London winter 2013/14 art & design exhibitions

Posted on March 7, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

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Main and bottom left: The new Serpentine Sackler Gallery designed by Zaha Hadid Architects opened in Sept 2013; Bottom right: Paul Klee at Tate Modern


I intended to publish this a while ago, but I have been traveling and it took longer than I expected to complete. It is a recap of the art and design exhibitions that took place or are still taking place in London this winter and spring. Here are 5 of my favourites:


Paul Klee - Making visible at Tate Modern (until 9th March) I used to love Klee's work when I was doing A-level art, mostly because of his use of colours. And this retrospective reaffirmed me that the artist was a true master of colour. This exhibition is huge ( with 17 rooms) and will take about 2 hours, but it is really worth the time as we see how the artist developed his ideas, techniques and style. Aside of his masterful use of colour, it was his inventiveness, playfulness, and humanity that made him one of the greatest Modernist artists.


Shunga: sex and humour in Japanese art 1600-1900 at the British Museum (ended) It is hard to imagine that the repressed Japanese society was once so open about sex and pleasure. This exhibition explored the boundary between art and pornography, and although many Shunga paintings and prints are very explicit, they are also highly artistic, humourous and sometimes rather ridiculous. I love the woodblocked prints and the beautiful detailed textiles/ fashion worn by the people in the paintings. I did not find the work seedy at all, instead I found the exhibition entertaining and absolutely mesmerising.


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'Travelling to the Wonderland' installation, by Xu Bing at the Victoria and Albert Museum


Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 - 1900 at the V & A Museum (ended) I really wished that I had more time at this outstanding exhibition which showcased  masterpieces from China spanning over 1200 years. I have been to exhibitions on ancient Chinese paintings and art museums in China as well as Taiwan, but this had to be one of the best that I have ever visited. The curation was top-notch and it offered insight into China's history, culture, social movements, economy, religions and artistic styles. At the exhibition, we could see how the Chinese art and culture influenced the Japanese and Koreans, and perhaps we need to re-evalute the word, 'copy'.

A miniature landscape was also installed by Chinese artist, Xu Bing in the John Madejski Garden. Inspired by a classic Chinese fable, The Peach Blossom Spring, Xu collected authentic stones from different places in China and made them into a layered mountainscape, accompanied by light effects and sounds of birds and insects.


Dice Kayek Mounir Fatmi  Nasser Al SalemPascal ZoghbiLaurent Mareschal

Top left: ‘Istanbul Contrast’ by Dice Kayek; Top right: Mounir Fatmi's video installation; Bottom left: Nasser Al Salem; Bottom middle: Pascal Zoghbi; Bottom right: Laurent Mareschal's 'Beiti'


The Jameel Prize 3 at the V & A Museum (until 21st April) The Jameel Prize is an international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition. The exhibition showcases some extraordinary work by talented artists and designers working today. Laurent Mareschal's 'Beiti' (spice tiles) is quite mind-blowing, and equally impressive is furniture and product designer, Nada Debs's 'Concrete Carpet' that fuses Middle Eastern craftsmanship with Japanese minimalism. Arabic calligraphy is creatively used in a lot of the work, including 'Modern Times: A History of the Machine', a video installation by Mounir Fatmi, and graphical work by calligrapher, Nasser al-Salem and type designer, Pascal Zoghbi. The winner was awarded to the Turkish fashion label Dice Kayek established by sisters Ece and Ayşe Ege for their 'Istanbul Contrast', a collection of garments that evoke Istanbul’s architectural and artistic heritage.


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Top left: Only in England: Photographys by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr at the Science Museum; Top middle and main: Andy Warhol at the Photographer's gallery; Top right: Derek Jarman: Pandemonium at King's College London.


Only in England: Photographys by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr at the Science Museum (until 16th March) I have not been to the Science Museum for a few years, and was surprised to learn that this documentary photography exhibition is being held here. It turns out that Media Space is the museum's new gallery, which aims to explore photography, art and science.

This exhibition is wonderful... it is nostalgic, humourous, humane, sentimental, quirky and ultimately, it is a celebration of Britishness. The black and white photographs capture England during the 1960s and 70s, and two photographers' work complement each other extremely well. It was a shame that Ray-Jones only lived until 30, but Parr, who was very much influenced and inspired by him, not only 'succeeded' him but also became a pioneer in his own right. This exhibition is not to be missed.



Derek Jarman: Pandemonium at King's College London (until 9th March) - I was surprised when I found out about a new exhibition on Derek Jarman, as I haven't heard his name mentioned in the media for years. As an art/design student who used to spend time watching British art house films at the ICA, Derek Jarman and Peter Greenaway were the two directors whose films regularly featured there.

