London's summer exhibitions highlights

Posted on October 22, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

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Gilbert & George: Scapegoating pictures for London at White Cube Bermondsey


There were many excellent exhibitions that I visited in London this summer, and here are 10 of my favourites ( in no particular order):

1. Matisse: The Cut Outs at Tate Modern

2. Malevich: Revolution of Russian Art at Tate Modern

3. British Folk art at Tate Britain

4. Digital Revolution at Barbican (I have written about it here).

5. Shelagh Wakely: A View from a Window at Camden Arts Centre

6. Primrose: Early Colour Photography in Russia at The Photographers Gallery

7. Lorenzo Vitturi: Dalston Anatomy at The Photographers Gallery

8. Made in Mexico: The Rebozo at Fashion & Textiles museum

9. Hans Hillmann: Film Posters at Kemistry Gallery

10.  Time Machines: Daniel Weil and the art of design at Design Museum


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Top row: Phyllida Barlow's sculptural installations at Tate Britain; Middle row: Outdoor sculptures at The Human Factor, Hayward Gallery; Last row: Matisse: The cut outs at Tate modern



Although I have commented that I am not a fan of big blockbuster art exhibitions, I found both 'Matisse: The Cut Outs' and 'Malevich: The revolution of Russian art' at Tate Modern outstanding. And at Tate Britain, I also enjoyed the lighthearted and beguiling 'British folk art' exhibition, where many bizarre, hilarious and eccentric historical objects were on display. These objects reflect the British history, culture and tastes, which I found very enchanting.

I often think that the exhibitions at The National Gallery as rather 'old school' and rather somber, but their summer hit 'Making colour' was not the case. The exhibition was quite eye-opening, informative, and essential for any one who has to work with colours.

Meanwhile, British Library staged the biggest comics exhibition, ‘Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy at the UK’, featuring an extensive collection of work that traced the history and cultural significance of British comic art. I found the exhibition interesting, but not as exciting as I had hoped. However, I am sure this exhibition excited many comic fans, and I appreciated British Library's decision to put British comic art in the spotlight which it rightly deserves.

I am still rather undecided on iconic British art duo Gilbert & George's exhibition, 'Scapegoating pictures for London' at White Cube Bermondsey. The photomontage series is very much about London, and it is related to religion (mostly Islam), terrorism, drug abuse and youth culture etc. These huge pieces occupied almost the entire gallery, but after two rooms, I found them to be quite repetitive. Hence, I went into the screening room and watched about 20 minutes of their feature-length film, 'The World of Gilbert & George' made in 1981. The film is witty and bonkers, and I absolutely loved it!

The duo have never played by the rules and this exhibition demonstrated that they are still alert, controversial and bold as ever. Their attitude has always been 'take it or leave it', and perhaps this is the reason why they are still highly respected after being around for decades.

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Shelagh Wakely: A view of a window at Camden Arts Centre


One big surprise for me was pioneer British installation artist Shelagh Wakely's (1932-2011) exhibition at the Camden Arts Centre. I have often enjoyed exhibitions and events at this art organisation, and this exhibition was a revelation for me as I was not familiar with Wakely's work previously. Like two of my most admired female artists, Barbara Hepworth and Georgia O'Keeffe, Shelagh Wakely's work is very much inspired by nature.

With career spanning over 40 years, Wakely's work ranged from sculptures and installations to canvases, drawings, watercolours, prints, photographs and videos. I was particularly engrossed by her gilded fruits and vegetables that were left to rot on two trolleys; one contained items that have decayed and wrinkled, while the other contained fresh and healthy looking ones... yet we know the fate would be the same. The transiency of life is depicted perfectly in this work, and as I was there, a hint of rotten smell could be detected in the room...

Another memorable installation was 'Turmeric on parquet'(1991), a large, swirling Baroque pattern made of the spice turmeric, sprinkled on the floor with a stencil. The work is delicate, exotic and ephemeral, and this time, the room was filled with the smell of sweet turmeric.

