Back in the 1950s, the Whitechapel put on a collaborative artists-and-architects exhibition called ‘This Is Tomorrow’. It introduced the world to the very first inklings of pop art and brought names like Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton and Alison and Peter Smithson smack dab into the public eye. It was seriously groundbreaking, and genuinely seminal. So much so that the Whitechapel has now decided to see, almost 70 years later, if it can repeat the trick with ‘Is This Tomorrow?’
Which is a shame, because – like hanging out with much hotter friends – the new show is only ever going to look ugly by comparison. On its own merits, this exhibition of artists and architects collaborating on a series of installations is pretty good, but by setting itself out as the successor to one of the most important art shows of the past century, it can only fail.
There are some dud works here. Amalia Pica and 6a architects have created an animal pen for you to walk through, which reeks of ‘wake up sheeple!’ sloganeering. APPARATA and Hardeep Pandhal’s installation is too bants for its own good, too.
But there are also some brilliant things here. Rana Begum and Marina Tabassum Architects’ shimmering, light-filled, mosque-inspired space is beautiful and tranquil; the claustrophobic, swirling maelstrom of turnstiles in Farshid Moussavi Architecture and Zineb Sedira’s work is neatly intense; Adjaye Associates and Kapwani Kiwanga’s prismatic mirror-maze is discombobulatingly lovely.
The best thing here though is Simon Fujiwara and David Kohn Architects’ ‘The Salvator Mundi Experience’, a micro museum proposing different ways to look at the world’s most expensive painting. It’s funny, interesting and filled with ideas about how we look at and consume art.
The thing is, nothing here is particularly radical, and I don’t think the show proposes a way for art or architecture to move forward. It’s not a great big unified exhibition with something grand and important to say, like it seems to wish it was. But it is ambitious, interesting and a lot of fun. Just goes to show, if you stop trying to one-up your successful predecessors, sometimes you can succeed on your own merits.