This small exhibition is part of the Jarman2014, a year-long celebration of the life and work of the multidisciplinary artist/ filmmaker/ activist, Derek Jarman who died twenty years ago of HIV-related causes. The show focuses on Derek's relationship with London, displaying a range of work including paintings, journals, film posters, photographs and film clips etc. Each visitor is also given an audio device with music and sounds that accompany the viewing. After the exhibition, I felt the need to re-watch his films again to understand the legacy he left behind.


Kara Walker at the Camden Art Centre (ended) - Africa-American artist, Kara Walker's first solo exhibition in the UK was small but powerful nonetheless. The life-sized silhouettes/ cut-outs looked 'joyful' from afar, but then when examined closely, they depicted some not so innocent tales. Even her shadow-puppet films are not made for comfortable viewing. Walker's work deals with racial, gender and historical issues, it is dark, disturbing, critical and highly significant.


Wael Shawky at the Serpentine Gallery (ended) - I wanted to see The Chapman brothers's exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler gallery but left the place disappointed (see below). Yet at the Serpentine Gallery nearby, I was pleasantly surprised by Egyptian artist, Wael Shawky's work. I had never heard of this artist before but was genuinely impressed by his two films, Cabaret Crusades thatdepict episodes from the medieval Crusades enacted by marionettes based on historical references and stories from both sides. Shawky is not only an accomplished story-teller, but an insightful one too.


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The manufacturing of tennis balls, chair and pencils at the In the making exhibition, Design Museum


In the making at the Design Museum (until 5th May) - This small exhibition is probably slightly overshadowed by the Paul Smith exhibition downstairs, but it is a real gem. The show is curated by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby (founders of Barber & Osgerby, and the designers of the 2012 Olympic torch), and it features over 20 everyday objects at the earlier stages of their production. It is so fascinating to see seemingly familiar objects in their unfinished states, and some of them are almost unrecognisable... like the tennis balls above. The show allow viewers to understand the manufacturing processes and learn about stories behind these everyday objects. Even though these unfinished pieces are not functional, the rawness makes them look almost more beautiful and intriguing than the finished designs!


Liu Wei: Density at White Cube Mason's Yard (until 15th March) - Liu is a conceptual artist from Beijing who works in various media such as installation, drawing, sculpture, painting and video. His first solo exhibition in the UK explores the issue of urbanism by using architectural materials. The artist's new installations contain no 'stereotypical' Chinese elements, yet they are about important issues facing China today. The enormous geometric sculptures in the downstairs gallery are constructed from books, iron and wood. Their over-bearing presence enables visitors to experience the spatial crowdedness he refers to in urban areas. Thoughtful and intriguing.


The rest:

David Lynch: The factory photographs, Andy Warhol: photographs from 1976-1987 & William S. Burroughs at The Photographer's gallery (until 30th March) It's hard to describe how I feel about the three exhibitions within the gallery... as a semi-fan of David Lynch's earlier work, I was slightly disappointed with the work shown here. His black-and-white photos of empty and derelict industrial sites in Europe and America are moody and 'cold', but they are also repetitive and hard to engage. I found Burroughs's work quite intriguing but was more fascinated by Warhol's obsessive documenting, as it also revealed him and his relationships with his subjects. Overall, a very mixed show, but perhaps it was due to my high expectations beforehand.


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Left: A surreal pop-up Georgian garden appeared at the British Library; Right: Garden at the Estorick Collection.


Georgians revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain at the British Library (until 11th March) - This major exhibition focuses on the culture, architecture, fashion and leisure of the Georgian period. It is very informative, but I found some aspects are more interesting than others. My favourite of the show was the last room, which is full of enlarged prints of Richard Horwood’s 1790s map of London... utterly captivating.


Emilio Greco: Sacred and Profane at Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art (ended) I don't often visit this Italian art gallery near Highbury/Islington, yet I have always enjoyed my visits here. This exhibition featured work by the Sicilian sculptor and artist, Emilio Greco (1913–95), who is considered to be one of Italy’s most important modern sculptors. His powerful portrait busts and sensual nudes were the highlights, but his drawings and etchings were quite impressive too. This wonderful gallery is often overlooked by tourists and even locals, yet it is one of the best galleries in north London and its cafe provides a chill-out zone that overlooks a small landscaped garden with several life-size sculptures.


