As we look forward to art museums re-opening and the pleasure of seeing exhibitions in real life, not on Zoom, which is good up to a point, TheEye was fascinated to hear about a new maritime museum to be housed in a sculpture fabricated by artist Richard Wilson, from the reclaimed bow of a supertanker.


TheEye certainly is.



Richard Wilson all at sea

Richard Wilson is one of the UK’s most creative and original artists whose work really deserves the claim of unique and “out of the conventional box”.    Wilson is the man who created the iconic ‘oil piece’ – 20:50 which began life at Matt’s Gallery in East London, was bought by Charles Saatchi and resided over the years in three Saatchi galleries – Boundary Road, County Hall and the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea Barracks. It’s currently in Australia. Have oil, will travel.

Inside the containers that house the steam whistle collection of Rowland Humble. The collection comprises rare Steam whistles, Steam Chimes and steam sirens alongside Air Hooters, horns and sirens amassed over a lifetime.

Wilson is now collaborating with Thomas and Angel Zatorski, artists who work with video, photography, object and performance. They are best described as an Artists Duo – maybe in the same way as Gilbert & George – joined at the creative hip. They met Wilson in 2007 at one of the Salons the Zatorski’s ran in their Hoxton studio for artists, writers, scientist, musicians and adventurers to sit together and share ideas. An artistic Situation Room?

After a couple of years in travelling around Europe, the Zatorski’s returned to London with a ship (as one does), The De Walvisch, moving their Salons on board, adding lectures in, on and around the ship. They were also curating and collaborating on art projects with a maritime theme, through their non-profit art production company, The Cultureship, a cultural catalyst that encourages interdisciplinary collaboration.

Wilson did a hooter performance on the ship – Lower Reach Sounding, and another Wilson Z and Z performance followed ‘1513: A Ship’s Opera’ -a performance at sea, based on the paintings of Turner for the Whitstable Biennale.

The opera brought together tug masters and marine engineers with the artists, musicians, pyrotechnicians with naval officers and the master of tower bridge – all collaborating to bring something extraordinary to London. The Salons providing the catalyst for these unusual events. People with a variety of skills, from different worlds who ordinarily would never meet. Have you ever met a tug master?  When the museum is finally completed, you will have the opportunity.

It is intended that this will be a permanent live whistle museum with a modern flash boiler installed to allow the whistles to be played on certain occasions and it will house the collection belonging to Rowland Humble of Bodmin who has, over a lifetime amassed approximately 1900 steam whistles alongside many air hooters and horns. He isn’t sure himself why he collected steam whistles other than recalling that as a boy, being on his father’s ship (a sea captain) and being lifted to reach the whistle cord to pull and thereby sounded the whistles. According to the Zatorski’s, ‘from obscure auction houses and remote ship’s graveyards around the world, Rowland Humble has amassed his extraordinary collection like a greedy schoolboy’. When confronted with these awe-inspiring, shiny golden tubes, it’s an oddly quasi-religious experience, like finding the metatarsal of a dinosaur: we are left to imagine the sheer scale and magnificence of the vessel it belonged to and transported to another time and another world. When these gargantuan bronze beauties are sounded, it’s a bodily experience, the cells reverberate.

Apparently, this boyhood memory led to the collection.

The museum is a huge challenge and really at ‘first base’ in the process. But the Zatorski’s are skilful and convincing fundraisers and the project will certainly be exciting. Wilson already has the museum concept and the first draft sketches. The engineers are on board and all the whistles. And, not surprisingly, a film company is interested in following the whole drama of getting the idea into the ‘real world’.


Historic vessels perform 1513: A Ship’s Opera as part of the Mayor’s Thames Festival at Tower Bridge in London, UK on Saturday, September 14, 2013.
Photograph: © Frantzesco Kangaris

Score to a ship’s opera

TheEye whose readers don’t need reminding is an admirer of eccentrics when executed skillfully, combined with irony and fun. This project has all the ingredients and will be a treat when it finally comes to life.

In the cultural universe, we need more of this and who better to deliver it to us than the wonderful Richard Wilson and the Zatorski’s, not forgetting Rowland Humble of Bodmin.

A ship’s opera. Whitstable Festival. Lighting up the sky.

TheEye will keep her readers updated with the museum’s progress.

In the meantime, keep whistling and enjoy the sunshine whilst it lasts.


  1. Clare M Ferguson July 29, 2021 at 7:43 pm

    I think Gerald Hoffnung of whom I am no 1 fan would have loved this. Mad and eccentric and therefore utterly vital to our lives. .

    I was lucky enough to see the Hoffnung music festival at the RFH years ago and I loved every crackers moment of it. You can see the rehearsal on You Tube. Bonkers and Brilliant

  2. Another great piece xx

  3. Fascinating.. looking forward to receiving your updates. Xx

  4. Would love to be part of a group visit. Sounds absolutely fascinating.
    Only you Jan can keep us all interested in the eccentric world of art.

  5. Just loved that….so wonderfully beautifully eccentric. Looked a bit further and found the video of the Ship’s opera you mentioned at http://www.zatorskiandzatorski.com/performance/a-ships-opera/. Wish I’d been there! Thanks Jan.

    • Thqnk you so much Peter. This is going to be an amazing and curious project. Richard Wilson is like a magician and he did the oil piece in the Saatchi Gallery. I will look at the video you kindly sent but everything Richard does is so creative and not like anyone else.

  6. Thanks Jan…interesting!

  7. How interesting, thank you for keeping us up to date with new and interesting things to see. x

  8. Felicity Osborne April 28, 2021 at 9:35 am

    So extraordinary & interesting- thanks for introducing me to this wonderfully eccentric world. Would love to visit.

  9. A visit to Rowland Humble of Bodmin next?

  10. What I love most about you is that you will suffer from an irony deficiency! xxx Love Kathy

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