There are always great exhibitions worth visiting in London, often at smaller, less well known museums. However, sometimes blockbuster shows hit town at the same time and this is one of those times. Londoners and visitors are frantically trying to get their hands on much sought after tickets for this spring’s top shows. I’ve been away from London for 2 months on my volunteering trip to Africa (read more here) so I was really keen to catch up.
In London right now we have ‘David Bowie is’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, ‘Manet: Portraying Life’ at the Royal Academy and ‘Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ at the British Museum. Then there is ‘Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901’ at the Courtauld, ‘Light Show’ at the Hayward Gallery, ‘Lichtenstein: A Retrospective’ at the Tate Modern, ‘Michael Caine: 80th Anniversary Exhibition’ at the Museum of London, ‘Treasures of the Royal Courts’ at the V&A and many more……
I’ve been busy working my way through this impressive list so here’s my quick tour for you to enjoy.
My favourite was the Bowie show which I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did, not being sure it would live up to the hype around it. It was huge fun with brilliant staging, lots of good information and range of items to appeal to different visitors from videos to costumes to information about the context he was working in and was influencing. You are given high quality earphones that pick up the really interesting commentary and great music (of course!) as you move between rooms. The final room has a huge video wall where you can watch him singing ‘Heroes’ at Live Aid in 1985 alongside a much more recent version. The song lifts the room and is a wonderful musical experience. The title of the show is right – David Bowie is …. He is so many things and the exhibition follows his many ch-changes and showcases his immense creativity.
The British Museum hits back with its own blockbuster looking at the lost worlds of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The exhibition takes you through the everyday lives and the extraordinary events that overtook the citizens of these two towns in AD 79. Rooms are laid out in the plan of a house with many artifacts -even a baby’s cot – mosaics and paintings. We explore the towns, the reasons for the eruptions and the final crushing impact. You do get an insight into the last hours of these towns and the finality of the end through the contorted figures of the dying.
Manet’s paintings are beautifully shown at the Royal Academy. The show focuses on his portraiture, ranging from figures of the day including his wife, to scenes of everyday life. We learn through a detailed timeline, what happened in his life. There were some truly beautiful paintings here including the one on the poster, although it was strange that one of his most famous A Bar at the Folies-Bergere is hanging just a mile or so away at the Courtauld Gallery.
Picasso’s early works are on show at the Courtauld Gallery. They hold regular special exhibitions which they house in just 2 room which gives these exhibitions real focus and they are really manageable! Tho’ small, there are plenty of great works to see and it is amazing to know that these paintings where shown when he was just 19 years old. You can see hints of where his work will head to but the paintings at this early stage of his career are masterpieces in their own right. I really enjoyed one of his brash self portraits full of energy and confidence. He reinvents styles of major names such as Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. The second room is more sombre, following the death of a close friend and this work is from the beginning of the Blue Period. Sadly one of the paintings here will leave the UK at the end of the show, his Child with a Dove could not be kept in the UK.
The Light Show at the Hayward Gallery is a completely different experience as you have to get right into the exhibits – either by entering pitch black rooms or wearing foot covers to walk into another room or by taking your shoes off completely for a different room. In one room you see light as a solid beam you can break into with your hand, in others you see a bright single light as you enter but you eye adjusts and absorbs the colour so it becomes paler until you leave and re-enter and it is bright again. Other pieces show the beauty of light through constantly moving LEDs or reflecting light on mirrors to give as sense of infinity. Each room shows the work of a different artist so it’s an endlessly engaging show which I really enjoyed.
Just one more to tell you about as I was less keen on the Treasures of the Royal Court and have not yet got to see the Lichtenstein as it’s been quite a job to see this lot! The Michael Caine exhibition at the Museum of London was a small, fun exploration of his long career through film, quotes and photos. As you can see from this quote there is a sense of fun in the show and the photos are mostly iconic shots of London born Michael. The films are clips from his famous movies such as Alfie and The Italian Job alongside TV interviews from when his was a new star to more recent reflective interviews on his long career. It was fascinating to hear how he felt being the first east London actor with a proper London accent who broke into the big league of movies – at the time posh actors were imitating London voices if the parts required!