A blog about Belgian culture in London. A blog about the arts in London, Brussels and Milan, from a Belgian point of view.

Posts from the Design Category

2012 was a year particularly rich in art for me. Having moved to London primarily to take advantage of the city’s cultural offerings, I was very active, and very spoilt. Everyone who’s got a blog or writes for the press has done their “best of 2012” lists ages ago, but I like to do things ‘properly’ and wait until the year is truly over. So here’s a post about my favourite exhibitions of the year past, in no particular order.

They are not necessarily those that were curated best, or those which displayed the greatest works. They definitely were those that either moved me most or that opened up a whole new “artistic horizon” for me. They are the exhibitions I enjoyed most and have recommended with the greatest enthusiasm.

The National Gallery Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude

Claude Lorrain, Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, 1648

Claude Lorrain, Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, 1648

I probably wouldn’t have seen this exhibition if a friend of mine hadn’t insisted on going. I am so glad I did, because it made me change my mind about Claude (known in French as “Le Lorrain”). I used to think he was just the painter of pretty landscapes – a bit dull. I discovered works that were yes, beautiful, but strong in a way I hadn’t expected. They projected a sense of calm and majestic peacefulness.

Incidentally that friend of mine wanted to go primarily for the Turner half of the exhibition. That part made made me realize that I only knew Turner’s later period, and that before that he was very much painting in a “less-good-Claude” style…

The Royal Academy Bronze

The Chariot of the Sun, Trundholm, Zealand, early Bronze Age © National Museum, Copenhagen

The Chariot of the Sun, Trundholm, early Bronze Age © National Museum, Copenhagen

I knew so little about Bronze, and someone mentioned this exhibition as a must-see. They were right: it was excellent. Many styles, many subjects and many eras were represented so as to get a good overview of what you can do with the material. A room devoted to the making of bronze works also revealed the secrets of the craftsmanship. Seeing the exhibition on a Friday night added extra drama to the works and rendered them even more beautiful.

Southbank Centre (Hayward Gallery) Invisible: Art about the Unseen, 1957-2012

Invisible: Art about the Unseen at the Hayward Gallery

Invisible: Art about the Unseen at the Hayward Gallery (Photo Bethany Clake, Getty Images)

This was such a fun, light exhibition – perfect for the summer! Organising a show around the concept of “Invisible art” seemed challenging, but it worked very well. I saw it during a great weekend at the Southbank Centre, where I also went to a concert by Joan as Police Woman and listened to Marina Abramovic’s  “Women Only” lecture. Both events were part of The Meltdown Festival, curated by Antony (from Antony and the Johnsons).

 A (probably incomplete) list of the London exhibitions I saw in 2012

Here are the 17 shows that were taken into account to draw my top three. They were all on view in London, in 2012, and shown at museums or public galleries. Shows at commercial galleries are therefore not included. An asterisk indicates an exhibition which nearly made it to the three best.

Bauhaus: Art as Life

British Library
Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination*

British Museum
Shakespeare: staging the world

Estorick Collection
In Astratto: Abstraction in Italy 1930-1980

National Gallery
Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude

National Portrait Gallery
Lucian Freud Portraits

Southbank Centre
Jeremy Deller: Joy in People and David Shrigley: Brain Activity
Invisible: Art about the Unseen, 1957-2012

Royal Academy

Serpentine Gallery:
Hans-Peter Feldmann*
Thomas Schütte

Tate Britain
Picasso & Modern British Art

Tate Modern
Yayoi Kusama
Damien Hirst*

Victoria and Albert Museum
Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950

British Design 1948–2012: Innovation in the Modern Age

Wellcome Collection
Death: A Self-portrait

A note about this classification

I’ve been slightly annoyed by some “best of 2012” articles. For instance, The Guardian’s “Best Art Exhibitions of 2012” includes shows in San Francisco and Kassel. Can I infer from that that exhibitions in New York, Rome and Paris were judged as well? This is equally valid for The Artsdesk’s “Classical Music and Opera: The Best of 2012” article.

I have enjoyed reading Steve Lack’s own “Exhibition of the year 2012” blog. His top three is totally different from mine, and proves that these types of classification are for the most part a question of personal taste.

There are a few shows I am hoping to catch in January, before they close, namely The Preraphaelites at Tate Britain, Hollywood Costume at the V&A and Seduced by Art at the National Gallery.

The below is a (chronological) record of my artistic and cultural consumption for the month of September 2012. I have yet to find a good website that would enable me to keep track of all the stuff I do and see, so at the moment this blog will have to do.

