All at Sea? The Migrant Painting
I recently was invited to an intriguing exhibition in London’s trendy Shoreditch area, renowned the world over for its wonderful street art over the last two decades or so. Although much remains, to the delight of tourists and others, it’s currently in the grip of gentrification that is affecting so much of the capital and rents have rocketed so that impoverished street artists can no longer afford to live there. One of the few remaining is Stik, so named because of his simple yet evocative stick figures, and he’s just produced a large new work high on a wall near Old Street station. He has paid his landlord rent in canvasses for many years (probably a shrewd investment on the landlord’s part), but who knows how much longer this may last.
Anyway, I made my way past the trendy bars, cafes and restaurants to the Jealous East Gallery where an ethical online money transfer company, Azimo, were exhibiting a specially commissioned work of art alongside four large black and white photos. The title of the exhibition and the main painting: “Can a work of art define the word ‘migrant’” set about tackling the centuries-old problem – that of the negativity surrounding migration, whether it be for political, economic or other reasons. In a different corner of the arts world, Richard Bean’s 2009 controversial immigrant satire at the National Theatre tackled the same issue, which doubtless will surface again and again.
The remarkable painting by Eleanor Barreau is an imagined interpretation of seven famous migrants in a wooden boat surrounded by iceberg tips. The boat itself evokes the current daily tragedies of Africans fleeing their continent and attempting to start a new life in Europe. The migrants are an interesting choice, particularly as it’s questionable whether they should be associated with the word. I ask myself is this because they are all, in their way, famous, or even celebrities? They are Lionel Messi, the footballer who left Argentina as a 14-year-old to join FC Barcelona; Marie Sklodowska, who emigrated from Poland to Paris when she was 24, then married Pierre Curie and discovered polonium and radium; Mo Farah, a devout Muslim who came to London aged 8 as a refugee and who has become a sporting hero; Gandhi, who lived in South Africa for 21 years where he was a lawyer and civil rights activist; global superstar Rihanna, who moved to the USA from Barbados to further her career; Angela Merkel, born in East Germany under the communist regime and who then found herself a citizen in the united Germany; and finally Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, not a migrant himself, but like so many US citizens the son of migrants, in his case, Syrians.
The young people present at the exhibition, including the founders of Azimo who set up the company because they were appalled at the way traditional money transfer companies were charging such high fees to cash-poor people sending money back to their families, and the artist herself, were passionate about their cause. They were further inflamed by the current spate of racist attacks on migrants living in Britain following the Brexit vote, and were really committed to finding a way to make a difference. Perhaps one small painting won’t change attitudes or the world, but I had to applaud them for their commitment to what seems at times a problem with no solution in sight. And perhaps we should live in hope that from this, and other, little acorns, mighty oaks will grow.
Jeannette Nelson, Arts critic with special interest in theatre
Stitching in May
Stitching is a hot topic this month, with two exhibitions opening this month in London: Magna Carta (An Embroidery) by Cornelia Parker and Colin and Helen David: Not only when the moon shines: The Living Quarter.
Anne Tilby, one of our regular contributors to this magazine on a variety of subjects, has written a feature on her website, Big Frieze entitled Stitch in Time that looks at the detail of the exhibits and their topicality.
A mixed media designer and artist, Tilby is an experienced production set and costume designer for film, tv, theatre and opera has produced an impressive body of work during her career.
We love her work which always seems to have a startling, unexpected and wry flavour, witness her images of live models dressed in food, or her series of painted bottoms, or her image using fag ends, or perhaps her highly amusing images of Julian Clary, or her latest work Tortured Soles, an art rant about western foot-binding.
These images and more are on her website.
Val Reynolds, Editor
Photography © Big Frieze
Amsterdam a City to Relish
As the post-Christmas indulgence blues of January merge with the cold and gloom of February, thoughts turn to the glow of a warm holiday. For those of us not too adversely affected by the country’s economic woes, the glossy brochures or internet sites showing sun-soaked faraway places, adventure-filled or just relaxing, hold great appeal. But there are destinations far closer to home, albeit without the sun-soaked factor that offer the possibility of a highly enjoyable and memorable holiday. One such place is an all-time favourite city of mine, Amsterdam.
