Somerset House (London): One Morning, 2 Exhibitions

Hello again. Here I come to tell you some more about my trip to London during the August bank holiday weekend, packed with culture. So on Saturday 29th me and my dad stopped by Somerset House, a nice Neoclassical building on the Strand in London – just crossing the river from Waterloo train station. As it happens, Somerset house is free, and as we had never stopped by, we decided to go and see what it could offer. Turns out that week they had several temporary exhibitions going – the building is generally speaking an arts center and it works as a gallery/museum. As we were a bit short of time, we focused on 2 of the collections they were presenting- Unseen Waterloo: The Conflict Revisited, and Out of Chaos. Both of them I would recommend if you have the chance or come across them (the first one ended on August 31, but Out of Chaos should be there until December 13 2015). I will not go in too much details or give too much of a long overview, as both of them were based on art works, I swear I could spend ages on each piece…So I will try to give you a general idea of what both exhibitions presented and why they are worth while.

Unseen Waterloo: The Conflict Revisited

Exhibition Cover Image including one of the re-enactment drummers at Waterloo
Exhibition Cover Image including one of the re-enactment drummers at Waterloo

Obviously, you will remember earlier on this year Michael did a post in commemoration of the Battle of Waterloo 1815. However, this exhibition is not so much about the actual conflict, but the representation of itself. This is a collection of portraits produced by the artist Sam Faulker. He has been travelling to the site of the re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium since 2009 and taken pictures of the people taking part in the event. A few details about the photographer may come in handy. Sam Faulkner grew up in Norwich and graduated with a philosophy degree from king’s College london in 1994. He then became a reporter and photographer, which has driven a lot of his work to be related to warfare – he was in Afghanistan. Effectively, Faulkner has replaced the traditional artist drawing portraits of the soldiers on the spot, by taking pictures of these in full historical custom. These garments are created by the individuals, as accurately as possible from period paintings available and known to the public. In total, the exhibition presents 70 images, which are displayed on walls covered by Hainsworth fabric: the red woollen cloth that they used to dress the “red-coat” soldiers in 1815. ( And the cloth that still nowadays creates the garments of the Royal Guards). I thought this was a very nice detail; as all the pictures are portraits with a black background the red makes a nice visual break, and contextualises all the images in an actual physical way. The portraits include a variety of soldiers from different nationalities (British, French, German, Prussian, Dutch), including different regiments and ranks-from grenadiers to dragons, drum players and marechals. It truly brings alive the diversity amongst the troops and the kind of people who would take part in the war. It is a very original way of exploring warfare and its human face, while using modern techniques! Fresh and innovative.

 

Another example of the profiles this photographer was looking at and creating.
Another example of the profiles this photographer was looking at and creating.

Out of Chaos“Exploring a century of émigré history in London through the hidden treasures of the Ben Uri Collections”

Exhibition leaflet
Exhibition leaflet

 

They are currently holding this in the Indigo rooms, so the exhibition entrance is at the top and the you go downs the stairs for the display. This is also an art exhibition, so you will find paintings, portraits, but also carvings, and even more modern media – posters, film, etc. The exhibition is constituted of a main hall as you go in, followed by a brief introduction of what the project is about, a history timeline regarding Jewish movement and migration, then the topic of immigration in general, with a focus on the Jewish community, and finally the archive section at the end of the hall. In addition, there are 5 lateral rooms where the specific themed discussions take place.  The first room on the left discussed integration and introduction, so this is developed through the art works of the Yiddish artists settling in the East End of London and how they incorporated themselves to British society. The work displayed includes several artists such as Simeon Solomon, Lily Delissa and Alfred Wolmark. Then we move into the second room which goes through the time of conflict – First World War- and how this affected the Yiddish community. This is the section where they speak about the ‘Whitechapel Boys’, and their contribution to British modernism, with the works of David Bomberg, Mark Gertler and Isaac Rosenberg amongst others.

The third room drop us into the issues of Jewish identity and the rise of the Nazi regime. It also explores the subsequent movement of people from central/easter Europe into the western areas of the continent, particularly the UK. The works display are from Max Liebermann, Josef Herman and Emmanuel Levy and a few more. The fourth room on out left still covers the Yiddish community in the post-war period and its artistic development. This is a period for the bloom of abstract and conceptual work, and some of the pieces, I found quite interesting, perhaps even naive in a way. Look out for Leon Kossoff, Eva Frankfurther and Bernard Cohen. Finally the last room, (5) is at the end of the corridor on the right hand side. It is entirely dedicated on the new art, particularly since the recent turn of century. They also play a film about Ben Uri as a way of contextualising the room, the exhibition and what they believe to be the future of Yiddish art and its community in the UK.

What I thought was great of this exhibition, which perhaps the other one lacked, was the degree of interaction with the information displayed. I mean, you cannot interact a lot with a painting – apart from looking at it…- but they had incorporated some digital devices as well where you could explore further paintings in context of the ones in display, or where you could look into the artists with a bit more of detail. I thought that was useful. They also had several books around for the same purpose that you could used as a reference. In addition, we missed it but they did have talks and tours around the gallery, and evening events, so it was quite a dynamic environment.

One thing I found incredibly disappointing was the amount of people visiting either of these exhibitions. Morning/Lunch time on a saturday, bank holiday weekend, with bad weather, the city plagued with people everywhere, and I am sure we were alone at stages, at least in the Waterloo portraits, and with not much more company in the Ben Uri gallery. Considering that they were both free, small so not overwhelming at all, I thought they would deserve more attention! But in any case, they were enjoyable. If this has instigated you to go have a look, I will at least be pleased.

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