I spent a very agreeable Saturday with my friend Liz a couple of week’s ago visiting various exhibitions in London. The main objective was to catch the Warhol, Burroughs and Lynch shows at The Photographers Gallery, but we also took in the Royal Academy’s Sensing Spaces, before making the unwise decision to take in the Portrait Gallery on the first sunny day of the year on a busy Saturday afternoon.
The Photography Gallery shows were a mixed bunch. I thought the Warhol exhibition was largely pointless, with the images being shown more because they were by Warhol rather than because there was anything inherently interesting in the photographs themselves. The only shots that really made sense to exhibit, in my opinion, were the ones where Warhol had repeat printed and stitched together creating gridded montages much like some of his screenprints. At least with these there was some tangible link to how he approached the physical production of other works of his. I also thought the Lynch show was boring. Photographs of abandoned and derelict buildings, albeit expertly shot, were dull in the extreme. In fact, I would go as far as to say they were pretentiously dull; shot entirely in black and white I felt he was trying too hard to create ‘art’, and it was all a bit like looking at a 1980s British Journal of Photography annual. However, well worth the entrance fee alone was the Burroughs show. Of the three, he was the only artist who gave the sense he was truly experimenting with the medium, testing and pushing the capabilities. And the shots themselves had a far stronger narrative. While Warhol was playing and Lynch was trying too hard, Burroughs was exploring a medium and seeing what it could do and what he could produce.
Over at the Royal Academy the Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined show was a blast. Each room had a different theme, and you were encouraged to be interactive with the work. As you walked around each exhibit created a different atmosphere in their given spaces which engaged the viewer and took them with the work. There could have been no more an explicit introduction to the uninitiated as to the power of architecture to influence moods and behaviour. For example, the image above of Diébedo Francis Kéré’s piece encouraged visitors to stick brightly coloured straws into the structure to create a furry, fun walkthrough. While the mausoleum solemnness of Grafton Architects’ main room stopped people in their tracks, slowed them down and made them gape upwards in astonishment, (see below).
And Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s monstrous wooden beauty could be climbed via a ramp or spiral staircases in the legs, which allowed a closer view of the Academy’s architectural gilding linking the imposing structure with the building that housed it and bringing a greater appreciation of everyone’s surroundings.
While I wasn’t overly impressed with two of the shows at the Photography Gallery, I would still highly recommend a visit, and the Royal Academy is only a short 5-10 minute walk away, which would be a shame to miss while it is still on.