Exhibitions of the Year 2010

Somehow, I couldn't quite seem to restrict myself to a mere 'top five' exhibitions of the year this time round, so here's my (somewhat unconventional) 'top six' favourite exhibitions of 2010:

6. Exhibition #3 at the Museum of Everything.

Whilst the latest offering may not have been quite as challenging as their first exhibition, which I saw in 2009, visting the Museum of Everything is always a delightful experience. Co-curated by Sir Peter Blake, this enjoyable exhibition was a glorious riot through English eccentricity, from Punch and Judy puppets to seaside souveniers to taxidermied kittens: a friendly breath of fresh air in comparison to the slick minimalism of so many galleries and arts venues.

5. Alice Neel: Painted Truths at the Whitechapel

I wasn't very familiar with Alice Neel's work until I went to see this impressive and very comprehensive exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery earlier this year. Focusing predominantly on Neel's portraiture, this sensitive exhibition brought together a blunt, unflinching and very powerful body of work.

4. Touched: Liverpool Biennial 2010

OK, so maybe I'm cheating slightly with this one, since Touched is really a whole programme of exhibitions rather than just one. Though no single artwork or venue especially stood out for me, the power of this year's Liverpool Biennial was its overall energy and dynamism, as well as the sheer range and diversity of work to discover in unexpected places all over the city. My highlights were Laura Belém's The Temple of a Thousand Bells (pictured), Tehching Hsieh at FACT,  Nicholas Hlobo at Bluecoat, and Ryan Trecartin's frankly bizarre Trill-Ology.

3. Chris Ofili at Tate Britain

I wasn't totally sure whether I really liked Chris Ofili's work until I saw this mesmerising retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain early in 2010. Powerful and compelling, this exuberant, joyous explosion of vibrant colour and texture was also incredibly well thought-out: a great example of what Tate do best.

From Here To Ear - Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

2. Céleste Boursier-Mougenot at the Barbican

For sheer enjoyment, this charming commission for the Barbican's Curve Gallery wins hands down. French artist Celeste Boursier-Mougenot transformed the space into a magical and uplifting soundscape, starring a flock of zebra finches. Frankly, contemporary art doesn't get much better than watching a zebra finch take a bath in a cymbal.

1. Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballet Russes at the V&A

Narrowly squeezing in at the very end of the year, this entralling and highly atmospheric exhibition at the V&A was one of my highlights of the year. Blending visual materials with a whole range of fascinating background information about the choreography, music and design of Diaghilev's groundbreaking productions, this was a beautifully curated exhibition: rich, evocative, and full of bohemian splendour.

Read my top five exhibitions from 2009 

Merry Christmas!

Just a quick post to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. See you in 2011!

[Image via Tumblr]

Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929

I had been looking forward to the V&A's major autumn exhibition, Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929 for a while, so I was especially pleased to be invited to go along and see it, as well as to hear a talk about Diaghilev by fragrance specialist Roja Dove, who created a new fragrance especially for the exhibition.

This beautifully-curated show tells the story of  Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, focusing particularly on how he blended dance, music and modern art in his productions to create avant-garde works of 'total theatre', collaborating with some of the most radical artists of his day, such as Stravinsky, Chanel, Picasso, Matisse and of course, the company’s famous choreographer and dancer, Nijinsky. Moving from the dazzling launch of the Ballet Russes in 1909, through the events of the Russian Revolution and the First World War, and into the 1920s, the exhibition also examines the huge influence Diaghilev exerted on 20th century culture, especially in art, design, fashion and theatre, as well as his legacy in terms of contemporary dance.

Exuberant, glamorous and opulent , this exhibition is hugely enjoyable - a carefully-assembled treasure trove of Diaghilev's personal effects and documents, as well as short films, an incredible selection of original costumes, and fascinating visual material such as posters, photographs and backcloths.  Further material relates to the choreography, music and design of Diaghilev's productions, from scores and dance patterns through to set models and costume design sketches, which illustrate the strongly radical and often controversial nature of these archetypally modernist productions.

