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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 tagged London

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.

Yesterday I went to the Frieze Art Fair. I am adding the “Art Fair” bit, because on Friday when I asked at the pub if anyone was going to Frieze, someone answered “Yes” thinking I was actually enquiring whether they were very cold…

Frieze London 2012

Frieze London 2012 (Photograph by Linda Nylind, Courtesy of Linda Nylind/ Frieze)

It was my second visit to this international contemporary art fair, which takes place every October in Regent’s Park. Quite a few of my friends refused joining me this year, on the ground that tickets were too expensive. In a way, they’re right: £28 to do not even “art shopping” but “window art shopping” is probably a bit much. But I couldn’t resist going, for there is no doubt Frieze is the arts event in autumn in London.

Just like last year, I paid particular attention to the Belgian galleries that had made the trip to London for the occasion. Here is a short report of what I’ve seen, in alphabetic order. Unless specified otherwise, all these galleries are based in Brussels.

Almine Rech Gallery: Their current Jeff Koons exhibition, the first in Brussels since 1992, is big news in Belgium. Everyone (including me) seemed to like Gregor Hildebrandt’s “Madge Evans” – a good way to recycle old cassettes in a glamorous way.

Galerie Catherine Bastide: Catherine Bastide was showing works by Valerie Snobeck and Jean-Pascal Flavien. I found Flavien’s reflection on space, or “physical phrases” (climbing, sleeping, waiting, and sitting), very interesting.

Jean-Pascal Flavien, Breathing house, Galerie Catherine Bastide

Jean-Pascal Flavien, Breathing house, a sequence or a phrase (2012) – Galerie Catherine Bastide

Dépendance: The gallery was exhibiting in the “Focus” section of Frieze, open to galleries established after 2001 and showing up to three artists. They had chosen Henrik Olesen, Nora Schultz and Josef Strau, three Germanic artists whose works dialogue nicely.

Dépendance Gallery booth at Frieze 2012

Dépendance Gallery booth at Frieze 2012

Galerie Micheline Szwajcer: Based in Antwerp, this gallery represents some big names, including Hans-Peter Feldmann (a favourite of mine) and Carsten Höller. At Frieze they were showing “Homeless Cat”, a 2011 work by David Claerbout. I must have seen this interactive, real-time video synchronized with actual day and night time at Parasol Unit this spring, although I can’t remember it. They were also showing “Golden Square”, a 2012 work by Ann Veronica Janssens.

MOT International: This London-based gallery opened a second space in Brussels one year ago. In the “Focus” section of Frieze they were showing a video by Elizabeth Price, who is a 2012 Turner Prize nominee.

Office Baroque Gallery: This Antwerp-based gallery was also exhibiting in the “Focus” section. They had brought three American artists to Frieze; I quite liked Aaron Bobrow’s “Maitland”.

Zeno X Gallery: Another Antwerp-based gallery, Zeno X was in the A1 stand (the very first one). I was really intrigued by the work of Dutch artist Kees Goudzwaard. At first sight it looks like minimal colour studies constructed from rectangles of paper and tape. Upon close inspection, you realise that his works are actually painstakingly created trompe l’oeil paintings.

Having written all this, I have a (major) confession to make: I have never visited any of these galleries. In my defence, I haven’t been living in my homeland since 2006, and back then contemporary art wasn’t my priority. I pledge, next time I am back for more than a few days (and there is no major event like, say, my sister getting married), to pay these Belgian galleries a visit on their own grounds.

Thomas Bayrle, Frieze Projects 2012

Thomas Bayrle ‘Sloping Loafers / Smooth’ (2012), Commissioned and produced by Frieze Foundation for Frieze Projects 2012 (Photograph by Polly Braden, Courtesy of Polly Braden/ Frieze)

A few random thoughts about Frieze to round off this article

1. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if one of the galleries came to the fair with a PC… Would they be allowed in at all? (And I say this as someone who’s been using Macs since 1999.)

2. I couldn’t repress a smile when a visitor enquired out loud whether Paul McCarthy was “the singer”, McCartney and McCarthy’s artistic outputs being quite different.

3.  Gail’s Bakery makes really delicious sandwiches and cakes, at reasonable prices. I wish they would open a store in Covent Garden.

4. Yesterday proved to be a linguistic golden opportunity: it is not that often that I can use all five of my languages in the space of one afternoon. That’s very much the spirit of an international art fair I suppose.

Writing this post is against my own interest. I am torn between keeping this a secret and telling everyone how good it is. I’ll go for the latter, since they are very nice people.

Love Art London is one of the most beautiful things to have happened to me since moving to London. Love Art London is, in their own words, the “best god damn behind-the-scenes art club in London”. It is all true.

It was founded by the ever colourfully-dressed Chris, who left his job at Sotheby’s in order to organise a “monthly programme of unique arty happenings exclusively for members”. The club is run by him, aided by the ever-enthusiastic American gal Lindsay. The lovely Emma, a fine art student who interns with them, provides practical assistance.

Love Art London hangs out with Billy Childish (© Lovel Art London)

Love Art London hangs out with Billy Childish, who shows off his woodcut printmaking technique (© Love Art London)

London has a lot to offer culturally and even I, who pretty much live through that (I was about to write “for that”, but that sounded slightly too extreme), find it sometimes overwhelming. There have been times when I thought I was getting close to an arts overdose.

So it is easy to just follow the blockbuster shows at the world-class museums that are Tate, the V&A, the National Gallery and the British Museum. And then to add to them some seasonal events such as the Frieze art fair or the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion.

Which is why Love Art London is fab. For £25 a month, you have access to the 4 (or 5) events they organise monthly. These include behind-the-scenes visits to exhibitions, auction houses and museums, usually with their curators or directors. We also often visit artists in their studios, which provides an opportunity to get a first-hand account of their practice.

The following three events have been my favourite so far.

Polly Morgan studio visit and subsequent show at All Visual Art: I’ve already written here why I like this taxidermy artist so much.

Lucian Freud’s drawings at Blain Southern: In conjunction with the retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery, Blain Southern was showing over 70 years of drawings by Freud. I found them utterly beautiful and very intimate.

A behind-the-scenes at Phillips de Pury design auction with their in-house specialists: as a design enthusiast I had been hugely looking forward to that visit. I was not disappointed…

This week’s event, a “Walk & Talk” with British sculptor Richard Wentworth, deserves special mention for being one of the most intellectually stimulating events so far.

Other highlights included Renaissance Sculpture at Daniel Katz Gallery; Jelly Sculpture with Bompas & Parr; Alex Hartley in conversation at Victoria Miro; a visit to the studio of Idris Khan & Annie Morris; a behind the scenes at the Mondrian & Nicholson exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery (with the show’s curator Barnaby Wright); the Catlin Art Prize with Curator Justin Hammond; a “Graffiti Connoisseur’s Walking Tour” in Shoreditch (increased my street creds greatly with that one…); “Alexander Calder in India” at Pilar Ordovas; and a behind-the-scenes at the Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garret.

Chris Pensa, Love Art London

Sometimes we do “weird” things: here Chris and Karen Howell (from The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garret) demonstrate old amputation techniques.

Last but not least, Love Art London is an excellent way to discover more of London itself. The city is so big, you can easily take to staying in your local area. I live in Stoke Newington, and without Love Art London I probably wouldn’t have set foot yet in Wandsworth, Colindale, or Acton.

A note for Chris:
Having had a thorough look at all the past events, there are some I feel very sorry to have missed indeed. Any way you could repeat Museum Framing Uncovered, Restoration Masterclass, Jewellery Handling – and, above all, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel: Inside a Gothic Masterpiece?

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.