Art / Exhibitions

The Myths behind Maoism

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Review of 'Li Zhensheng: Red-colour New Soldier' and 'Hou Bo and Xu Xiaobing: Mao's Photographers' at The Photographers' Gallery, London

Maoism and in particular the Cultural Revolution are surrounded by myth and romanticism. As teenagers in the 1970s we discussed the apparent heroism of the Great March and the determination of the students fighting the teachers and officials. The reality, as Li Zhensheng's photographs on display at the Photographers' Gallery reveal, is quite different.

There are two displays running together at the Photographers' Gallery. Hou Bo and Xu Xiaobing were Mao's official photographers. Li Zhensheng was a photographer on a local newspaper and documented the Cultural Revolution.

Popping the American Dream

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Review of 'Roy Lichtenstein', Hayward Gallery, London

Roy Lichtenstein's pop art paintings had an immediate and forceful impact on my 17 year old grandson. It was worth taking him to the exhibition to see how the comic-inspired images of the American Dream and the violence of war affected him.

At the beginning of the exhibition is a small cinema where a screening about Lichtenstein and his work gives a really useful introduction before going round the exhibition.

How to Win Hearts and Minds

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Review of 'Pax Britannica: A Hellish Peace', Aquarium Gallery, London

When Peter Kennard was commissioned by Orange for their 'Peace on Earth' show he depicted the Virgin Mary with a globe replacing her face and a CND sign as a halo. Orange refused to use the image, considering it 'unfit for grandparents and small children'. This is hardly surprising. The media have scrupulously avoided any account of the reality of war. That is why this free exhibition of the response to war by over 18 major artists is so important.

Geometric Smiles

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Review of ’Constantin Brancusi: The Essence of Things‘, Tate Modern, London

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1958) was the greatest sculptor of the first half of the 20th century, and is often compared to Picasso as an innovator of new styles. In particular Brancusi was the first great sculptor to approach abstraction in his work, and the exhibition dramatically shows his movement in this direction. He thus laid the foundation of the avant garde and ’modernism‘. At the same time he always sought meaning beyond the ephemeral. As he said, ’What is real is not the external form but the essence of things,‘ and this too comes across and is strongly felt.

Sound and Vision

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Review of 'Reds', The People's History Museum, Salford

The People's History Museum, Salford, has collected an array of sound and visual aids to bring alive the history of the British Communist Party. The exhibition includes poster designing and videos for the kids, and audio replicas explaining the inspiration behind the party - why people joined and what it was like living in a Communist household. As well as the British party the exhibition opens to the visitor the world of 'Communist' Russia and its influence back here in Britain.

Response Units

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Review of 'A World at War', Millinery Works Gallery, London

The visitor who will expect an exhibition called 'A World at War' to be full of military images will be disappointed. Frances Newman's art works are at least as much to do with how the war resonates at home. 'Another Bloody Sunday', for example, takes the eye across a breakfast tray with a remnant of toast still on the plate to the newspaper behind it. The image - of the father protecting his son moments before the boy is killed by Israeli gunfire - is immediately familiar. Here it is an invasion, an interruption of the everyday rituals - and it is inescapable.

The Language of Art

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Review of 'Dreams and Conflicts, the Dictatorship of the Viewer', Venice Biennale

The 50th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale is an immense event which runs until the beginning of November. It consists of the work of hundreds of artists in exhibitions spread over 64 national pavilions, themed shows in the Arsenale and Museo Correr, and numerous additional exhibitions and events at venues around the city. Established in 1895, one of the original ambitions of the Biennale was to promote a 'universal language of art'.

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