What the critics said: A take on ten exhibitions in UK museums and galleries in 2013

By Ben Miller | 23 December 2013

Critic's choice: What the reviewers said about ten major shows in UK museums and galleries in 2013


Glam – The Performance of Style, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, February 8 – May 12

An image of a painting of a man and a woman sitting by a window with a cat
© David Hockney
In a year when David Bowie returned to seismic effect, Tate Liverpool took on the period from the early 70s when art, music and culture combined. Often artificial yet resoundingly influential, this decadent tale even featured a portrait of Bowie being temporarily overshadowed by a howling dog.

They said: “There is installation art, too. Chaimowitz's Celebration? Real Life (1972) had all the expected Glam paraphernalia: mirror balls, strobes, candles, silver walls with scattered kitsch. Bowie was blasting out of the PA: “Oh, you pretty things…don't you know you're driving your mamas and papas insane?”, which seemed to sum it all up. It would have benefited from a couple of retro colour TVs replaying TOTP videos of the era, but you can’t have everything.” Liverpool Confidential (read full review.)

We said: “Between 1958-62 there were the decadent tableaux of Jack Smith. 1972 saw the arrival of Nice Style, a performance collective who posed as a rock band, sans music. Two years later David Lamelas pulls a similar stunt, posing for the camera with an electric guitar. And who might have thought that Gilbert and George could be bracketed in with the glam era? They are and it works.” Mark Sheerin (read full review.)


Valentino: Master of Couture, Somerset House, London, closed March 3


A photo of a glamorous white dress on a podium in a grand darkened gallery
© Peter MacDiarmid
A three-section gauntlet of glamour on the life and shimmering works of a haute couture master. More than 130 designs included natty numbers worn by Grace Kelly and Gwyneth Paltrow.

They said: “The centrepiece is 'The Catwalk' which, in a reversal of roles, puts visitors in the place of a model on a 60-metre runway to view an 'audience' dressed in Valentino gowns, dresses, trouser suits, minis, capes and kaftans.” Time Out London (read full review.)

We said: “The couture-clad mannequins on display at Somerset House flank a 60-metre catwalk which stretches throughout the Embankment Galleries. Unfortunately, the theatrical staging has resulted in an over-crowded display. But the exhibits themselves are exquisite.” Rhiannon Starr (read full review.)


Laura Morrison / Maite Zabala, Void, Void Derry, Derry-Londonderry, March 23 –  May 3

A photo of a yellow and brown wall with the imprint of a tropical tree visible within it
© Culture24
Monumental, mysterious beach scenes, seven-sided sculptures and huge octagonal diamonds made for an elusive exhibition from this pair of Goldsmiths fine art graduates in an impressive City of Culture show.

They said: “Both Morrison and Zabala seem to use space as a tactic, in terms of presenting their work, and in allowing room for the viewer to consider what is there. Thematically, the two rooms seem to have little in common, but each exhibition shifts and intrigues and repositions, leaving the viewer subtly unsettled. Bright and interesting futures seem assured for them both.” Dominic Kearney, Culture Northern Ireland (read full review.)

We said: “Ciarán O Dochartaigh, who curates, has taken the bold decision to keep things minimal, while Nina Wakefield, essayist, has done little to elucidate and plenty to further obfuscate with an experimental text about submarines… significance and relevance are still, perhaps, like the artists themselves, emerging. But you cannot fault the ambition of the pair from Goldsmiths, nor the daring of this key Derry gallery during City of Culture.” Mark Sheerin (read full review.)


David Bowie, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, March 23 – August 11

A photo of a man playing a guitar against a black and red screen on a stage
© Richard Moss
Always likely to be another smash hit for Bowie, even obsessives might not have anticipated the success of an exhibition where tickets were in demand throughout the five-month run.