The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS (ended) - This exhibition was bigger than I expected, and it showcased a lot of historical artifacts and manuscripts, as well as a walk-in fire temple. Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest religions, and it originated amongst the Iranian peoples in Central Asia during the second millennium BC. It spread east along the Silk Road as far as China and south-west to Iran, and was once the state religion in Iran before Islam. The religion's belief is based on good (Ahura Mazda) versus evil (Ahriman), and that the world will come to an end once Evil has been fully overcome. The exhibition offers an educational opportunity for visitors to learn more about this ancient and rather mysterious religion.


Art under Attack: histories of British iconoclasm at Tate Britain (ended) - This exhibition examined the history of physical assaults and vandalism on art in Britain from the Reformation to the present day. I found the earlier work more interesting than the recent ones, especially work that was destroyed or defaced due to religious reasons. The subject matter here is quite fascinating, but the exhibition itself was quite inconsistent and it became irrelevant and less engaging towards the end, which was a shame.


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Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined. Top left: Álvaro Siza's installations outside; Top right: Diébédo Francis Kéré's interactive installations; 2nd & bottom row left: Pezo von Ellrichshausen's Blue; 2nd row middle: Grafton Architects; 2nd row right & main: Kengo Kuma's installation; Bottom row middle and right: Li Xiaodong


Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined at Royal Academy of Art (until 6th April) I suppose it must be very challenging to curate an exhibition on architecture. But this major exhibition at the Royal Academy demonstrate what can be achieved within the confined gallery space. The exhibition is all about the visitors' sensory experiences... with the surrounding space, the installations and even other people at the show.

Pezo von Ellrichshausen's 'Blue' installation is an imposing wooden structure with four cylinders/ staircases that led visitors to the top deck. It brings out a sense of adventurous within us and makes us want to 'explore' more.

I have always liked work by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, his scented bamboo installations at the show are poetic and quite sensational. In another room, Chinese architect Li Xiaodong uses twigs to create a meditative labyrinth that eventually led us to a mirrored space with pebbles, which is the zen garden and 'temple'.

The overall experience at this exhibition was a light-hearted one, and I applaud the Royal Academy for putting up such a brave show that is very different from their standard exhibitions.


Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore at the Somerset House (ended) - I did not expect the crowd outside of this exhibition on a cold Saturday afternoon ( I guess I haven't been to an exhibition in the weekends for a long time), so I returned on Monday since the entrance fee was reduced by half on the day. As expected, the exhibition was all about creative and cutting edge fashion, and was dominated by pieces from her two favoured designers, Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy. The show focused more on Blow's fashion legacy rather than her personal life and tragic end. Aside from the amazing wardrobe, there were also correspondence between her and various fashion publications that revealed her eccentricity and spending habits. The show allowed us to get a glimpse into the world of a colourful and unconventional character driven by a passion for creativity. It is not only a celebration her legacy, but more importantly, it reminded us of human's vulnerabilities despite of the glamourous and successful facades.


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Hello, my name is Paul Smith at the Design Museum


Hello, my name is Paul Smith at the Design Museum (until 22nd June) - I often see Paul Smith as a successful entrepreneur, collector, and a down-to-earth guy who is a rarity in the fashion world. I met him years ago in his flagship store behind the counter and he was so friendly and genuine, which really left a strong impression on me. However, I never saw him as a cutting-edge designer, and perhaps this is one of the reasons for his success. This exhibition is not so much about his designs but more about him, the person behind a highly successful global brand: a designer, collector, photographer, entrepreneur, perfectionist, traveler, loving husband, and most of all, someone who is passionate and true to himself. The show itself perhaps is too aesthetically-driven, but it is able to convey Smith's spirit and passion. And it is not hard to understand why he is one of the most inspiring entrepreneurs around today.


Most disappointing

Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 at the National Gallery (ended) - I came to see the show for two reasons: Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, but left the show disappointed. Yes, there were some great work on display by the two artists as well as many other well-known artists from the same period, but the show was stuffy, unfocused and apathetic. The problem was not to do with the work but the curation itself. I left the show with some historical facts and dates yet completely emotionless.


Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See at Serpentine Sackler Gallery (ended) Once upon a time, British artists like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and The Chapman Brothers were YBAs (Young British Artists) who ruled the British art scene. I have never been fond of work by the group but I thought The Chapman Brothers's work was darker, deeper and more provocative. Yet at this show, the 'shock' tactic, a theme that runs throughout their work seems repetitive, calculating and dated. McDonalds, the Nazis and consumerism are just some of the villains here, but their cynicism and humour is no longer refreshing and thought-provoking, instead I found it rather egocentric and jaded. The show offered nothing new and I left the exhibition devoid of much emotion except for boredom.


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