London's art & design exhibitions (Winter/Spring 15)

Posted on March 20, 2015 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

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Top & bottom left: Richard Tuttle's 'I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language' at Tate Modern. Bottom right: Phillip King's sculptures at Tate Britain


As usual, there is a diverse array of art, design and photography exhibitions being shown across London at major museums and smaller galleries. Here is a recap of some that I have visited during the past few months:

Major shows and retrospectives

Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden at Tate Modern (until 10 May) - Undisputedly, South African artist Marlene Dumas is one of the most successful (and expensive) living female artist working today. Her paintings have regularly been sold for millions (each) at auctions in the past decade. This is highly significant in the male-dominated art world and yet bizarrely, she is still relatively unknown outside of the art world.

One of the most interesting aspect about her work is that they are all photo-based. Her subject matter usually revolves around social issues like injustices, racism, iniquities, as well as human emotions and desires. This is an inspiring and thought-provoking exhibition, which I think is eloquent and apt in our ever-divided world today.

Late Turner: Painting Set Free at Tate Britain (ended) - British artists J.M.W. Turner was the talk of the town in 2014, thanks to Mike Leigh's film and this retrospective. I have never fully appreciated works by Turner and I only visited the show out of curiosity after seeing the film. However, despite the crowds and being slightly unwell on the day, I was glad that I went. I have previously seen the artist's famous large oil paintings on landscape and sea, yet I have seldom seen his more spontaneous holiday sketches and drawings. I can't say that I was swept away by all his work, but I felt that I understood the artist and the relevance of his work more after the show.

Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude at The Courtauld gallery (ended) As with most art students, life drawing was a crucial part of my portfolio at school and university. It was then that I discovered Schiele's work and was completely blown away by it. Schiele's nude drawings are confrontational, grim, disturbing, and unflinchingly graphic. Yet one can't help being fixated on his work, because its provoking and mesmerising quality. After the show, I couldn't help but wonder what the artist could have achieved if his life was not cut short at the young age of 28.


Incident in the Corridor near the Kitchen by Iliya and Emilia Kabakov Post Pop: East Meets WestAlexander Kosolapov's Hero, Leader, God 'Dollar and Hammer' by Leonid SokovPost Pop: East Meets WestMei Dean-E's 'Confucius's Confusion'Sergey Shutov's Abacus Colour vases by Ai WeiweiPost Pop: East Meets Westpost pop: east meets west Gu Wenda's 'United Nations: Man and Space' 'tennis player' by Oleg Kulik'Deep into Russia' by Oleg Kulik'Deep into Russia' by Oleg Kulik

Top row left: 'Incident in the Corridor near the Kitchen' by Iliya and Emilia Kabakov; 2nd row: 'Hero, Leader, God' by Alexander Kosolapov; 3rd left: 'Dollar and Hammer' by Leonid Sokov; 3rd right: 'Confucius's Confusion' by Mei Dean-E; 4th left: 'Abacus' by Sergey Shutov; 4th right: 'Colour vases' by Ai Weiwei; 6th row right: 'United Nations: Man and Space' by Gu Wenda; Bottom left: 'Tennis player' by Oleg Kulik; Middle & right: 'Deep into Russia' by Oleg Kulik


Post pop: East meets West at Saatchi Gallery (ended) Even though I am not a huge fan of pop art, I was interested to see its influence on contemporary artists from the East and the West. Probably not for the faint hearted, the exhibition featured 250 works by 110 artists from China, the Former Soviet Union, Taiwan, the UK and the USA spanning three decades. It was full on with plenty of trashy, provocative, cynical, humourous and commercial works on display.

While I was at the exhibition, there was a school outing with some young primary kids and they were utterly disgusted by Gu Wenda's 'United Nations: Man and Space' when they learned that it was made of human hair. I found their reactions quite hilarious. Over all, it was the works by Chinese and Russian artists that stood out for me. The exhibition did not change my perspective on pop art, but it was certainly the most entertaining exhibition I have visited recently.


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Inflated Star and Wooden Star by Frank Stella at the Royal Academy of Arts


Disappointing shows

Rubens ad his legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne at The Royal Academy of Arts (until 10th April) I felt slightly disappointed and misled by this highly-anticipated show because I was expecting to see more of Rubens' work. Yet the old master's paintings are few and far between, instead we are presented with work by artists who were influenced by him.

