Art, Painting Free
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Felt angry about anything recently? Of course you have, you’re human, and so are the 17 artists included in this group show about the nature of protesting. All the works here aim to question the status quo, challenge power structures and inspire debate. By engaging with sociopolitical issues such as the Black Lives Matter campaign, LGBT rights, the migrant crisis or censorship, the works serve as calls to action. Angry stuff. 

A key theme is the power words have to effect change. The show opens with Alice Neel’s 1936 painting ‘Nazis Murder Jews’. In this depiction of a Communist parade in New York City, the message is hammered home by the unambiguous slogan written on a poster. There’s also one of contemporary artist Doug Aitken’s massive sculptural text works, with the word ‘Free’ covered in broken shards of mirror. Get it? Freedom? Shattered? Nice. Rirkrit Tiravanija punches the words ‘No No America’ – an anti-US chant used in protests in Iraq – through a sheet of reflective metal, forcing you to see the conflict from another point of view. 

The blockbuster work here is Elmgreen & Dragset’s ‘Prison Breaking/Powerless Structures’, a life-size recreation of a prison cell that’s been burst open and split in two. You move through the centre of it, upturned metal toilets on one side, cold steel benches on the other, rubble littering the floor. It’s intended to challenge society’s increased use of prison sentences but maybe also deals with the duo’s own break-up. 

But the really hard-hitting work is saved until last. ‘Western Union: Small Boats (The Leopard)’, made by Isaac Julien in 2007, is a short film exploring the perilous journeys made by migrants across the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe, and is still so timely it makes your eyes water. 

The show is partnered with Reprieve, a human rights organisation that offers free legal advice to the world’s most vulnerable people. So it’s not just a bunch of arty gusto, it’s actually trying to help. Art with a conscience – who knew? 


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