Picks for summer

The Serpentine Pavilion

The Serpentine Gallery’s Pavilion, a mere stone’s throw from the South Ken campus, is perhaps one the best places to amp up the culture factor on a sunny summer’s day. It’s free, it’s outside (bang in the middle of Hyde Park), and it houses a caf. The Pavilion project was created to showcase the best in architecture and design, last year, was a kaleidoscope of bright colours, like stepping into a futuristic deconstructed stained glass window. This year, it’s gone monochrome; the Bjarke Ingels Group has created an ‘unzipped wall’. What seems like a straight tower flares out in a spiralling three dimensional space; a pyramid that’s been put through spin cycle. It’s built from stacked fibreglass bricks creating a structure that is surprisingly fluid and beautifully undulating. It’s functional too; the Park Nights programme is housed there which will showcase a line up of musicians, writers and performance artists.

Mary Heilmann

Mary Heilmann is that rare breed; a female abstract artist. Now in her seventies, she’s recently begun to find the big-time art world fame that eluded her for most of her career. In this retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery, her first full exhibition in the UK since 2001, Heilmann brings to London the colour, and effortless cool of the American West Coast. Her work, ranging from paintings, furniture, and ceramics is based on grids, architectural shapes filled with riotous, sunny colour. Each piece is autobiographical in some way, referencing everything and anything from her grandmother’s house in 1940s San Francisco, to surfing, doing acid trips, The Sex Pistols, and the mid century New Yorks arts scene.

Tate Modern Extension
Hayes Davidson and Herzog & de Meuron

Shakespeare 400 Events

This marks the 400th anniversary since Shakespeare’s death, in celebration of his work, events have been going on throughout 2016. You may already have seen A Midsummer’s Night Dream as staged by Doctor Who’s Russell T Davies, or the Hollow Crown, as starring the culturally omnipresent Benedict Cumberbatch on TV. Unsurprisingly, the Globe Theatre is leading the vanguard for events in London. A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Macbeth, and the Taming of the Shrew are all being staged in the summer. Additionally, Shakespeare’s Globe will be running a series of lectures, workshops , and other educational events exploring the work of Shakespeare in greater detail. There’s a great breadth of options, so if their website is well worth visiting.

In The Heights

Musicals may not be high art (in the case of Hamilton, this editor would vehemently disagree) but they are fun, and it would be hard to more fun than this. In the Heights is Lin Manuel Miranda’s (he of Hamilton fame) lesser known musical, essentially based around a love story set in the Washington Height’s, a rough area of New York, it’s a colourful, its music an eclectic mix of salsa, soul, hip-hop and R&B. Its feel-good, punchy grooves earned it three Olivier awards earlier this year, and a Tony award for Best Score during its Broadway run. As well as being a great night out in and of itself, it’s the perfect preparation for Hamilton’s arrival to the West End in October next year.

Picks of the past year

Absent

Site responsive performance is certainly something of an artistic niche. While I had occasionally come across the genre before, I had never really given the field a full and fair consideration nor was I particularly aware of any particular artist practicing it. Dreamthinkspeak’s Absent changed that for me. Probably best described as a walk-through experience like one might find at the London dungeon (but with none of the cheap fake blood or lack of merit), the time and effort devoted to site responsive work based in the Shoreditch Town Hall must have been truly staggering. A real revelation in what is artistically possible, Absent might not have been the best example of this surprising art form, but its individuality and its skill in totally enveloping the viewer left me feeling both genuinely enlightened and impressed which, given my usual cynicism, makes it my stand-out show of the past year.

Frank Auerbach

This sharp and biting retrospective from one of this country’s most revered and wonderful artists wowed from October to March at the often underappreciated Tate Britain. With work spanning from Auerbach’s early self-portraits to the landscapes from his Mornington Crescent studio, the vivid use of colour and strong textured canvasses strike home as truly unique in today’s cluttered world of contemporary art. In the same class as the revered Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, Auerbach truly is one of today’s great living artists and this exhibition powerfully and convincingly justifies his legendary status.

Painting the Modern Garden

Firmly in the Impressionism wheelhouse it may have been, and staid and comfortable compared to some of the modern art exhibitions on show this year, but no less joyfully exuberant for being so. It featured the greatest hits from Matisse, John Singer Sargent, Van Gogh, and more, and exhibited the greatest collection of Monets I have had the pleasure of seeing. It brought the sunshine of French and Spanish gardens to a gloomy February. It was the perfect exhibition save for the actual experience of going to see it; I missed the press view and went on another day with seemingly all of London, and their uncle. Even on a Tuesday afternoon, big name exhibitions can inspire the sort of crush that Oxford Street dreams of. All of which is to remind of two important lessons: a) never pass up an exhibition of Monets, no matter how many times you’ve seen a reproduction, seeing the paintings up close can be an experience, and b) if you want to go see a big-time exhibition, seriously, go to the press preview with your free ticket courtesy of FELIX Arts, no need to slum it with the hoi polloi, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Electronic Superhighway

This exhibition brought together 50 years of artists exploring the internet. It wove together sculpture, video, more painterly techniques, featuring everything from Pac-Man to internet spam karaoke. Showing the work of artists produced at the the birth of the internet to artists working now, it displayed our love affair with the world wide web, exploring its evolution from the romanticism of a hyperconnected world, to the Orwellian near-dystopia of constant surveillance, dipping into the evolution of video games, and the intricacies of internet chat rooms along the way. Like the internet itself, it was by turns compelling, confusing, fun, and ever so slightly creepy all rolled into one; an exhibition worthy of one of the greatest inventions of the modern age.

The year’s worst... Consensual

It is rare that any show can anger me so much that the thought of it still makes me queasy the next morning. But, as I write this article, it is only the National Youth Theatre’s production of Consensual which has consistently infuriated and upset me on an almost weekly basis since I saw it all the way back in October. Had it been a fully professional production by a (poorly) paid cast, the anger and disappointment would have been enough already. However, as the flagship production to show off the best from the National Youth Theatre, this production both embarrasses this institution to which I had proudly called myself a member, and completely scandalises the interest and intellect of today’s young people. Displaying London’s youth as selfish, stupid and sex-crazed, many other publications lauded what they called a powerful and “provocative” production. However, not wanting to step on their toes, I can happily say that this must have been the singly worst show I have ever seen.