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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 London 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.

Barbican
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
Bronze

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.

This is the third, and last, part of my description of “Brumidon”. Just like Friday, if this sentence leaves you flabbergasted, you may need to read this and this.

These are the things and ideas/values from London I would import into my “ideal country”, in addition to my friends, of course.

The sense that I am “at the centre of it”
I moved to London for its “centrality”. It is often the place where you’ll find the best art in Europe, be it music, painting or theatre, but also some of the most exciting bars and restaurants, and the coolest shops (even if in that regard Milan wasn’t too bad).
I work in very central London (Holborn/Covent Garden) and I – stupidly perhaps – get an adrenaline kick in the morning from the hustle and bustle of traffic, and from thinking “I am in London”.

London, Thames

London, Thames (Photo jasonhawkes.com)

The international character
I run no risk of losing my Italian language skills in London. My hairdresser is from Genova, the guy who sells me sushi at my local Abokado is from Puglia, one of my very good friends moved from Milan to London six months before me … and the Italian expat community is large and welcoming. And it’s not only the Italians I can meet easily: my London friends hail from France, Ireland, Australia, Greece, etc. Some days it feels like being an Erasmus student again – a most delightful feeling.

English (as it is spoken in the UK)
It’s always been my favourite language (since I’ve started learning any, that is). Being able to speak English every day, with native speakers, is a source of joy for me.

The humour
The irony, the banter, the teasing, the wit: call it as you want, it pervades all aspects of life in the UK. And it makes it so much better.

London, Clissold Park in Stoke Newington

London, Clissold Park in Stoke Newington

The open-mindedness
There is a sense of freedom when you live in London. When it comes to fashion or behaviour, everything is permitted, no one ever raises a brow, provided you don’t create actual nuisance. Imperturbable and unperturbed, British people mind their own business.

I am probably known for having a slight tendency to overdress. Unlike in Italy, where people scrutinise (dissect?) your outfit, or in Belgium, where the consensus seems to be that you should not stand out, in London I feel free to dress exactly as I want. Bring on glitter! Bring on colour! Bring on elaborate dresses and high heels in the office, even though the de facto uniform is chequered shirts + jeans + trainers (for the men).

The general good working, the efficiency
Buses that run 24/7, fast customer service that actually is a service, : London works. Which is good, given its size and the number of inhabitants (nearly as many as the whole of Belgium).

London, Trafalgar Square

London, Trafalgar Square (Photo by David Iliff, License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Some food
The UK is not particularly renowned for its own gastronomic culture (yes, this is a euphemism). Things have greatly improved over the past 15 years though, and TV cooking shows and cooking classes are all the rage. There are a number of British specialities I go mad about, like cream tea (the prospect of eating scones with clotted cream and thick jam invariably makes me ecstatic), but the nicest thing about food in London is that the choice is endless. Whatever continent your taste buds fancy eating from tonight, you will find something to satisfy you.

Exactly one year ago, I bought a one-way ticket to London. I am therefore technically celebrating my first anniversary in London today, and this will be a post with which art and being Belgian have little to do, or perhaps a lot. It is an unusual post in that it will be quite personal.

I was born in a small town (a village) in the suburbs of Brussels, from parents who have lived in that very town their whole life and only speak French.

Perhaps in reaction to my family, I decided I would learn languages – I currently know 5 of them -, and that I wanted to live abroad, to make things more exciting, and to a certain extent, more challenging (“Pourquoi faire simple quand on peut faire compliqué?” somehow seems to be a motto of mine).

Now aged 30, I consider myself “fluent” in three places, by which I mean that I not only speak the local language, but that I also know their traditions, and the values each of theses cherish. I have devised a personal “proof of fluency” test: being able to swear back in the street at someone who insults you (in the unlikely event of this happening) and being able to use the local public transport systems confidently (as in: knowing if you need to press the door button in order for the tube doors to open). Currently, I pass this test in three cities: Brussels, Milan and London.

I have lived in other places, including Edinburgh (as an exchange student) and Strasbourg (as an intern at the Council of Europe), but these stays have been too short for me to have really absorbed the local “essence”.

My cats, Tosca and Mirza (= The Prettiest)

My cats, Tosca and Mirza (= The Prettiest)

(I didn’t really know which picture to choose to illustrate this post (pictures of me on the web are a no-go), so I have opted for a photo of my cats – both of whom have flown to cats’ heaven now, sadly. I think they’re the prettiest.)

What about art, in all this? I moved to Milan for love (how banal), but ended up finding a job I was passionate about, at an opera house “making history since 1778”. And if I decided to leave everything for London, it was mainly for the art that this city has to offer. The National Gallery and the Victoria and Albert have a lot to answer for, in my case…

I would like to stress that I choose to mainly speak about cities, rather countries. This is because I know that I would have gained very different experiences if I had lived 5 years in Naples instead of Milan. Ditto with London: just as New York is not the US, London does not equal England or the UK – it is sui generis.

Recently I have caught myself dreaming about living in a sort of ideal place, which would include the best of my three cities. Mainly it’s the various friends that I would like to “bundle” (although I have many more friends, in many more countries).

In addition to them, there are a few things, and a few ideas and values, which I would import from Brussels, Milan and London into my “ideal country”. I tried to fit all of these into one post, but it proved too long and I have decided to split this into three posts, one for each of the coming days. So: à demain/a domani!

A quick post, to promote the work of a friend, who happens to have Italian roots and is a fellow Dalston resident (well, technically I live in Stoke Newington, but that’s not the point).

His name is Pierluigi Vecchi, and you have until 13th September (hurry!) to see ‘Neon and Water’, his first personal exhibition at the Other Cafe and Gallery.

Babylon Bath © Pierluigi Vecchi

Babylon Bath © Pierluigi Vecchi

His visually hybrid shots are inspired by themes of neon and water, exploring “the introspective worlds of silent inner turmoil and ultimate sublime redemption”.

Neon Revelation © Pierluigi Vecchi

Neon Revelation © Pierluigi Vecchi

All the works from the show are for sale, with a limited signed edition of 5 of each photograph.

Here’s a picture from the private view, which also featured musical performances by some of Pier’s friends.

Neon and Water Private View at Other Cafe and Gallery. Picture by Katja Zapolnova.

Neon and Water Private View at Other Cafe and Gallery. Picture by Katja Zapolnova.

(I’m actually on the picture. You can only see part of my glittery grey cardie though, because I am behind the red frame)

The Other Cafe and Gallery is an independent venue located between Islington and Dalston, which serves home-made food with a great selection of dishes ranging from traditional English breakfast to Italian and South-American dishes, in a lovely environment.

If you want more info about Pier’s work, you can have a look at his website: http://www.pierluigivecchi.com/.