Monday, 24 December 2012

Cotman in Normandy

Verdict: Worth a look
When: 10 October - 13 January 2013

John Cotman, Durham Cathedral. Image courtesy British Museum

John Sell Cotman was a Victorian era landscape painter and a contemporary of Turner. This exhibition is dedicated to his works – particularly those he painted of Normandy.

One of the straplines of this show is that Cotman outsold Turner in his time, but this has more to do with the popular appeal of Cotman’s works rather than a preference for his style of painting. Napoleon had just been defeated and so the British public were eager to re-discover France hence the mass appeal of Cotman’s landscapes.

Cotman’s attention to detail is immaculate as can be seen in ‘Chateau at Fontaine-le-Henri’. It’s almost on a par with Canaletto but lacks warmth in comparison. Contemporaries such as Prout and Bonnington are displayed nearby and though they may lack Cotman’s talent in capturing subtle details, their works also feel warmer and easier for the viewer to access.

Turner and Cotman’s lives did intertwine and the exhibition does a good job of recounting their stories but the gulf in creativity is vast. There is just one sketch from Turner on display – ‘Dieppe from the East’ – yet the bright evocative colours blow all of Cotman’s works out of the water; even the full scale paintings.

Cotman did a great job of capturing daily life yet the figures in his paintings never face the viewer and this gives his works a detached feeling; Cotman comes across as more of a documenter than a painter with artistic vision. His inability to impart emotion into his paintings is evident in ‘Abbatial House of the Abbey of St. Ouen’ – he struggles to reconcile the swaying trees in the background with the cold classical architecture in the foreground. It’s as if he’s painted two separate pieces and merged them together unconvincingly.

It’s disappointing that most of the works on display are sketches rather than large scale landscapes, this exhibition also shows Cotman next to his contemporaries and in their presence he comes across as fairly average. Despite these flaws Cotman’s works are aesthetically pleasing if not gripping, and this exhibition is an interesting insight into a lesser known British landscape painter.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

William Klein + Daido Moriyama

Verdict: Give it a miss
Where: Tate Modern
When: 10 October - 20 January 2013

William Klein, Piazza di Spagna, Rome, 1960. Copyright William Klein

Klein and Moriyama are two photographers who loved to use black and white to capture their native cities - New York and Tokyo respectively. This exhibition explores how Klein's work influenced Moriyama's and how their work developed over time.

The exhibition is cleverly laid out to present a mirror image of the two artists work so that you fully experience Klein before moving on to Moriyama. Klein went about trying to capture New Yorkers going about their day and juxtaposing this with the surreal such as men engaging in a ritual dance while their heads are covered with dark sacks - it's a disturbing image.

Klein proves that he has an eye for a great image. My two favourites are a photograph of two models, one dressed in white the other black, as they cross a zebra crossing - the contrast in colours is perfectly framed. The other is of the sun overlooking New York where the lens flare creates a glowing ball hovering over New York. These images are works of patience as in the day before digital cameras it was all about the processing and manipulation - creating the right effects in the dark room could take hours per photo.

My only issue was that there aren't enough of these gripping photographs and his use of a blurred image to create a style of abstract photography often misses the mark. At first I thought this was because I have a restricted view in that abstract only works for paintings, but I'm a fan of Rinko Kawauchi's work yet these pieces don't have the same effect on me.

However, one of Klein's quotes is very insightful. He states that a photograph is taken in 1/125th of a second so 100 photos doesn't even capture 1 second of life. It makes you think whether holiday snaps can ever do a foreign country justice, in that a photograph is a snapshot of a time and place and can never capture a location fully as it will evolve over time.

Klein's section ends with a video montage of a superhero that satirically mocks the cold war propaganda that was seen in the '60's. At first you chuckle at the ridiculous nature of it all, but the video just keeps on going and anything more than 10 minutes of watching leads to boredom.

Now we move on to Moriyama. As I wasn't entirely sold on Klein, it's no surprise that Moriyama's early work, where he's trying to transpose Klein's style to Tokyo, was a big flop for me. He doesn't seem to have the eye of Klein and seems to capture daily life without injecting anything of himself into his work. 

It's only when Moriyama decides to venture away from mere imitation to create his own style do we see more inventive and thoughtful pieces. Capturing his studio through hundreds of close-up Polaroid snaps taken at different moments is a fascinating concept but the results are rather lifeless. 