They said: “It turns out that the most thrilling major musical event of 2013 is a museum exhibition. There will be many who find that fact a depressing indictment of the stagnation of modern culture. But that's not Bowie's fault, nor is it the V&A's. David Bowie Is, as ever, just waiting for the rest of the rock and roll world to catch up.” Simon Price, The Quietus (read full review.)

We said: “Put it all together and it’s pure unadulterated immersion in the Bowie myth and artifice. But the final space delivers the knock-out blow. Ziggy Stardust body suits and flamboyant Kansai Yamamoto creations for the Aladdin Sane tour stand within a vast gauze cinema screen. By the time it gets to the excerpt from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, DA Pennebaker’s 1973 film, the volume is ramped up so high it’s like you’re in the crowd at the Hammersmith Odeon.” Richard Moss (read full review).


David Batchelor – Flatlands, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, May 4 – July 14

A photo of a series of black squares with colourful shadows on a piece of squared paper
© David Batchelor. Photo: Thierry Bal
A step into the somewhat unknown for fans of one of Scotland’s best artists, as Batchelor – best known for his 3D installations – enjoyed a major survey of his drawings and paintings.

They said: “The blob paintings are robust, serious but somehow also incredibly funny. You could talk for hours about their art historical precedents, while basking in their saturated colour, and you’d be right to make these connections. But I also like to remember they are made by the same artist who has scoured the streets of King’s Cross for industrial leftovers and spent hours in supermarket checkouts processing hundreds of bottles of bleach and toilet cleaner for their jewel-like containers.” Moira Jeffrey, The Scotsman (read full review.)

We said: “These mixed media designs in pen, pencil, pastel, tape, spray paint, gouache and acrylic are plans for objects that will never be created, so they are unconstrained by either reality or practicality. Alongside them are a series of drawings and plans for actual physical works created by Batchelor, including the plan for Disco Mécanique at the 2008 Folkestone Triennial, a sculpture created from thousands of pairs of sunglasses, and Slugfest, a series of liquorice allsort-like black tubes with fluorescent lights.” Jenni Davidson (read full review.)


Aquatopia – The Imaginary of the Ocean Deep, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, July 20 – September 22

A photo of a woman with dark spaghetti-like material coming out of her mouth at a table
© Courtesy Juergen Teller
Although it’s since moved nearer the sea by opening at Tate St Ives, this monster-festooned encounter arrived in distinctly landlocked Nottingham. Lucien Freud painted a leaking squid, Spartacus Chetwynd reinterpreted a print of a tentacular sea beast pleasuring a woman and Juergen Teller captured Bjork gorging on spaghetti.

They said: “With its exhibition spaces entirely bathed in blue watery light, Nottingham Contemporary takes an unusual approach, exploring the ocean as myth in a trans-historical, cultural-political voyage across new and old art.” Jackie Wullschlager, ft.com (read full review).

We said:
“Of particular note are the etchings by Gustave Doré based on the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge. His prints, which glow with eerie moonlight, capture the roiling depths with exquisitely sharp detail. This series exudes an air of mystery and mayhem; it is a masterclass in suspending disbelief.” Mark Sheerin (read full review).

  • Continues at Tate St Ives, St Ives, until January 26 2014.


Jeffery Camp: The Way to Beachy Head, Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, July 20 – October 2

A photo of a painting full of aqua colours with the resemblance of a blue ocean and sea creatures
© Jeffery Camp, courtesy Art Space Gallery, London
Pronouncing Jeffery Camp a painter’s painter might seem a backhanded compliment. But at the age of 90, this lover of landscape and figurative art received major gallery exposure and critical admiration in an autumn show drawing on the most dramatic aspects of every season.

They said: “The paintings flow, they climb, they plunge with colour, stippled, hatched, dots, overprinted and fine lines give a lyricism to his subject. And the composition; the vertigo-inducing cliffs, the magnificent hugeness and changing colour of the sea. Look closely or you will miss birds, a hang glider, the moon, a lighthouse far below.” Lauris Morgan-Griffiths, Hastings Online Times (read full review.)

