Words: Delmar Gustav Terblanche | Subbing: Demi Bailey-Paul
We’ve put together a quick walk in the shadow of the National Gallery which takes you to four independent art exhibits you can check out in one morning!
Everyone in London knows about the Tate Modern and the National Gallery – these enormous buildings, stocked to the brim with art both famous and obscure, get over 20,000 visitors each day. But London is flooded with smaller art galleries you’ve never heard of, with their own styles and traditions.
- The first stop is the Alan Cristea Gallery, which is holding an exhibition by Michael Craig-Martin called “Quotidian”. Michael Craig-Martin is best known for his conceptual art (one famous piece displayed an ordinary glass of water and claimed that it had been transformed into an oak tree). But he’s long had an interest in drawing everyday objects, and Quotidian celebrates that, splashing the viewer with stark, stylised drawings of ordinary bits and bobs – sometimes garishly colourful; sometimes strikingly black and white. It’s an invitation to take a closer look it at the unremarkable tiny details that make up our hyperactive modern world.
- From there we move to the Lévy Gorvy Gallery, where Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore are re-exhibiting some of their oldest artworks. The pair (known simply as Gilbert & George) are two eccentric, impeccably dressed old men, famous for maintaining an approach that art is for the audience first and foremost – a kind of service to the modern world. This installation consists of 23 enormous multi-panel sketches which chronicle the pair’s walks around London in the late 60s. The huge drawings are of walks through London’s leafy parks, and are captioned with warm philosophical musings, always directed to the viewer. One asks “Is not art the only hope for the making way for the modern world to enjoy the sophistication of decadent living expression?” Whatever that means, it’s nice to know these two charming old men are out there somewhere making art they hope will make you happy.
- Next is the Olivier Malingue Gallery, hosting French artist Laurent Grasso’s exhibit “The Panoptes Project”. The exhibition consists of multiple artworks of vastly different styles – all with one thing in common: they stare at you. Every artwork features eyes very prominently, peering into the viewer’s soul. We could tell you they draw on Orwell’s Big Brother or Foucault’s Surveillance Gaze, but why would we do that when we could simply say that the whole experience is deeply, deeply creepy. Cloaked in dark blue and red walls, a huge neon eye glares at you from one wall, while black and white irises populate a painting of clouds on the other. It’s not an exhibit that relaxes you, but given we live in a city where you literally cannot walk more than 90 yards without being photographed by CCTV, it’s also one which makes you think.
- Finally, we arrive at the Carl Kostyál Gallery, where Sara Cwyner is exhibiting a bunch of photographs of her friend Tracy. The photographs are of a woman who has posed for dozens of photo shoots for over a decade. Her image has been taken and used by plenty of artists and marketers, and yet it is still ultimately her own. The exhibit is a commentary on that. The photos are covered with collages of everyday objects – perfume bottles; bracelets; pantyhose – they make the “image” of Tracy more real and tangible. It seems to ask where a woman’s conception of herself ends and the way others look at her begins – or if there even is a border between the two. And if there was any doubt whether art that poses such questions mattered, the display begins with an exchange between the current President of the United States, and a reporter whose uncle was the 41st Commander in Chief: “She used to be great. She’s still very beautiful. I moved on her, actually. Sheesh, your girl’s hot as shit. In the purple. No that’s her, in the gold.”
And there it is! Four short exhibits within a mile of one another, walking distance from the National Gallery. So remember, there’s a lot more to London’s art scene than just the big classical buildings with impressive columns out the front!