His use of photo manipulation of the same image of a stray dog is intriguing. He shows us that just by altering the focus and sharpness of an image he can switch the dog from appearing friendly to a wild and savage beast. It's these later works that are more interesting and I wish there had been more of them.

In terms of showing us the evolution of Klein and Moriyama's work and how the former influenced the latter, this exhibition succeeds. But in terms of proving that these were two photography heavyweights, I'm not convinced. Both artists had flashes of brilliance but the majority of their work on display seems drab and uninspired.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Northern Renaissance: Durer to Holbein

Verdict: Worth a look
Where: Queen's Gallery
When: 2 November - 14 April 2013

Jan Gossaert, Adam and Eve, c.1520. Copyright Royal Collection, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The Northern Renaissance wasn't an individual movement in itself but this exhibition explores how the artists of Northern Europe were influenced by the Renaissance. But enough with semantics and on to the exhibition itself.

As the title implies, the exhibition kicks off with a look at Durer's many prints. These are impeccably and horrifically detailed with many apocalyptic scenes to be found. They also highlight what an astute businessman Durer was in recognising that his prints were easily replicable and there was money to be made in selling them.

This is followed by three excellent paintings by Lucas Cranach, featuring his signature of dark yet detailed backgrounds and seemingly illuminated figures in the foreground. His depiction of Apollo and Diana is on a par with his Adam and Eve that hangs in the Courtauld Gallery.

After this the exhibition does lose some momentum and the works from France aren't too impressive but as we progress to the Netherlands, it picks up again.

There are some astounding works on display by Jan Gossaert such as Adam and Eve (pictured above) and 'The Children of Christian II'. This painting was created just after their mother's death and the grief is palpable in their sunken eyes and pallid complexions.

We're also treated to a work by Brueghel, who never disappoints with his scenes full of activity. His reproduction of the 'Massacre of the Innocents' is so harrowing that when the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II took ownership of the work he had many of the massacred children painted over. Now, thanks to infra-red technology, a nearby panel can show us what the original would've looked like - a real treat.

This room also gives us the chance to see some lesser know artists such as van Heemskerck's and his vision of heaven and hell. But truth be told, these 'lesser' painters pale when hung next to greats like Gossaert and Brueghel.

We finish with a room full of portraits by Holbein and though many are intricately detailed, none manage to capture the imagination like 'The Ambassadors' in the National Gallery.

This exhibition swings from masterpieces down to works that are significantly less impressive but there are enough great works on display to justify making some time for this exhibition.

Saturday, 20 October 2012


Verdict: Go see it
Where: Old Vic Tunnels
When: 9-21 October

If you're a fan of horror movies and in particular of the series American Horror Story then this is one exhibition that you won't want to miss.

Before you even see the works of art, the dank dark surroundings infect you with their smell and the air feels heavy. Coupled with the surroundings shaking with the rumbling of trains passing overhead and the creepy droning soundtrack that penetrates into the tunnel network, and your senses are heightened already.

The exhibition starts off slowly with strange figures lit up in the darkness, some with tree branches pushing through them (see image). What's less easy to discern is that their faces are playing videos of surreal images, some that reminded me of The Ring.

Throughout this exhibition and just visible are artworks on the wall showing people behind cages painted into the wall - sometimes it's the whole body, other times just a pair of hands reaching out.

Our favourite macabre artist, Tessa Farmer, is also present with a disarray of shiny objects and dead mice and insects hanging from the ceiling - it's a mobile that would give any child nightmares.

The best room is reserved until last with three large scale installations. First up is a chair complete with straps that faces a tall screen full of shifting black and white images like the introductory sequence to the Twilight Zone. The shapes ebb and flow and the process is hypnotic but let your imagination wonder and devilish forms start to appear through the chaos and you'll want to prise yourself away.

At the other end is a swinging cage that people can sit in as it rotates but the creepiest effect is the shadow it casts on the wall as it swings. As the 'prisoner' spins around from light into dark, they take on the guise of an asylum resident.

In the heart of this room are repeating patterns on the ceiling and visitors are invited to lie back and experience them. As the patterns grow they envelop you and seem to draw you forward even though you're lying still. It's a surreal effect, somewhat ruined by people taking photographs with their flashes on but still enjoyable despite this.