The most disappointing room is the one 'inspired' by The Fall of the Damned. I walked around the room and examined all the paintings and labels meticulously, and I couldn't find the actual painting. I was about to ask the security guard when it suddenly dawned on me that the painting is NOT in the room! There is not even a photo of the original work for comparison, this seems to me as rather absurd.

Yes, there are many remarkable Rubenesque work by other famous and influential artists at the show, but it doesn't compensate for the fact that non of Ruben's masterpieces are being exhibited. For the ticket price of £16.50, one would expect at least one at the show... If you want to see Ruben's masterpiece, then perhaps it's best to head to Banqueting house, where entrance fee is only £6.10. See my previous entry here on Ruben's magnificent painted ceiling.

The Institute of Sexology at Wellcome Collection (until 20th Sept) Given the subject matter, the exhibition is bound to draw attention and crowds. Yet I didn't expect it to be so packed on a weekday afternoon, and constantly trying to squeeze my way in and get closer towards the display window. It was exhausting.

Having previously enjoyed many exhibitions at the Wellcome Collection, there is something lacking for me at this show. Sure there are many fascinating stories and objects on display, but the show merely scratches the surface of a complex and challenging subject without sufficient insight nor context. And the lack of contemporary issues is one of its biggest flaws. I didn't feel provoked, shocked nor 'aroused', instead I left feeling rather apathetic. I couldn't help but wonder what the exhibition would have been like if it was curated by the French or Italians... Oops.


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Bloodhound surface-to-air guided missiles at Hayward Gallery's 'History Is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain'


'History Is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain' at Hayward Gallery (until 26th April) I am not sure whether it is the curation or content (or both), but I found this exhibition inconsistent, confusing and banal. The show invited seven British to curate a section each, with the aim of reflecting on post-war British history through their choice of artworks and objects. Personally, I found Richard Wentworth's section upstairs the strongest of the lot, and it even features a surviving Bloodhound surface-to-air guided missiles deployed by the RAF during the Cold War out on the terrace. Otherwise, it is a missed opportunity and one of the weakest exhibitions I have seen recently.

Christian Marclay at White Cube Bermondsey (until 12th April) I suggested a viewing of the solo exhibition of London-based Swiss/American artist Christian Marclay to my friend after reading many positive reviews. But we left wondering if we had gone to the wrong exhibition! Having previously seen part of his highly acclaimed 24-hour video montage 'The Clock', I was genuinely disappointed with this show.

We felt underwhelmed by his pop art style onomatopoeic paintings (and there is an entire room of them), and felt nauseatic after spending five minutes watching the immersive video installation 'Surround Sounds'.

His new video installation 'Pub crawl' that records impromptu street sounds of East London is the most memorable piece for me. And since we missed the sound performances, our visit to the gallery ended quicker than we anticipated.


Russian avant-garde

Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract art and society 1915-2015 at Whitechapel Gallery (6th April) Taking Suprematist movement pioneer Kazimir Malevich’s 'Black square' (1915) as the starting point, this ambitious and intriguing exhibition traces the course of geometric abstraction across the last century, featuring over 100 artists from around the world. This show is not to be missed if you are a fan of Russian avant-garde and abstract art. It is also timely after the major retrospective of Kazimir Malevich at Tate Modern last year. What could a simple black square inspire? There is in store for you to find out. And as soon you step out of the gallery, it would hard not to notice all the geometric forms and patterns around you!


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Russian Avant-garde Theatre at the V & A museum


Russian Avant-garde Theatre at the V & A museum (ended) - This was one of my favourites of the season, partly because I am a fan of Constructivism. Curated in collaboration with the A.A.Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum, the show exhibited more than 150 radical theatrical set and costume designs conceived between 1913 and 1933 by 45 leading Russian artists and designers including Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin, Alexandra Exter, El Lissitsky, Liubov Popova and Varvara Stepanova.

Again, Kazimir Malevich was the starting point of this exhibition. The display began with Malevich's sketches and lithographs of set and costume designs for 'Victory Over the Sun', a Futurist opera which premiered in 1913 in St Petersburg. Interestingly, the exhibition rooms were painted in red, and arranged in a maze-like irregular format which complemented the vibrant, dramatic and experimental work on display.