Strictly speaking, I started my cultural month in Milan, where my very much needed – and somewhat deserved – holiday in Italy was ending, with a visit to the Museo del Novecento (the “Museum of the 20th Century”).

Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, The Fourth Estate, Museo del Novecento

Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, The Fourth Estate, Museo del Novecento

Back in London, this is what I’ve been up to.

The Estorick Collection and the “In Astratto” Exhibition
In the near future I’ll write a whole blog about the Estorick, the only gallery devoted to modern Italian art in the UK, so I’ll be brief here. Last month I paid them a visit to see the “In astratto” exhibition, which explored abstraction in Italy between 1930 and 1980. I even attended a free lecture on Futurism after WWI, on the last sultry afternoon of 2012 in London – perhaps not the wisest of choices since there were so few of them…

Damien Hirst at Tate Modern
Sometimes I live dangerously: sometimes I wait until the very last day of a major exhibition to see it. Sometimes, as a result, I don’t get to see it because it’s sold out (and I forever regret the only opportunity to see two versions of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Virgin of the Rocks” together). Fortunately this was not the case, and I managed to see this major retrospective of Hirst’s work. I was happy to be able to finally form an opinion on this ex-YBA who seems to have somewhat fallen out from grace recently.

My flatmate, who’s slightly older than me, claims he liked Hirst in the nineties already, before he became super famous (Hirst, not my flatmate). Anyway, I must say I was pleasantly surprised: there were quite a few very clever ideas that made me smile or reflect.

That visit was also the occasion for a quick (probably too quick) look at the newly opened Tate Tanks.

NB: I paid reduced ticket price thanks to my National Art Pass :)

Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

The Old Operating Theatre (with Love Art London)
I had never heard of this most unusual museum before my visit, which was organised by Love Art London and led by the museum’s chief curator Karen Howell. The Old Operating Theatre Museum features Europe’s oldest operating theatre and is located in a unique space in the Herb Garret of St Thomas Church.

Bring on fab atmospheric location, old medicine and apothecary instruments, and demonstration of amputation techniques in the good old times when anaesthetics didn’t exist. The Old Operating Theatre is one of the quirkiest museums I’ve seen, and I definitely recommend it, especially if you are into medicine.

“Mademoiselle Julie” at the Barbican
Back in July a friend of mine suggested booking tickets for Strindberg’s famous play, performed in French, in a French production (by Frédéric Fisbach), and… starring Juliette Binoche herself. The play ended up being the talk of the town, and I was very glad I caught the second performance.

I thought the production was quite nice, modern in an elegant way, and I liked Binoche’s performance. I found Nicolas Bouchaud as Jean less convincing (a bit stiff). Juliette Binoche’s costumes were designed by Lanvin’s Albert Elbaz, and were very chic indeed. On a side note, I would be very grateful if someone could explain to me what the silent man in a rabbit mask was representing.

Juliette Binoche in Mademoiselle Julie at the Barbican

Juliette Binoche in Mademoiselle Julie at the Barbican (© Christophe Raynaud de Lage – Festival d’Avignon)

The Magic Flute at the ENO
Together with Carmen, Die Zauberflöte is my absolute favourite opera. The English National Opera was presenting a revival of their “traditional” production by Nicholas Hytner of Mozart’s masterpiece, celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Although the staging was a bit too classical for my taste, and despite the fact that the opera was sung in English (as is customary at the ENO), Mozart’s music did the trick, as always. And it was nice being back at the Coliseum, 12 years after my initial visit – which actually coincided with my first time ever at the opera.

The Magic Flute at ENO

The Magic Flute at ENO (Alistair Muir)

Viewing of the Design Auction at Phillips de Pury (with Love Art London)
I love design, I really do. This is why I had been waiting impatiently for that particular Love Art London gig since it had been announced: a behind-the-scene tour of Phillips de Pury’s autumn Design Auction, with specialists Marine Hartogs and Meaghan Roddy. Of course I fell in love with several pieces, including these sublime Venetian pots by glass artist Yoichi Ohira.

Phillips de Pury - Design Auction September 2012

Design Auction at Phillips de Pury, September 2012

My month ended with a visit to the studio of British portrait artist Nicola Green, with Love Art London again.

The purpose of this post is not simply to list all of the cool things I saw and did last month. I would really like to start a conversation here. Have you seen any of these shows, exhibitions and museums? Did you think they were brilliant? Were you disappointed? Either way, let me know. And let me know if I’ve missed something that was, well… unmissable.

