Like most cities, London sees September shift from pop-up restaurants and pop concerts to a parade of plays, operas, history exhibitions and weighty films to get you thinking after the summer break. Here’s my list of things I’ve seen and would recommend:
1. Aida at ENO: superb singing, including from the chorus, and most definitely a star in the form of this new Aida herself. Great sets – hats, masks and leopard skin a go-go – of the Hollywood musical kind and none the worse for that.
2. The girl from the north country – at the Old Vic and now sold out, but the cast recording is available online and well worth the price for some gutsy, gritty, beautiful performances.
3. Oslo, which is now transferring to the West End. I liked the political negotiation parts best rather than the drawing room marriage comedy, though despite the good cast in London, I wonder how I’d have felt if I’d seen Jennifer Ehle in New York.
4. The Scythians at the British Museum – wonderful gold pieces discovered in the 18th century frozen in the Siberian tundra, along with the remains of silk, cheese, pottery and wooden coffins. All the wrong postcards, but it doesn’t matter if you’ve been to actually see the show. Quite big, but can be done in an hour. The BM is on fire still after their American Dream show earlier this year.
The House of Illustration is very good at making me see artists I hadn’t heard of before (e.g. Linda Kitson), but who are very accomplished and had fascinating lives.
Jacqueline Ayer’s parents had moved from Jamaica to New York in the 1920s and Jacqueline grew up helping her father’s ad agency, the first aimed at African Americans.
Her observation for fabric and costume fed into her children’s’ illustrations when she moved to Bangkok in 1959, and after coming back to America in 1963 she founded a Thai textile line. I wish there’d been more room for her work with the Indisn government, her autobiography, and what was clearly a fascinating life, but I’d still recommend this to anybody.
Quentin Blake’s delightful series of extremely human birds. This could be creepy, but it’s absolutely not, mainly because underneath the wicked humour is a fundamental kindness and interest in people. On display at the House of Illustration in London.
I was pretty sceptical when I heard that Somerset House was putting on a show about perfume, and even more so that it would be done in the manner of a contemporary art installation. Well that’ll show me – it was actually great fun, very well thought out, would be perfect to do either on a date or with friends, and is actually both non-intimidating and witty, a real achievement for a craft that is second only to wine-making for jargon, history and insiders’ snobbism.
As the notes to the show said, self-taught perfumiers are now breaking the mould, getting away both from the stuffiness of some schools, and the idea of scent as a marketing product. I won’t tell you too much about the perfumes in this exhibition as the whole point of the showing is to have a guessing game / voyage of discovery of your own, but you can see from the pictures above how inventive the sets were. In other rooms you smelt white cotton scarves or brilliant liberty-style print pouches, whilst the room with “paint pots” inspired this response from some other visitors:
I didn’t get so creative myself, but enjoyed the game of hide and seek, and the weekend I went there was also an interesting series of presentations from perfumiers at the end in the testing lab.
PS in the first room you smelt the bowling balls…it felt quite James Bond, actually.
I feel I ought to go and see this Eduardo Paolozzi show at the Whitechapel Gallery – it would be like eating a bright bowl of kale (not as bad as you fear, and surprisingly energising) – and I do really want to know more about the artist whose Tottenham Court Road mosaics I’m getting increasingly fond of. But…
It’s the last weekend and I haven’t got there yet, which tells you a lot, especially as I’ve been seeing lots of art recently, like this and this. Something tells me I’m not getting there.
I really love the Kings Cross redevelopment, especially as I recently got to visit it on a sunny and warm spring day that really reminded me that the year had turned from winter now.
One part of it is the House of Illustration, which of course has a beautifully illustrated map on its website to help you find it, and also houses this iPad piece by Linda Kitson.
One of the many artists I discovered at the Revolution! exhibition currently on at the RA.
Deineka produced art that lauded the new, mechanised age, whilst also critiquing it. One cotton factory is shown as a pure white paradise of calm and efficiency, staffed by blonde women and scarily gaunt, robotic young boys, whilst a cow wanders by on the dirt track outside.
This image from the civil war, showing workers replacing soldiers, is similarly bleak, but later works were more carefully triumphalist and anodyne.
Seeing this a few weeks ago was an eye-opening experience. I’d go again soo , despite the queues. And how clever of the RA to recreate the cultural appropriation by the Bolsheviks by covering over the Angelica Kauffman roundels in the entrance hall and replacing them with Constructivist imagery. Thank you Becca for taking me and being guide.
photos March 2017.