With the UK advancing along its ‘Roadmap out of lockdown’, it’s hard not to be excited about the prospect of visiting exhibitions in person again, albeit with a range of COVID safety restrictions still in place. But in all the excitement of reopening galleries (and the chance to see other human beings), one should try not to forget about all of the great things arts practitioners and organisations have achieved in recent months, even under these most exceptional circumstances.
In this article, we take a London-focused look at some recent, ongoing and upcoming events and activities organised by those in the industry who have continued to create and programme great art throughout lockdown. Importantly, while we’re talking about just a handful of people, galleries and institutions here, the real number of art world lockdown heroes is unquantifiable. We couldn’t hope to capture it all in one article, so this is just a small sampling of what has been going on in just one city lately.
Work by Rachel Jones acquired by ICA MIAMI
Rachel Jones, “A Sliced Tooth”, 2020. Oil pastel, oil stick on canvas, 161 x 328 cm (63,39 x 129,13 in) © Rachel Jones. Courtesy Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg. Photo: Eva Herzog.
In February, A Sliced Tooth (2020) by London artist Rachel Jones was acquired by ICA Miami for their permanent collection. Represented by Thaddaeus Ropac, Jones’ work centres around an exploration of her own identity in relation to society’s readings of the black body throughout history. Her abstract works are deeply personal, informed by her research into the depiction of black figures in the arts from the eighteenth century to present.
“I try to use colour to describe black bodies. I want to translate all that lust for self-expression into a language that exists outside of words, and instead relates to seeing and feeling with your eyes.” — Rachel Jones.
This is the first of Jones’ works to be acquired by a US museum but as a significant new voice in abstraction, it is likely to be the first of many.
Not Vital, “Tian Tian”, 2019. Oil on canvas, framed and glazed, 120 x 90 cm (47,24 x 35,43 in), Frame – 138,5 x 108,5 x 8.5 cm (54,53 x 42,72 x 3,35 in), 20 kg (NV 2069). Courtesy Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg.
In addition to celebrating a major acquisition for one of their represented artists, the Thaddaeus Ropac team in London are currently preparing for the public opening of two exhibitions on Tuesday, 13th April: Not Vital: Portraits and Robert Rauschenberg: Night Shades and Phantoms.
Many of the works in Not Vital: Portraits have rarely been exhibited before – if at all – owing to their personal connection for the artist. Not has previously felt that these pieces were too personal to be seen, but is now ready to show them to the wider public. This exhibition coincides with another exhibition by Not Vital which is running at the Museum der Moderne in Austria until June 2021, and is also a worthy prelude to the artist’s postponed installation of an aluminium “House to Watch the Sunset” at the Venice Architectural Biennale on 29th August.
Night Shades and Phantoms by Robert Rauschenberg, meanwhile, revolves around two series of works on aluminium produced during his decade-long experimentation with metal. The quality of each piece’s surface makes the works elusive and transient, featuring composites of photographs from his travels overlain by gestural marks, snapshots of urban life and historical and cultural artifacts.
Both exhibitions are scheduled to run until May 2021.
First ever major UK exhibition on Thomas Becket to open at the British Museum
Reliquary pendant showing Becket as archbishop. England, 15th century. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Info: This pendant may once have contained Becket’s relics. The reverse shows an image of St John the Baptist.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket’s murder inside Caterbury Cathedral in 1170 shook the Middle Ages. Next month (April 2021), the British Museum will play host to the UK’s first major exhibition on Becket’s life, death and legacy – Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint – which will run from the 22nd April until the 22nd August 2021. The exhibition’s centrepiece will be the extraordinary loan of an entire medieval stained-glass window from Canterbury Cathedral.
Becket’s story will be told through an array of over 100 stunning objects brought together for the first time, including rare loans from across the UK and Europe. The exhibition will chart Becket’s remarkable rise from ordinary beginnings to becoming one of the most powerful figures in England. It will also look at his enduring but divisive legacy with art and relics from across more than 500 years of history.
Leonie Seliger, Director of Stained Glass Conservation at Canterbury Cathedral, said: “The Miracle Windows are medieval versions of graphic novels illustrating the experiences of ordinary people. They greeted the pilgrims at the culmination of their journey to Becket’s shrine with images that would be reassuring and uplifting. The window that will be shown at the British Museum is only one of seven that remain, and they are one of Canterbury Cathedral’s greatest treasures.”
The EY Exhibition: The Making of Rodin
Auguste Rodin, Limbs, Circa 1880–1917. Plaster and terracotta. Musée Rodin Photo © agence photographique du musee Rodin – Jerome Manoukian.
A major new exhibition of work by August Rodin (1840-1917) begins this spring at Tate Modern, opening on 29th April and running until the end of October 2021. Although Rodin is best known for his bronze and marble sculptures, he personally only worked as a modeller, capturing movement, emotion, light and volume in pliable materials such as clay which were then cast in plaster. Featuring over 200 works, many of which have never been shown outside France, The EY Exhibition: The Making of Rodin will offer unique insight into Rodin’s ways of thinking and making.
The EY Exhibition will illustrate how Rodin created work that mirrored the uncertainties, divides and complexities of the modern age by breaking the rules of classical sculpture and creating a dramatically different image of the human body. Visitors can look forward to making fresh discoveries that reveal how Rodin transformed modern sculpture. Musée Rodin have offered Tate unprecedented access to their collection, allowing for a unique collaboration which will allow UK audiences to appreciate the originality of iconic works such as The Thinker (1881) and The Three Shades (1886).
Independent Collectors X Zabludowicz Collection: Marianna Simnett
Marianna Simnett, The Needle and the Larynx, 2016 (still). Courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection.
Back in February, Zabludowicz Collection collaborated with digital platform Independent Collectors on the 13th installment of their AT HOME WITH IC series. This series was initiated during lockdown, and features video works that address the theme of “crisis”, making it the perfect opportunity to share British artist Marianna Simnett’s visceral video work, Needle and the Larynx (2016).
Although this online event has now ended, art lovers can still watch the IGTV recording of Marianna Simnett’s book lauch or read more about the artist and the organisations involved. Simnett is currently showing another of her works, Faint with Light(2016) as part of the group exhibition A Fire in My Belly at Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin. Later this year, she will take part in group exhibitions at the British Art Show 9 and The Drawing Room, London.
Zabludowicz Collection is currently closed due to lockdown, but is set to reopen on Thursday 20th May with their ongoing exhibition by Trulee Hall and a new exhibition, Zabludowicz Collection Invites: Tal Regev. A virtual walkthrough of the Trulee Hall exhibition, scanned and produced by The Net Gallery, is available to view, here.