RA's new Tennant Gallery show ponders the big questions
'There is no new thing under the sun… All is vanity and vexation of spirit… '
The oft-quoted words of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes might take a somewhat bleak view of the futility of human existence, but it's the same Biblical tome that exhorts us more cheerfully to 'eat, drink and be merry', accept the transitory nature of life and take pleasure in the here and now. Another section was quoted almost verbatim by The Byrds in their 1960s hit 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' ('To every thing there is a season… and a time to every purpose under heaven').
It's these combined poetic musings, attributed to King Solomon, that provide both the title and the thematic approach for the RA's new Tennant Gallery show, ‘No New Thing Under the Sun’.
The exhibition places selected works from the RA's Collection alongside contemporary works. Curator Gabriel Coxhead says the show is a chance to reflect on universal themes.
"The idea for the show came out of a sense of disappointment at the way that public discourse about religious ideas was becoming polarised. There are ever more extremist declarations of faith on the one hand, and equally extreme rationalist denunciations on the other. It feels as if there's no space in which religious ideas can be considered for their mythical and spiritual significance outside of this increasingly fraught debate about whether or not God exists.
"I thought it would be interesting to create that sort of space within a visual art exhibition - a show about religious themes that isn't necessarily religious."
In the video above, Coxhead explains how these themes are drawn out in several of the works on display.