Tag Archives: New Statesman

The Siege Of Sidney Street

My review of the Museum of London Dockland’s exhibition on the Siege of Sidney Street can be read in the New Statesman.

For once, I have little more to add. It’s an excellent exhibition and I recommend heading to Docklands before it ends in April. For more on the siege, you can see Pathe newsreel footage here or read Caroline’s article here.

Or you can watch a clip from the 1960 movie loosely based on the events.

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Magic mushrooms in Georgian London

I have always considered Green Park to be the dullest of all central London parks. Look. There’s really nothing there. It’s just a very big lawn.

But twas not always this way. High Society, the Wellcome Collection’s superb new exhibition on drugs in culture – which I recently reviewed in New Statesman – includes a great story from 1799 concerning a doctor, Everard Brande, who was called to the London house of a family suffering from some form of poisoning.

Concerned for his sick family, the father had gone out to seek help but was soon found in a confused state, unable to remember where he was going or why. He was rescued by neighbours and eventually the doctor pieced the story together.

The family had been out gathering mushrooms in Green Park, which they had cooked into a broth, and this had upon the parents and four children an extraordinary effect. All were giddy – with high pulse rates and intense breathing – and all were seeing things. While the adults seemed struck by a morbid fear of death, eight-year-old Edward ‘was attacked by fits of immoderate laughter’ and his staring pupils were massively dilated.

After treatment from Dr Brande, the family recovered (aka came down). I’ll never see Green Park in quite the same way again. I’m sure they didn’t. 

For more, see Michael Jay‘s excellent accompanying book.

Jeremy Deller’s Baghdad car at the Imperial War Museum

If the V&A’s latest exhibition demonstrates that big can be beautiful, the new acquisition at the Imperial War Museum shows that small can be profound.

It’s a car, badly damaged and barely recognisable, that was caught in a suicide bomb blast in Baghdad in 2007. The artist Jeremy Deller got hold of it and toured it across America on the back of a truck in the company of a US soldier and an Iraqi citizen for a piece entitled It Is What It Is. Now, shorn of any artistic element, it is on display at the Imperial War Museum. My review in the New Statesman can be read here.

After interviewing Deller, I avoided reading too much about the car before I wrote the piece other than this by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian. Jones, I think, slightly overdoes his praise – is it really true that ‘a dismembered body is what you immediately think of when you come into the museum and see a car’? – while the commentators beneath the line seem obessessed with the pointless and hoary argument about ‘what is art’.

They’ll never be able to answer that question from behind their computer screens because this compelling and thought-provoking piece needs to be seen on location and in context to be fully appreciated. It’s a fine and valuable addition to the IWM’s collection and makes a fascinating footnote in the history of war art.

Oh, and Jeremy Deller is one of the nicest famous people I have ever interviewed, right up there with Graham Taylor, the former England manager, belittled turnip and little appreciated ballet enthusiast.

Skin at the Wellcome Collection

My review of the Wellcome Collection‘s new exhibition Skin is in the New Statesman this week. Read it here.

Cunningly, I snuck the key phrase into the very opening paragraph:

‘Generally, museums put on exhibitions so that people can learn about things they don’t already know. The Wellcome Collection does almost the reverse: it prefers to start with something that is familiar – in this case, skin – and make it unfamiliar.’

Skin is another very good exhibition from the Wellcome, who stand almost unique among British galleries and museums as a body that is so rich they have no requirement to go cap-in-hand to the public purse or to private sponsors, and consequently have no need or desire to dumb down or exhibit tedious ‘blockbusters’ (I’m looking at you, British Museum) in a bid to pull a cash-and-existence-justifying audience through the door.

Few establishments are so fortunate and few curators would know what to do with themselves if given this sort of creative and intellectual freedom. 

Arts funding is going to take a proper kicking over the next few years. The Wellcome Collection will provide rare shelter from the storm, and one with free wi-fi, a bookshop and Peyton & Byrne cakes. What more can you ask for?

Magnificent Maps at the British Library

The British Library currently has an excellent new exhibition about maps called Magnificent Maps. I reviewed it for New Statesman (get me), and tried to focus on the sort of political aspects of the maps on display that would appeal to the generally Labour-supporting readers of the New Statesman, seeking any sort of diversion from the electoral massacre they had recently witnessed.

Diamond Geezer also took inspiration from contemporary politics with his review. He wins, I think.

The highlight of the exhibition for many Londoners will undoubtedly be Stephen Walter’s incredible idiosyncratic The Island, which you can study in detail here. This is a very personal and witty look at London by an artist. I particularly like the rather condescending but still satisfying comment he puts next to Herne Hill – ‘If I lived south of the river it would be here’. What finer praise could a North Londoner offer?

If you like maps a lot, you should also check out the hand-drawn gallery at Londonist. A little bird tells me that these may soon get a museum exhibition of their very own.