This exhibition is designed to bring an insane asylum to life and it certainly succeeds and all viewers will leave a little disturbed by this emotive and encapsulating experience.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Burtynsky: Oil

Verdict: Go see it
When: 19 May - 1 July

The photographer's gallery has always had a prime location just off Oxford Circus, but now thanks to a sizeable renovation they have a building to match it.

The top two floors are the main exhibition spaces and the opening salvo is a set of Edward Burtynsky's photographs around the central theme of oil.

He covers all aspects of oil including the vast mechanistic fields of 'nodding donkey' oil pumps. These act as both a reminder of our impact on the environment, as the ground around them looks desolate, and the achievements of humanity in creating such a powerful assembly line. This duality continues throughout the exhibition.

His mastery of the aerial shot is evident in both the aeroplane graveyards and the view of a intertwining motorway junction that sprouts a single road that seems to cut through the city and off into the distance.

A rarely seen angle to our era of mass production is what happens to massive ships at the end of their lives and the pictures of Bangladeshi workers stripping them into component parts is a reminder that though we produce so many modes of transportation, they don't all go to waste - unlike the massive tyre mountains in the US.

No survey of oil is complete without oil spills and this is where the environmental message of Burtynsky's work comes to the fore. The shot of two boats spraying dispersants onto an oil spill is oddly enchanting, due to the rainbows created by the sprays and the rich texture of the water that makes you want to lean in and touch the photograph.

Even though their is a strong message in this exhibition, the beauty of the photographs alone merits recommending that everyone should see Burtynsky's work.

Edward Burtynsky is also displaying some of his photographs at Flowers gallery.

Monday, 23 April 2012


Verdict: Worth a look
Where: National Theatre
When: 16 April - 4 June 2012

When you think festival, you may think of the musical or the religious variety, but this exhibition interprets the term quite loosely - even stretching to a hot dog eating contest.

There are many photographs here and they include familiar festivals such as Glastonbury, the Hajj and the Chinese floating lanterns. However the most interesting part is finding out about festivals that you didn't know existed. Who knew that Iran has a water pistol festival and that India has a camel fair.

There are some visually spectacular images present such as a man diving through a sea of tomatoes and a boy covered in powder during the Hindu festival of Holi. 

La Tomatina

Where this exhibition fails to fully measure up is that the previous inhabitants of the National Theatre's mezzanine have been amazing such as the landscape photographer of the year. Though these photographs are very interesting and some are captivating, only a few stand out as meritorious photographs in their own right without the festival context.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Dickens and London

Verdict: Worth a look
Where: Museum of London
When: 9 December 2011 - 10 June 2012

It's always a calculated risk when basing an exhibition on an artist's life because even though the public may love their work, there's no guarantee that they'll want to know how they lived.

It's been 200 years since the birth of Charles Dickens and so we have an exhibition dedicated to his life and his favourite muse - the city of London.

The show has two foci, how Dickens lived (hardcore fans only need apply) and how London was in his day - the more interesting part. The Museum of London has done an excellent job or portraying Victorian London through paintings, artefacts and even a map of London - see if you can find your house or workplace, or the field that it used to be. This is a helpful segue into how Dickens didn't romanticise London in his novels but still had a lot of love for it.

Dickens is famed for his nocturnal walks, claiming that he knew the streets of London better than any other Londoner. The final room plays a clever video that involves nocturnal strolls through modern London but overlaid with a reader reciting Dickensian text pertinent to the on screen images.

You'll learn a lot about Dickens at this exhibition but you need not be a groupie to enjoy what's on display. 

Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Imperial War Museum
When: 7 October - 15 April 2012

Don McCullin forged a photojournalistic career by venturing to dangerous battlefields including Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Nigeria.

His life started with war as he experienced the Blitz first hand as a child and grew up in an area which had its share of local gang warfare - his first published photographs were of these gangs.

His career would then take him all over the world to various war zones and would involve risking his life regularly. In this deeply personal exhibition he remarks how war became a drug to him and that he would become bored and restless when at home with his family.

The photos on display can be both harrowing and chilling, especially when he used his preferred approach of black and white prints. He later moved on to colour due to pressure from his bosses but the horrors of war seem starker in the black and white format.

Shellshocked by Don McCullin

His focus then switched from the makers of war (soldiers) to the victims and his pictures of abandoned and bullied children are heartbreaking. 

He's now had his fill of war and has shifted his talents to photographs of his local countryside and the war on AIDS, but he will always be remembered for his shots of war.

This is a powerful portrait of one man's career whose photographs are truly harrowing. War is hell and this is further proof.  

