I’m sure you already know all about the big blockbuster shows such as ‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’ at the V&A, ‘Turner’s Modern World’ at Tate Britain or ‘Paula Rego’ at Tate Modern but you may not be aware of some of the excellent smaller exhibitions currently on in London. I’ve visited and enjoyed a few of these recently, and here are my recommendations.
JR: Chronicles, Saatchi Gallery until 3 October
‘JR: Chronicles’ at the Saatchi Gallery is an impressive piece of story-telling: the largest solo exhibition to date of the internationally recognised French artist JR, a TED Prize winner, Oscar nominated filmmaker, and one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2018. Featuring some of his most iconic projects from the past fifteen years, the show traces JR’s career from his early work with graffiti artists to his large-scale architectural interventions in cities across the world and his digitally collaged murals of diverse communities. The two images above were part of an installation on the plight of migrants on the US-Mexico border in 2017.
JR spotlights communities across the world by photographing individual members of those communities and then pasting their images -sometimes illegally- on a monumental scale. In 2013, JR learned that the buildings that featured pastings of his photos of inhabitants of Les Bosquets on the outskirts of Paris (‘Portrait of a generation’, 2004) were due to be demolished. Using images from the original series, he secretly pasted two-storey-high portraits inside the buildings before they were knocked down. During the demolition, the portraits were exposed, creating a new dialogue between the recent history of Paris, its suburbs and their people.
In 2017, JR started a series of epic participatory murals which entailed photographing and filming hundreds of people, and then collaging their portraits together in narrative, highly realistic compositions dealing with challenging themes. Between May and June 2018, JR and his team photographed 1,128 New Yorkers, from all walks of life in their own neighbourhoods, with the intention of creating a mural that showed a unique cross-section of the city: New York portrayed through its energy, its feats, its issues, its people.
The Face 2 Face project in 2007 was the largest illegal photography exhibition ever
: another example of JR’s not-always-legal activism. He pasted portraits of Israelis and Palestinians face to face, in monumental formats on both sides of the separation wall and in several Palestinian and Israeli cities. There is a film in this part of the exhibition showing candid interviews with locals from both sides as well as JR getting arrested by the Israeli military police, who then proceed to rip out and destroy some of his images.
Admission to ‘JR: Chronicles’
at the Saatchi Gallery costs £6-£9 Wednesday-Friday and £12 at the weekend. Click here
Peter Blake: Time Traveller, Waddington Custot until 9 September
An unmissable opportunity for inspiration awaits in Mayfair, where Waddington Custot presents ‘Peter Blake: Time Traveller’
, now extended until 9 September
. From his early paintings depicting fragments of popular imagery, to the painstakingly constructed found-object assemblages and his recent digital pieces, Blake has broadened the scope of what collage can be and what it can say.To my mind, he is a genius among collage artists and this comprehensive show offer us the opportunity to view historic works together with recent pieces from his seven decades of amazing creativity. I urge you to go and see it if you can! Free
to visit, you just need to book
As a further treat, a magnificent book surveying Peter Blake’s collage work to date has been published to acompany the exhibition. With a foreword by Blake’s art school friend David Hockney, Peter Blake: Collage (£32.99 from Blackwell’s)
contains a wealth of colour images in a playful design that captures the spirit of the octogenarian artist’s career and his significant contribution to the medium.
Noel Coward: Art & Style, Guildhall Art Gallery until 23 December
I thoroughly enjoyed Noël Coward: Art & Style
: a beautifully designed space filled with rare relics and never-seen-before artefacts, including some truly fabulous dressing gowns (my favourite one below: quite restrained in style compared to the rest!). On at the Guildhall Art Gallery
until 23 December. Amazingly, this is also free
to visit, all you need to do is book
Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy, Whitechapel Gallery, until 29 August
Eileen Agar:Angel of Anarchy
is a long overdue retrospective of this bold and dynamic surrealist artist, with whose work I was only casually aquainted until now. Agar’s work is fundamentally about transforming the every-day into the extraordinary, with a practice that was often experimental and encompassed painting, collage, assemblage, photography and sculpture.
These two sculptures, ‘Angel of Anarchy’ on the left and ‘Angel of mercy’ on the right, are both modelled on the head of Agar’s long-term partner Joseph Bard. By all accounts, their relationship was ahead of its time: they married after many years of being together, always keeping separate residences, and Bard was very supportive of her work. Agar considered him her muse, thus turning the Surrealist tendency of making a beautiful woman into a muse on its head.
I loved Agar’s colourful post- war paintings, vibrant and full of joy, obviously the result of the artist having fun. This is best expressed in her own words: ‘Life’s meaning is lost without the spirit of play’. Agar painted most days until her death at the age of 91, and her joie de vivre was not diminished by age. Read a personal recollection of her later years by her great niece Olivia Fraser here.
Admission to Eileen Agar:Angel of Anarchy is £7.50-£9.50, and you can book tickets here.
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