Let’s get digital… part 3

In my last two posts I have explored what museums and galleries are doing to engage the public with their collections or artists whilst their physical doors are closed. However, they have also come up with a creative range of digital fundraising initiatives to support the Covid-19 pandemic efforts. Gagosian has started the #GagosianChallenge by releasing a customizable poster designed by Michael Craig Martin, with the words ‘Health Workers Thank You’ on it, and is encouraging people to post their completed versions on Instagram by 11 May. Hauser & Wirth and Rashid Johnson have released the series ‘Untitled Anxious Red Drawings’ online, with a percentage of all sales donated to the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. White Cube and Harland Miller launched a coronavirus fundraiser, selling twenty five editions of the artists’ ‘Who Cares Wins’ print for £5,000 each. They all sold out within 24 hours with proceeds split between the National Emergencies Trust in the UK, the New York Community Trust and HandsOn Hong Kong, as well the York Teaching Hospital Charity to support NHS staff in hospitals across Yorkshire, where Miller was born. Damian Hirst has also designed ‘Butterfly Rainbow’ and a limited edition is being produced, which will be sold with all profits going to the NHS. Maureen Paley in conjunction with other galleries and over 200 photographers have donated prints for #photographsforthetrusseltrust, each selling for £100 with proceeds going towards 1,200 food banks which have seen a 300% increase in demand since the pandemic outbreak. Over thirty artists and creatives including Wolfgang Tillmans, Katherine Hamnet, Vivienne Westwood, Polly Nor and Jeffersen Hack have collaborated with Dazed in the #AloneTogether campaign to contribute works to raise funds for Barts Health NHS Trust, which has launched an emergency Covid-19 appeal to support their frontline staff. Tillmans has also enlisted about forty artists, including Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Elizabeth Peyton and David Wojanrowicz to donate posters of their works for his #2020Solidarity campaign, which he is paying for printing and distribution of, with the aim of giving informal places of culture, nightlife and music venues at risk of going out of business because of the Covid-19 outbreak, a much needed boost. Art4Changes have collaborated with Roger Ballen, David Datuna, Ultra Violet and other artists to support the Covid-19 crisis by selling artworks, memorabilia, merchandise, music tracks, lectures and books, with all proceeds donated to either the Red Cross, World Health Organisation or Centre for Disease Control in any country the buyer chooses. Outdoor sculpture trail, The Line, has released 100 editions of an Abigail Fallis’ print of her shopping trolley installation, DNA DL90, for £100 each with 30% of profits being donated to Covid-19 frontline workers, and more prints will be released over the coming weeks. Mixed media artist Dan Pearce is reworking iconic film posters to help share NHS messaging in a fun, light-hearted way and is releasing a new reworked A2 poster every week, which will go on sale for £75 each with proceeds going to NHS Charities Together Covid-19 Urgent Appeal. Wimbledon Art Fair will be a purely virtual event this year, and their #ArtSOS running from 14 – 17 May will showcase thought provoking artworks depicting defining moments of the current pandemic, with a percentage of total sales being donated to the NHS and St George’s Hospital in Tooting. Andrew Salgado and Rachel Howard amongst other artists are also donating signed, limited edition posters with a percentage of sales going to The Hospital Rooms via #artistssupportpledge, a charity that transforms impatient health units with contemporary art – and increasingly pertinent in the current circumstances. This is just a handful of the online offerings, so have a look to see what’s out there and maybe even nab yourself a bargain artwork whilst supporting the current pandemic efforts!

Let’s get digital!

Whilst museums and galleries are likely to remain closed for the coming months, that doesn’t have to stop you engaging with their collections and what better time to think, innovate, discuss and debate online – when we all likely have some extra time on our hands during the corona-crisis. The National Gallery offer virtual tours via Google Street View, and you can sign up to their newsletter and YouTube channel featuring lunchtime talks, curator and art restoration specials, and snapshots on artists or specific works. The Victoria & Albert Museum is currently airing a six part behind-the-scenes series (Secretes of the Museum) available on BBC iPlayer, has a blog, and vast learning section with educational offerings from primary school age through to museum peer learning. You can still explore the British Museum via Google Street View and over four million objects within its collection online, as well as podcasts offering talks from curators and other staff (the most recent episode focussing on women and how they have shaped the museum since its opening in 1759). Tate have a podcast subscription covering varied subjects ranging from the Art of Love, to the Art of HipHop, Innovation and Remembering as well as Tateshots; approximately six minute short films about artists, their lives and practice, or from curators. Tate Kids also offers an online “make” section, video tours, games, quizzes, accessible information on artists and movements, and a virtual gallery where budding Picasso’s can display their own works. The Natural History Museum also offers virtual tours, and each room featured allows you to zoom in on objects with links to more detailed information about certain specimens. Moving away from the nationals, Somerset House is offering a digital programme of films, podcasts, artist interviews and live streams – and the adjoining Courtald has digitised its collection allowing great online access since its closure for restoration in 2018. The home to the incurably curious (otherwise known as The Wellcome Collection) offers topical articles on Covid-19 as well as a stories section which invites anyone to submit words or pictures which explore the connections between science, medicine, life and art, with its most recent post fittingly a graphic novel about isolation. Barbican have a series of 30 minute podcasts or playlists ranging from Japanese innovators, to masculinity, jazz and autism in the cinema, as well as articles, long reads and videos available. Though the physical doors to our museums might be closed, the digital channels are well and truly open!

