The best museum exhibitions in London
You might have noticed that it’s 50 years since the moon landings. We do love an anniversary. The Maritime Museum’s wide-ranging yet accessible exhibition forms a gentle reminder of just how remarkable space travel is – and burnishes our sense of wonder at our nearest neighbour.
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.
The Science Museum’s new show 'Top Secret: From Ciphers to Cyber Security' is so top secret it’s difficult to even find it in the building. That means one of three things: 1) This is a brilliant joke on the part of the museum who recreate that moment in wartime when Britain got rid of its signposts to confuse the Nazis. 2) The guy who makes their signage was on hols this week. Or 3) Based on how long it took me to locate said exhibition, I’m not GCHQ recruitment material.
Remember when you were 15 and turned the speakers up so loud at 2am that Mrs Next Door threatened to call the police? Music has always been used as a form of resistance against authority, including many times when the prick being kicked against is far worse than a busybody neighbour. This superb exhibition, one of three making up the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Culture Under Attack’ season, focuses on four examples of musical resistance during conflicts.
Mary Quant wanted women to have fun. From underwear they could breathe in to fabrics that didn’t disintegrate in one wash and mascara that wouldn’t give them panda-eye, Quant’s namesake brand allowed its customers to look hot without really trying. Ergo: I woke up like this. The V&A’s major exhibition of the London-born designer skips its way through the trajectory of her career before alighting on the things Quant made iconic.
On November 14 1940, Coventry Cathedral was almost completely destroyed by incendiary bombs. The ruins remain, right next to Basil Spence’s brilliant modernist replacement, in what functions as a memorial and a symbol of Coventry’s commitment to peace. If you’ve never been, go. It’s a genuinely incredible place. Coventry Cathedral and the Frauenkirche in Dresden – the German city it twinned with as an act of reconciliation – feature prominently in this exhibition describing how culture of all kinds fares during times of conflict (in summary: generally not very well).
You’ve heard all the Stanley Kubrick legends. But here to separate truth from fiction (and lunar myths) is this dazzling foray through the great man’s work, housed in the suitably symmetrical surrounds of the Design Museum and door-matted by a patch of that famous orange carpet from ‘The Shining’. Fittingly, you’ll need umpteen visits just to take it all in.
For a few glorious months in ’20s America, spiritualists, magicians and scientists were locked in a fevered struggle for the truth about life after death. Escapologist Harry Houdini was hellbent on debunking medium Mina Crandon, so he embarked on a series of experiments trying to replicate the ectoplasm-spouting effects of her seances. But, as the Wellcome Collection’s ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ ingeniously shows, Houdini and Crandon were spooks of a feathe.
How do you sum up one of the world’s most popular cultural phenomenons; an art movement that’s lasted for hundreds of years and continues to grow, taking in video games, cinema, art and literature, with countless thousands of practitioners and millions upon millions of devoted fans. The answer, when it comes to the British Museum’s ‘Manga’ exhibition, is, well, you don’t.
From the stylised pastel posters for the V&A’s latest show, you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole exhibition’s designed to be some selfie-obsessed millennial’s wet dream. A show built for Instagram. But then you see the first exhibit – a toilet – and you realise that this is serious business.
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