At the Hayward Gallery at the moment (from whose website all the photos of photos are pinched, like the one above, but its reviewing so I think its probably fine) are two shows, Diane Arbus: In the Beginning and Kader Attia: The Museum of Emotion. I shall start with the first which frankly I prefer. It is indeed very good. You have until 6th May (for both I think) but I certainly recommend Arbus, especially if you are a photography fan.
The photographs are all black and white from the 50s and 60s, and all from New York and New Jersey. Arbus has a thing from performer, particularly circus performers and what are charmingly called female impersonators. The gentleman above, who is the poster image for the show is a prime example. He goes by the superb moniker of Mr Dracula.
Arbus uses black and white very well, particularly a strong light contrast. So most of the photos have a similar trick of the centre figure lit but with darkness particularly in the lower right and right of the image, so you get these figures emerging from the gloom. It is difficult to adequately explain. Just go and see it.
The show has been curated. In the two galleries that this show occupies these pillars have been erected and as you can see above each picture placed on its own pillar. Actually you get two on a pillar, one on each side. This is a very good idea, and gives each picture its own its own space. Congratulations to whoever thought these up. The pillars are also different sizes depending on whether the photo are landscape or portrait.
The photos themselves are very personal and individual capturing the character and feel of the individual in a way that photography doesn't quite often do. So you get drag queens in their dressing room, people in their living rooms, on the street. One of my favourites was simply called "Girl on the street looking up". That is what you get but there is a loving humanity too them. Conjours up a place and a time very strongly. Photography often leaves me called, as they often for me a least, lack an emotional punch. There is no place to put yourself in the picture. These though allow you in somehow. Very strong.
On now to Attia;s exhibition which as the name suggests "The Museum of Emotion" is basically a fake museum. Some of the individual pieces I quite liked. For example a sort of flattened wooden bowl, with slashes of silver (above left), and a sort of daggery statuey figure, again flecked with silver. They were my strongest things in her show.
She really goes for the theme in the main room, with large metal shelving displaying distorted wooden carvings of various figures and on each shelves various political pamphlets. Along one wall wooden cabinets with various things made from or depicting ammunition or weapons (above right). I always thought that doing an exhibition like this of a fake museum, or fake archaeological finds would be a good and interesting idea. Damien Hurst thought the same, he did it at Venice at the last Biennial. Having seen it though it has surface interest. Some of the individual pieces are very well conceived and interesting, and the message of colonial exploitation is a worthy one. Frankly though I found myself wishing that I was seeing an actual display in the V&A or the British Museum. The concept is not enough, I'm afraid, to sustain the experience.
The ticket gets you in for both shows so you might as well go round it. Maybe you will disagree with me.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.