With a population of around 800,000 it’s such a welcoming, relaxing place. Criss-crossed by romantic canals, its picturesque buildings are adorned with a wealth of flowers. And culturally, it has a wealth of treasures to offer.
The year 2015 is significant for a number of reasons. First, the 50th anniversary of Provo is marked by the documentary film The Rebellious City. Provo was the radical political movement that was also a fore-runner of the hippy movement of West coast US and also a major influence on the ‘evenements’ in Paris throughout France 3 years later in 1968. It’s worth remembering that for centuries Amsterdam has been a centre for free speech and thinking and a refuge for those seeking a safe haven from religious persecution, notably Jews from Spain and Portugal and Protestants from France and Belgium.
From 20 March to 17 May, the celebrated tulips from Amsterdam, along with an abundance of other flora, bloom in the Keukenhof, the renowned flower park about 30 minutes from the city. 2015 marks the 65th anniversary of the project, which gives new meaning to the phrase ‘say it with flowers’.
One of the city’s most famous museums, the Van Gogh, honours this year the untimely death by suicide of the artist. The museum has just undergone a stunning makeover to mark the event and it will also host a remarkable exhibition featuring the works of Van Gogh and that other troubled northern artist, the Norwegian Edvard Munch. With 40 paintings from each artist on show, visitors will have the opportunity to compare and contrast the works and to perceive how both strove to convey the human condition. The exhibition runs from 24 September to 17 January 2016.
There are so many other reasons to head for Amsterdam this year. The Stedelijk Museum is celebrating its 120th birthday and is putting on a landmark exhibition of the works of Henri Matisse entitled Oasis, complementing the hugely successful exhibition of the artist’s cut-outs at London’s Tate Modern last year. Oasis runs from 4 April to 16 August. And the late works of Rembrandt, drawing on the exhibition recently seen at London’s National Gallery will be on show at the world-famous Rijksmuseum from 12 February to 17 May. While there, it’s a must to contemplate the artist’s Night Watch, perhaps one of the world’s greatest works of art.
Unusually, in June and July, the Beach Volleyball World Cup will be staged in the iconic Dam Square, Amsterdam being one of the four Dutch cities to build temporary stadia for the event. London did, of course, showcase the same sport on Horse Guards’ Parade for the 2012 Olympics – beach volleyball can clearly make itself at home anywhere!
As in so many European cities these days, a wide, sandy beach will appear for visitors and residents alike to ‘be beside the seaside.’ And to continue the water theme, from 19 to 24 August, the biggest maritime event in Europe will happen, as it does every 5 years, when a parade of 5000 of the world’s finest sailing vessels are moored for the millions of visitors to the city to contemplate and wonder at.
Finally, looking forward to 2016 when Holland holds the presidency of the EU, it will showcase its most famous city as one of great international diversity. And so this year, next year and any year will be a great time to visit Amsterdam.
Arts & Travel correspondent
Alexander McQueen : Savage Beauty 2015 Exhibition at V&A
Heads up on a V&A exhibition for those readers interested in all things related to the provocative, dramatic and extravagant catwalk presentations that McQueen became renowned for, combining storytelling, theatrical performance, music and film.
Scheduled for 14 March to 19 July 2015 this the only major retrospective in Europe of McQueen’s work. It promises a fascinating experience.
The exhibition will show more than 200 ensembles and accessories, the largest number of individual pieces designed by McQueen and collaborators ever seen together, ranging from his postgraduate collection of 1991 to his final designs for A/W 2010, completed after his death.
The thematic presentation will look into ideas and concepts central to McQueen’s work including subversive tailoring; Gothic sensibility and the interplay between darkness and light; primitivism and the animal world; heritage and ancestry; nature and the natural world; and technology and handcraft.
