Dutch Girl Does Art & Culture October-December #1: Art and Books

It’s time for my quarterly Arts & Culture review again! In this post I’m sharing with you some of the best exhibitions in London from the last months and my personal book tips.

Royal Academy of Arts London staircase


1. Crime

  • The Crime Musem Uncovered (Museum of London, till 10 April 2o16)
    This is a unique show as it gives visitors a rare glimpse into the deepest secrets of the Metropolitan Police. In the 1870s the police force opened their private crime ‘museum’ where they’ve storing crime evidence ever since. There is a real sense of mystery around this museum, which is also known as the ‘Black Museum’. Now for the first time in history, the collection has been unveiled to the general public. On display are court documents, crime scene photographs, murder weapons and much more. It’s especially interesting to see how forensic investigation has evolved over the years and to see authentic items dating back almost 150 years ago. Try to skim through the digital version of the original museum visitor book and spot some of the famous visitors who went before you, such as Harry Houdini and even Laurel & Hardy.
Entrance Crime Museum Uncovered

Entrance to the exhibition ‘The Crime Museum Uncovered’

  • The Burden of Proof: The Construction of Visual Evidence (Photographers Gallery, closed)
    This show has a very strong connection to the one above. This show has now closed, but you download the exhibition guide here.
    Again, authentic documentation was used in this show, which was actually rather disturbing, even more so than the other ‘crime exhibition’. When you walked into the first room, you’d see real photos of dead people photographed at their murder scene. The show was about the use of photographic evidence in forensic investigation. Through eleven case studies the visitor was shown the introduction of murder scene photography (officially called ‘metric photography’) in the 19th century to the reconstruction of drone attacks in Pakistan in 2012. Remarkable cases were the Nuremberg trials in 1945 when photographic evidence was used to confront Nazis with their crimes and also finding and identifying the skull of Josef Mengele, a wanted Auschwitz executioner.

2. Furniture

The World of Charles & Ray Eames (The Barbican, till 14 February 2016)
Husband and wife Charles and Ray Eames were influential architects, furniture and product designers, photographers and film makers. Through personal letters (which were carefully and lovingly crafted), sketches, photos, documents and objects, the visitor doesn’t only get an idea of their influence on architects and artists, but also of their personal life. It’s incredible to see their furniture and realise they have copied so often, I’m sure companies such as IKEA and Muji take lots of their inspiration from the Eames’ works!

The lounge chair on the left is a famous design by Charles and Ray Eames that has been copied many times by high street outlets. (Photo by Linda Nylind, taken from the Guardian newspaper website).
The shoe on the right is a conceptual design for a Nike trainer by French designer Ora-Ïto who designed it as a tribute to the late Eames couple. You can read the article about it on the online Dezeen magazine.
Although they’re two completely different items, it’s easy to see the resemblance in usage of curved wood.
In the bottom photo you see reproductions of the famous Eames chairs (by Lakeland Furniture).

3. Retrospectives

  • Ai Weiwei (The Royal Academy of Arts, closed)
    Hubby and I had visited this autumn blockbuster show already, but wanted to go see it again before it closed. We visited again during the closing weekend when the exhibition was open for 48 straight hours. We realised we had spent a long time there before, taking in all the artworks and information so it was quite amusing to see it in a mere 15 minutes for the second time.
    You can read my review and see many photos of the show in my previous blog post ‘Exhibition: Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy of Arts’.
  • Jean-Etienne Liotard (The Royal Academy, till 31 January)
    After our speedy revisit of the Ai Weiwei show, we decided to put our RA membership card to good use and see the Jean-Etienne Liotard retrospective. We had previously never heard of this artist, but were pleasantly surprised with the show. Liotard was one of the most celebrated portraitists in Europe during the Enlightenment. He travelled through Europe and the Orient and was commissioned to paint portraits of European royalty, but he also made extraordinary paintings of everyday life in the Ottoman Empire. The detail in the portraits were amazing and at times it’s almost as if you’re looking at a picture. Although Liotard probably never intended his portraits to be humorous, hubby and I couldn’t help chuckling at the rather ‘less flattering’ portrayals of royalty. Rich people sure did look eh… ‘different’ in the past 😉 One painting especially caught my attention thanks to its title: A Dutch Girl at Breakfast (1756-57).
  • Artist & Empire (Tate Britain, till 10 April 2016)
    A rather dry and scholarly show about the depiction of the British Empire at the time of its height (the British Empire was at a certain point the largest empire) through art.
    My favourite parts of the exhibition were the old maps of the world and absolutely stunning and life-like portraits of Maori chiefs by Charles Frederick Goldie.
charles frederick goldie maori chieftaness

