London: Three Free Exhibits

And not a single picture!  Sorry.  You may notice more London posts than normal in the coming weeks because my boyfriend’s car crapped out a couple weeks ago, so we’ve been unable to take our little day trips outside the city as we usually do.  So until I go home for Christmas or we get a new car (and as I’m going back in a couple weeks, that’s probably what’s going to happen first), I’m stuck within the confines of the Big Smoke.  I guess it’s not all bad, because it’s been forcing me to visit some temporary exhibitions I would typically ignore.  Case in point, the Grayson Perry installation at the National Portrait Gallery, based around the TV series he made for Channel 4.

Like the TV programme, the exhibit is also called Who Are You? and features the artwork he produced on the show.  Not being a huge Grayson Perry fan, I didn’t watch this, so the pieces were a surprise to me.  Although I don’t care for his persona, I think Grayson Perry certainly shows more artistic ability than many other modern artists (cough, Tracey Emin, cough), and I enjoyed looking at his tapestries at the Foundling Museum a while back.  This installation also opened with a huge tapestry, although the remaining pieces were mostly pottery or paintings.  The set-up was not at all what I was expecting, as the art wasn’t all in one section, but was scattered around one floor of the museum, but it proved to be a pleasant surprise.  There were maps available that showed the location of each picture, and it turned into kind of a treasure hunt, with everyone on the lookout for the next piece (though really you could tell by looking at where most of the people in a room were congregated).

The pieces were quite varied, ranging from a miniature of some guy who I guess was on the X Factor (never heard of him, but I did like the classic style of the miniature), to a poignant jug depicting a couple’s experience with Alzheimer’s, and what I think was meant to be a reliquary with icons relating to some weirdo church painted on it.  There was even a large jar dedicated to Chris Huhne, covered with tiny penises and deliberately cracked and then repaired to mirror his life experiences.  Hunting for the artwork was half the fun, but I was also impressed by the range of different media on display.  This one’s worth a look, I think.

Secondly, and also free (as are all the exhibits I’m mentioning today, in case you couldn’t tell from the title), is a new small exhibit at the British Library that I checked out when I was there visiting Terror and Wonder (of which more in the next post).  It’s called Lines in the Ice, and is about the quest to find the Northwest Passage.  I’m kind of fascinated by polar exploration (well, isolated places in general), as I mentioned long ago when I blogged about the Oates Collection, so I deliberately waited to see Terror and Wonder until Lines in the Ice was up as well, so I could see them both at once.  Well, I don’t know if it was necessarily worth waiting for, since it was very small, taking up a back wall of the entrance hall, and at least half of it seemed to be about modern times and technology, which I find quite dull.  On the plus side, there was some mention of Franklin’s disastrous expedition, as well as John Rae’s attempt to track it down, which was interesting. Another plus was that all the boards were numbered, so it was easy to follow the exhibit around (even though it really wasn’t spread out enough to have been that confusing in the first place).  On the whole though, there wasn’t much I didn’t already know here, and certainly isn’t worth a special trip, as the BL’s normal free permanent gallery showcasing the best bits of their collection is far superior. Might as well give it a glance if you’re already there though.

Finally, I mentioned the Catching Dreams exhibit at the Southbank Centre very briefly in a previous post.  Well, I had time to go back and really peruse the artwork and can confirm that there are many rather wonderful pieces there, ranging from the hilarious to the depressing.  In case you missed my description last time, everything on show was done by inmates of prisons and mental institutions, and so much of it is themed around prison life, such as a self-portrait I particularly liked of a man delivering milk to his fellow prisoners.  There were a disturbing amount of Michael Jackson portraits, and a few whimsical sculptures, such as a dog wearing a feather boa, and a “killer” robot with an adorable grin on his face.  There’s also a room set aside to the poetry of people in mental institutions, the poems being simply painted on the wall.  You can even vote for your favourite piece, and write feedback for the artists; honestly, it was quite difficult to narrow them down, as there were so many I liked.  How do you choose between an awesome cat picture, a tin of hand-stitched biscuits, a bunny pushing a shopping cart full of guinea pigs, and a man with a “cabbage heid?”  In the end, I went with a depiction of Sherlock Holmes in an opium den with a charming whimsical style, but it wasn’t an easy decision.  It’s only there for a few more days (til the end of November), but it’s an excellent way to escape the madness of the unbearable Southbank Christmas Market, and a very good way to warm up and kill some time if you’re in the vicinity.  Recommended.

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