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Remote Control

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Institute of Contemporary Arts
When: 3 April - 10 June 2012

Television has had a massive impact on society over the last sixty or so years. With the digital switch over at hand, it's as good a time as ever to showcase some televisual art.
Simon Denny, Those who don't change will be switched off, 2012. Digital collage from transmission switchover advertising

The Ambika P3 has David Hall's 1,001 TV sets that is an audiovisual experience not to be missed. So now the ICA is displaying television artwork from the last sixty years.

Considering how central TV has been to our lives, the power of these artworks is disappointing with only a few notable pieces. Most of the art tries to show that TV can be used as an artistic medium but ignores the fact that TV has a universal appeal that can be used by artists to speak to the masses.

Most of the works are hard to grasp and the only ones that stand out are those that suggest how television can brainwash us. A drawing of a TV with the words 'eat sugar, spend money' is spot on and can't help but make you smile.

The only other piece of interest is the analogue transmission equipment donated by channel 4 that shows you the antiquated equipment that we used to rely on before the digital age.

With the dawn of the internet age, this was a chance to highlight the lasting impact of a powerful medium but it falls well short of the mark. 

Monday, 2 April 2012

Brains: The mind as matter

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Wellcome Collection
When: 29 March - 17 June 2012

The Wellcome collection is displaying a wealth of knowledge on the history of the study of the brain and how it's progressed over the years - and why it needed to.

It goes as far back as the ancient Egyptians who placed no importance with the brain as witnessed by the mummification process when it was unceremoniously yanked out through the nasal cavity. They also explore trepanning - the process of drilling a hole in someone's head to remove 'evil spirits'.

Even as recently as 60 years ago the differences in brain structure and size where used to justify racism and gender discrimination by most European countries and especially Nazi Germany.

You will constantly learn new things as you walk around this exhibition. If you had any doubts about how smart a bottlenose dolphin is, seeing its brain and how similar it is to ours will put those doubts to bed.

Once again the Wellcome collection leads the way in showing how science can be both educational and fascinating at the same time.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Going Dark

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Young Vic
When: 6-24 March

Darkness is key to this play and when you enter the theatre your eyes won't adjust quickly enough to allow you to find your seat without the help of an usher - though it's surprising how quickly your eyes adjust so that you can see the rest of the audience.  The darkness is permanent and an integral part of the story.

The plot revolves around one man and how his relationship with his son and his career as an astrophysics lecturer start to fall apart as he slowly loses his eyesight.

The sole actor does an excellent job of switching from a single parent to telling us all about the universe - I felt like I was back at university. His son is a disembodied voice that moves around the theatre and in the inky blackness, it's as if he's actually there.

The actor does an excellent job at conveying the full range of emotions, with the aid of two simple-looking yet inventive props. The friend sitting next to me (who happens to be a doctor) confirmed that the play does an effective job of acting out the symptoms of going blind - including the visual hallucinations.

This is a short but well acted and engrossing story.  And a bargain at £15 - go see it.

Sunday, 18 March 2012


Verdict: Give it a miss
Where: Gazelli Art House, Mayfair
When: 15 March - 19 April
Mayfair isn’t lacking in art galleries but Gazelli Art House are going to try to carve a niche by opening their first permanent home there. Their launch exhibition is named after the Sanskrit word for enlightenment but is full of conceptual art that is more likely to confuse than enlighten.

If you like pieces that sit on the fringes of the definition of art, then you may enjoy debating whether a 500lb bar of soap and a painted cup cast in bronze are works of art.

There are a few things that catch the eye, such as the giant steel man who’s curled up in a defensive posture begging the question of what he has to fear; but such cleverness is in short supply.

It’s a bold move to open the gallery with a show that is guaranteed to divide opinions. As the exhibition has a spiritual title, it’s disappointing that it feels somewhat cold and doesn’t draw the viewer in.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Hubble 3D

Verdict: Worth a look
Where: Science Museum
When: Runs until May 11

Hubble 3D is a documentary that looks at what the Hubble Space Telescope has shown us and the work that goes into making this possible.

Word of warning, NASA was heavily involved in this film so there is a lot of slef-promotion here, but it’s a worthy trade-off for getting such intimate access to the astronauts in there preparation and carrying out of a mission to repair Hubble.

The 3D shots of spacewalks and as the camera pans through the stars at millions of mile per hour are immersive and breathtaking. One criticism was there weren’t enough of these scenes as they were the best part.

