The best museum exhibitions in London
It stings the heart, this installation by Edmund de Waal. The ceramicist and author has lined the walls of his room within a room in the British Museum with books by writers in exile. Albert Camus’s ‘Exile and the Kingdom’, Jean Rhys’s ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’. Shelf after shelf of stories written by people far from home, thinking of home.
Like an (even more) homoerotic version of Batman, Touko Laaksonen lived a double life. By day, he was a pen-pusher at an advertising agency in Helsinki. By night, he was ‘Tom of Finland’, who sketched handsomely uniformed, fantastically muscled men for a thirsty audience of American fans.
The V&A does an excellent line in fashion exhibitions that are bright, brash, frothy, OTT madness – a mirroring, perhaps, of the atmosphere surrounding most major fashion weeks. So it comes as a surprise, initially, to step inside ‘Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk’ and absorb a calming scene of cool mint walls, plain white ceiling drapes and a fairly traditional layout of glass exhibition cases.
Gender is big news. And, like everything that’s ‘big news’, it solicits big reactions. This exhibition at the Science Gallery aims to go beyond the most strident, shouty responses to the topic, showing instead that the very concept of gender is as messy and ungraspable as toothpaste blobbed into the sink.
Whatever you take away from the Museum of Neoliberalism, you definitely won’t forget the display ‘Bottle of Amazon employee urine’. According to the museum, it came from a worker in one of the company’s fulfilment centres who passed up a toilet break in order not to fall behind on work targets. It’s just one of the ways this place confronts you with how modern economic structures have trickled down into people’s everyday lives. Tucked between a laundrette and a hairdressers in an unassuming post-war shopping centre in Lewisham, the museum explains its purpose in a window sign: ‘to look back on neoliberalism, what it has done to our world; and what might lie beyond it’. Turns out, it’s quite scary stuff. The exhibition, which begins with a display setting out the main players of twentieth-century neoliberalism, has been created by satirical artist Darren Cullen and Gavin Grindon, a lecturer at the University of Essex who curated parts of Banksy’s Dismaland. Like the suspects board of a detective on the edge, it’s covered in a criss-cross of red string connecting images of Margaret Thatcher, George W Bush, Tony Blair, David Cameron and Boris Johnson. You’re then exposed to the ways capitalism has seeped into our lives, from Scouts badges embroidered with oil company logos to a replica of the cladding and insulation at Grenfell Tower. Regardless of your political persuasion, it’s hard not to be moved. The museum admits that it ‘may seem dispiriting’, but it’ll stoke a
In the era of Bitcoin speculation, and when a tweet can affect exchange rates, it’s easy to see banking as a kind of sinister virtual miasma swirling around us and settling in the hollows of society. It’s not the whole story, though. The Bank of England is celebrating its 325th birthday with a show of 325 actual physical objects, the result of a (legal) rifling of its own vaults.