difficult it becomes to let go.
Philip Attwood - Keeper of coins and medals British Museum