It’s clear that no expense has been spared as the graphics and 3D effects are brilliant and Leonardo DiCaprio provides the voiceover.

One final criticism is that £10 is a hefty amount to pay for a 50 minute documentary. This may put people off but it’s clear that a lot of money was spent in making this film and so it’s a justified cost.

Hidden Heroes

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Science Museum
When: 9 November 20115 June 2012

This exhibition looks at the everyday items we take for granted and the interesting stories about how they cam to be such an integral part of our lives.

The best stories are the failed experiments such as the attempt at a super-strong adhesive that was too weak and so resulted in the post-it note, or storing tea in a container that proved not to be waterproof and became the tea bag.

It’s easy to take such minor objects such as paperclips and clothes pegs for granted and this exhibit is all about making sure we’re aware of how they came into being and thus making us appreciate them more.  Some stories sound too good to be true - a man turning up to work and finding no spare hangars, fashions one out of metal wire and the wire hangar is born!

Some people may be put off by the fact that there’s an entrance charge for a relatively small exhibition, but it’s full of fascinating information and is sure to come in handy at a pub quiz one day.

Designs of the Year 2012

Verdict: Worth a look
Where: Design Museum, Bermondsey
When: 8 February – 4 July 2012

Designs can be pragmatic or artistic, simple or complex, modifications or innovations. So which one deserves to be crowned the design of the year?

The Design Museum has an exhibition of the shortlisted candidates and they range from the household to the world of fashion and through to technology.

Despite all the weird and wonderful inventions on display last year, the winner was a light bulb so it's no surprise to find light fixtures aplenty this year though the spinning light sculpture definitely stands out.

There are plenty of simple but useful items such as the school desk that can protect children from collapsing ceilings during earthquakes. The best designs are often those that make you wonder why it hasn't been done before – such as the new ambulance designed for ease of use that should make treating patients a lot easier.

Included are plenty of mass appeal designs such as the Xbox Kinect and the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress – just a patch of material, not the whole thing.

The overall winner will be decided in April, and judging by past winners, it could be any of the contenders.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Gilbert & George: London Pictures

Verdict: Give it a miss
Where: White Cube galleries (Mayfair, Hoxton and Bermondsey)
When: 9 March – 12 May 2012

Gilbert and George are a modern art duo famed for their works that all feature them in it.

In this exhibition they've turned their attention to London newspaper headlines – specifically those of the Evening Standard, with focus on the key words that keep appearing within the headlines.

It will come as no surprise that in today's sensationalist media words such as 'kill', 'drugs' and 'gangs' are prevalent. These headlines are displayed on floor to ceiling artworks with the key word in red and all others in black and white. This does a great job of bringing out the message of the piece that there's no news like bad news and that London has it in spades.

What lets the pieces down is the images of the artists in the background, yes this is their trademark but this self-absorption detracts from the message of the art.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Natural History Museum
When: 21 October 2011 - 11 March 2012

Every year the Natural History Museum displays the winners and finalists of the various categories for wildlife photographer of the year, and every year without fail it will blow you away.

There must be close to a hundred photographs on display and each one of them is both beautiful and most of them are technically brilliant as well.

There are a large number of categories and even the young photographers are very talented, though they all seem to be in possession of expensive cameras - no cameraphone shots here.

Nobody can walk away from this collection without remarking on several amazing photographs and many people will be tempted to buy the book of all the photos exhibited - a true sign of how great it is.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Maro Gorky: The Geometry of Nature

This review has been published by Londonist

Verdict: Worth a look
Where: Long & Ryle Gallery, Pimlico
When: 23 February – 24 March 2012

Most people know that independent galleries are mainly found in Mayfair, but there is a collection of contemporary art galleries in Pimlico that you may not have seen.

One of these galleries is Long & Ryle and it’s currently showcasing the latest paintings by Maro Gorky. The best way to describe Gorky’s work is ‘if you loved Hockney’s current exhibition at the Royal Academy, you’ll enjoy these’. She uses the same bold and bright colours as Hockney, but with delineation akin to Magritte.

Gorky’s small selection of landscapes seem to capture the essence of the Tuscan scenery she’s painted, but it’s when her works take on a more surreal tone that they become more absorbing. The peacocks roosting in a tree that’s in the shape of a peacock’s feather is a personal favourite because it flirts with surrealism but remains grounded in reality. The only downside to Gorky’s work is that it may be a bit too similar to Hockney’s to truly differentiate itself in the burgeoning London art scene.