Admission £16, concessions available, V&A members go free
Advance booking is advised – this can be done in person at the V&A; online at www.vam.ac.uk/savagebeauty, or by called 0900 912 6961 – a booking fee applies.
Exhibition sponsors Swarovski and American Express
Image 1 Bird’s Nest headdress with Swarovski gemstones, Widows of Culloden, A/W 2006–07, Philip Treacy and Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen, Model: Snejana Onopka, Image: Courtesy Swarovski Archive
Image 2 Dress of dyed ostrich feathers and hand-painted microscopic slides, Voss, S/S 2001, Alexander McQueen, Model: Erin O’Connor, Image: REX
Image 3 Tahitian pearl and silver neckpiece, Voss, S/S 2001, Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen, Model: Karen Elson, © Anthea Simms
Plays of the Future – A Ticket Lottery
Like a lot of things in life, buying a theatre ticket is a bit of a lottery. Advance publicity is such that it’s quite possible to be made aware of productions months, or even sometimes more than a year, before the first night. So the question arises: How far ahead are you prepared to commit yourself? Do you plan holidays, weddings and other major events in your life before or after buying theatre tickets?
And of course, buying a ticket for a play is quite akin to buying the proverbial pig in a poke. You may find that the tickets you’ve looked after for so long turns out to be for a performance that you feel like walking out of at the end of the first act. You never know.
Much of the long lead-in time to many plays is because of the hectic schedules of the many TV and film stars who feel their acting career is not complete without treading the boards of the London stage. The pulling power of these celebrities is inestimable; they frequently perform for what is for them a low wage, yet the run is likely to be sold out and sold out very quickly simply because their name is on the bill. No wonder theatre producers are anxious to acquire their services. The Young Vic website faltered and tickets were sold in record time when it was announced that Gillian Anderson was to play Blanche Dubois in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. Martin Freeman, of Sherlock and Hobbit fame, has attracted adoring audiences to his portrayal of Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios. And apparently, visitors to the Barbican website were told that there were about number 30,000 in a queue when they attempted to buy tickets to see Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet more than a year ahead!
And with the rise of star power in the theatre has come the inexorable rise of ticket prices. To be fair, non West End houses have shown a little more restraint in their pricing (although it must be remembered that theatres like the National are lucky recipients of subsidies), but even community theatres like the Almeida, Hampstead and the Tricycle have had a considerable price hike. Whereas it doesn’t seem that long ago it was only for lavish musicals theatres charged £50 or more for a top-price seat, this is now, more often than not, the second or third tier price level for the majority of performances in the West End. And at a recent Kevin Spacey one-man show about the American lawyer Clarence Darrow, the top-price seats were over £100! This to me does seem rather disproportionate considering what you could get for that princely sum. When you add to the price of a ticket the extras entailed with a night at the theatre, travel there, eating out, then you wonder why so many people choose to go to the theatre at all.
Yet a recent poll revealed that more people go to the theatre than to football matches and that attendances by a younger audience is on the rise. And all over the country there’s always the option of going to smaller, fringe venues where the quality can often be high and the prices low. Paying a fortune for a performance doesn’t guarantee a brilliant experience, and you can be awestruck when you’ve spent just a few pounds on a theatre ticket. As I said, life’s a bit of a lottery!
Jeannette Nelson, arts critic with special interest in theatre
Jean Paul Gaultier Exhibition 2014
I really liked JPG when I met him at one of the Victoria and Albert Fashion in Motion Shows in 2003. Ready to chat and discuss his work with everyone both fashion students and press his striking designs were loved by us all. Here are some of my favourites, taken in 2003 .
Am really keen to visit the first major exhibition devoted to avant-garde fashion creations and cutting-edge designs. Gaultier has shaped the look of fashion over the last 40 years. His reputation for witty and daring designs and a ceaseless interest in society, identity and a beauty borne of difference has earned him a place in fashion history. JPG exhibition at The Barbican – on until 25 August – as Anne says Don’t Miss it!
