Managed to pop into Hales Gallery today to catch the final day of Laura Oldfield Ford‘s show, ‘Transmissions from a Discarded Future’. Oldfield Ford’s delicate, yet bitingly political ballpoint drawings of mundane scenes of abandoned housing estates, deserted tower blocks, derelict shopping arcades, advertisements and tall billboard posters are hugely powerful and distinctive. Taking their cue from the August riots, they fizzle with anger, casting a new light on the forgotten corners of the urban landscape.
[Images: Transmissions from a Discarded Future #1, 2011, Ink on Tyvek, 239.5x169cm and Transmissions from a Discarded Future #1, 2011, Ink on Tyvek, 239.5x169cm by Laura Oldfield Ford, via Hales Gallery]
I do love a good musical, and so I was delighted to be invited to go along and see a performance of Crazy for You, a new hit West End show inspired by the classic songs of George and Ira Gershwin, at the Novello Theatre earlier this week.
Crazy for You is the story of stagestruck banker Bobby who longs to dance on the Broadway stage, but instead his stern mother despatches him to a sleepy Western town in the Nevada desert to foreclose on a derelict theatre. On arrival he immediately falls for the owner’s daughter, the feisty Polly, and hatches a harebrained scheme to save the theatre and win Polly’s heart by impersonating famous impresario Zangler, and bringing the Zangler’s Follies chorus girls out West to put on a show.
All kinds of silly shenanigans ensure, especially when the real Zangler turns up with Bobby’s mother and overbearing fiancé in tow. But let’s be honest, it’s not really the story that matters here, but the fantastic, feel-good song and dance routines. Toe-tapping Gershwin favourites like I Got Rhythm,Someone to Watch Over Me and Nice Work if You Can Get It are used to excellent effect with delightful choreography from Stephen Mear. This is a true old-fashioned musical in glittering 1930s style, complete with high-kicking showgirls in glamorous outfits, vaudeville-style comedy routines, a tap-dancing hero and a romantic finish. The gilt interior of the Novello theatre makes an ideal setting for this gleefully escapist and nostalgic production.
Joyous and relentlessly upbeat, Crazy for You seems like the perfect antidote to ‘politics and axes taxes and people grinding axes’ of recent weeks – as the Gershwin number goes. If silly jokes and sparkles are your thing, then I can heartily recommend this as the perfect festive treat… and I know that I for one will be singing I Got Rhythm (and tapping the odd toe) for the rest of the week.
Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage. Installation view at the Hayward Gallery. Administrating Eternity (2011) Photo Linda Nylind
I’ve been a fan of Pipilotti Rist’s exuberant artwork since I first saw an exhibition of her work at FACT in Liverpool back in 2008. I think I would find it difficult not to be drawn to any artist who, as a teenager, renamed herself Pipilotti in honour of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking; but more than that, there’s something distinctive and very charming about the dizzy, colourful, visceral and provocative world that Rist’s artwork brings to life.
Given this, I was excited to see Rist’s new solo exhibition at the Hayward Gallery – the playfully-named Eyeball Massage – on Friday night, a treat at the end of a long and stressful week. This show brings together over 30 works from the mid-1980s to the present day, including some which have been created specially for the Hayward.
This is an exhibition which is always unexpected. Before we even enter the gallery, we are greeted outside by drifts of smoky bubbles and strings of illuminated underpants, like unlikely bunting crossed with a washing line; inside, a video installation is secreted in a cubicle in the ladies’ toilets. Meanwhile, in the galleries themselves we are invited to lounge on semi-sinister cushions in the shape of headless bodies, and watch sensuous, dreamy projected images rippling over a labyrinth of gauzy curtains. Like Alice in Wonderland, we are repatedly confused by shifting perspectives: in Mutaflor the artist’s immense mouth seems to swallow the viewer whole; but a moment later in Selfless in a Bath of Lava we peer through a tiny hole in the floor to glimpse her in miniature, naked and surrounded by molten lava, shouting messages to us.
Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage. Installation view at the Hayward Gallery. Photo Linda Nylind. Selfless In The Bath of Lava (1994)
Physicality is hugely important throughout this exhibition: the human body is celebrated everywhere, from Blood Room, a ‘visual poem’ in praise of menstruation to Digesting Impressions which takes us on an endoscopic journey through the oesopaghus, stomach and intestines. We as viewers have to engage physically with the works on display, from poking our heads through the viewing holes of A Peek into the West – A Look into the East (or E-W) to allowing our own lap to become the screen for a video projection in Lap Lamp.
Perhaps because my expectations were so high, Eyeball Massage didn’t quite deliver everything I wanted it to. Some of the works in the show, like Your-Space-Capsule and Ever Is Over All I had seen before, and others, like Yoghurt on Skin – Velvet on TV in which tiny LCD screens are hidden inside handbags and seashells, didn’t grab me as much as I might have expected. However, much of this show was all that I have come to expect from Rist’s work – a fizzy blend of hypnotic, uplifting, unsettling and invigorating.
Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage. Installation view at the Hayward Gallery. Administrating Eternity (2011) Photo Linda Nylind
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of the Museum of Everything, which describes itself as Britain’s only museum dedicated to outsider art. Two of their past exhibitions have been presented in a ramshackle building in Primrose Hill, and the unapologetically handmade aesthetic, combined with an exuberantly chaotic presentation of work have combined to create a pleasingly off-the-wall atmosphere.
The latest offering from the Museum of Everything, Exhibition #4 is somewhat different. This time the museum has popped up in Selfridge’s, one of London’s largest and most famous department stores, where it has transformed the Ultralounge area into an exhibition space filled with over 400 drawings, paintings and sculptures from international studios for contemporary self-taught artists with learning and other disabilities. The Oxford Street windows of the store have also been transformed into a series of installations, showcasing the work of some of the artists in the exhibition.