If you like her works then they are available to purchase, or you can simply browse and bask in the vivid colours.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Parallax Art Fair

Verdict: Worth a look
Where: Chelsea Town Hall
When: 16-18 February 2012

There seems to be a lot of art fairs going on so what distinguishes this one from the rest?  As it’s in Chelsea you would expect something very expensive and pretentious, while what you get is the opposite - which is quite refreshing.

The art on display is in the affordable price range with most works being in the £200 - £2,000 bracket.  This is a nice change when compared to other art fairs when tens of thousands of pounds are the norm.

There are several artists on display with each one getting a limited display space to ensure that over 50 artists can squeeze into the main hall and its numerous side rooms.

Notable mentions to:

·     Samuel Lee’s calming photographs of plastic sheets flapping in the wind (pictured);
·     Alec Jackson’s painstaking photographs created by light exposure;
·     Charlotte Greenwood’s apocalyptic landscape with butterflies; and
·     Svein Traserud’s surreal artworks.

One art fair that may slip under the radar, but definitely one to catch when it returns next year especially if you’re a fan of contemporary art or are wanting to start an art collection.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Mondrian || Nicholson: In Parallel

Verdict: Worth a look
Where: Courtauld Gallery
When: 16 February - 20 May 2012

If you don’t know who Piet Mondrian is you will undoubtedly be familiar with his compositions using bold black lines and primary colours. They are among the most famous pieces of abstract art, and many of them are displayed at the Courtauld gallery.
This exhibition explores the relationship between Mondrian and the British artist Ben Nicholson by examining the work of both artists side by side. It’s clear that Nicholson was inspired by Mondrian and the similarities in their artworks are evident.
Most people look at Mondrian’s paintings and think ‘I could do that’ but the brilliance of his art is that though it is quite spartan in nature, the bold blocks of colour always run to the edge of the canvas suggesting that this isn’t the entire picture and that we are only seeing a glimpse of something greater.

In contrast, Nicholson’s works can seem cluttered and yet somehow contained. Though he experiments with depth, his art is never as engaging or as mysterious as Mondrian’s. You have to feel some sympathy for Nicholson as many will find him wanting when compared to Mondrian and Picasso in two separate exhibitions that are currently on display.
Mondrian’s may not be everyone’s idea of great art, but if you’re a fan of his work then this exhibition is one you’ll want to see.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Song Dong: Waste Not

This review has been published by Londonist

Verdict: Worth a look
Where: The Curve, Barbican Centre
When: 15 February – 12 June 2012

Song Dong is a Chinese conceptual artist whose latest exhibition consists of over 10,000 household items laid out in the Curve Gallery in the Barbican Centre.
Waste Not is the external representation of his mother’s depression, brought about by her husband’s death, which resulted in her becoming a serial hoarder. Over seven years she amassed many items ranging from hundreds of plastic bottles through to dozens of empty cardboard boxes. The fact that these are everyday items will make you question your own possessions. Will those boutique bags or childhood toys really come in useful one day?
The Curve is the perfect gallery to host this exhibition. Its unique layout makes the collection appear to extend without end.
Though Waste Not hints at the wider issue of  the impact of one person on the environment, it’s the personal element to Song Dong’s work that provides its poignancy.

Picasso and Modern British Art

This review has been published by Londonist

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Tate Britain
When: 15 February – 15 July 2012

Think Picasso and what springs to mind are cubism and paintings that have sold for millions of pounds. But Picasso’s most enduring legacy is the impact he has had on shaping much of the modern art that followed, including many notable works by British artists.
This exhibition aims to explore these links to see how the likes of Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Henry Moore were influenced by Picasso.
There is a profusion of Picasso on display here, including works from his early Impressionist days, through his blue period and on to his cubist and surrealist paintings. A few masterpieces are present, including ‘Three Dancers’, ‘Nude Woman in a Red Armchair’ and ‘Weeping Woman’.
With the many styles that Picasso experimented with, it would be difficult to find a modern artist who hasn’t been influenced by him, and his works are here used to greatest effect when displayed beside the work that they’ve inspired; the similarity between Picasso’s ‘The Source’ and Henry Moore’s ‘reclining figure’ is uncanny. The comparisons are less effective for those who were influenced by many other artists, such as Nicholson who clearly owes as much to Matisse and Mondrian as he does to Picasso.
Though the influence of Picasso on British art is an interesting journey, the real draw of this exhibition is the works by Picasso himself. They highlight that he experimented with many different styles but was able to inspire at every turn, and though many British artists followed in his wake, none ever managed to surpass the master.
This is your opportunity to appreciate why Picasso is heralded as one of the most influential artists of all time.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Contemporary Masters

