Art

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde

Anyone going to the Barbican’s latest exhibition is not going to go away short-changed with the number of exhibits on display. This is a massive exhibition exploring twentieth century artistic couplings – and sometimes triplings – that led to those artists feeding off one another creatively.

If I came away with one thought, it was that artists don’t look very far from home when seeing a relationship. I also came away wondering whether or not this was actually a something that would have sat better in another medium. 

There is an awful lot of reading going on here. At the start of each section, a piece of explanatory text explains the details of the relationship, and to put it mildly, these can be somewhat wordy. When you add in all the quotations, the detailed notes alongside the various exhibits and everything else, you probably end up with several thousand words pasted along the walls.

From a practical perspective this means that some of the rooms are very crowded – especially among the earlier areas on the ground floor where space is at a premium. Invariably exhibition goers tend to spend more time earlier in the exhibition than later – assuming there is some blockbuster work the whole thing is gearing up towards. I don’t think I’ve been to an exhibition where the biggest crowds were gathered by the text on the wall rather than the works themselves.

The other problem here is that there are so many big-hitters of the twentieth century art world here that you know that there aren’t going to be that many exhibits for each of them. Only the most prolific get more than a handful of  items – and often those are simply photographs taken either by themselves or friends.

This all make it sound a bit negative, and I really don’t mean it to. The various couplings are interesting and even if some are well known – or have already garnered their own joint exhibitions like the recent Man Ray and Lee Miller one – there is still new information to learn. 

It’s notable that many of these relationships didn’t last the full life of one or other party, and that sometimes the same names would move on to another pairing later. Equally, there are some significant age differences between some of these pairings, while some it’s more about pushing the boundaries of what is or was acceptable at that time. 

I came away a little overwhelmed from it all. You certainly need to give yourself plenty of time to see this, ideally at an off-peak time when you wont’ be fighting crowds just to read some labels.

Three New Exhibitions

There are some really good exhibitions on at the moment in London. Actually, there are always really good exhibitions on. But over the weekend I went to three new ones, and all three were really good, and well worth visiting in their own rights.

I spent a May Sunday visiting the three and using a Boris Bike to travel between them.

My first stop was the Victoria and Albert Museum where they have just opened The Future Starts Here which aims to show “100 projects shaping the world of tomorrow.” That could make it sound a little dry, but there are some real things of substance in here. From food to society and democracy, everything is covered.

The exhibition explores electronics that are there to help us – the first thing you see is a robot that will seemingly do the laundry for you, to exosuits that could help those who require extra support or strength. Sometimes there are projects that are relatively simple – reusing old smartphones to do other tasks around the home.

Other times, these are much bigger projects – underwater drones, or 3D printing building to live in on Mars.

The exhibition asks questions of the future of democracy. They even have an exhibit which shows Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica famously explaining what his company claimed it was capable of, speaking at a conference. I laughed out loud when I saw they’d included that!

The exhibition is there to challenge us, and ask us questions. What is the future going to mean for us?

It runs until 4th November 2018.

From there it was a ride through Hyde Park around Buckingham Palace, through Westminster and along the South Bank to Tate Modern. They’ve just opened a new exhibition – Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art.

This is an exhibition to be experienced rather than described. The images – mostly photographs – are broad, and arranged thematically by subject. The tale is told of abstract movement and photography moving in parallel as artists began to understand what was achievable. Sometimes they utilised nature – other times very close up imagery to present us with things we mightn’t understand.

I went away quite enthused and keen to explore some of the themes in some of my own work.

Shape of Light runs until 14th October 2018.

Finally it was over the bridge and into the City to the Museum of London, somewhere I’ve not been for a while. They have a new photographic exhibition called London Nights. It displays an enormous range of often extraordinary photos taken over the last hundred years or more. While today we expect our smartphones to be able to take halfway decent photos in the lowest of light, it’s worth noting that photographers in the past had to go to great lengths to take photos in such conditions. Some of the earliest pictures, showing London’s fog-filled streets, are therefore remarkable.

The real fun can come from seeing everyday shots of London from the past, particularly in familiar settings. Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus appear repeatedly, with the people and the signs being fascinating.

The exhibition is thematically structured, and reaches right up to some very contemporary photographs. But sometimes a photographer like Bill Brandt will have photos in a variety of sections, seemingly able to cover it all.

Often it’s the very ordinary that becomes extraordinary. There are a series of perhaps a couple of hundred contact prints taken in the fifties, and even though the images of are “just” of people, you can’t help staring into the lives of those captured at that moment in time.

The exhibition catalogue is particularly good and worth mentioning, being published by the excellent Hoxton Mini Press who publish some excellent photographic books. Furthermore, compared with many equivalent exhibition catalogues, it’s really good value at just £14.95 for a hardbound copy (for exhibition ticket holders).

London Nights runs until the 11th November 2018 and is well worth a visit.