art in plain english

Don't miss out! Click here to join the Curated London mailing list and receive a monthly roundup of the best art in town.

Today’s Specials at Pace Burlington Gardens ★★★★

Rob Kidd, Editor

This food-themed collection of work features a group of artists, some well-known and others less so, working in a range of media. All the works have something to say about our uneasy relationship with food in the 21st century. 

Sarah Lucas’ powerful but unappetising Chicken Knickers is among the best known, but there are many other standout pieces. Mat Collishaw’s Last Meal on Death Row series documents the actual last meals of death row inmates in beautiful still-life style, while Yto Barrada’s Papier Pliés are oddly captivating. Keith Coventry’s Kebab Machine 2 sees a kebab machine, complete with rotating skewer of miscellaneous meat, rendered in bronze. Overall this is a great collection of work, both from an aesthetic as well as intellectual point of view. 

Today’s Specials is at Pace Burlington Gardens until 6 September 2014. Admission is free.


Martin Parr: Signs of the Times at Beetles + Huxley ★★★★★

Rob Kidd, Editor

This fantastic exhibition is a must-see for anyone who lived in Britain in the 1990s, but will be a treat for anyone. Parr worked on a BBC documentary from the start of that decade called ‘Signs of the Times’. This exhibition of stills from the series presents a snapshot of the nation at the time.

Floral prints, bad perms and ruched curtains feature strongly of course, but what really sets these images apart is the attitudes of the subjects. Each image is captioned with a quote from someone featured in the series. The quotes reveal how vain, self-absorbed and vapid they (we) all are. That said, the work is not in any way judgemental (Parr leaves that to the audience). It’s just a set of honest portraits of Brits at home. 

Martin Parr: Signs of the Times is at Beetles + Huxley until 30 August 2014. Admission is free.


Disobedient Objects at the V&A ★★

Rob Kidd, Editor

Disobedient Objects surveys the use of decorative arts in protest and demonstration. Badges, posters and placards all feature of course, alongside some more unusual pieces. A particular highlight is Carrie Reichardt’s Tiki Love Truck, a ‘mobile mosaic mausoleum’ dedicated to a death-row inmate.

While the content is interesting (and in some cases very moving), the curation is jarring and laboured. Lots and lots of fragmented text competes for viewers’ attention, while a booming soundtrack makes it hard to concentrate. A nice idea, but clumsy execution mean this is a disappointing show overall. 

Disobedient Objects is at the V&A until 1 February 2015. Admission is free.


Primrose: Early Colour Photography In Russia at Photographers’ Gallery ★★★★

Rob Kidd, Editor

Early black and white photographs in Russia, as elsewhere, were painstakingly hand-coloured using watercolour and oil paints. Several excellent examples are featured in the first section of the show, with results ranging from convincing to day-glo psychedelia. 

Tsar Nicholas II was keen to produce a visual record of the Russian Empire. Some of the photographs he commissioned to document the people, architecture and landscapes of this huge area are featured in the second section.

The third section focuses on the post-War period, when the government, under Lenin, saw photography as a powerful propaganda tool. State-sanctioned socialist-realist work appears alongside the work of talented amateurs, often working illegally. 

This is a comprehensive but accessible series of work, well chosen and thoughtfully interpreted. It sheds new light on a country that has long been shrouded in secrecy, and celebrates the work of its photographers working on both sides of the law.

Primrose: Early Colour Photography In Russia is at the Photographers’ Gallery until 19 October 2014. Admission is free.


Lorenzo Vitturi: Dalston Anatomy at Photographers’ Gallery ★★★★

Rob Kidd, Editor

This bright and bold exhibition draws inspiration from Dalston’s Ridley Road Market. Italian artist Vitturi has used discarded fruit and veg to create still-lifes for the 21st century. Sometimes used as found, sometimes allowed to rot and sometimes augmented with pigment, the subjects are at once familiar and otherworldly. 

Alongside the blackened bananas and mouldy melons are portraits of local people the artist encountered during the project. The result is a series of absorbing, colourful and thoroughly modern images that beautifully capture the essence of the area. 

Lorenzo Vitturi: Dalston Anatomy is at Photographers’ Gallery until 19 October 2014. Admission is free.


Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art at Tate Modern ★★★

Rob Kidd, Editor

This exhibition traces some of the most turbulent periods in Russia’s history, from the fall of the Tsars to the Revolution via the First World War. The artist started out producing figurative images, learning from European household names like Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse, whose work was displayed in Moscow. He quickly built a reputation as a talented artist.

It didn’t take long for Malevich to develop his own style, distinct from the Europeans who influenced him. Blending elements of Cubism and Futurism, his paintings draw on a consistent, bold colour palette and angular geometry of form. 

Malevich’s work became more and more abstract, reaching an esoteric crescendo with his infamous Black Square. For many, it sits alongside Duchamp’s Readymade urinal as a turning point in modern art. For others, it falls firmly into the ‘my five-year-old could have done that’ category. Two versions are featured, so you can make your own mind up.  

As the years went by, Malevich came full circle and returned to his figurative beginnings. With the social upheaval of 1917, and civil war two years later, he struggled to maintain focus, and abandoned painting altogether for a time. He returned to it in the late 1920s, creating stark and controversial works depicting the plight of peasants. Stalin’s stranglehold on the arts meant he fell out of favour during the last years of his life.

This is an interesting exhibition, but one with a potentially limited appeal. At £14.50, it’s pretty steep, but likely to find favour with die-hard modern art fans looking to expand their knowledge. 

Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art is at Tate Modern until 26 October 2014. Admission is £14.50 (£12.50 concessions). 


Joan Fontcuberta: Stranger Than Fiction at the Science Museum ★★★★★

Rob Kidd, Editor

Spoiler alert: All is not as it seems in this bold and thought-provoking exhibition from Catalan artist Joan Fontcuberta. Through botanical illustration, photography, stellar cartography and even taxidermy, the artist presents an exhibition of pure science. Because we can see the evidence - and it’s in the Science Museum - we know what we see before us is true. Or do we? 

Through six diverse bodies of work, Fontcuberta has staged a series of elaborate hoaxes. So elaborate, in fact, that many visitors will surely come away believing at least some of what they have seen to be true. All the exhibits are presented as fact, and the illusion is only shattered upon reading the accompanying leaflet.

You’ll never look at museums in the same way again.   

Joan Fontcuberta: Stranger Than Fiction is at the Science Museum until 9 November 2014. Admission is £8 (£5 concessions). 


Gilbert + George: Scapegoating Pictures for London at White Cube Bermondsey ★★

Rob Kidd, Editor

Writ large across the walls of the White Cube are many of Gilbert and George’s mantras. ‘Quality not quantity’ is sadly not one of them. This latest collection of collage work from the infamous artistic duo is vast, but still manages to say very little: burkas might be scary and club kids might be naughty seem to be the main messages. Compared to some of the work in their back catalogue, this is seriously disappointing. 

Gilbert + George: Scapegoating Pictures for London is at White Cube Bermondsey until 28 September 2014. Admission is free.