A couple of weeks ago, during visits to London to meet up with friends I hadn’t seen for the couple of years of the pandemic, I slotted three art exhibitions into my schedule. Exhibitions in the great cultural centres of London are almost invariably well thought-out, well presented and well worth seeing. These three were no exception even though I didn’t enjoy them quite as much as some of the truly outstanding exhibitions I have seen in London over the last few years.
For the first exhibition, I followed in Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) footsteps by attending an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois’ recent work at the Hayward Gallery; LSW recommended it having visited with an old friend a couple of weeks earlier.
The exhibition, called Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child focuses on her use of textiles. She often sewed fabric to create sculptures set in mobiles or in large vitrines or cages. I found those on the first floor of the exhibition rather oppressive but, upstairs, the colours were brighter and I warmed to the themes of her work.
I particularly liked the sets of print and fabric compositions based around spiders’ webs and the concept of spiders as a weaver and repairer of its woven lairs that dominated the second half of the exhibition. The large sculpture of a mother spider, surrounded by a cage and a host of artefacts hinting at threat, protective motherhood and Louise’s own childhood memories, seemed to reflect and oversee a number of other nearby works. I ended up really enjoying the exhibition and the way it was laid out.
I then went to the latest exhibition at The Barbican: Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945-1965. Again, it took me a while to ‘get into’ the content of the exhibition. As usual, it was very well curated and presented with, I found, just the right amount of information in a great space for art. Many different themes were portrayed with each allocated a room or distinct area of the exhibition.
Perhaps I didn’t quite get the overall point about a ‘rough poetry’ that underpinned and, apparently, linked the work on display. But I certainly could see some overarching points about dislocation, rebuilding and hope for the future. The location, in the heart of the Barbican, which is itself a remarkable monument to post war brutalist rebuilding, created a perfect context for the Postwar Modern scope.
There were several artists represented that I am familiar with but there were several others that were entirely new to me. Inevitably I enjoyed some rooms/areas – each given poignant names like ‘Horizon’, ‘Concrete’, ‘Scars’ and ‘Strange Universe’ – much more than others but, overall, it was absorbing and impressive. Given that I saw it on its second day and it is on until late June, I may visit again.
Finally, LSW and I visited the ‘Surrealism Beyond Borders’ exhibition at the Tate Modern. I went in not knowing much about the exhibition and perhaps it was a mistake not to have read more about it beforehand and not to give it more time than we had.
It is a very broad exhibition (hence the ‘Beyond Borders’ title). Although the rooms tried to compartmentalise this breadth around geographies (Cairo, Mexico, The Caribbean for example) or themes (portrayals of dreams, desire and the ‘uncanny’ for example), I struggled to build in my head either a time line or logic to the exhibition as a whole.
In addition, and unlike the Louise Bourgeois and Postwar Modern exhibitions, there just weren’t many works that I really liked. Too many were unsettling (as I’m sure they are meant to be) to the point of ugliness; I just don’t think I appreciate surrealist art as much as other styles. However, it’s always good to have the opportunity to visit such exhibitions even if it merely confirms ones predilections.
I shall miss the relatively high frequency of my tours of London art and museum exhibitions once we lose our base there (the flat I used on weekdays before I retired), but I’m sure I will find new excuses to get up to London in the future and will squeeze a few more exhibition visits in.