After a chilly but beautiful autumnal stroll on Saturday afternoon, I sought warmth at The Barbican and turns out I wasn’t the only one… as the queue for their current exhibition ‘Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde’ suggested! Spanning both floors of the gallery, it examines almost fifty artistic couples from Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin who were in a relationship from 1882 until 1892 through to Unica Zürn and Hans Bellmer whose relationship lasted from 1953 until 1970, and various heterosexual, homosexual, artistic threesomes and friendships in between. It explores “artists” in the broadest sense, including painters, sculptors, photographers, textile makers, musicians, writers, publishers, furniture designers and architects – and more interestingly the impact they had on each other and society by taking a stance on various civil rights issues. Each section comprises a short summary of the couple alongside a portrait of each artist individually or together as a couple, with Virginia Woolf making two appearances – on the lower level with Vita Sackville-West and on the upper level with Leonard Wolfe. The show includes big name artists such as Salvador DalÍ (and Federico GarcÍa Lorca), Pablo Picasso (and Dora Maar), Frida Kahlo (and Diego Rivera) and Wassily Kandinsky (and Gabriele Münter) but also introduced me to artists I was previously unfamiliar with or highlighted relationships where one partner has certainly hogged the limelight – often unfairly – over the other. The exhibition is certainly tinged with sadness and a sprinkling of madness; numerous tales of forbidden love, age-gaps, and mental health issues as well as Oskar Kokoschka who created a life-size doll of the composer Alma Mahler after jealousy brought an end to their relationship, Marcel Duchamp who sculpted miniature casts of Maria Martins genitals after their illicit affair came to an end, and Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt whose relationship came to a horrific close when the dancer and costume designer shot Holdt and then herself.
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.
Eduardo Paolozzi is all over London; from the mosaics at Tottenham Court Road tube station to the sculpted head outside The Design Museum, colossal sculptures outside The British Library and on Royal Victoria Dock, and abstract pieces in Kew Gardens and Pimlico amongst others. It seems almost overdue that a London Gallery should dedicate an exhibition to the irreverent artists’ works – and Whitechapel Gallery have filled that void collating over 250 of Paolozzi’s artworks in their current retrospective. The ground floor focusses on his early career in London and Paris and his experimentation with various mediums as industrial bronze sculptures are displayed alongside pop-art inspired collages, screen-prints, tapestries and textiles, and moving film. Despite this diversity constant themes do emerge, evident in his fascination with pattern, layering and texture – and as the ground floor galleries come to an end, an inimitable Paolozzian style full of graphic prints and geometric designs emerges. His evolution as an artist is focussed on in the upper floor galleries which explore later developmental pieces in chrome and a playfulness with reflective surfaces and mirrors. It then goes on to draw out his obsession with the creative process itself, and it is interesting to view similar shapes through both two dimensional sketches and prints and three dimensional sculptures sharing the same space. Hints of the artist as a person – and indeed as a rebel – are also present in ‘Avant Garde?’ where each letter of the term is filled with a colourful cartoon figure, and ‘Jeepers Creepers’ which pokes fun at artistic terminology by featuring a row of plaster clowns each labelled with a different term. Iconic pieces mix with lesser known experiments, and the exhibition closes with the original sketches for the infamous tube mosaics. Get over to east London before 14th May to catch this exhibition and appreciate Paolozzi’s fun, colourful and incredibly innovative contributions to 20th century art!