 

Sorry we’re closed. A note to coronavirus…

Just a few days into working from home – the new normal – I’ve already begun to reflect and in the current climate of “social distancing” and daily closures I’m beginning to realise how much of my life, hobbies and interests involve outdoor activities or collective pursuits, which up until now I believed to be quite isolated “me time”. Going to yoga is one of them, the other big one is visiting museums, galleries and cultural institutions. This week has been surreal; watching initially commercial galleries such as Sadie Coles, Marian Goodman, White Cube and others close, before public galleries including Camden Arts Centre, The Serpentine, The Hayward, Royal Academy of Arts and Whitechapel Gallery close, and from yesterday the Nationals as the Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Galleries, National Gallery, Natural History Museum, National Trust properties and others all closed their doors to the public – something unprecedented as the British Museum even closed for the first time since World War II. As more borders close across Europe and indeed globally, and consequently objects and artworks remain in limbo, either in exhbitions not being seen by visitors or worse still in secure warehouses waiting to be trasnported, let us be grateful for the access to culture we ordinarily have. Looking ahead to when things return to normality, let us take a moment to apprecaite the work curators and exhbition teams put into planning and executing shows, to registrars and shipping agents for organising the loan of works and their safe and timely transit to borrowing venues, to technicians who skillfully install complex artworks and increasingly interactive engagement tools to accompnay shows. And of course to the often overlooked front of house teams who are the first point of contact and keep all of these instiutions running. Let us hope that the current climate encourages more online engagement via websites, social media and podcasts, and that it can be a opporunity for creating new ways for the public to access and interact with collections. Once open again, let us remember these times and not take for granted what is usually on our doorstep in London (and many other cities), as I have certainly been guilty of.

Troy: The British Museum

Troy: myth and reality is not just the title of The British Museums’ current blockbuster, but also a perfect summary of the exhibition. The show focusses on the epic tale of Helen (the most beautiful woman in the world) who was abducted by Prince Paris of Troy after the goddess Aphrodite promised her to him which sparked a ten year war – and has fascinated archaeologists, writers, artists, film-makers and the public for centuries. It is visually impressive; blue silk screens with white text replace traditional vinyl on walls or panel information, key English and Greek phrases suspend from the ceiling, and archaeological finds, sculpture, paintings, original manuscripts, photography and a poster of the 2004 film starring Brad Pitt all vye for attention. The show explores the archaeological evidence from a hill site excavated in the 19th century and from the 1870’s excavations by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, which geographically pinpoint Troy in what is now north-west Turkey and believed to be a real rather than mythical place. Depictions on classical pottery dating back to 400 BC, descriptions in Homer and Ovid’s poetry, a stunning marble sculpture of the wounded Achilles by Filippo Albacini in 1825, and re-tellings of the story in medieval paintings all show the heroes in battle, sorrow and downtime, making them multidimensional and real. There is a focus on the Greek hero Odysseus and his adventures trying to get home at the end of the war, made famous in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. It also examines the frequently overlooked women, from Helen (who sparked the war), to Hecuba (Queen of Troy), Aphrodite (goddess of love whose meddling led to the war), Penelope (wife of Odysseus), the Sirens (nymphs who tried to lure sailors to shipwreck through their singing) and many others, who like their male counterparts have captivated audiences. The show closes with modern takes on Troy, with a photograph by Eleanor Antin inspired by Rubens’ Judgement of Paris, and a light installation based on Achilles’ shield by Spencer Finch.