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Opera Gallery, Mayfair
When: 17 February – 2 March 2012

Amongst the multitude of galleries on Bond Street, the Opera Gallery stands out for its focus on contemporary art and its willingness to showcase new artists that might not catch the eyes of their neighbours.

Their latest exhibition is dedicated to the artists that they consider to be the masters of contemporary art, and there are plenty of household names present such as Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama, Picasso and Andy Warhol.

However, the real stars are the artists you may not have heard of who are taking new and inventive approaches in their work. Arman’s use of paintbrushes in his homage to Van Gogh’s ‘Starry night over the Rhone’ is visually arresting and you will be amazed at how David Mach has managed to create a bust of Charlie Chaplin using nothing but matchsticks.

This is a small exhibition, with less than 50 paintings and installations on display over two floors, but the brilliant artworks on show will make you glad you paid it a visit.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Kinetica Art Fair 2012

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Ambika P3 gallery, Marylebone
When: 9-12 February 2012

The Kinetica Art Fair is a yearly event held by the Kinetica museum to highlight the work of inventors and galleries that bridge the gap between technology and art.  It’s held in the Ambika P3 gallery which is tucked away underneath Westminster University – where you would expect an underground car park to be.

The works include simple yet ingenious student designs such as the light bulbs that light up every time someone tweets about a certain topic – judging by the constantly flickering light bulb for Justin Bieber we now know that the world is doomed.

But there are also some revolutionary technologies on display such as the robots that can mimic or draw your face if you look into their webcams.

There’s a Da Vinci feel to a lot of the stalls with some clever clockwork items on display and complex mechanisms with marbles that feel like an extremely complicated version of the game Mousetrap.

But let’s not forget that this is an art fair and there are plenty of beautiful and surreal uses of technology.  Some notable standouts were:

  • Tim Lewis’s surreal mechanical emu (pictured above) that has stuffed gloves for its head and feet;
  • Karen Neill’s droplet artworks whose bold colours have such impact that Matisse and Klee would approve; and
  • Alexander Berchert’s Water Wheel – who knew gravity and coloured liquids could be so mesmeric (pictured below).

Many of the displays aren’t as polished as they could be, but this only adds to the quirky charm of the fair.

Both children and your inner child will love the contraptions on display and it’s a shame that it’s only on for one weekend.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Yayoi Kusama

This review has been published by Londonist

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Tate Modern
When: 9 February – 5 June 2012

Yayoi Kusama is renowned for her repeating polka dot patterns, whether in paintings, on walls or over naked bodies. This exhibition is a retrospective that charts Kusama’s development from her early Dali-esque landscapes through to the larger installations that she is famous for.

The art itself is a reflection of Kusama’s personal growth. It starts off as introspective and disturbing, expressing the self-doubt that she felt at the beginning of her career; but as Kusama became more confident her works adopted simpler forms and bolder colours.

At first, the curation attempts to provide some background on Kusama’s journey, transporting you into her mindset, moving through all the phases of her career and the techniques she experimented with. The finishes with a flourish by displaying her latest and most impressive installations and paintings.

Her works are most arresting when they are on a large scale such as the sculpture titled ‘Heaven and Earth’ that was created with everyday items but appears like it is a living entity whose grasp you want to avoid.

The highlight of the exhibition is the two rooms designed by Kusama – it’s only when you are surrounded by her repeating patterns that you realise what it’s like to be immersed in her hallucinatory and fantastical world, where there is a constant struggle between light and dark. You will leave these rooms hoping that Kusama will design a house one day, and believing that if she did it would be a cross between Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and a haunted house.

The Tate Modern has done an excellent job of charting the career of one of the world’s most eccentric and imaginative living artists whilst showcasing some of her greatest works.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Migrations: Journeys into British Art

This review has been published by Londonist

Verdict: Give it a miss
Where: Tate Britain
When: 31 January – 12 August

Immigrants have clearly had a massive impact on the development of British art. The latest exhibition from the Tate Britain aims to explore this link by displaying the different styles that immigrant artists brought with them, and how British artists learned from them to further their own skills.