Walking through this exhibition is a genuinely atmospheric experience: strolling through dramatically lit spaces with a striking red and black colour scheme, we move first through a darkened 'backstage' area and then emerge into a 'stage' complete with backcloth, music and brilliant lighting - for a moment, we too are allowed to take our place in the spotlight. Nonetheless it is the charismatic figure of Diaghilev himself who remains very much centre stage in this enthralling exhibition, as in Roja Dove’s entertaining talk about the man and his influence on the world of fragrances in particular, as well as art and culture more broadly.  

Though I have to admit that I'm particularly intrigued by the world of ballet, and have a special interest in this period, regardless of whether or not you're a balletomane, this exhibition is a fascinating feast to enjoy - rich, evocative and full of bohemian splendour.

The exhibition runs until 9 January and there's also a blog by the exhibition's co-curator, Jane Pritchard, on the V&A website.

[All images via the V&A]

The Museum of Everything: Exhibition #3

Following my visit to the fantastic Museum of Everything last year, I had been eagerly anticipating going back to check out the latest show at their Primrose Hill venue - and when I went along last weekend, I certainly wasn't disappointed. The simply-titled Exhibition #3 is a charming celebration of the British folk tradition with all the nostalgic, whimsical and slightly discomfiting appeal of an old-fashioned fun fair ride.

Co-curated by Sir Peter Blake, most of the works that make up this cornocopia of artefacts and artworks come from his own personal collection, in a show that according to Blake himself is 'about wanting to share everything'. Amongst the works on display is a recreation of Walter Potter's Museum of Curiosities, featuring a selection of weird and wonderful dioramas peopled by taxidermied squirrels, kittens and birds. Gaudy music hall and vaudeville memorabilia, Punch and Judy puppets, photographs of Victorian circus performers and kooky seaside souvenirs also have their place in this multicoloured assemblage, which like the previous exhibitions I've seen by the Museum of Everything, offers an utterly refreshing alternative to the slick sophistication of the 'white cube' gallery. The exhibition is accompanied by a lively events programme: the day I visited there was a live taxidermy demonstration (though I was frankly too squeamish to watch it) as well as hula-hooping, accordian music and a host of other quirky performances.

Although this show is similar in both feel and approach to the Museum of Everything's previous exhibition - a fascinating survey of outsider art - at heart, Exhibition #3 is quite a different project, taking its lead from one of Britain's best known and most established artists. But though the exhibition itself is arguably rather less ambitious, what I still love about the Museum of Everything is its distinctive atmosphere - visiting is quite simply an enormously enjoyable experience.

Exhibition #3 closes on 24 December, but I'm sure we haven't seen the last of the Museum of Everything. And I for one, am eagerly anticipating whatever they do next.

[Handpainted Punch and Judy puppets c. 1920 via the Museum of Everything - photo: Christoffer Rudquist.]

Drink, Shop & Do

I've just discovered Drink, Shop & Do - a fabulous shop and cafe bar that's a complete breath of fresh air in the otherwise pretty uninspiring Kings Cross area.

Located in a light and airy Victorian former bath house, it serves up a small but perfectly formed menu featuring dainty triangle sandwiches, delicious cakes, quirky cocktails, wine and of course, tea in pretty teapots. The decor is a charming mishmash of kitsch vintage furniture and patchwork quilts, and everything is for sale, from the cake stands and china ornaments right through to tables, chairs and sofas. As a bonus, there are board games to play, the music is great and it's open until 11.30pm. What's more, there are lots of different events on offer, including knitting night, scrabble afternoon, and the evening we were there, truffle rolling!

We had a lovely time on our visit: in fact, I have to admit that cake + wine + tea + board games + crafts = pretty much the perfect evening for me and my friends.  I think it's safe to say that we'll definitely be back!

The Monster Supply Store

You'll have been hard pushed to miss the recent press coverage of the Ministry of Stories, a newly-launched volunteer-run initiative aimed at reawakening children's imaginations and getting them writing creatively. Supported by authors including Nick Hornby (one of the founders), Zadie Smith and Roddy Doyle, the London-based project is inspired by the hugely successful 826 Valencia, a children's writing centre set up by Dave Eggers in San Francisco.

