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Get Up, Stand Up Now review

Art Somerset House , Aldwych Until Sunday September 15 2019
2 out of 5 stars
Get Up, Stand Up Now review
Armet Francis, ‘Fashion Shoot Brixton Market’ (1973). Image courtesy of the artist

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

You can’t neatly sum up the black contribution to culture, and, if this show is anything to go by, you can’t do it messily either.

The premise is that it’s a celebration of ‘the past 50 years of black creativity in Britain and beyond’, and if that doesn’t sound so ludicrously broad that it sets your eye twitching I don’t know what will. It starts with the Windrush Generation, and in particular the brilliant work of photographer and filmmaker Horace Ové (the show’s curated by his son Zak, also an artist). From there, the show looks at the diasporic connections between international black artistic communities in Africa, America and the Caribbean, from the ’60s through to the present day.

Separated into unfollowable themes, this is an exhibition absolutely filled with stuff. There are massive vitrines piled high with magazines and posters and flyers and masks. There are photos, sculptures and installations, there’s music, painting and film. Some of it is fantastic: Ové’s photos of 1960s and ’70s London – cut through with anger, politics and partying – are an amazing window into the past; Denzil Forrester, Lubaina Himid and Sonia Boyce’s paintings are gorgeous, passionate examples of what black British painters have been up to over the past 40 years.

But why is American artist Hank Willis Thomas here with an image of an American footballer facing off with a cotton-picker? Why is Ethiopian-American painter Julie Mehretu’s abstraction chucked in here? Why is Trinidad-based white artist Peter Doig here with his film posters? It’s not bad art, it’s just impossible to figure out what the connection between all of it is other than blackness, which is infinitely too vast a topic for one show.

The themes are impossible to figure out, the curation too manic, and most of the art doesn’t make sense together. Even as a ‘snapshot’ of black creativity it doesn’t work. ‘Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power’ at the Tate in 2017 was a brilliant exhibition because it zeroed in on a specific era of black art and really focused on it, the same thing ‘The Place is Here’ did for 1980s black British art at the South London Gallery the same year.

By trying to say so much, this chaotic mess of an exhibition is so broad and hectic that it doesn’t actually tell you anything at all.

Details

Venue name: Somerset House
Venue website: www.somersethouse.org.uk
Address: Strand
London
WC2R 1LA
Transport: Tube: Temple/Charing Cross/Covent Garden
Price: £12.50/£9.50. Under 12s free
Opening hours: Daily 8am-11pm

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