Here’s a link to Anne Tilby’s website, where she has written a blog following her visit to the exhibition
Val Reynolds, Editor
Small is Beautiful – Little known London Museums
Tucked away in a small sidestreet behind the British Museum is one of the little gems of London. The Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street deserves to be far better known than it is and visited far more often. One of its principal attractions is its size – small. This means that both the permanent exhibition as well as temporary ones are compact and approachable. Personally, I usually have to take a very deep breath when visiting Tate Britain, Tate modern or the Royal Academy because of the sheer volume of what’s on offer. However interesting or stunning London’s blockbuster exhibitions may be, going round them can sometimes be a feat of endurance, particularly since it’s the norm that there is no re-entry; you have to swallow what’s on offer whole. This is an ongoing beef of mine. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding my attention waning after an hour or so, and would welcome the opportunity of a reviving cup of tea and a relaxing of the eye and brain. Returning refreshed would, I’m sure, enhance the experience. The small-scale Cartoon Museum throws up no such problem. Cartoons, almost by definition, present the viewer with a lot to observe, generally captions as well as pictures, and too many at once would inevitably ‘do the head in’! And what a pleasure it is to wander around with others smiling or laughing at the humour. The content of a cartoon is sometimes acerbic as witnessed in the work of, say, Martin Rowson or Steve Bell, sometimes gentle and good-natured but always witty. The current exhibition, Bring Me Laughter, a private collection on display featuring many of Britain’s best-known cartoonists over the years, runs until the 23 February. This is followed, for me, by a real gem – a chance to get up close to the wonderful caricatured creations for the Spitting Image TV series, running from 26 February to 8 June. After that, as part of the centenary events, comes The First World War in Cartoons. Oh, and the gift shop offers an interesting selection of merchandise and is a pleasure to browse through,
London is full of quirky museums catering for all tastes. Particularly interesting are those which are private homes, offering today’s public a unique insight into people’s lives. The Sir John Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is one such example and is packed with his collection of art and antiquities. Another example is Dennis Severs house in Folgate Street in London’s East End which offers a uniquely atmospheric experience and is not exactly what it seems; it’s extra special around Christmas time when the house is bathed in candlelight. You can even visit imaginary houses such as 221b Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes, which is guarded by a Victorian policeman who seems to spend most of his day posing for pictures with the visitors! And to offer refreshment and souvenir-buying potential for the hordes that stop the traffic on Abbey Road everyday by recreating the Beatle’s Abbey Road album cover at the zebra crossing, a small coffee/gift shop has opened right next to St John’s Wood station, thus making the attraction a museum of sorts. When a man is tired of all the museums in London, he is surely tired of life! Jeannette Nelson, Arts Critic A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, her main interest is the theatre. Having lived in London most of her life she has a fund of knowledge of interesting buildings and places to visit in the capital and we’re lucky to have access to her experience.
Winter Culture in London – theatre, art and literature
The still balmy days of autumn mean that the hot, sunny days of summer are not yet a distant memory, but promises of imminent cooler weather are a reminder that winter is not a distant prospect.
So now’s the time to shake out the winter woollies and consider options for the darker, shorter days.
Perusing the listings online and in the press, one word resonates in my head: Vienna. Perhaps it’s because this is the city my parents hailed from, but undeniably, it features in various aspects of culture this season.
First, and most obviously, is the exhibition at the National Gallery in London entitled Facing the Modern – The Portrait in Vienna 1900, which is showing from 9 October 2013 to 12 January 2014. Check it out on www.nationalgallery.org.uk and if it appeals, go and luxuriate in the works of Klimt, Schiele, Gerstl et al.
