Art / Exhibitions

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.

Abstract Expressionism

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At the close of the Second World War, the Western art world pivoted from Europe to the United States. The great wave of artists influenced by the Russian and German revolutionary movements had crashed in the 1920s when socialist realism became only art style sanctioned by Moscow.

In New York a collection of ambitious young emerging artists was producing work that escaped the confines of representation and sought to interrogate the feelings and emotions of the age. Some were natives of the city, some were escaping the horrors engulfing Europe.

The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics

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I wear prosthetics and I have never considered them to be sculpture or an object of art. My prosthetics aren’t quite me nor are they quite distinct from me. Are they the creation of Deborah the prosthetist, or are they now my creation, wearing the scratches and scuffs of my everyday use?

This exhibition appears to clearly place these prosthetics in the realm of the creator, whether this is by artist, sculptor, engineer, craftsman or doctor. This challenged me emotionally more than I expected, and probably affected my response.

Superwoman: Work, Build and Don't Whine

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This exhibition documents women in Russian art and society from the great advances of the 1917 revolutions through to Perestroika in the 1980s. It identifies the double burden of oppression which women experienced in Stalinist Russia: exploited in the workplace and bearing the brunt of household chores and child rearing, all under the banner of being “liberated women”.

Punk: 1976-1978

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“We are anti-racist and anti-fascist” claimed the Clash in their first interview with the then important music paper the NME. They explained that they had been at the riot at the Notting Hill Carnival that year (1976) and thought that “young white kids” needed to develop a culture of their own in order to fight back as black people were doing.

Strange and Familiar

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Britain as Revealed by International Photographers, curated by renowned photographer Martin Parr, is a fascinating investigation into the social, political and cultural lives of working class people in Britain from the 1930s to the present.

Some 250 photographs are on display taken by 23 different photographers. What links them is that none are British. These photographers came to Britain to capture the lives of the “ordinary”. As outsiders they brought a new and fresh perspective on the everyday life of working people.

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.

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