Wonderland, a wonderful exhibition by Akay and Olabo at MIMA Brussels. They are Swedish graffiti and street artists, part of a shifting collective and in turn an underground scene, linked to squatting.
The exhibition was a mix of the playful and political. Most works were on a grand scale, but others were more intimate. There was plenty to interact with, to reveal hidden elements. Recurring themes were locks, private / public spaces, abandoned buildings and urban landscapes, doors and pulleys.
Labels for the artworks were artworks in themselves, in old typeface within battered frames, and in three languages to meet the needs of a Brussels audience. While not the most accessible in terms of readability, they were interesting and enigmatic, e.g.:
Trespassers welcome. Come in and enjoy all the comforts of a nomadic lifestyle. Built from scavenged signage, tarpaulin and timber atop a Fiat 500 found rusting in the curator’s backyard.
Akay and Olabo make a habit of removing any “Private Property” sign they see. It may be true, but an unnecessary declaration of ownership invites invasion.
Quite poetic and transgressive, setting out their position clearly but winning people over with a great turn of phrase.
Pull on these pulleys to reveal some urban landscapes. Sit down and contribute to an effort to crack the combination to free a padlock – a collective effort, but make sure you cross out the combinations you’ve tried. Clamber up through the Fiat’s sunroof into a box where you can type out a message.
Loads of fun. If this is typical of MIMA, which “breaks down barriers and reaches out to a broad audience, reflecting the world of today and paving the way for the world of tomorrow”, then they’ll continue to draw in that broad audience.
Wonderland (2018) [Exhibition] Brussels, Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art. 26 January – 15 April.
Multi-media work by artists inspired by the work of CAHR and of human rights defenders working in challenging and dangerous situations around the world.
The centre has regularly used the arts to explore human rights work and views arts and culture as important elements of human rights work: important to protect and celebrate, and important as ways of communicating and exploring difficult issues.
Kings Manor is a beautiful old building, this exhibition included a number of video, digital and multimedia works which nonetheless sat well within the venue. It was appropriately peaceful and cloistered. Pieces that used video, audio and text needed focus and concentration. Many of them were based on the words of human rights defenders and particularly examined risk and security. They called for immersion.
The titles alone supply a narrative:
A cry of justice
Uprooted, The Hidden
Backstabbed and The Witness
We are Fragmented
Dust on paper
Postcards from the Future
Greater than Love
The Sound of Us.
Art and Activism (2018) [Exhibition]. Kings Manor, York. 20 January – 5 February 2018.
Photographer Mahtab Hussain explores identity amongst young, working class British Muslim men and boys (Impressions, 2017).
Mixture of large format photos plus a wall of smaller ones in grid formation. Great use of quotes from the subjects on the wall.
Impressions always include a shelf of related books and a folder of press cuttings and biographical information about the photographer.
Laminated information sheets about the work available in the gallery.
Red Star Over Russia, Tate Modern (2017)
We’ve seen this before (for example, in Leeds Art Gallery): lots of pictures arranged closely together to fill a wall. In this case, a key on the opposite wall helped identify the works.
The exhibition was based on the collection of designer David King, acquired by the Tate in 2016 (Tate, 2017).
As is usual for Tate exhibitions, visitors receive an illustrated booklet – good for reading later, on the journey home.
Queens of Industry, Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills (2017)
A fascinating exhibition revealing the little-known stories of women who represented major northern industries: mining, cotton, wool.
Rather than boards, many of the large information panels, which were a major part of the exhibition, were etched onto metal plates. Very unusual and therefore grabs attention. But may be reflective in some light, so difficult to read.
Exhibition was good mixture of objects, garments (particularly formal gowns) and tiaras, quotations, archive film and a specially-made film.
This exhibition has been designed to tour. It would pack up quite compactly.
While this is a relatively small exhibition, its subject matter is rich and unknown to many people. It was picked up with great coverage in the Guardian (Pidd and Willimont, 2017).
Revolt and Revolutions, Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2018)
The resources area, pictured above, was arguably the most interesting part of this exhibition. As well as books there were bags full of interesting activities for families, along with other resources. This was the first thing you encountered and promised an engaging exhibition, however, I was disappointed. The accompanying events look more engaging.
I think this review in the Observer (Adams, 2018) is fair and sums up what I felt. The Alfredo Jaar exhibition nearby, has much more impact with a small number of powerful artworks.
Rachel Conroy, curator at Temple Newsam house, gave a talk last week (2018) about some of the people and objects associated with it. There were a few interesting titbits around conservation of antique furniture and textiles.
Hand painted Chinese wallpaper in the drawing room is well known.
Gift to Lady Hertford, who lived at Temple Newsam, from close friend The Prince Regent, in the early 19th century. Restored a few years ago by completely removing it from the walls and re-hanging – hard to imagine how complicated and delicate that would have been.
Lady Hertford later embellished (quite sympathetically, in fact) the wallpaper by adding birds copied from Audubon’s famous book, Birds of America (1827), giving an interesting juxtaposition of American and Chinese birds.
Pascale, furniture designer, left instructions on how to clean upholstered and gilded settee: don’t let the servants rub it with a cloth as it will remove the gold. Use bellows instead – similar to how it is cleaned today!
When the house was sold to Leeds City Council in 1922, the council couldn’t afford all the furniture as well. In subsequent years they have been buying items back when they come up for sale. LCC built a good reputation for repatriating objects back to Temple Newsam, so auctioneers will alert them when items come up for sale.
Also buy contemporary works that will go well in the collection.
Audubon, J. (1827) The Birds of America; from original drawings by John James Audubon. London: Havell, 1st edition.
Conroy, R. (2018) Temple Newsam: Its People and Treasures [Public Talk], Leeds City Museum, 12 January.
A thrilling exhibition (2017) that drops you right in the middle of New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s, where Jean-Michel Basquiat came of age and honed his craft. From the authentic and instinctive voice of his graffitti through to the larger paintings where he depicted his obsessions and illustrated new knowledge and learning, this is a comprehensive exhibition.
The Barbican Gallery, with its large downstairs area surrounded above by a balcony and series of rooms, was ideal to show Basquiat’s life’s work in a series of chapters. One room shows a film, Downtown 81 (2000), that Basquiat starred in. Visitors to the exhibition crowd in, many watching it in its entirety. The collaborations with Warhol are well-known, the work with hip hop artistes and other musicians perhaps less so, so it’s great that they feature prominently. And what a treat to see so many photographs and objects from friends’ and colleagues’ collections, in some cases on public display for the first time.
The mixture of this archive material and Basquiat’s artwork is effective in contextualising his work and creating atmosphere – it adds to the feeling of excitement and edginess.
Downstairs some of the records and books that were inspiration and source material for Basquiat are included in the exhibition so we can see just what he was thinking and learning about. It’s typical of this exhibition: revealing the backstory and making links. And perhaps piquing the interest of a largely young, fashionable audience.
Then the chapters of the exhibition are pleasingly summarised in a pocket-sized booklet you can take home.
“A suitably intense and vivid snapshot”, “one of 2017’s best exhibitions”
according to the Guardian (Guide, 2018 p. 4). I agree.
Basquiat: Boom for Real (2017) [Exhibition]. Barbican Art Gallery, London, 21 September 2017 – 28 January 2018
Downtown 81 (2000) Directed by Edo Bertoglio [Film], New York City, New York: Zeitgeist Films
The Guardian: Guide (2018) ‘The 10’ 13-19 January, p.4)