Thursday, February 21, 2013

London Art Things, reviewed.

Bringing you this week's instalment of London Things (what I have done.) 

It's been a good week for galleries. I went to see the Juergen Teller exhibition at the ICA with my friend Rachel on Wednesday, then yesterday my mum and I dropped into the National Portrait Gallery to see Marilyn Monroe, A British Love Affair. I hadn't been to either gallery before so just stepping onto the premises of each gave me thrills (for real. I really really love art galleries and the ICA is a particularly beautiful space to be; good light, nice floors.)

The Marilyn Monroe display was really lovely. It's a display rather than an exhibition, so just a small room of photos. We were expecting an exhibition seeing as it was featuring highly on the NPG's website last week but when we got there it was a struggle to even find it and we were beginning to think we'd missed it when we finally stumbled upon room 33 on the first floor. It was worth the hunt though, ever since I read Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates when I was a teenager I have been a little bit in love with Marilyn. I don't think I'd even seen any of her films at that point so I only knew of her on-screen magic by reputation, but at 15 I fell in love with what a beautiful mess she was. A fiery, determined, impossible mess who suffered from endometriosis and depression and men.

The display concentrates on Marilyn Monroe's relationship with British photographers throughout her career and starts with some of the very first photographs taken of her when she was 19. It then travels through her career and focuses heavily on the time that she spent in Britain filming The Prince and the Showgirl (the time depicted in My Week With Marilyn) mostly made up of publicity shots featured in magazines and behind the scenes documentary and a handful of straight-up portraiture. My favourites were the press shots by Larry Burrows, more famous probably for his graphic documentary of the Vietnam war than his celebrity photography.

We didn't really take the time to look around the rest of the NPG (we were hungry) but I'm planning to go back soon. Aside: Trafalgar Square! I didn't see any pigeons but a bloody big falcon flew right at my head. It was pretty cool.

Juergen Teller at the ICA was less lovely. If you don't know; Teller is a fashion photographer who shoots for the 'grittier' end of the market. He has been working in the fashion industry since the early 90s and pretty much changed the world of fashion photography. You know fashion photographs that feature nice clothes, models in pretty make up with their hair brushed and are beautifully lit? Once upon a time all fashion photos looked like that, it was a given that they had to look nice if they wanted to sell stuff. It sounds kind of quaint now. That's because of Juergen Teller. His photographs are (in the main) not pretty, they're weird and dirty and sleazy and horribly lit. He blasts his subjects with multiple flashes and as a result the photos look like they were taken with a cheap shitty automatic camera. They're not, they just look like that. I can't deny the huge impact that his style has had on photography, particularly fashion photography, or that he made fashion photography a more interesting genre than it was 20 years ago, but god do his photos make my head hurt. They're just really really ugly and the fact that they're of (often naked) celebrities just wasn't enough to make them interesting.

There were a handful of really beautiful pictures in the exhibition; this one of Bjork and her son is lovely and his more personal work in the upstairs gallery held my attention for a few minutes, but in general I got bored of playing 'whose penis/tits/anus is that?' pretty quickly. I mean, in theory I agree with this review that says a gigantic full-frontal picture (or three) of a 68 year Vivienne Westwood is interesting and raises all sorts of questions about femininity and ageing and our perception of beauty, it really really should. But standing in front of Vivienne's vag, all I could think was 'this photo is UGLY. Why has he used so much flash?' But in reading reviews it appears that I'm entirely alone in thinking that this exhibition was a bit shit. So there you go.

What I did enjoy was the coffee. And hanging with these cuties. Oh and the staff at the ICA are delightful.

Have you been to either of these? What did you think? Did you enjoy?

We're planning on taking the girls into town next week to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition before it closes. I keep seeing the posters on the underground and that fluffed up crow makes me think it's worth braving central London with two year olds for. And I've been thinking about trying to see the Valentino exhibition at Somerset House before it closes, what do you think? Worth a tenner and an indecent length of time spent on public transport?