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Major art exhibition at RAMM will highlight the importance of caves

Published: 10 July 2023

Major art exhibition at RAMM will highlight the importance of caves Elisabeth Pauli at work in Northern Spain, Unknown photographer, 1936 © Frobenius-Institut, Frankfurt am Main

A major art exhibition Hollow Earth: Art, Caves and the Subterranean Imaginary will be held at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum later this year.

The exhibition includes painting, photography, sculpture, and video, as well as objects from RAMM’s collection, from ancient history through to modern and contemporary art.

Dark, dangerous and unstable, caves are places of visions and experiences both sacred and profane. For thousands of years these portals to the deep past have captivated artists, and as society has evolved artistic responses have also shifted.

Following 19th-century discoveries of rock paintings, caves have been imagined as spaces of revelation, providing clues to the origin of our collective impulse to produce and display images.

After World War II artists came to associate the cave with a creative space and a refuge from the atomic era.

Today, in an age of ecological breakdown, caves are portals to both the deep past and troubled futures, places where species and time intermingle. For thousands of years, these portals to the deep past have captivated artists. Some even argue that the cave was the earliest studio and the first museum.

Hollow Earth features major works by the Victorian painter Sir Joseph Wright of Derby, famous Surrealist René Magritte, abstract artist Henry Moore, contemporary filmmaker Michael Ho, and Guyanese expressionist painter Aubrey Williams, as well as new commissions including large-scale watercolour paintings from Chioma Ebinama and a film installation by Lydia Ourahmane.

Cllr Laura Wright, Lead Councillor for Culture, said: “I’m sure RAMM’s audiences will find this extensive and varied overview of the cultural significance of the underground through art both fascinating and thought-provoking.”

Devon holds a unique place in history as the birthplace of cave-hunting, declared by William Pengelly, the Victorian pioneer of systemic cave research in England.

The county contains some of the UK’s most important prehistoric cave deposits. Objects from RAMM’s collection will be on display including a selection of extinct animal bones and antiquities found in caves from around the world.

Hollow Earth: Art, Caves and The Subterranean Imaginary is a Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition from Southbank Centre, London, developed in partnership with Nottingham Contemporary and in collaboration with Glucksman, Cork and RAMM.

It takes place from 23 September to 7 January. Admission is free. This is the only venue in the south of England for this major exhibition.

A programme of events at RAMM has been developed to accompany the exhibition, including:

  • 12 October - Dreams of the Underworld: Ancient Greek and Roman perspectives of the Hollow Earth with classicist, TV presenter and podcaster Jasmine Elmer
  • 19 October - an evening with Rosy Gray, curator of modern & contemporary art at Norwich Castle
  • 10 November - RAMM Lates: after hours at the museum, inspired by Hollow Earth

Spanning works by more than 30 artists, the exhibition descends into the depths to consider questions of thresholds, darkness and prehistory.

The exhibition is divided into five sections and echoes the journey into a cave, starting at the threshold and ending in the depths.

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