The exploration of how such artists ended up in Britain is fascinating. Though the exhibition skirts over the fact, it’s likely that many of these artists came over to Britain as a business opportunity rather than to contribute to British art. Their handiwork might have seemed pedestrian at home but would have been considered exotic, and therefore more lucrative, in Britain. It’s apparent that though the Dutch and Italian painters who migrated here were talented, their works were not on a par with the contemporary masters at work in their home countries.

A few pieces hold interesting back stories along with superb artistic qualities, but the majority of the works on display are largely disappointing – even the Canaletto is not one of his best.

The exhibition has more to offer when displaying contemporary art, with the hypnotic ‘Cloud Canyons’ by David Medalla and the spiritual and powerful work by Rasheed Araeen being two highlights.

Though this exhibition explores some great stories around migration, the art on display does not necessarily do them justice.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

David Shrigley: Brain Activity

This article has been published by Londonist

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Hayward Gallery, Waterloo South Bank
When: 1 February – 13 May 2012

David Shrigley is primarily known for his crudely drawn cartoons, having worked for both the Guardian and the New Statesman in the past. The best comparator for his work would be the ‘Far Side’ cartoons by Gary Larson, but Shrigley’s cartoons have a much darker undercurrent and highlight his dislike for societal norms and the banality of everyday life.

Though there are plenty of cartoons on display — many that are brilliantly funny — the purpose of this exhibition is to highlight Shrigley’s progression on to other media. His surreal and often abstract sense of humour translates well into photography, paint and film, but less so into sculpture. His humour might feel hit and miss to some, but this display is guaranteed to attract new fans.

Some artworks will make you smile, if not burst out loud laughing. A personal favourite is the lost-pet poster that asks passers-by to call if they spot a grey pigeon that doesn’t answer to a specific name.

The surrealism stretches to the layout of the exhibition itself. The display starts in the lift, and there’s a wall with a hole giving crawl access to the next gallery. The curators have done an excellent job of bringing Shrigley’s world to life, keeping the tone light-hearted – a must if you want to truly enjoy Shrigley’s art for what it is.

If you can appreciate a wicked, and often abstract, sense of humour, then you won’t want to miss this.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Bee

Verdict: Worth a look
Where: Soho theatre
When: 24 January – 11 February 2012

The Bee revolves around a mild mannered businessman named Edo who comes home to find his wife and child being held hostage by an escaped convict.  Rather than playing the victim, Edo decides to take matters into his own hands and reciprocates by taking the convict’s wife and child hostage.  The tit for tat exchange then escalates and we get to witness Edo’s descent into barbarism.

The four actors do a brilliant job of conveying the many characters in this production and the use of props is ingenious, henceforth the sound of a pencil snapping will make me wince.   The only perplexing casting decision is why they chose to have a woman play the lead male and a man play the lead female.  It’s understandable that a woman could convey the meekness of the normally law-abiding businessman but it’s difficult to appreciate the vulnerability of the female lead when she’s played by a man that towers over Edo.

The actors do a brilliant job playing both the light-hearted and intense roles that they are required to convey, but the switch from light to dark is a jarring process and you can’t help but wonder if the play would have been more engaging if they had either played it straight or for laughs.

Overall the Bee has brilliant moments and the cast are excellent, but the script and direction seem muddled and unsure of how to re-tell this story of power and revenge.

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Mystery of Appearance

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Haunch of Venison, Mayfair
When: 7 December 201118 February 2012

This exhibition at the newly refurbished Haunch of Venison gallery focuses on ten of Britain’s most important post-war painters, who would go on to influence the current crop of British artists.

Usually when a smaller gallery displays works of renowned artists, you always assume that they will have their lesser works on display and the real stars will be the less recognised artists.  In this instance both shine through.

In terms of star power, there is a brilliantly humorous painting by David Hockney entitled ‘Man in a Museum’ where a painting is watching the visitor, and Francis Bacon’s ghostly re-imagining of Velazquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent (pictured below).

However, the real star of the show has to be Leon Kosoff’s works with his multilayered style of painting bringing palpable texture to his work and blurring the line between painting and sculpture (an example pictured below but this flat view doesn't do it justice).

It’s impressive that they’ve amassed such a collection and, as some of the works have never before been on public display, it’s an opportunity not to be missed.