The best museum exhibitions in London
Holland Park is pretty special right now. Pale pink cyclamens, deep red acers, crispy leaves just starting to fall. Hell, I even saw a peacock on its morning stroll. But Earth’s Edenic charms have never been enough for the human race. We want more: we want Mars.
Fantastical. Fairytale. Magical. Lot of words are used to describe the photography of Tim Walker, but rarely this one: sex. Yet as this exuberant solo exhibition at the V&A proves, the British photographer’s special brand of surrealism, honed over decades working for fashion magazines, is far from saccharine innocence.
Here’s Richard Nixon as a kind of Nazified American Eagle, his bloody talons digging the heart out of Indo-China. Here’s a woman dressed up as the Statue of Liberty, boredly smoking a fag. Here’s an Egyptian hieroglyph made of bullets and hand grenades. There’s savagery and savage humour in this remarkable show of 100 posters and 70 magazines produced between 1966 and 1992 by Cuba’s state-run OSPAAAL, the snappily named ‘Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America’.
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).
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