Harata Rewiri Tarapata: A Maori Chieftaness (1906) by Charles Frederick Goldie (from BBC – Paintings website).

  • Frank Auerbach (Tate Britain, till 13 March 2016)
    I had high expectations of the Frank Auerbach exhibition at Tate Britain, but after the first room of striking colourful, abstract paintings the rest looked rather, well… dull.
    Auerbach’s career spans six decades and I’m sure there could have been chosen different artworks for the exhibition to do his oeuvre more justice.
    The show leads the visitor through Auerbach’s works in chronological order. The first room, to me the most exiting one, shows his works from the 1950s. It’s incredible to see the thick layers of paint that are literally inches thick. This is the result of Auerbach’s many revisions and additions to his works. At the start of his career, he wouldn’t remove the old paint, but work on top of it.

4. Street art

Dulwich Outdoor Gallery – The London street art scene is ever-expanding and is making its way to territories far beyond the funky East End. After my street art explorations in Camden, Walthamstow and Brockley, I made my way to Dulwich, another area I had never heard of before.
Street artists take their inspiration from the classical paintings in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, re-interpreting them and creating murals based on them.
You can see my photos of the street artworks alongside their sources of inspiration in my blog post ‘When the Old Masters Are Taken to the Streets: Dulwich Outdoor Gallery’.

5. Video installation

Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) – Bill Viola (St Paul’s Cathedral, permanent)
The first time I went to St Paul’s Cathedral was on a school trip almost 20 years ago! Hubby and I went there together just before Christmas. Although I’ve seen many cathedrals now in my life, St Paul’s Cathedral is definitely one of the most stunning ones.
Famous video artist Bill Viola made a four-screen installation. In the 7-minute video you see four individuals being martyrised by the elements Earth, Air, Fire and Water. It’s a beautiful tranquil piece shot in superb high-definition quality.
This year a second Bill Viola installation will be added in the cathedral, called Mary.


1. Pretty Is – Maggie Mitchell

The impressive debut novel by Maggie Mitchell draws the reader into the worlds of Lois and Carly May. Two girls who ‘met’ when they got abducted at 12 years of age. Almost twenty years later they’re still trying to come to terms to what happened, or actually didn’t happen, to them and the two months they spent with their charismatic kidnapper.
It was an interesting different take on an abduction story, especially since afterwards I saw the film Room and read the novel Daughter. More about these in the next Arts & Books post for January-March. I can assure you that the recurring theme is a mere coincidence!

2. Truths, Half Truths & Little White Lies – Nick Frost

We all know Nick Frost the comedian, actor and Simon Peg’s BFF, but did you know that he had been a waiter for almost his life until Simon Peg got him his first acting gig in his TV series Spaced in 1999? Judging from his memoirs, he spent most of his teens and twenties using drugs, drinking alcohol, partying and waiting tables. His personal stories about his family are very touching and give an intimate peek into the life of such a public figure. I had never read a celebrity autobiography before, but admire the way Frost analysed both his anger at and sorrow for his alcoholic mother and the impact of her disease on the relationship between him and his parents. I enjoyed his stories of living in an Israeli kibbutz for two years (to be away from his family) and the anecdote of the encounter of a ghost together was Simon was both frightening yet hysterical.
An entertaining read about a normal bloke who happened to become famous.

Stay tuned for my film, food and music tips!

If you liked this post, you might also be interested in the following articles:

Dutch Girl Does Art & Culture July-September 2015 #1


Dutch Girl Does Art & Culture April-June 2015 #1


Dutch Girl Does Art & Culture February-March 2015


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