Gallery Hopping in London
Muddy goes gallery hopping in London: Basquiat: Boom for Real (Barbican), Rachel Whiteread (Tate Britain) & North:Fashioning Identity (Somerset House).
I met my sister in London town a couple of weeks ago for a spot of pre-Christmas gallery hopping catching up on three of the best exhibitions in the capital this winter. My personal favourite was the Basquiat. To me, a non-art critic it’s a stunner – ’80s underground NYC New Wave nostalgia, street art and beautiful, hectic canvas’ – but also deeply affecting. Put it on your to-do list when you’re next in London before Jan 28 if possible. We also enjoyed the quirky North: Fashioning Identity at Somerset House and Rachel Whiteread retrospective at Tate Britain.
Basquiat: Boom for Real, Barbican, London until Jan 28
The urban brutalism of the Barbican is the perfect setting for Jean-Michael Basquiat’s ground-breaking energetic post-punk street art and stunning paintings. This is the UK’s first large scale exhibition in Britain of the New York-based artist since his tragic death in 1988 of an accidental heroin overdose. It not only traces the origins as graffiti artist but his love of bebop jazz, particularly Charlie Parker, primitive African art, beat writer William Boroughs and Picasso.
Basquiat was one of the very few black American artists to ‘make it’ internationally – he’s a household name in the US, name-checked by some of the biggest hip-hop artists including Jay Z and Kanye, but less so in the UK. In May, the artist’s 1982 painting Untitled (LA Painting) sold for $110.5 million – £85m – at Sotheby’s in New York, becoming the 6th most expensive work ever sold at auction. Banksy’s works illustrate his continuing influence on artists working today.
The Barbican worked with his sisters, Lisane and Jeanine Basquiat, on this long overdue retrospective of a prodigious talent who started off as a street artist with no formal training. It’s co-curated by Dr Dieter Buchhart and Barbican Art Gallery Curator Eleanor Nairne, in collaboration with the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, where it will move to from Feb 16 – May 27 2018.
You get a real sense of him as a person, his restless spirit and his mischievous sense of fun…I loved the legendary story of how he met Andy Warhol, then dashed back to his studio to paint a portrait of the two of them side-by-side. He then showed it to Warhol dripping wet with paint! The pair went on to collaborate.
Boom for Real begins with Basquiat’s days as downtown New York graffiti artist under the pseudonym SAMO© (Same Old Shit) with his collaborator Al Diaz, showing photos of his playful street art mural painting, inscribed poetry and subversive tongue-in-cheek messages. I particularly liked this one:
SAMO© as an alternative 2 “playing art” with the ‘radical chic” sect on Daddy’s Funds
Highlights include a partial reconstruction of Basquiat’s first body of exhibited work, made for Diego Cortez’s watershed group show New York / New Wave at P.S.1 in February 1981. It also focuses on the artist’s relationship to music, writing, performance, film and TV, placing him within the wider cultural context of the 1980s.
Rare film, photography and archive material includes the film Downtown 81 in which he was cast as the lead aged 19 – an artist walking the streets of New York. It’s fun to spot the famous cameos including Debbie Harry and Kid Creole and the Coconuts playing in the Mudd club. An absorbing watch and shown in full. One wall is dedicated to Polaroids of people he hung-out with at the Mudd club, including Madonna who he dated briefly. I remember reading about parties they went to in the ’80s in pop mags as a young teenager.
Basquiat’s jaw-droppingly magnificent paintings are vibrant, multi-layered, detailed and chaotic at the same time with themes of identity and race. Leonardo da Vinci’s Greatest Hits really made me laugh. You can see the books he read, the notebooks he wrote alongside rare film, photography, music and archived material. There’s a real energy to Boom for Real, but also darker references to the racism he experienced.
This exhibition took four years to research and curate, and ends with a rare interview in which you get a glimpse of the real Jean-Paul who would have been 57 this month. His work still seems so contemporary and hugely relevant, especially with rise of a right-wing Trump government. You walk out with a real sense of loss.
North: Fashioning Identity, Somerset House, London, until Feb 4, 2018
If you’re looking for something quirky, entertaining and a little less high-brow to see in the big smoke then this is it – particularly if you’re a Northerner! It’s a light-hearted, intelligent look at the impact of northern fashion, music, photography and style on modern culture from ‘Madchester’ to Alice Hawkins image of young women out-and-about in Liverpool wearing hair curlers. The exhibition features 100 photographs, fashion garments and artworks from a host of renowned photographers, designers and artists including Glen Luchford’s photos of the Stone Roses for the Face magazine.
Curated by writer, independent curator and SHOWstudio editor-at-large Lou Stoppard and Adam Murray, lecturer at Manchester School of Art and Central Saint Martins, in partnership with Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery it became a word-of-mouth sensation when it first opened there in 2016, attracting more than 30,000 visitors. The exhibition transferred to Somerset House on Nov 8 2017.
Best of all I loved the retro Northern sitting and bedroom area where you can put on headphones and listen to prominent Northern cultural figures to talk about how their homes have influenced their creative output over the years. I threw off my stilettos and perched here too (below)! SHOWstudio.com has filmed the places so you can see exactly where they’re talking about as you listen, from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Birkenhead. A small-scale but perfectly formed exhibition full of Northern soul.
Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Somerset House
I really fancied going skating at Somerset House – one of London’s most scenic ice-rinks (open until Jan 14) but unfortunately it was such a wet dismal day and the rain was thrashing down so we decided against it! Skate at Somerset House has joined forces with Fortnum & Mason again to give us a Christmas shopping arcade and foodie treats in an Alpine-themed lodge where you can share cheese or chocolate fondues. Skate Lates music nights include takeovers from the 90s and Noughties hip hop and R&B night Supa Dupa Fly. There’s a skate school for children – and adults.
Rachel Whiteread, Tate Britain, London until Jan 21,
This acclaimed and visually striking exhibition in an all-white aircraft hangar-like room is a celebration of the Turner Prize-winning artist’s sculptures over the last 25 years. She was the first woman to win the Prize in 1993 with House, a life-sized cast of the interior of a condemned terrace house in London’s East End and continues to be one of Britain’s leading contemporary artists.
The exhibition includes ethereal inverted casts of household objects – hot-water bottles, doors, a mattress, transparent glass-like doors and even a flight of white plaster stairs to nowhere – Untitled (Stairs), 2001. They are cast in plaster, resin, concrete or rubber. Whiteread’s sculptures investigate unseen, everyday spaces. My sister, who studied History of Art at Sussex Uni, was keen to see this show as she used to work here, and was interested in how the curators had used the gallery space. Artworks are placed in the free public gallery as well as the paid exhibition. There’s also a Drawing Room so it’s a more interactive, engaging process for visitors.
I really like Untitled (100 Spaces), 1995, photographed above, – 100 translucent casts of spaces beneath assorted chairs. They reminded me of giant multi-coloured Cola Cubes. One of her most impressive works is the Holocaust Memorial (2000), a library turned inside out, in the centre of Vienna’s Judenplatz. On the lawn outside Tate Britain sits her newest concrete sculpture, Chicken Shed 2017. Tate Britain is such an architecturally stunning building, you find yourself walking around and looking up in awe.