Thursday 13 February 2014

Fashion and Textiles Museum & White Cube Bermondsey

I spent a wonderful Friday afternoon wandering around the galleries in the London Bridge area. It was wonderful not only because of the great exhibitions, but because I was with my friend and once Graphics teacher from school, who helped spark my love of design in the first place. She always has a great plan of where to go and what to do, so this time she suggested meeting at The Tea Pod cafe in the Fashion and Textiles Museum. We first enjoyed a coffee there and then later a delicious light lunch (me a Thai vegetable curry and her a slice of quiche and a cake - you know I find details very important!). They had a whole range of foods for specialised diets, and lots of lovely teas too. As it's within the museum, the decoration of the cafe is of course a selling point too. Scattered on the sofas are brightly coloured cushions and a smattering of Zandra Rhodes textiles. 

We then walked around the museum's "Artist Textiles : Picasso to Warhol" exhibition. There are lengths of fabric on display as well as garments, ranging from the early to mid 20th Century. We both did a lot of "Ooh, I can see you wearing that" and "Now that would make a wonderful pair of curtains", and my friend gained masses of inspiration for the screen-printing course she's currently doing. Salvador Dali made a big appearance, as well as other greats in both the textile and fine arts world. Some of my favourites included :

Carnet II, Pablo Picasso, 1963
Cyclades, Donald Hamilton Fraser, 1960
Fawley, John Piper, 1960
Wedding, Saul Steinberg, 1950
Circus, John Rombola, 1956 (above)

I also loved a screen-printed textile by Ludwig Bemelmans from 1945 which appeared to have no title but depicted antelope and flamingos; I then found out he was the illustrator and creator of the Madeline stories.

Afterwards, we headed down the street to the White Cube gallery. There are three gallery spaces there, and some very varied work. In the first room hung pieces by Franz Ackermann. These were described as cartographic, a new term to me which means the art of map or chart making, but were more mental-map than an accurate portrayal of urban cities. He uses bright colours, mixed media (including found objects) and displays his collages in such a way that when you're standing right in front of it, you can look between the dimensions. All of them were quite large and some enormous, and the artist himself even came in before the hanging and painted the walls of the gallery space too.

Photographer Darren Almond's work hung in the next door room. Incorporating pieces from several series, this exhibition entitled "To Leave a Light Impression" documents his travels in Patagonia, Tasmania, Cape Verde and the outer Hebrides. There are scenes of glaciers, hilltops and vast mountainous regions, and the glossy C-print finish makes the scene come to life, as if you're watching the mist roll over the cliffs in extreme slow motion. In the room lined with human-height images of the standing stones on the isle of Lewis, there were also small, bronze columns dotted about on the floor for you to walk around. Each one is apparently filled with lead and engraved with the astronaut's initials from each Apollo trip. This is because the stones are so old (dating from 3,000 BC) and it is thought that they were used as an astronomical observatory to measure 18.6-year moon cycles. Both the sculptures in and out of the prints are supposed to represent man's connection with the moon. 

The last room showcased the work of Chinese conceptual artist He Xiangyu, and was his first show in the UK. His pieces were very broad in style; the solid gold egg carton containing one ordinary egg; the 127 tons of Coca-Cola cans boiled down into a residue which looks like geological matter from a long extinct era; a small (few inches high) Chinese pagoda made out of the artist's wisdom teeth. Our favourite, however, was his Tank Project, a life-size military tank made out of luxury Italian leather. It was incredible - every little bolt and screw was there.This took two years to make, and was handmade by a full-time team of female needle workers. It lay "deflated" on the ground, like the carcass of a huge mammal. According to the guide, "He Xiangyu questions the steady advancement of Western materialism in contemporary China and the mutual interdependencies of political and economic power".

Two great museums and so much great art. If you're in the area, definitely pop into both. "Artists Textiles" runs until 17th May and the White Cube is free, with the exhibitions changing over on 14th April.

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