Elmgreen and Dragset, Whitechapel Gallery

‘Wow did there used to be a public swimming pool here?’ my friend asked. A whiff of chlorine hit us as we entered the spacious white room with stained walls and tiled floors- an abandoned swimming pool stood before us, empty aside from bits of dust and debris. On the wall is a sign relating the history of the pool, beginning with its founding in 1901 thanks to generous funding from a Victorian philanthropist, through to its closing during Thatcher’s time and ultimately  its sale for ‘luxury redevelopment.’ The pool was apparently where David Hockney got the inspiration for his first drawings of swimming pools and it had even featured in a novel.  It all sounded fascinating (perhaps a little too fascinating).  Indeed it was all fiction.  The pool is the creation of Danish/Norwegian art duo, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, most well known in the UK for their sculpture of the Boy on the Rocking Horse for the forth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

The Whitechapel Pool

Their swimming pool, in common with many exhibits in the exhibition is a social commentary.  This is not the glamorous, inviting pool of Hockney’s work but a pool that used to be for the people but has been closed down and privatised.  Rising gentrification has led to a loss of public places of enjoyment and indeed general welfare.  Lying by the side of the pool is the abandoned carseat of a luxury car (the work is beautifully cast in bronze- it is very tactile and hard to believe that it is not covered in soft leather).

Pregnant White Maid, Aluminium, stainless steel, clothes.

Other works in the exhibition include a sculpture of a young boy staring at a gun and even more eerily one of a boy in school uniform sitting crouched by the fireplace; nearby stands a maid hands behind her back and heavily pregnant.  The viewer can weave a whole story here.  Not all is misery and sadness though-there are touches of humour throughout, notably in the double pair of Levi jeans and Calvin Klein underpants left hurriedly on the floor.  There is plenty to explore and think about here and the craftsmanship is highly skilled and beautiful.

This is How we Bite Our Tongue is at Whitechapel Art Gallery until 13th January 2019.

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Frieze and Tomorrow

It is Frieze week in London which means that the whole contemporary art world goes into overdrive and all the modern and contemporary art galleries hold events and exhibitions around what has become one of the world’s biggest and most successful art fairs, Frieze.

Last night I went to the opening of Frieze Masters, a more sedate and less showy affair than Frieze itself but with stunning works of art ranging from Antiquities to Breugel to Basquiat.  I moved on to a private view of Tomorrow, an exhibition by Danish and Norweigian artists Elmgreen and Dragset held at the V&A.  This duo were responsible for a wonderful golden boy rocking horse on the ‘fourth plinth’ in Trafalgar Square and they have established a name internationally for their witty, innovative work.

The V&A commissioned Elmgreen and Dragset to create a major site specific installation covering five rooms.  The artists have transformed the gallery into a South Kensington apartment belonging to an elderly, failed architect: the ficticious Norman Swann.  We, the viewers/guests, are welcomed to the apartment by elegantly clad butlers, and are invited to snoop around the drawing room, bedroom, study etc and examine the books, paintings, photos, pillboxes by the bedside, clothes and private papers of the occupant conjuring up a distinct image of his personality.  All I can say is, these Nordic boys must have had immense fun working on this project- I thoroughly enjoyed meandering through the rooms and musing on Norman Swann’s life.  The exhibition runs to the beginning of January and is well worth a visit.

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