The Ministry aims to provide a free space for fresh writing by young people, including workshops and one-to-one mentoring. The services are all provided by volunteers, including local writers, artists and teachers, who give their time and talent for free. And at the front of the workshop spaces is a rather unique shop - Hoxton Street Monster Supplies. It's only been open for a week or two, but anyone is welcome to pop in and purchase anything that the average monster might need - from a tin of Escalating Panic to a packet of Fang Floss.

I went to take a peep at the shop last weekend, and if you're in London, I highly recommend paying it a visit. It's enormous fun and incredibly well-thought out: all the staff stay perfectly in role, and there are lots of lovely little touches, from a shelf with a huge bite taken out of it, to a handy noticeboard for monster small ads (e.g. 'Missing: One Brain...').

As well as tins of Mortal Terror (the tins, by the way, contain short stories by the likes of Joe Dunthorne and Laura Dockrill) you can buy monster artworks created by illustrators who teamed up with local primary schools, and t-shirts printed with a slogan of what else but 'Boo!'

My personal highlight is the 'invisible cat' that purrs on your approach. "Oh don't mind her," said one of the assistants as I stopped, intrigued, to take a closer look. "She's such an attention seeker."

Find out more about the Ministry of Stories and the Monster Supply Store here.

[Images via Ministry of Stories]

We Make London Christmas Craft Show: Part II

Following last week's ticket giveaway for the We Make London Christmas Craft Wonderland, on Saturday I popped over to Chelsea Town Hall to take a look at the fair myself.

It was a suitably festive occasion, complete with carols, fancy dress and tasty Christmas treats in the cafe. Stalls displayed a wide range of work from over 80 designer/makers, including jewellery, homewares, ceramics, clothing and limited edition prints, largely at very affordable prices: great for finding unusual Christmas gifts, not to mention a little crafty inspiration.

Whilst we were there, we also joined in with a fun Christmas decoration workshop, led by Aimee Waller of Chateau Velvet. Aimee showed us how to make some paper Christmas decorations - as well as feeding us with Quality Street - thanks Aimee!

Here's a few things that caught my eye at the fair:

I hope that all those who entered the giveaway for free tickets enjoyed their visit to the fair...

Knit your own ruby slippers

Look what I made! My very own hand-knitted ruby slippers - perfect for keeping toes toasty warm on these chilly winter afternoons.

As an early Christmas gift to readers of a crafty bent, I thought I'd share the pattern I used to make these. It's so easy and quick, and ideal if you're a beginner when it comes to knitting. You can make it with any DK weight wool you have to hand, although I have to admit that I quite like the idea of making some with sparkly red yarn for the full-on Wizard of Oz look.

The basic pattern for the slippers is based on paperandglue's ridiculously easy mary jane slippers, which you can also find on ravelry here. Here goes:

Follow the Yellow Brick Road Ruby Slippers

You will need:

Any red DK yarn.
4.5mm needles.

To make the slippers:

Cast on 30 stitches.
Knit for 18cm in garter stitch. Bear in mind that you may need to increase or decrease the length here depending on the size of your foot - I wear UK size 4/5 shoes.
K2tog for two rows, keeping in pattern.
Cut off the yarn, leaving a long tail which you can then thread through the remaining stitches like a drawstring.
Using the tail of yarn, sew the two edges together for about 7cm to make the toe of your slipper.
Sew up the vertical seam at the back to make the heel of the slipper.

To make the bows:

For the main bow:
Cast on 7 stitches.
Knit for 8cm in garter stitch.
BO in pattern.

For the loop:
Cast on 3 stitches.
Knit 4cm in garter stitch.
BO in pattern.
(alternatively if you prefer, you could make a 4cm piece of icord instead)

To complete the bow, wrap the loop piece around the centre of the main bow, and stitch it together on the back side. You can then stitch the finished bow to the toe of your slipper.

To finish:

Tap heels together three times...