Although it was a turbulent period in the Russia, the creativity and ideas that emerged turned out to be the most exciting and optimistic in Russian art. And almost a century later, the works still look radical, futuristic and startling. Amazing!


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BOLT at Gallery for Russian Arts and Design


BOLT at Gallery for Russian Arts and Design (ended) This small exhibition was a good supplement to the V & A exhibition. Curated in collaboration with the St Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music, rarely seen original designs, photographs and costumes from Dmitri Shostakovich's 1931 ballet ‘The Bolt’ were on display together for the first time in this vivid exhibition.

Choreographed by Fyodor Lopukhov to a score by Shostakovich, with designs by Tatiana Bruni, the satirical piece was banned after just one performance by the Soviet authorities. I love Bruni's playful and larger than life costumes, and again the designs and photographs reveal the height of creativity during a tumultuous period in Russia.


Julie Verhoeven Julie VerhoevenWalead BeshtyWalead BeshtyMapping the City Mapping the City

Top row: British illustrator and designer Julie Verhoeven's immersive installation on feminism at the ICA; 2nd & 3rd row: Walead Beshty's 2,000 cyanotype prints at Barbican's the Curve gallery; Bottom row: Mapping the city at Somerset house


Glenn Ligon: Call and ResponseGlenn Ligon Call and ResponseRuth Ewan Ruth Ewan Ruth Ewan

Top 2 rows: Glenn Ligon's 'Call and response'; Bottom 2 rows: Ruth Ewan's 'Back to the fields' at Camden arts centre


Ruth Ewan: Back to the Fields & João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva - Papagaio at Camden arts centre (until 29th March) The London-based artist Ruth Ewan has transformed the gallery at Camden Arts Centre into a mini indoor garden! Inspired by the French Republican Calendar (used from 1793 to 1805 in the aftermath of the French Revolution), the wonderful installation reflect the restructuring of the months and seasons in accordance with nature and agriculture and not religion.

In the adjacent rooms, there are video installations by Portuguese artists João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva. There are some rather meditative and enigmatic short films on animals, bicycle wheels and food being shown simultaneously. Bizarre but immensely captivating.


Asian art and architecture


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Out of the ordinary exhibition at The Cass Bank Gallery


Out of the ordinary: Award Winning Works by Young Korean Architects at The Cass Bank Gallery (ended) I visited Seoul for the first time about 5 years ago, and was very surprised by the prominent and futuristic contemporary architecture scattering all over the city. This exhibition at the London Metropolitan University campus showcased award winning work by young Korean Architects curated by Hyungmin Pai.

The exhibition featured a diverse range of work, from private homes, public housing and schools, to museums, commercial developments, rural schemes and small-scale interventions. Once again, the work by these young Korean architects provide a glimpse into the rapidly changing Korean society and their determination to innovate while searching for a new identity in the global world.


enoki chuNam June PaikNam June Paik Bakelite Robotenoki chuMorimuma rayIsao Miura's Sketches from the Poem Road Isao Miura at poetry cafe

Top & 2nd right: Chu Enoki: Enoki Chu at White Rainbow Gallery; 2nd row left & middle: Nam June Paik at Tate Modern; 3rd row: Morimura Ray's 'Garden in Moonlight' at Contemporary art of Japan: Not just woodblock prints; Bottom two rows: Sketches from the Poem Road exhibition at Poetry Cafe


Chu Enoki: Enoki Chu at White Rainbow Gallery (until 11th April) Chu Enoki is a self-taught seminal figure in contemporary Japanese art who is still relatively unknown outside of Japan.

Walking down Mortimer Street, it would be hard to miss the several rows of de-activated weapons: 'AK-47/AR-15' (2000–03) and a life-size cannon replica 'Salute H2C2' (2009) in a reference to the cold war at the front of the gallery.

This exhibition also details one of Enoki’s pioneering performance, 'Going to Hungary with HANGARI (1977)', which was inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s act of shaving a star shape into his hair. The project documented Enoki shaving all of the hair on the right side of his body in Hungary, which subsequently attracted the attention of the police several times. But he returned four years later to complete the performance by shaving his left half of his body.