For more information visit their website

Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago

I was lucky enough to go to Chicago for work last week – for three days – literally a flying visit from the other side of the Atlantic! It was my first visit to the city, and I was struck by how progressive, liberal and balanced it felt with a diverse population of white, black, Hispanic as well as a China Town, Little Italy, Polish Downtown, Greek Town, well dressed professionals, homeless veterans and the buzz and grit of cosmopolitan city life that makes any Londoner feel at home. However, a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) was a powerful reminder of the civil rights and segregation issues which have plagued America, and the Chicago area is no exception. The current exhibitions by Dawoud Bey and Carlos Javier Ortiz & David Schalliol both highlight problems with integration; Bey’s two poignant bodies of work tell the story of three Klu Klux Klan members who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 killing four fourteen year old African American girls, and the ensuing violence that followed as a consequence. This is revisited in a 2012 series of black and white portraits in which Bey captures images of children the same age as those who had died, alongside portraits of adults at the age the children wold have been in 2013 (the 50th anniversary of the bombs). Bey’s work is coupled with Ortiz and Schalliol’s Chicago Stories, a more contemporary exploration of similar issues via evocative images of isolated buildings and those who live in them which explore the legacy of the Great Migration and the continued demolition and resettlement of African American communities across Chicago’s “black belt” in the south and west of the city where black residents were limited to living, but have since created thriving communities which are now being destroyed. The staff are both helpful and knowledgeable, entrance to both exhibitions is free, and I would highly recommend dropping in before 7 July when the shows close.

For more information visit their website

War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City

The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh city was arguably the busiest attraction I visited on my two week adventure around Southern and Central Vietnam. Busier than any other must-see in the city including The Independence Palace, Fine Arts Museum, Saigon Post Office, History Museum and Saigon Zoo & Botanical Gardens, I was interested to see how the Vietnam War is interpreted and displayed to the thousands of tourists at this museum. Founded in September 1975 the museum aims to “systematically study, collect, conserve and display exhibits on war crimes and consequences inflicted on the Vietnamese people by foreign aggressive forces” and has nine permanent galleries over three floors covering Historical Truths, Vietnam; War & Peace, Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, Agent Orange Effects, Agent Orange Consequences, War Crimes, Requiem, International Support for the Vietnamese people in their Resistance War, Imprisonment, and an outdoor exhibition showcasing military aircraft and tanks from the period. The display is blunt – almost crude – and fairly harrowing. There is often very little text or interpretive material and it is heavily image led, with densely hung walls displaying photographs of other countries protests against the war and explicit images of the violence, incarceration and deformities inflicted upon both children and adults as a result of the chemical warfare deployed by the U.S military. As the museum is so strongly image led, it was also interesting to view an area dedicated to photographic journalists (many of whom sadly died during this conflict) and the poignant images captured during this war such as ‘Napalm Girl’. I did not get the impression the displays had been refreshed or updated since the 1970’s and although it is refreshing to view such an uncensored display, there was an undeniable bias and I left the museum feeling as though I had learnt less about the war than I had hoped to.

For more information visit their website

London Nights: Museum of London

As an insomniac you make a decision, either you embrace the night or resent it, and I have embraced it. I appreciate everything from London’s night skyline, to nights out in different areas of the city, catching rare quiet moments where you are the only person on an ordinarily busy street, spotting a bold urban fox running across the road, and the general sense of calm after 11pm… so a photography exhibition dedicated to ‘London Nights’ easily caught my attention. In a wonderfully contrary way I visited this exhibition at an early morning private view, and had the pleasure of starting my day by viewing these 200 images captured by over 60 photographers. The exhibition is displayed in the museums’ basement gallery, and is dimly lit with grey walls and dark floors, adding to the nocturnal atmosphere. One of the things that struck me most was a feeling of familiarity, and appreciating how little the city has changed over the last century, as so many of the buildings and streets were immediately recognisable and only the fashion or adverts captured within each image gave away the decade they were taken. This was most evident in George Davidson Reid’s 1920’s photographs of Trafalgar Square, images of Liverpool Street station during the Blitz, Bob Collins’ 1960’s shots of Piccadilly Circus, numerous iconic images of St Pauls Cathedral from almost every decade, and contemporary photos of a night out in East London and West London displayed side by side. Broadly split into three categories; ‘London Illuminated’ which focusses on the capital’s landmarks from both familiar and unusual vantage points, ‘Dark Matters’ which explores the more sinister side of the city and how darkness can evoke fear, threat or isolation, and ‘Switch On Switch Off’ which observes Londoners who inhabit the city rather than the city itself. On until mid November the show is certainly worth a visit – incorporating architecture and portraiture, moments of resilience and shared acts of exhilaration, as well as exploring social issues and current threats to London’s night venues.