Raven Row is undoubtedly one of my favourite galleries, located in east London near Spitalfields Market in two adjoining eighteenth century townhouses on Artillery Lane (aptly known as Raven Row until 1895). It is eccentric without being pretentious, large enough to get lost in but still feels intimate, and always host to something curious. Its current exhibition ‘The Ulm Model’ is no different, educating visitors about the lesser known German school of design which only operated for a short period between 1953 and 1968. This exhibition was exactly what I wanted from my Sunday afternoon… a relaxed cultural fix without feeling protracted or contrived. The curation is simple and uncluttered, and specially designed display structures showcase items ranging from weighing machines to crockery, electric razors, traffic lights and petrol cans. As well as the objects themselves, the exhibition also includes drawings, models and prototypes created by the schools’ students as well as sections dedicated to some of their more progressive work for corporate clients, namely Braun and Lutfhansa. The key pieces that captured my attention include Dieter Raffler & Peter Raacke’s multi coloured plastic shell suitcases, Hans Roericht’s TC 100 stacking set of teapots, cups and saucers, as well as Hans Gugelot & Dieter Ram’s record player designed for Braun. The original wooden floorboards, fireplaces and other period features of the building juxtapose against the modernist design of these objects nicely, and exploring the various rooms and corridors of this gallery unsure what you might find around the next corner adds another element. Whether you are a design geek or neophyte, I’d suggest taking advantage of this exhibition and paying a visit before mid December while these German works’ are collectively on display in London.
The Fashion and Textile Museum has diverged from its usual curatorial style in its current ‘Missoni Art Colour’ exhibition. Unlike the two shows that predate it; ‘Art and Textiles: Marian Clayden’ and ‘Liberty in Fashion’ there is a much stronger focus on art in a traditional sense rather than fashion – notably in 20th century European contemporary art and its undeniable influence on Ottavio and Rosita Missoni. Upon entering the exhibition, you are greeted by a corridor of modernist masterpieces including works by Sonia Delaunay, Gino Severni, Lucio Fontana and Enrico Pampolini amongst others which highlights the impact the colours, shapes and ideas futurist and cubist artists had on the Italian designers. Once you pass through this corridor, the next gallery houses over 40 mannequins, set across seven stepped levels, each dressed in a distinctive Missoni knitted yarn design (dating from 1997 – present day). This astounding display is backed by a simple translucent curtain with spotlights dimming or changing colour every few minutes, which in turn switches your focus to different garments within the display. If this wasn’t enough, this gallery displays previously unseen textile studies, paintings and monumental patchworks of knitted fabrics by Ottavio Missoni which illustrate formative works of their signature graphic style. A staircase behind this presentation leads you to the first floor gallery which contains a collection of sculptures, early digital works and other constructivist art. Each piece explores notions around art and its purpose, form and function, as well as culture and technology in the same way Missoni design did – I particularly appreciated Getulio Alviani’s 1960’s two dimension geometric work created from sixteen squares of aluminium each with a different satin finish positioned side by side, and several of the plastic Bauhaus-esque sculptures. Few exhibitions are quite so true to their title, but this one is literally brimming with Missoni, art and colour!
MUDE Museum – The Museum of Design and Fashion in Lisbon – is well worth exploring. I have to admit I knew nothing about it prior to visiting and was enthusiastic to discover that it is housed in the old BNU headquarters. The museum has done an admirable job of preserving the original banks’ features, most visible in the basement where the vast vaults, chunky Chubb locks, safety deposit boxes and maximum security measures remain in situ and showcase temporary exhibitions to great effect. The ground floor is dedicated to their permanent collection (Francisco Capelo’s collection) which draws out design highlights from each decade of the 20th century. This display is accompanied by recognisable music from each era and an information board comprising bullet-point history and politics of the decade, helping add context to each design. The first floor again encourages investigation and looks at design from an unusual perspective; displaying portrait photographs of architects alongside architectural drawings, quotations about, or images of their buildings and somewhat provocatively questions the culture of “design celebrity” as the majority of architects had instantly recognisable names yet the majority of their faces alluded me (and other visitors). The top floor contained an exhibition dedicated to local design produced over the last sixty years – pertinent given the fact that Portugal did not have a museum dedicated to design where designers could develop a collective awareness until this century. The exhibition is entitled ‘How do you pronounce design in Portuguese?’ and again explores topics from an unusual angle, discussing the idea of a collective national design and how the country’s geography, heritage, traditions and culture have shaped and influenced this. The whole building has an unfinished, ramshackle charm to it which encourages exploration, and in conjunction with its inspiring exhibitions made for a very satisfying visit.