Treasures From Chatsworth

Simon Broadhead
The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.

The stately Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, England holds a collection going back nearly 400 years of small jewelry, large tapestries, silverware, elegant clothing, sculptures, and more. Inside the house live the Duke of Devonshire, Peregrine Andrew Morny “Stoker” Cavendish, and his wife, Amanda Heywood-Lonsdale, who have had a long-standing relationship with the famed Sotheby’s.

As Sotheby’s prepares to open an exhibit at its New York City location, Guild Hall in East Hampton is preparing to welcome the duke himself in conversation with award-winning creative director, David Korins, on Saturday, June 29, at 4 PM. Korins took Indy through his own experience on going from York Avenue to Chatsworth.

What can guests expect with this exhibit?

They can expect some great highlights from one of the world’s most extraordinary art collections. And they can expect a varied look at the collection. There’s sculpture, painting, tableware, silver, clothing, jewelry, there’s all sorts of things here. And they can expect it curated and installed and exhibited in a totally new and fresh way.

I realized very quickly, when I was at the Chatsworth house in England, there’d be no possible way to recreate the kind of profundity and the permanence of a physical plant that is hundreds of years old, and hundreds of acres large. But what we have done is take specific, pretty extraordinary details and blown them up to a profoundly large scale.

How is designing an art collection different than set design?

On a practical level, it’s not different. What I do is I help brands and individuals and composers and lyricists and writers, and sometimes dukes, tell their stories. It is different in that, at the Chatsworth exhibition, we’re walking around in 360 degrees, whereas on a set you look at it from, in some cases, 30, or 50, or 75 feet away. You use different kinds of tricks to execute something that would feel different than at a long distance. Here, you can really understand them all the way around and get up very close.

The duke and duchess, Sotheby’s, and the Chatsworth house had a real idea of what it was they wanted to try to deliver to the New York audience, in the same way that Lin-Manuel Miranda with “Hamilton,” or the writers of “Dear Evan Hansen,” or the Academy Awards all have a real goal to accomplish. And I try and help them do that.

What about the art pieces?

Obviously, if you’re looking at a Leonardo da Vinci sketch, we need to protect it and put it on a wall. But the sculptures that we have curated into the exhibition are for, as many times as we can, the 360-degree view. That is how life exists. It’s exciting. I think people are mostly used to seeing art of this caliber exhibited on white walls. What we’ve tried to do is responsibly and loyally recreate the walls and the details of the places that are curated in the physical plan.

When the Rembrandt painting is at Chatsworth house, it’s in this beautiful room a couple of hundred years old. It has embossed leather wallpaper that has been painted over by some duke or duchess from years gone by. We have recreated that wall, but supersized, so that you can see the molding, you can see the chair around the baseboard, really detailed. That’s extraordinary, to be able to look at the detail in that fine way.

The exhibit connects the past to the present. Is that how you envisioned it?

You can never view a sculpture or painting or anything without bringing to it who you are in 2019. Attracted through your own personal experiences, how you feel about it, when you do something, is intrinsically connected to yourself. So that happened anyway. I think the way that we have curated these things feels both incredibly interesting, cutting edge, and innovative. But also, because we’re using actual architectural details from the Chatsworth house, I think it gets that classic feeling, which is completely appropriate because every single thing comes from the exact source material.

How did you connect with the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire?

They had a long-standing relationship with Sotheby’s. So that was easy, since I have a long-standing relationship with Sotheby’s. I’m a collaborator of theirs and when they wanted to make some kind of exhibit, there are not that many people that do exhibition design at the level that we do it and I think it felt like a pretty great and easy connection to make.

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