The second, perhaps more oblique reference to that once powerful city centre of empire is perhaps more problematic to see. It’s the production of Hysteria by Terry Johnson who also directs what I believe must be the definitive version of his 20 year old witty and intelligent play. Unfortunately, it is only playing until 12 October, but tickets have been hard to come by throughout its entire run. This is largely due to the critically acclaimed performance of Anthony Sher as Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis. An added frisson is that the action takes place not in his famous Berggasse rooms in Vienna but in his consulting room in Hampstead, a matter of a few hundred yards from the theatre itself. Unbelievably, the play treads the difficult line between farce, surrealism, intellectual debate and the Holocaust with extreme dexterity. One minute you’re laughing (especially at the mention of a ‘Freudian slip’ referring to an item of underwear), the next you sit back in your seat in shock and horror. It is a play that only ever so often is revived; catch it if you can. Meanwhile, if you’re in that part of London, why not visit the Freud Museum in Hampstead, where the Bergasse is recreated in minute detail and includes the famous couch www.freud.org.uk.
My final reference to Vienna is cheating a little, as it concerns a book written about 50 years ago that I came across recently via the BBC website. In the run-up to the centenary of the start of the first World War, there apparently had been a piece on the Today programme about the fact that in the year running up to the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Vienna had been home, albeit temporarily for some, for several well-known figures: Freud, obviously, but also Stalin, Hitler, Trotsky and Tito. At the end of the website report, reference was made to the aforementioned book, Thunder at Twilight by Frederic Morton, and a trawl through Amazon secured me a second-hand copy. It makes utterly fascinating reading and has been passed on to several relatives and friends who have all been enamoured by it. Check if your library can get you a copy, the origins of ‘the war to end all wars’ have never been more clearly explained to me.
Which leads me to mention a production that has not yet started, although tickets have been on sale for a while already. The Theatre Royal Stratford East, created by the grande dame of people’s theatre Joan Littlewood, is reviving its production of Oh What A Lovely War! to mark the centenary. It’s comforting for me to know that nestled in the new buildings, immense shopping centres and the Olympic stadium, this theatre, one of the oldest in the capital, can still put on plays that wrestle with the conscience. It’s playing from 1 February 2014 to 15 March 2014. Check it out on www.stratfordeast.com
Jeannette Nelson, Arts Critic A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.
Now that Spring is Here … Time to get out and about!
Now that Spring is here … and with the hope that Summer will follow, time to cast off winter clobber and take advantage of the open air cultural events that are on offer this time of year.
There are a plethora of offerings around London for the next few months, and not just the usual favourites such as Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and The Globe. But that’s not to say that they should be ignored; the programme for the former has been out for a while now, and this year they are kicking off the season with an adaptation of the American classic To Kill A Mockingbird. During the hot (maybe!) summer months they’re putting on The Sound Of Music, which I’m sure will pull in the crowds.
Shakespeare’s Globe is, as usual, concentrating on works by the bard and this year is offering The Tempest, Macbeth and that perennial favourite for outdoor performance, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There’s also a smattering of modern plays to increase variety at this most interesting of theatres where you can still stand as a groundling for very little cost and often be part of the action.
But don’t forget that London is now home to a number of summer festivals where sometimes the events are free and rarely cost a fortune.
There are four in particular really worth mentioning. First up is the London Festival of Architecture that happens in June – I’ve frequently gone along to their offerings which in the main are geared to non-professionals and which give eye-opening views on all aspects of architecture and related subjects. It really is very varied; last year I particularly enjoyed going to a number of the recently refurbished Cameron Mackintosh theatres in the West End one Saturday morning.
Then there are two music festivals I’d like to mention both of which also run non-music related events. The Spitalfields Festival centres on the market area and beyond and a number of the concerts are held in its beautiful churches.
And The City Of London Festival also avails itself of its churches and guildhalls within the square mile, not to mention venturing further afield to Canada Square in the centre of Docklands.
Finally, the area around City Hall is home to the More London festival, with the Scoop amphitheatre (right next to the London Assembly’s building) hosting all sorts of events, most of which are free.
If I’ve whetted your appetite, then the links below will give you a lot more information. Summers come and go, some shorter than others, some wetter than others, but come rain or shine you’re never short of a cultural treat in London!
Jeannette Nelson, Arts Correspondent
A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.