20 May 2021 Zoom in on these exhibitions by some of today's most revered artists, underrated historical figures and chroniclers of contemporary culture.
Photography fans rejoice. As London’s art world opens its doors for a tentative post-pandemic London Gallery Weekend, committed followers of what the New York Times critic Andy Grundberg calls “the remarkable rise of photography from the margin of art to its vital centre” are in for a treat. Photography, which only had its first major institutional show in London in 2003, is in rude health this summer. London’s most exciting contemporary artists, misunderstood figures from the past, and the most disruptive global voices of today, are now finally gaining art’s spotlight. Here are some of the highlights.
Vinca Petersen: Raves and Riots
3 June - 10 July, Edel Assanti, 46 Mortimer Street, W1W 7RL
Vinca Petersen had an itinerant childhood; born in Korea, she lived in Sweden and Romania before her family settled in the UK. By 17, she had left home in favour of a London squat, and quickly became immersed in the fabled rave scene that characterised Britain’s youth throughout the 1990s, before the techno and ecstasy-infused lifestyle was outlawed by the British authorities.
Petersen lived a nomadic lifestyle; travelling Europe, setting up sound systems in remote locations on the outskirts of cities, evading the authorities, and occasionally modelling for i-D and Face. Her diaristic photographs from the era, titled, Raves and Riots, is now on show at Fitzrovia’s Edel Assanti, Petersen’s first solo exhibition at the gallery. The works pay testament to an era of youth culture that now has mythic hedonistic status, but remains undocumented.
JR: Eye to the World
4 June-3 July, Pace Gallery, 6 Burlington Gardens, W1S 3ET
The French large-scale muralist photographer JR, is about to launch two major commercial shows at Pace Gallery in London and New York, alongside a retrospective at London’s Saatchi gallery.
London's Pace show will explore JR’s most recent exploration of racial poverty and police enforcement in America, with never before seen work from the series Tehachapi (2019), a documentary of JR's experiences with inmates of a maximum-security prison in California. We will also see The Gun Chronicles: A Story of America (2018), a video mural charting JR’s encounters with gun collectors and law enforcement officials in St Louis, Dallas and Washington DC.
The Saatchi exhibition traces JR's teenage years as an anonymous graffiti artist in Paris who became known for his street shots of young men from Les Bosquets, a notorious housing project in the Parisian suburb of Montfermeil. JR then made world headlines for Face 2 Face (2007)—portraits of men and women on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide in Jerusalem pasted together onto the dividing wall. JR has since created vast and monumental optical illusions in the Nairobi slums and the Louvre Pyramid.
Until 13 June, Maureen Paley, 60 Three Colts Lane, E2 6GQ
For almost 20 years, Peter Hujar photographed the nocturnal drag movement of New York City—what might be seen as a precursor to the non-binary activist movement of today. That work, which could not be more current, finally goes on show at Maureen Paley.
Hujar left his abusive New Jersey home at 16 to live with his English teacher, Daisy Aldan, who encouraged him to seriously pursue photography. He became a student of denizens such as Diane Arbus, and, between 1970 to 1987, immersed himself in the city's wildly creative drag scene, which remained at the margins of New York’s artistic society. Hujar was hellbent on capturing how this emergent art form was able to reinvent gender beyond female impersonation, employing an improvisational style of performance that worked in the lineage of ancient Greek theatre, European Surrealism and Hollywood musicals. His images reflect the layers and multivalencies incumbent in drag; here, artifice, fashion, narrative and gender are held high by the clarifying and combinational power of still photography.
Until 5 June, Lisson Gallery, 67 Lisson Street, NW1 5DA
John Akomfrah, the 64-year-old British artist of Ghanaian descent, has made a career, and been awarded a CBE, for his ability to create impressionist meditations using video and photography. But, after decades in the game, this may be his crowning moment.
At Lisson Gallery, Akomfrah is showing Four Nocturnes for the first time in the city he calls home; a three-screen video installation he first premiered at the acclaimed Ghanaian Pavilion during the 2019 Venice Biennale. Spanning 50 minutes, Four Nocturnes is perhaps Akomfrah’s best articulation of the themes that have driven his career: our relationship to nature, the driving forces of migration (human and animal), and the hidden, abstracted histories of colonialism, slavery and social injustice.
Alongside Four Nocturnes, Akomfrah will show for the first time a series of new photo-text works. Titled Our Skin is a Monument, the images were created over the past year, responding directly to the protests that took place in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, in the shadow of the pandemic, and whilst former US president Donald Trump sought re-election in America with the most racially-divisive political campaign in recent Western memory. This photography might be called iconoclastic, focusing coolly on the depiction of people of colour, made eternal in the white marble of imperialist monuments and sculptures across London, such as the Albert Memorial in London’s Kensington Gardens. Almost a year since a statue of Edward Colston met its end in Bristol, Akomfrah’s images could not be more pressing.
Until 6 June, Lehmann Maupin, 4 Cromwell Place, SW7 2JE
Robin Rhode’s first solo exhibition in London since 2011 comprises a series of photographs produced in the humble backyard of the South African artist's family home in Johannesburg. Rhode uses a blend of photography, performance, drawing and set design to create imaginary worlds in such a humdrum, domestic space. His improvisational, outdoor studio in which the muted concrete walls become a backdrop for fantasy.
The work on show at Lehmann Maupin was made over the course of a decade. As Rhode’s title implies, The Backyard is My World explores the meaning of home at a unique moment when, as many of us know all too well, our domestic space has become a singular point of focus; a private stage in which almost every aspect of our lives has played out, intentionally or not.
Herbert List: Metamorphoses
4 June - 30 June, Magnum Photos, 63 Gee Street, EC1V 3RS
Just in time for London Gallery Weekend, Magnum will reopen its gallery space in Clerkenwell with an exhibition of works by Herbert List, the German fashion photographer who imbued Surrealism into his highly classical practice. The show, titled Metamorphoses, is List’s first UK show in more than five years.
With pressing modern relevance, the exhibition explores how List—an Athens resident after escaping Nazi Germany as a refugee—used the details of Greek sculptures as a way to explore the bodies of men.
The images “reflect List’s quest for freedom at a time when the world was going through intensely violent political turmoil,” says Nicolas Smirnoff, Magnum Gallery's director.