For more information visit their website

Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakesh: Marrakesh

After exploring the southern medina and its breath-taking palaces and tombs on my first day, and the museums, galleries and souks of the northern medina on my second day, I hesitantly left the old town and ventured into the New City on day three. The streets are wider, the architecture blander, and a sudden sense of calm exudes – as traffic lights and order replace humans, mopeds, bicycles, donkeys and carts vying for space in the narrow hubbub of the medina. Not far from where the designer owned a home in the city, you’ll find the Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakesh. Only in existence since 2017, the museum is housed in a stunning purpose-built terracotta brick and pink stone space commissioned by French architects Studio KO who echoed the couturiers fascination with slight lines and curves. The vast 4,000 square metre space comprises the Yves Saint Laurent Hall, a temporary exhibition space, a gallery space, an auditorium, library, bookshop and serene café and outdoor terrace. The main hall displays fifty pieces from the archive collection (spanning 1962 to 2002) including the Piet Mondrian inspired dress, the infamous ‘le smoking’ jacket, the pea coat, and several garments where the Moroccan influence and its vibrant colours, nature and heritage shine through, most evident in the bougainvillea cape and Berber inspired dresses. The temporary exhibition space compliments the main hall showcasing sculptural dresses created by Noureddine Amir, suspended against a black background and mirrored walls. The auditorium helps enliven these clothes further by displaying a montage of the designer at work, YSL catwalk shows and photo shoots, as well as past controversy including Yves Saint Laurent himself posing naked for the labels’ debut aftershave in 1971! The gallery space contains a series of photographs of Catherine Deneuve modelling a YSL collection utilising Marrakesh’s carpet shops, spice souks, decorative tiling and bustling main square as a sublime backdrop, and reinforcing the affiliation between the designer and this city.

For more information visit their website

The National Technical Museum: Prague

I won’t lie, I was far from enthused by the prospect of spending hours inside The National Technical Museum in Prague, but was outvoted by the males on our festive trip to the Czech capital. The National Museum, numerous art galleries, monasteries and libraries brimming with antique books were far higher on my agenda, but was pleasantly surprised and impressed. The museum is housed in an enormous concrete and brick building adjacent to Letna Park with views over the Vlatva river, and I was immediately won over by the gruff looking but utterly charming old(er) man who sold us our tickets and took the time to share much information about the museum with us! The collection is vast; comprising transport, architecture and civil engineering, printing, mining, astronomy, horology, photography and household appliances across six floors. The stand-out gallery is dedicated to transport and takes up the entire back of the building with a triple height exhibition hall filled with bicycles, motorbikes, cars, trains, planes suspended from the ceiling, and even a hot air-balloon charting the history of developments in Czech transportation. With fourteen large permanent displays as well as the temporary exhibition and only two hours allotted for our visit, we decided to focus on printing and architecture. The printing gallery mimics an antiquated print shop with typesetting blocks, printing presses from various periods, newspaper and bookbinding machinery, and outlines the role print material played in developing the country’s national consciousness. Similarly the architecture gallery documents the most significant buildings erected across Czechoslovakia over the last century via original models, plans, sketches, photographs of their construction and replicas – and I enjoyed recognising and learning more about the civic landmarks I had already visited or walked past in the city. Despite my reservations, this museum challenged my preconceptions and highlighted how important technical innovations are in all our lives in myriad ways.

For more information visit their website

Josehov: the Jewish Quarter, Prague

Nestled between the Old Town Square and Vlatva River you’ll discover Josehov, Prague’s Jewish quarter. Turning off a street brimming with designer shops and boutiques, the cobbles are suddenly decorated with the Star of David – and six synagogues, the Jewish Town Hall and one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in Europe all vie for space within a few streets. My first stop was the Spanish Synagogue, a Moorish revival style building which opened in 1867 with a double height gilded main hall surrounded by balconies and stained glass windows. The exhibition inside tells the story of Jews in Czechoslovakia since the emancipation under Emperor Joseph II through to the traumatic events of the 20th century. Five minutes’ walk away is Pinkas Synagogue, devoid of any interior decoration and instead the walls are covered in 78,000 names written in black or red ink representing Czech victims of the Holocaust. This powerful memorial was designed by the painters Vaclav Bostik and Jiri John and opened in 1960 but was closed eight years later during the Soviet occupation of the country, and only reopened after the fall of Communism in 1998. Behind this synagogue is the Old Jewish Cemetery, an apt location to memorialise the pre-twentieth century Jewish community with graves dating from 1400’s until 1768. A path leads you around the tomb stones to the Ceremonial building which outlines daily and special Jewish rituals and practices through a basic but informative display. My final visit was to Maisel Synagogue, a neo-gothic style building which resembled a church more than a traditional synagogue. Whilst it was interesting to witness such architectural variation in close proximity, their singular usage as museums felt a little unnatural and I was sad not to see a practising community within the synagogues, and ultimately the exhibition content began to feel a little repetitive across all five sites.