If you are unfamiliar with the artist's work, this small but fascinating exhibition would make an excellent starting point.

Contemporary art of Japan: Not just woodblock prints at The Hospital Club (until 5th April) I am not a member of The Hospital Club, but I walked past it one day and saw the exhibition being advertised. I walked in to enquire about the exhibition, and I was told that the work is displayed on the 2nd floor inside the restaurant and bar.

The selection of prints are hung on the walls throughout the restaurant and bar area, hence I felt slightly out of place towering over some business men seated next to the walls. However, if you are interested in Japanese woodblock prints and calligraphy, then this exhibition is not to be missed as it is curated by leading Japanese gallery, The Tolman Collection, which specializes in contemporary Japanese graphic prints.

Sketches from the Poem Road at The Poetry cafe (until 25th April) Not far from The Hospital Club is The Poetry cafe, where you will find another exhibition related to Japanese art and calligraphy.

The exhibition features drawings and poems by London-based Japanese artist Isao Miura, whose work is inspired by 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho’s iconic work, 'The Narrow Road to the Deep North'. The work at the exhibition is the result of Isao collaborating with poet Chris Beckett on an interpretative journey from text to image, and often back again.


Graphic design


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Preview of 100 years of graphic design at Kemistry Gallery's pop up space


100 years of graphic design at Kemistry Gallery (ended) 100 Years of Graphic Design was Kemistry Gallery's first pop-up incarnation since it was forced out of its Shoreditch home by property developer in December 2014. Subsequently, this leading graphic design gallery started a Kickstarter campaign to pledge support or donation for a new permanent space.

As one of the 500+ supporters, I was invited to the preview of this exhibition in Shoreditch one evening. The exhibition was a retrospective of some of the most iconic and exciting moments in graphic design history ranging from 1914 to the present day with work by renowned designers like Milton Glaser, Saul Bass and Anthony Burrill.

I am appalled by the growing power of profit-driven property developers in London, and I don't think they are any different from the City bankers. I supported the campaign not only because of my graphic design background, but also I don't want the city to lose an important arts & cultural institute to pave way for more chained shops and restaurants that are making our high streets ever more homogeneous.



Conflict, Time, Photography at Tate Modern (ended) In the last 6 months, I have visited many excellent photography exhibitions in London, but this was undoubtedly the most powerful and poignant.

Most of us have seen harrowing photographs of war and its devastating impact on the victims and landscape around the world. Yet this exhibition was arranged according to the time elapsed between the conflict and when the picture was taken. Images were taken minutes, days, weeks, months and years after the event; thus making the viewers become more aware of the brutal and tragic aftermath of these conflicts.

This was not an ordinary photography exhibition, but one that evoke viewers to contemplate and question human's intrinsic values and meanings in life.


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Top row: 'Guy Bourdin: Image maker' at Somerset House; Bottom row: 'Human Rights Human Wrongs' at The Photographers' gallery


Guy Bourdin: Image maker at Somerset House (ended) It is hard not to be mesmorised by Surrealist photographer Guy Bourdin's uncanny, witty and provocative images. Over 100 colour exhibition prints were exhibited at this major retrospective, of which many were created for the then prestigious French fashion house, Charles Jourdan in the 1960s & 70s. As the protégé of Man Ray, Bourdin was a master of story-telling. All his photos were often staged meticulously with strong contrasts, simple and yet unusual compositions, rich textures and bold colours. Decades on, his images are still striking to look at and they out today's highly-photoshopped fashion images to shame.

Human rights, human wrongs at The Photographers' gallery (until 6th April) This exhibition explores 50 years of photojournalism (1945 until early 1990s), showcasing more than 200 original press prints from Toronto’s prestigious Black Star collection. It examines major political upheavals, conflict, war and struggles against racism, poverty and colonisation after World War II. Akin to the 'Conflict, Time, Photography' exhibition, there are many brutal and haunting photos that are almost too shocking to digest. Yet these photographs serve as a reminder of the importance of human rights, and they celebrate the courage of those who sacrificed their lives for their beliefs and humanity.


This post was posted in London, Exhibitions, Photography, Graphics & illustrations, Art, Anything Japanese and was tagged with London, art and design exhibitions, photography, British art, Asian art