Wakely's work explored the thresholds between things; vessels, space and aromas permeating boundaries between people and objects. I am slightly surprised that she was not as recognised as other British artists from her period. I am grateful that Camden arts centre has consistently enabled me to discover inspiring artists that operated or are operating outside the mainstream art world. If you have not been there yet, then I urge you to go and explore this airy, laid-back and tranquil (I especially like hangout in their back garden in summers) art centre.


Inside the White Cube, Mason's YardFredy Alzate’s ball of bricks pangaeaRafael Gómezbarros’s ant installation Art & life: The paintings of Beryl Bainbridge

Top: Inside the White Cube collective exhibition at White Cube, Mason's Yard; 2nd & 3rd rows: Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America at the Saatchi Gallery - Fredy Alzate’s ball of bricks and Rafael Gómezbarros’s ant installation; 4th row: Art & life: The paintings of Beryl Bainbridge at Kings College, Somerset House


Street art &


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 Sick boy: Make it last forever at The Outsiders gallery


The first London gallery exhibition of UK street art pioneer, Sickboy was shown at The Outsiders gallery in Soho. Originally trained in fine art, the artist emerged from Bristol's infamous graffiti scene and has been active since 1995.

The exhibition's ground floor displayed a range of colourful, humourous and satirical paintings, along with his collection of objects including many vintage Disney memorabilia. A large and playful installation was the dominant display in the basement, featuring his distinctive Sickboy coffin floating in a 1950s style display case.

Twenty years ago, graffiti artists probably never thought that their work would end up being exhibited in galleries or sold at prestigious auctions. I wonder how graffiti and street art will evolve in another twenty years' time? Will kids be taught the techniques at schools? Will these artists become politicians? Only time will tell.


Culture & design


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 Work and play behind the Iron Curtain at Gallery for Russian Arts & design


I am not if it has anything to do with more Russians living in London now (I hear Russian speakers almost daily these days), but I have noticed more Russian-related arts and cultural events taking place in town. And I was a bit surprised to find out that there is a gallery that is dedicated to Russian Arts & design near Oxford Street.

I visited Work and play behind the Iron Curtain at Gallery for Russian Arts & design, an exhibition that examined Soviet design featuring everyday life objects, models and photographs from the famous ZIL factory. There were many kitsch, quirky retro objects on display and I am quite certain that many can still be found in people's homes in Russia from what I gathered while I was living there! Fascinating and nostalgic.


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Made in Mexico: The Rebozo at Fashion and Textile Museum


Moving from cold Russia to hot Mexico... I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to the Fashion and Textile Museum where I saw the exhibition, 'Made in Mexico: The Rebozo'. The exhibition examined the classic Mexican shawl made famous in the 20th century by artist Frida Kahlo. The vivid, exotic and delightful exhibition traced the origins and historical contexts of the rebozo, featuring paintings, photography, textiles, fashion, folk art and shrines etc. Most importantly, it was informative about the production methods and the skills required to produce this traditional garment. Like with many other traditional crafts around the world, there are fears that this skill may be lost if it is not being supported.

The curation here was excellent, and the exhibits blended well inside a museum designed by award-winning Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta. It is fantastic to see brilliant exhibitions being organised by smaller art organisations, galleries and museums in London. It is a shame that many tourists (and even locals) don't venture beyond the major museums and galleries.


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Left & middle: Time: Tattoo Art Today at Somerset House; Right: Tove Jansson: Tales from the Nordic Archipelago at ICA



Sadly, I missed Dennie Hopper's photography exhibition at the Royal Academy of arts, but I did catch internationally-renowned British photographer Martin Parr's 'Signs of the Times' at Beetles + Huxley gallery. The exhibition showcased modern and vintage prints documenting the personal tastes of people in the British home, they were created to accompany a documentary made by the BBC in the 1990s of the same title.

Parr's photography is an insightful observation of culture, history and people. He captures humour and social changes in ordinary life, objects and people. His humour is very British but his photography language is universal.


