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‘Life Is More Important Than Art’

  • Art
 Mitra Tabrizian Film Stills 2017 - 2018  Courtesy the artist
Mitra Tabrizian Film Stills 2017 - 2018 Courtesy the artist

Time Out says

It might actually be impossible to tell you what the Whitechapel’s new exhibition is about. The gallery handout mentions the cost of living crisis, the pandemic, ‘the intersection of art and everyday life’ and, most terrifyingly, ‘the role of the contemporary art institution’. Some of the art is about east London as a place of migration, but also as a place of social change and rampant corporate greed. But then some of it is based in Germany, and some of it is based in Bucharest. Some of it is about sickness, death and love. Some of it is about gentrification. You could argue that it’s a weaving together of narratives of migration and personal history. But you could also – more convincingly – argue that it’s an unbelievable mess that makes no sense as an exhibition. 

It starts with Susan Hiller’s packaged relics from an abandoned synagogue and Janette Paris’s illustrated essay about the lost parts of the London of her youth. Mitra Tabrizian’s film stills capture decrepit, crumbling railway arches, boarded up buildings and abandoned garages; William Cobbing tells stories of the city in manhole covers; Osman Yousefzada packages up all of an immigrant’s worldly belongings, wrapped in black plastic. It all just about holds together.

The ideas don’t coalesce into anything comprehensible

If this was just a show about east London and its history of migration and relentless change, we’d be fine. But what does Susan Hiller’s map of streets in Germany that start with the word ‘Juden’ have to do with that? How do Matthew Krishanu’s unbearably tender, heart-wrenching, gorgeous paintings of his partner’s terminal illness fit in? I don't know what Rana Begum’s chain-link sculpture is doing here, or Jerome’s sheets of black flooring vinyl.

It doesn’t even matter if any of the art is good – some of it is, some of it really isn’t – because it just doesn’t fit together. The ideas don’t coalesce into anything comprehensible. It does a disservice to the artists and to us as visitors. Life might be more important than art, but it turns out that curation is a bit important too.

Eddy Frankel
Written by
Eddy Frankel


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