Standout UK Art Shows of 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Ofili: Weaving Magic

The National Gallery – April 26th, 2017 – August 28th, 2017

We were so thrilled to make it to the National Gallery to see Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili’s collaboration with internationally renowned Dovecot Tapestry Studio.  Here in the Sunley Room, the stage was set, Ofili painted the walls with a large mural featuring voluptuous Asiatic dancers of various genders. The lighting was dim, except for along one wall, where a lush, aquatic colored tapestry hung like an offering at the altar.

Commissioned by the Clothworkers’ Company, Ofili collaborated with the internationally renowned Dovecot Tapestry Studio to see his watercolor design translated into a handwoven tapestry.  It took over two and a half years of dedication by five master weavers to create this extraordinary masterpiece. Ofili had admittedly challenged the weavers to interpret his watercolor, trying to make it difficult to recreate his soft fluid transitioning of translucent colors that bled into one another like a seeping dream.

At almost 8 feet high and 24 feet wide, the breathtaking tapestry eclipsed Ofili’s watercolor, gorgeously reflecting Ofili’s love affair with the myths, magic, sensuality, and colors of his home base of Trinidad.

 

Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!

Serpentine Gallery – June 8th, 2017-September 19th, 2017

Of course, they took some liberties with this title, but it was in truth one of the most talked about exhibitions of the summer – even if it was its own hype machine.  I was still on the fence; would I spend time in London seeing the solo show of the artist I remembered as seeming quite obtuse and gimmicky as he accepted his Turner Prize in a dress?

Then I read a review by Laura Cumming from The Guardian, that sealed the deal for me. “I’m off to buy a very serious piece of political art,” boasts the bubble on one of Grayson Perry’s new pots. Who’s speaking? Some idiot collector of course: the kind of plutocrat who needs an adviser to help him choose, who becomes a gallery trustee for the cachet, who buys art as a talking point for parties. The kind of fatcat who buys just such a pot.”

I began to understand that Perry is making his fame off of social/cultural clichés– that I can get into.

Perry’s ceramic pots were the highlight, delightfully hilarious in their glamorous far off stately demeanor, a façade, which on closer inspection a belies a stratum of comments that ridicule the system of hierarchy and elitism that rules the art world.  I couldn’t remember the last time I got to laugh at art laughing at itself. Unless we go to ‘I Love Dick’ season 1, episode 1 where you’re meant to overhear some pretentious intern at some pretentious art party state that “There’s Marfa realness. There’s Marfa “realness,” and then there’s “Marfa Realness.”

The show becomes meta, as Grayson Perry becomes part of the establishment that he mocks, the collectible artist with a collectors list that gets alerted way ahead of the shows actual opening to purchase art based solely on the weight of his name.

The show had breakaway moments with pieces that take a stab at commentating on contemporary cultural and gentrification. Red Carpet, 2017 is influenced by Afghan war rugs. “This is a map of British society as evocative and inaccurate as a geographical one made by a medieval scholar. The distortions partly reflect the density of population rather than the lie of the land. Its covered in words and buzz phrases that I felt typified the national discourse in 2016.”

 

Arthur Jafa – A Series of Utterly Improbable Yet Extraordinary Renditions

Serpentine Gallery – June 8th, 2017-September 10th, 2017

You know Cinematographer Arthur Jafa’s work– He recently directed JAY-Z’s “4:44” music video,  and was the director of photography for Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “Cranes in the Sky.”

His work with ex-wife Julie Dash is a film phenom– Daughters of the Dust (1991) a multigenerational tale of black women from the Gullah sea islands struggling to hold on to their culture. The visuals from Dash’s indie masterpiece became an inspiration for Beyonce’s visual album 2016 Lemonade.

Let’s not forget his seven-minute video Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death, containing found footage exploring African-American identity through contemporary imagery, all set to Kanye West‘s “Ultralight Beam.”

Jafa’s first UK solo exhibition at London’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery, A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions, was a site-specific installation for the gallery including a mix of photography, film and social media elements.

The work reflected Jafa’s interest in exploring and re-contextualizing particular historical narratives and news stories that have been subject to bias against the Black community.  “How do we imagine things that are lost? What kind of legacy can we imagine despite that loss and despite the absence of things that never were?… Black people in America have always had to make art out of absence – whether that be the absence of accurate portrayal, or even of basic materials. We can dance, we can move, in a certain kind of fashion. Our artwork will always be bound up in our struggle. And the absences that exist in our lives because of it.”