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Top left & middle: Lorenzo Vitturi’s Dalston Anatomy; Top right & 2nd row left: Primrose: Early colour photography in Russia; 2nd row right: Martin Parr's 'Signs of the Times' at Beetles + Huxley gallery; Bottom: 'Return of the Rudeboy' at Somerset House


At The photographers' gallery, I saw two excellent exhibitions: Lorenzo Vitturi’s 'Dalston Anatomy' and 'Primrose: Early colour photography in Russia'. I love London-based Italian photographer Vitturi's photography series that captures the threatened spirit of Dalston’s Ridley Road Market (I am also a fan of this wonderful market where you can buy exotic fruits and vegetables like mangoes and lychee for 1/4 of the price you pay in the supermarkets!).

Vitturi arranged found objects and photographed them against backdrops of discarded market materials, in dynamic compositions. These are combined with street scenes and portraits of local characters to create a unique portraits. I was enchanted by the vivid colours and the surreal still life compositions. It also saddens me to think that London's gentrification means that the city is losing local characteristics and it is replaced by homogeneous chained shops and people of the same class. Vitturi's series celebrates London's multiculturalism and individualism that makes this city unique.

'Primrose: Early colour photography in Russia' examined the history and development of colour in Russian photography from the 1860s to the 1970s. There were propaganda photomontages, films, Socialist realist and humanistic photography. The exhibition served as a documentary of Russian history, its people and culture throughout the turbulence period.


 Graphics, design & architecture


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Hans Hillmann: Film Posters at Kemistry gallery


Kemistry gallery is a small gem in Shoreditch dedicated to graphic design, a design discipline which is often overshadowed by other forms of art and design.

The exhibition was a tribute to one of the most important Modernist German graphic artists, Hans Hillmann, who died in May this year. Hillman designed 130 film posters between 1953 and 1974, and his style varied from the painterly illustration of the 1950s to more experimental works of the 1960s and the Minimalist offerings of the 1970s.


Hillmann's work reaffirms that that good design stands the test of time. He designed mainly for arthouse films, including Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai and Robert Bresson's Pickpocket, as well as films by Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Cocteau, Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, and Luis Buñuel (what an impressive resume!). His film posters are bold, minimal, stylish and eye-catching, and each one is related to the essence or nature of the film itself. Outstanding and inspiring work.


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Form through Colour: Josef Albers, Anni Albers and Gary Hume at Somerset House


I went to the Design Museum to see 'Designs of the Year 2014' and 'Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture', but I ended up spending most of my time at 'Time Machines: Daniel Weil and the Art of Design' admiring objects created by Argentinian designer and former partner of Pentagram Daniel Weil.


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Design museum exhibitions - Top 2 rows: Designs of the Year 2014 - Top left: PET lamp by Alvaro Catalán de Ocón; Top right: Public voted winner - Phonebloks by Dave Hakkens; 2nd row: Chineasy by ShaoLan; Last row: 'Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture'


People always talk about 'think out of the box', well, Daniel Weil literally did that in 1981 when he designed Bag Radio, removing the standard box and putting all the radio components - a circuit board, speaker and battery pack into a clear plastic bag before sealing it. This later became a postmodern design icon.


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Time machines: Daniel Weil and the art of design at the Design museum


The exhibition provided an overview of Weil's 30 year career in the design industry including his role at multidisciplinary design consultancy Pentagram. There were many versions of the Bag radio on display, but I was particularly intrigued by his recent projects in the design of timepieces. These new 'deconstructed' timepieces are constructed to show the mechanism as the focus of the design, and they look more like sculptural pieces.

"This new group [of clocks] tries to address how we relate now to machines and to instruments," Weil explained. "The clock has been so conventionally arranged behind the face and the identical quartz movement that's been around since the 1970s so I wanted to create this relationship between the movement and the power source."

Simple, beautiful, insightful and inventive. This is what good design is all about.



This post was posted in London, Exhibitions, Photography, Street art & graffiti, Art, Design and was tagged with London, art and design exhibitions, photography