Kate Abildgaard

Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s

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This is a timely exhibition of art from second wave feminism, which emerged in the 1960s. By the 1970s artists were using photography, performance and installations as tools for activism. Women’s emancipation and gender equality became a visible part of a wider movement for liberation. Famously the personal became the political.

This is very much in evidence at the exhibition which takes an unflinchingly intimate view of female representation in art and society. Over 200 works by 48 international artists are shown on two levels of the gallery.

Conceptual Art in Britain, 1964-1979

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The assistant curator told me to pick up an orange. So I did. Because this is conceptual art. The orange was part of a sculpture intended to make us think about art as something to be consumed — if not it will decay, be good for nothing. Art depends on active participation, in this case the consumption of an orange, the conversion of matter into energy.

How is that art? It is not an art object as we knew it — the idea is now the thing. This is art as a question: firstly questioning the very nature of art and secondly art as a valid medium for questioning its context.

Curationism

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The curator used to be a venerable character, caring for his cabinet of curiosities. From the mid-1990s the verb “to curate” came into common usage, and since then we have lived in what David Balzer likes to call “the curationist moment”, which he believes to be the end of the avant garde.

Sonia Delaunay

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Sonia Delaunay was no socialist, but she was a revolutionary. An early companion wrote to her from Moscow in 1906 “beware of ideology”. There were those who sought to change the world through social relations and those who revolutionised the way we perceive the world. Delaunay was a pioneer of modernism and this exhibition is a comprehensive survey of an original and prolific artist who lived and worked at the centre of 20th century art and design. At the end of her long life Delaunay said that she had in fact lived three lives.

Leon Golub

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If you stand really close to Leon Golub’s painting Gigantomachy II, the colours and brushwork are perversely reminiscent of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies. Step back and what come into view are not the lyrical gardens of Giverny, but a writhing mass of bodies on a raw canvas stripped of framing conventions, punched through with metal and nailed straight into the neat white walls of the Serpentine Gallery.

History is Now

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This DIY history of post-war Britain exhibition ranges from Mrs Thatcher’s handbag to a section on mad cow disease. The gallery has invited seven contemporary artists to become curators, creating installations of objects they have selected to define a period in ways we are not used to seeing.

The intention is that, by reassessing our past, we may find new ways of articulating our expectations for the future, in the lead up to May’s general election.

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