We said: “Camp’s ability to conjure a sense of magic, danger, vertigo and beauty seems to lie at the heart of his appeal, but there is also an elaborate playfulness in his work - and evidence of an accomplished and detailed painter of flowers and foliage as well as his mystical and corporeal figures.” Richard Moss (read full review.)


Roger Hiorns, The Calder, Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield, August 30 – November 3

An image of a naked young man sitting on a piece of industrial metal in a warehouse
© Gabriel Szabo / Guzelian. Image courtesy Roger Hiorns / Hepworth Wakefield
As the opening salvo in a huge contemporary art space converted from a former textile mill by the ever-enterprising Hepworth, Roger Hiorns’ Youth series, started by the artist during the 1990s, featured fire and nudity.

They said: “Now the shirt's off too, and a naked youth – vulnerably slight, a figure lingering somewhere between boy and man – is, with an air of complete self-containment, walking towards a bench, the kind you might see on a suburban train platform. He climbs on it, sits atop its back. Somehow a flame begins to pour from the bench's seat. He contemplates it silently. After a few moments, the fire disappears. The youth climbs down, moves on.” Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian (read full review.)

We said: “The naked young man contemplates the flames silently, his body completely still. He only shifts as the flames splutter into nothing and then he strolls, casually, to several stainless steel tables – the kind seen in professional kitchens – and the ritual begins again. The initial shock of nudity quickly becomes normal. Which is both unsurprising (the idea of removing clothing is invariably more frightening than actually being naked) and a relief, as embarrassment would render the piece pointless.” Sarah Jackson (read full review.)


Jeremy Deller: All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, opened October 12

A black and white photo of a man in a mining uniform next to a person in a glam costume
© Dennis Hutchinson 2013
Deller’s stirring exhibition had local resonance thanks to its repeated referencing of the Industrial Revolution. Two self-made men – one a blacksmith and self-taught painter, the other a professional wrestler from a Welsh mining family – became unlikely co-stars.

They said: “Images and ideas reoccur throughout the exhibition; the apocalyptic fires in John Martin’s The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are repeated in the video of a steelworks in 1945, and again in a mural behind a jukebox full of folk songs and industrial sounds. It is through this repetition that Deller is able to finely tune his narrative.” Ali Gunn, The Skinny (read full review.)

We said: “This a show in which every exhibit bears weight, from the blood red apocalypse painted by John Martin to the glossy 1945 promo film for the renascent British steel industry. The result is educational, as clear and edifying as a lesson in A-level history. Whether or not you studied this period at school, you can learn something from the current show in Manchester, even as you enjoy it.” Mark Sheerin (read full review.)

  • Continues until January 19 2014.


Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, opened November 29 2013

A photo of the members of a cult in white hoods and gowns standing in front of chairs
© Hugo Glendinning 2013
The largest retrospective of the brothers grims’ work for a decade featured tiny model Nazis and Klan members wearing Birkenstocks. Whether it stood up to it or not, this was an exhibition under plentiful scrutiny.

They said: “The Chapmans' art is directed at something that could be probed – fear of death, of nothingness, of the impacted pile-up of hell. But it misses the spot every time. Perhaps this is deliberate; perhaps this shortfall is where the jokes are meant to enter in. Yet the humour is never fulfilled. The show has that prolific energy for which the brothers are known, but although the works come at you in a torrent, each remains stolidly inert.” Laura Cumming, The Guardian (read full review.)

We said: “In the entrance or exit is a vitrine with a pair of inbuilt gloved sleeves, as used by Hollywood scientists. The detritus within, splattered in paint, include a skull sticking out a very long tongue. This is death, getting in your face. Which is no less than you would expect from these artists. It is their strength and their weakness.” Mark Sheerin (read full review.)

  • Continues until February 9 2014.

What did you think? Leave a comment below.

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