Somewhere to Hang my Hat: Oscar Humphries, 2, 52 Elm Park Gardens London, SW109PA

23 February - 18 March 2023

Tuesday – Friday: 12pm – 4pm Saturday & Sunday: 10am – 4pm Monday: Closed

Oscar Humphries is pleased to present Somewhere to Hang Your Hat, the first exhibition to explore collector, travel writer, and novelist Bruce Chatwin’s relationship with art.

Chatwin began his career at Sotheby’s. He escaped the art world to become a self-described nomad and a gifted and unique voice in travel writing and fiction; but he couldn’t escape the art and objects and the stories they tell. In what was essentially a resignation letter, he wrote to his editor at the Sunday Times Magazine that (he’d).. “Gone to Patagonia. Back in 6 months.” He was from childhood, a collector, and spent the rest of his life, acquiring and then getting rid of art and objects, only to acquire more; often when he couldn’t afford it. They were “sold to buy books, food, or to travel.”

Nearly always ‘away’ – Chatwin still needed ‘somewhere to hang his hat’ (The title he gave to an essay about finding the perfect flat, first published in House and Garden). He needed somewhere of his own, separate from the home he shared with his wife Elizabeth. In 1981 he commissioned a young John Pawson to renovate a Belgravia studio apartment. This exhibition will recreate the idea of this apartment, memorialised in a photograph by Francois Halard. Chatwin lists the artwoks he had there, playing the minimalist. The room where he worked was dominated by a large abstract feather Huari hanging, blue and yellow. Exhibited in this show will be work a comparable work, generously lent by Paul Hugues. Also shown will be works of art he owned, wished to own, or wrote about. From a painting by his friend Howard Hodgkin to a Celtic stone head he later gifted to Simon Sainsbury.

For Chatwin art and objects were talismans, signs of life, and mirrors. Chatwin’s novel Utz is perhaps the greatest novel to describe – with great empathy – the mania of collecting. Writing to Nicholas Shakespeare midway through his manuscript Chatwin explains the theme of the book and its protagonist. “This was a man who’d ruined his life by clinging onto his enormously wonderful collection of Meissen figurines through the horrors of the Second World War and the early years of Stalinism. The whole thing had trapped him because he could never leave the collection and it ruined his life.” This exhibition will include audio taken from Utz and a group of Meissen figures catalogued in the novel. Chatwin was Utz, but didn’t want to be. No wonder Chatwin would often get rid of nearly everything he owed. He loved art, but perhaps struggled with the idea of owning it. Perhaps it was too redolent of ‘home’, too grounding, for a man more comfortable ‘away’.

Chatwin wrote “The acquisition of an object itself becomes a quest, the chase of the recognition, the decision to purchase, the sacrifice, the fear of financial ruin, the dark cloud of unknowing, is it a fake? The unwrapping, the journey home, the ecstasy of undressing the package.”