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Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen
One of the most fascinating – and strange – artists of the past 100 years is the subject of one of the most anticipated shows of 2016. Strait-laced, and appearing rather stern looking photographs, the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint was nonetheless an extreme painter, whose work was inspired by a lifelong interest in spiritualism and the occult. In addition to be an artist, she was a clairvoyant and a medium, a follower of the theosophical teachings of Madame Blavatsky, who made over a thousand paintings in secret, insisting that they should not be publicly show until 20 years after her death (in 1944). Characterised by grids, circles and flat areas of chalky colour, her paintings are, on the surface, abstract images made before abstraction had been born in Europe and with no knowledge of what was happening in the continent’s creative hotspots. Af Klint’s paintings are never entirely ‘abstract’, though – recalling flower forms, or populated by words, numbers and vectors, they come across like diagrams of enigmatic ideas, primordial forces and evolutionary themes. Was she just a crank? Ominously, in the early 1930s she made a map-like work, ‘The Blitz’, that seems to predict WWII. Camden Arts Centre introduced us to this intriguing and secretive artist a decade ago. The Serpentine’s spring 2016 show will bring together works from ‘The Paintings for the Temple’ series along with other paintings that have never been shown before in the UK.
Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), Florentine painter of exquisite mythological scenes (including that sad-eyed Venus being born from a sea shell), as well as graceful pictures of the Madonna and Child and countless flattering portraits of his Medici paymasters, was immensely popular in his lifetime. He’s also rare among early renaissance artists in that his work continues to achieve pop-cultural fame into the twenty-first century – via Dolce & Gabbana, Gaga and many others. Bringing together the biggest haul of Botticellis we’ve seen in London for decades, the V&A’s spring 2016 blockbuster is a chance to marvel at the strange, otherworldly beauty of the master, while looking at his influence, not just on art, but on film, photography, fashion and design. Included are works by René Magritte, Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman.
Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers
Martin Parr has spent his career casting a quizzical eye over Britain, so he’s the ideal person to curate a show that looks at how international photographers from the 1930s to today have captured the social, cultural and political identity of the UK through the camera lens. There’s a stellar cast involved – including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand, Garry Winogrand, Tina Barney and Bruce Gilden. This show’s USP, however, is that, while its participants have spent time travelling through and documenting the UK, none have set up permanent home here. It makes for a unique ‘outsider’s view’ of Britain, from the Outer Hebrides to Dover, and covers a epic sweep of fairly recent history – from the coronation of George VI to surveillance photos of looters taken during the 2011 London riots. Perhaps it’s most engaging in the quieter details of everyday life, though – the corner shops and market scenes – some familiar, some lost to history.
Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century
The American photographer Paul Strand (1890-1976) was one of the first to make a photographic abstraction (intentionally). Inspired by the latest trends in European art – which he saw in shows of Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse and others in New York – he was applied a new-fangled language of geometric surface design, and a new way of looking at the modern world, initially to objects such as furniture (and its shadows), then to the streets of Manhattan. Taught by the social reformer and photographer Lewis Hine, Strand never entirely abandoned the human – and humanist – quality in his work. His iconic shots of Manhattan from the 1910s, for instance, often pit lone figures against the alienating abstract shadow play of the urban cityscape. His seminal shot ‘Blind’ (1916) of a beggar, meanwhile, is a bold simplification that immediately set the standard for street photography in the modern era. This show, the first in the UK since Strand’s death, includes photographs and films, ranging from shots of Manhattan’s financial district, wharves and factories, experimental films including ‘Manhatta’, and work he produced during his extensive travels in Egypt, Morocco and Ghana, including images he took during a visit to the Scottish Hebrides in 1954.
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