This is the first in a series of articles on the FAI, the “National Trust of Italy”. If you live in the UK, you are most probably familiar with the National Trust, and you’re perhaps even a member of this brilliant organisation. This is what they do:

We protect historic houses, gardens, mills, coastline, forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, nature reserves, villages and pubs. Then we open them up for ever, for everyone.

Quite cool, isn’t it? Very high on my “to-visit-list” of National Trust properties is Red House (1860), the only house commissioned, created and lived in by William Morris, one of the founders of the Arts & Crafts movement.

Red House - William Morris - National Trust

Red House – William Morris – National Trust

This blog post, however, is more about the National Trust’s Italian equivalent, the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI), which was established in 1975 following the model of the British National Trust. The aim of this “Italian Environment Fund” is to protect elements of Italy’s physical heritage which might otherwise be lost.

My absolute favourite FAI property, and I have written about it before – in fact, I suspect I am boring some people with it – is the Villa Necchi Campiglio, a jewel of an Art Deco house situated in the heart of Milan.

Villa Necchi Campiglio Milano - Pietro Portaluppi - FAI

Villa Necchi Campiglio – Pietro Portaluppi – FAI

Some other cool properties in Lombardy include the Villa Panza in Varese (north of Milan). The villa displays part of the contemporary art (think Dan Flavin, James Turrell, etc) collection of master collector Giuseppe Panza.

Villa Panza Varese

Villa Panza in Varese – FAI

As well as the Villa del Balbianello, on the shores of Lake Como, which you can even hire for your wedding (if you have a *substantial* budget).

Villa del Balbianello, Lake Como

Villa del Balbianello, Lake Como – FAI

A one-year membership to FAI costs only 39€ and gives you unlimited entry to the properties (which turns out to be very useful when, like me, you become obsessed by a particular house and need to visit it several times a year…).

Writing about the National Trust and the FAI has made me realise there is no such organisation in Belgium (and, as far as I know, in France). There the State is in charge of protecting national heritage. Knowing my slightly complicated country, there would probably need to be three of such organisations anyway, one for each region. I wonder why we evolved so differently with regard to heritage preservation. Anyone able to provide an answer to this burning question?

I have been very design-oriented this spring.

For a start I chose the week of the famous Salone del Mobile, ie Milan Design Week, to go back to Italy for the first time since I left it last summer. It’s always been my favourite week in Milan. The city really comes alive, sees an influx of “artistically-minded foreigners”, there are cocktails parties everywhere and cool happenings taking place. It’s brilliant.

The primary reason of my trip was to see my friends back there and stock up on delicatessen (bucatini! vino passito! brigante! etc), so I probably spent less time admiring lamps and chairs than other visitors to the city that week, but I nevertheless managed to catch the following:

– The Salone Satellite: the place where you can spot tomorrow’s design stars. Not to mention, the only part of the official Salone that is free of access.

– The Interni exhibition at the Università Statale: The main campus of Milan’s biggest university’s is located in a former hospital from the 15th century. Its quite spectacular courtyards provide the backdrop for an exhibition organised by Italian design magazine Interni.

Statale Milano - Salone de Mobile - Interni

The Belgian touch: This year Belgium is Design was exhibiting at La Triennale. Bonus point for Insalata Belga, a caravan offering a Belgian “aperitivo” to passers-by.

Picture of the Insalata Belga caravan found on

Back to London: Britain’ capital has its own design week (it’s called week, although it only last 3 days). How cool is that? As they say on their website, Clerkenwell Design Week is a “catch up for Milan Design Week”, and I must say, I really enjoyed it. The fact that it is smaller (both in terms of works exhibited and of “geographical spreading”) means that it is more concentrated in good design and events than its Italian big sister. Plus the sun shone – for the first, and so far, last time this year.

Clerkenwell Design Week 2012

I was happy to go back inside the Farmiloe building, where I had been before for Secret Cinema. Lots and lots of gorgeous pieces of furniture this time, instead of scenes from “The Third Man”.

Farmiloe Building

The Farmiloe Building

The Belgian touch: Bulo* was offering a “Belgian Waffle Breakfast” at their showroom. Too bad I was working and couldn’t taste them.

*Bulo also sells Bram Boo’s Overdose collection – I think I wouldn’t mind owning one of these very cool desks…

Bram Boo Overdose

Bram Boo’s Overdose desk