I was looking forward to seeing this latest show when I went along last Sunday, but all the same I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an exhibition of marginalised artists in such an overtly commercial setting. Arriving a little early, I found myself waiting outside the doors on bustling Oxford Street along with hordes of eager shoppers, many of whom were obviously intrigued by the eye-catching window installations. At last the doors opened, and I went down to the basement, passing on my way a whole area dedicated to Christmas decorations, shimmering with tinsel and tree decorations, and already blasting out ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’, which set the stage for a slightly surreal experience.
In many ways, the exhibition proved to be much of what I’ve come to expect from the Museum of Everything. The show is well thought through, with some challenging and intriguing work, and maintains its usual quirky homespun charm, although perhaps it loses a little something away from the kooky atmosphere of its Primrose Hill home. I especially enjoyed Erica Punzel’s multicoloured abstract images, Leonard Fink’s dense monochrone maps, Mary Ogunleye’s garlands of rainbow-coloured particles and Kenya Haley’s drawings of cupcakes and ice-creams. I was also interested to see a whole host of works exploring text in various ways, from Nicroe Kittaka’s images made up of signs, letters and ideograms, to Kunzo Matsumo’s lists, letters and diaries, and Harald Stoffer’s amazing letter-based drawings, raising some interesting questions about the relationship between creative writing and visual art. So far, so good.
After a good rummage around the exhibition, I headed up to the Shop of Everything on the ground floor (delayed en route by an optimistic salesman intent on demonstrating handwarmers, in spite of the fact that it was probably one of the hottest days of the year), which is another new development for this show. Although there have been bags, badges and a few other items of branded merchandise for sale at their shows in the past, this is a much more wholesale affair, packed with everything from postcards to prints to Oyster card holders to crayons to designer t-shirts and other clothing produced in collaboration with the likes of Clements Ribero. The items themselves are lovely, and I’m the first to recognise that arts organisations need to find practical ways to generate income to support what they do, yet I have to admit that this proliferation of branded goods left me feeling slightly uneasy.
I don’t think there’s any good reason why art shouldn’t be exhibited in a shop, and I can’t help admiring the sheer panache and ambition of the Museum of Everything in brokering a collaboration on this scale with Selfridges, probably the most prestigious name in retail in the UK. Yet somehow all this seems to change the Museum from something distinctive and idiosyncratic to another slick, clever branding exercise, which makes it feel suddenly much more like the other big name galleries we encounter in the art world. What made the original Museum of Everything exhibition so special was how out of the ordinary it felt: remote, secret, magical, like stepping into a colourful, uncomfortable otherworld. Encountering it on Oxford Street somehow just isn’t the same.
Yet somehow I still can’t quite make up my mind about Exhibition #4. In some ways, I admire how the Museum of Everything is apparently breaking all its own rules to reach new audiences and to grab the attention of all kinds of people who might never usually think about visiting an exhibition like this. But in part I also have a certain sympathy with Adrian Searle, who writing in the Guardian, suggests that the setting is ‘inappropriate’ and that such challenging artworks might require more than an idle visit in between trips to the Clinique counter. But on the other hand, is chaotic Oxford Street absolutely the appropriate place – in some ways the perfect setting for these bold, spiky, attention-grabbing artworks? It certainly offers a fantastic opportunity to get the voices of these often unheard artists out there into the city’s public spaces. Or has the Museum of Everything simply sold out?
I don’t have any answers to any of these questions, but however you choose to look at it, Exhibition #4 certainly offers its visitors plenty to think about.
I’ve long been a fan of all things 1950s from rock and roll music to swingy skirts to drinks with cocktail cherries, and I’m currently glued to BBC 2’s The Hour, so naturally I was delighted to be given a couple of tickets to a late event at the Museum of London paying tribute to the ‘fabulous fifties’ last week.
The Museum of London is one of my favourite London museums and not only because it’s literally a stone’s throw from where I currently live. The permanent galleries tell a fascinating story of London’s history from the first people to dwell in settlements along the Thames up until the present day, and there are some great temporary exhibitions too: currently there’s an engrossing exhibition of London Street Photography from 1860 to the present day as well as a fun display of hand-drawn maps of the city in the foyer. Downstairs in the cafe, you’ll also find an installation by the Light Surgeons, which is to be the first in a series of media art commissions at the museum.
I’ve been to plenty events at the museum before but this was the first event in their Late series that I’d seen, transforming the entire museum for the evening after the usual closing time. On offer was music from Laura B and the Moonlighters and The Broken Hearts DJs, vintage pin-up makeovers, talks on fifties fashion and popular culture from the museum’s curators, dance classes with The London Swing Dance Society, craft workshops from Tatty Devine, and of course, fifties-style food and drink.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the current fashion for all things vintage and nostalgic, this was a hugely popular event: the Tatty Devine workshop was so busy that sadly I didn’t get chance to join in, but I was lucky enough to get my hair styled by one of the stylists from the Vanity Box, who provided a pop-up vintage salon creating 1950s hair and make-up looks. And as well as tapping my toe to a few fifties tunes, and sampling some chips in a cone, I also snapped a few shots of some of the amazing dancers twisting, strolling and hand-jiving the evening away – for once I managed to remember a camera! It was a great evening for people watching, with some amazing outfits and retro frocks on display, but what’s more, it was interesting to see the museum transformed into such a buzzing and lively space for a fun evening event – this was certainly a clever strategy for drawing in new audiences, as well as to approach learning about the history of the 20th century in a different way.
This event was part of a month-long programme across the city to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain: find out about more events at Story of London. For anyone who like me, enjoys 1950s music, you might also be interested in this fifties inspired blog written for the event by The Broken Hearts DJs featuring some of their favourite tunes from the decade.