A couple of nights in London provided the opportunity to catch up with some exhibitions that had attracted my attention and eat lots of nice food!
First stop was the Whitechapel Gallery’sshow by John Stezaker. I really like the Whitechapel as a destination in its own right, regardless of what’s on. It’s a superb space and well worth a visit.
The exhibition blurb describes the work as follows: ‘British artist John Stezaker is fascinated by the lure of images. Taking classic movie stills, vintage postcards and book illustrations, Stezaker makes collages to give old images a new meaning. By adjusting, inverting and slicing separate pictures together to create unique new works of art, Stezaker explores the subversive force of found images. Stezaker’s famous Mask series fuses the profiles of glamorous sitters with caves, hamlets, or waterfalls, making for images of eerie beauty.’ I have to admit that I’m probably not the best kind of gallery visitor, in that I get bored, very easily! I enjoyed the exhibition, but I did start to get distracted before I’d viewed all the pieces. I loved the basic premise of the work but the repetition did start to get to me.
Modern British Sculpture
Next, the Royal Academy and the Modern British Sculpture show. They describe the show as, ‘… the first exhibition for 30 years to examine British sculpture of the twentieth century. The show represents a unique view of the development of British sculpture, exploring what we mean by the terms British and sculpture by bringing the two together in a chronological series of strongly themed galleries, each making its own visual argument.’ The show is certainly subjective and has created quite a bit of controversy over what was included and, more so, what was left out. No Gormley or Kapoor for example. Overall I very much enjoyed the exhibition, it includes some wonderful pieces. I was surprised by some of the inclusions and struggled to engage with a few. I loathed the piece by Damien Hirst, which features thousands of flies plaguing an abandoned barbecue scene, although I imagine it did exactly what it was supposed to, it made my skin crawl! I had some childish fun watching other visitors’ reaction to Epstein’s sculpture ‘Adam’. This is an unashamed overtly sexual depiction of primal masculinity. (I hope you all get the sub-text there!) Watching fellow visitors struggle with the urge to touch ‘it’ was a lot of fun. In case you’re wondering I kept my hands to myself, but only because the attendant was watching!
The RA is also good for a bit of people watching. The very glamorous restaurant (which includes a little ante-room of big leather armchairs where you can order snacks) is worth a visit.
A brief visit to Tate Modern left me feeling seriously disappointed. The Unilever Series of installations in the Turbine Hall have been fascinating and reading about Ai Weiwei’s installation, ‘Sunflower Seeds’, I imagined that I would enjoy this as much as I have the others. You may have read that the piece, composed of 100 million hand-crafted porcelain seeds, had been designed for visitors to walk over and interact with. However, concerns about visitors and staff breathing in porcelain dust has led to visitors being banned from walking on or even touching the piece. A film showing the creation of the piece left me feeling two things. The first was that the fantastic sound created when the seeds were walked on was integral to the installation, and without it the piece felt very sterile. Second, I was rather uncomfortable that I had to be protected from the dust, when the 100’s of Chinese artisans who created the seeds worked in less than protected circumstances.
My disappointment had to be tempered with a nice lunch in the 2nd floor restaurant and lots of browsing in the shop.
The National Portrait Gallery
I went to the NPG primarily to visit the show of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. Photography is a favourite genre of mine and I enjoyed this show. However, the best thing about the visit was completely unexpected. I came across Marc Quinns’ piece ‘Self’, which is a sculptural self portrait made of nine pints of his frozen blood. I had seen photographs of this work and read about it since it was first created in the early 90s, and I have to be honest I’d dismissed the work as an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ piece from the Young British Artists phenomonon. Hands up, I LOVED IT! Just goes to show you should never judge anything by the hype. I thought it was extremely beautiful and I’d urge you to take a look if you’re visiting NPG. I’ll admit it wasn’t a universal reaction, some other visitors experienced repulsion rather than admiration, but it’s one to see in the flesh (pardon the pun)!
The café here was a bit dull so off to Liberty’s for afternoon tea. For lovers of quality design, extraordinary architecture and great cake, this place is a must.
All in all I had a great couple of days of gallery visits. I find the experience equally valid whether I love or hate an exhibition. The worst thing is when I can’t engage with them at all and leave feeling indifferent.
PS – a colleague has pointed out that I haven’t mentioned the strongest cultural moment of my visit. I hadn’t included it as it might make you think that I’m something of a nerd, but as he pointed out, I am, so… I ran into George Takei! Okay, for any of you non-nerds out there he played Mr Sulu in the original Star Trek. It was quite a fun moment, I was saved from making an idiot of myself, only because someone else already was. A young American leaping up and down shouting (imagine mid west/southern accent) ‘oh my god, it’s you, it’s you, look everybody it’s him, from Star Trek, oh my god, oh my god…’. Mr Takei it should be noted was the perfect celebrity, he stopped, let the guy take a photograph, gave him a hug and then moved away as fast as possible without actually running!
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