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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 My month in culture 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.

Compared to September, last month was slightly less “culturally charged”. This is mainly due to the fact that my sister got married, an event to which I dedicated a bit of time as well as a stay in Belgium, of course.

I did, however, manage to do and see the below (listed in chronological order).

Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House

Swan Lake, ROH

Swan Lake, ROH (Photo: © Bill Cooper/ROH)

Who doesn’t like a good Swan Lake? It had been way too long since I had been to the ballet, and my friend Charlotte had never seen one in London, so back in July we had booked tickets for what is probably the world’s most popular ballet.

It was my third “Lake”: I had seen it twice at La Scala, once with Svetlana Zakharova, who is the ultimate Odile/Odette in my opinion, and once with Alina Somova, whom I had found a bit too athletic for my taste. The Royal Ballet’s version of Petipat’s ballet was, of course, very good. Sarah Lamb (pictured above) proved to be a gracious Odile/Odette, and I found the costumes and sets really beautiful.

But oh my, the audience! This is one of the rare ballets that has really beautiful music (if you don’t see what I mean, try to listen to Coppélia’s score on its own…). So I was a bit frustrated that people kept clapping at all times, not letting the music flow, let alone breathe.

The Frieze Art Fair at Regent’s Park

I have devoted an entire post to Frieze, which you can read here.

A Walk & Talk with Richard Wentworth, with Love Art London

The walk/talk through SW3 with British sculptor Richard Wentworth was one of the best Love Art London adventures yet. Witty and enlightened, we chatted with the man about architecture (with a special mention for Richard Rogers’ house), bridges, garage doors, terrible public sculptures and whatever else he could think of at the time.

We ended our walk with a very quick tour of the Royal Academy of Art studios in Battersea. These strongly reminded me of the Teatro alla Scala workshops, which is kind of normal since they also have foundry, painting and sculpture workshops. Rumour has it that we might pay a more in-depth visit to the RA studios with Love Art London in the future: I am keeping my fingers crossed!

Adam Neate at Elms Lester Gallery, with Love Art London

Exclusively represented by Elms Lester, British graffiti artist Adam Neate had a solo exhibition at the gallery last month. Rather shy but very friendly, he explained his background and his practice to us. His work really needs to be seen in the flesh, because a lot of it is tri-dimensional, as he often incorporates wooden or plastic elements with painting.

Adam Neate at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms

Adam Neate at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms (Photo: © Love Art London)

When we finished chatting to Adam Neate, the gallery directors opened the doors of the Painting Rooms, which are adjacent to the exhibition spaces. Elms Lester is located in the ancient parish of St. Giles between Soho, Covent Garden and Bloomsbury and was built in 1904 by Mr Elms Lesters. It originally served as (then) state-of-the-art scenic painting studios, which were supplying all the West End theatres with their theatrical backdrops. Apparently it is idiosyncratic of British set makers that they paint sets vertically; on the Continent these are painted horizontally.

Elms Lester Painting Rooms

Elms Lester Painting Rooms (Photo: © Love Art London)

As the use of painted backdrops declined, the painting studios were more often than not being used by the gallery’s artists, often producing site specific works for their upcoming shows or as photo shoot locations (for the likes of Blur and Kylie Minogue).

Edward Le Bas: Inside an Edwardian Studio in Chelsea, with Love Art London

Some of Love Art London’s activities feel more exclusive than others. This one wasn’t bad. We were ushered into one of London’s only three houses designed by Sir Charles Rennie Mackintosh, in Chelsea. If you know my enthusiasm for Art Nouveau (or more precisely in this case, Arts and Crafts), you can easily imagine how much I enjoyed that particular event.

Saloon Bar, Edward Le Bas, 1940

Saloon Bar, Edward Le Bas, 1940 (Photo: © Tate)

Why were we ushered in that house? Well, it’s because it used to be Edward Le Bas’s private studio. Since you probably don’t know much about this painter, I thought I’d copy and paste (duplicate content alert!) some of Love Art London’s information:

“As well as being an avid collector of contemporary art at the turn of the 20th century, Edward Le Bas was one of Britain’s most talented painters who, despite being an elected member of the Royal Academy and awarded a CBE, has been slightly failed by the history books. Le Bas’ style owes much to the French tradition, Post-Impressionism in particular, and to the work of his great friend Duncan Grant and the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of British artists with whom he was associated. As a collector Le Bas amassed a hoard of important works The Camden Town Group (a London collective which included heavyweights like Walter Sickert), The Bloomsbury Group (in particular his friends Duncan Grant & Vanessa Bell) and the celebrated French artist Edouard Vuillard. Le Bas’ impressive collection, including around 200 of his own paintings, (the ones which aren’t in the Tate, Royal Academy, the Arts Council or other important institutions) hang in the original studio in which Le Bas lived and worked.” (With thanks to Love Art London)

Additional information about Edward Le Bas can be found on Tate‘s website.

Some arts-related digital stuff

Because having written all this leaves me with the feeling that I did little in October, I should probably add that I attended one of the monthly Art of Digital London meetups, which I heartily recommend to anyone who is interested in digital communications and the arts. They are hosted at the Photographers’ Gallery and the line-up of speakers is generally excellent. I also made a very late appearance at the Culture Geek meetup, a “spin off” of the Culture Geek conference.

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.