Exhibitions of the year 2011

It's always so difficult to choose my favourite exhibitions of the year, and this year particularly so as there were many that I missed that I would like to have seen. But after some deliberation,  and in keeping with tradition, here are my top five for 2011:

5. Philippe Parenno at the Serpentine

Right at the beginning of the year I saw Algerian filmmaker Philippe Parenno's memorable solo show at the Serpentine. Parenno transformed the gallery with this atmospheric, immersive and magical exhibition (complete with fake snow blowing past the gallery windows) to provoke a lovely sense of childlike wonder.

4. Tracey Emin: Love is What You Want at the Hayward

At the beginning of this year, I don't think I would ever have guessed that an exhibition from that overexposed YBA-er and friend of the Tories Tracey Emin would make it onto my 'top five' list. But the Hayward Gallery's rich, varied and well-curated retrospective of her career took me by surprise, and gave me the opportunity to rediscover her sometimes jaunty, sometimes irreverent, often uncomfortable but always engaging body of work.

3. Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage at the Hayward

Another thumbs up for the Hayward comes in the shape of this solo exhibition by Pipilotti Rist, one of my favourite artists. My expectations for this exhibition were especially high, but although it wasn't perhaps quite everything I wanted it to be, it certainly delivered all the quirky, unexpected joyfulness I've come to expect from Rist's delightful work.

2. Susan Hiller at Tate Britain

 I always enjoy Tate Britain's exhibitions, but Susan Hiller's solo show earlier this year was a real stand-out for me. I wasn't hugely familiar with Hiller's work before, but found the artworks in this show intriguing, intelligent and thought-provoking: from her anthropological collections of everything from seaside postcards to bottles of holy water; to the powerful installation Witness (pictured), full of wonder and strangeness.

1. Yohji Making Waves at the Wapping Project

 It's an installation rather than a conventional exhibition, but my top choice for 2011 has to be fashion designer and artist Yohji Yamamoto's extraordinary site-specific installation at the Wapping Project.  Making Waves saw the Boiler House space flooded with dark rippling water, which visitors could cross in a small rowing boat, allowing them to take a look at the beautiful oversized silk wedding dress suspended above it. Mesmeric, meditative and eerily beautiful, this installation was also hugely fun - an enchantingly playful response to the gallery space.

Finally (and because I like cheating) here are a couple of extras...

A special mention must also go to Dark Matters at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester for one of my favourite works of the year - 'Still Life No. 1', an enchanting new commission by the collective Brass Art, as part of Asia Triennial Manchester 2011.

 And of course I can't possibly finish off my review of the year without briefly mentioning the Booktrust Best New Illustrators 2011 exhibition, organised by yours truly, which features the work of 10 fantastic up-and-coming illustrators like Katie Cleminson whose work is below. It's been everywhere from London Book Fair to Plymouth Art Gallery & Museum, the Free Word Centre to the National Galleries of Scotland this year, but it can currently see as part of Picture This at Gallery Oldham.

It's actually quite interesting looking over all the exhibitions you've seen in a year: on reflection, I realise that without particularly meaning to do so, I've ended up seeing mainly the big 'blockbuster' shows at London's biggest and best known galleries. My resolution for 2012 is to see more exhibitions at smaller, less well-known galleries and artist-led spaces.

Do you have any arts or cultural resolutions for 2012? And what were your favourite exhibitions of 2011?

[For all image credits in full, please see the original posts]

Olympia Le Tan

I love these handmade embroidered book clutch bags created by Olympia Le Tan - these images are all from her tumblr blog.

Together with Spike Jonze, she has also created Mourir Auprès de Toi, a quirky stop-animated film about book characters that come to life after dark in the famous Parisian bookshop Shakespeare & Company. 

You can watch the film in full here, and read more about how it came to be made, but an excerpt is below.

Merry Christmas!

[Image from Graphis Annual 56/57 (by Sandi Vincent) via tumblr]

Five More Things

Following on from my previous Five Things post, I thought I'd share another selection of things that have been pleasing me of late...


Published by Walker Books, I Want My Hat Back is my new favourite picture book: a quirky and charming tale of a bear who has lost his hat. But whilst the story is sweet, it's the stylish, witty illustrations by Jon Klassen that really make this irresistible. The bear's face (above) makes me smile every single time I see it.

The twelfth commission in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall as part of The Unilever Series comes from celebrated artist and filmmaker Tacita Dean  FILM is an 11-minute 35 mm film projection, standing 13 metres tall at one end of the darkened Turbine Hall. A montage of black and white, rainbow colours and hand-tinted film, this playful, intriguing and surreal installation is a thought-provoking tribute to the power of analogue in a digital age.


Maybe it's a hangover from Halloween, maybe it's because I've spent too much time browsing French fashion blog The Cherry Blossom Girl (pictured) but I am all about the dark nails at the moment. I had my nails painted black at the lovely vintage-style beauty salon Lost in Beauty in Primrose Hill a couple of weeks ago, and am completely converted.


I went along to the private view of Booktrust Best New Illustrator 2011 Chris Haugton's exhibition at So far the future gallery earlier this week. As well as artwork from his picture books A Bit Lost and Oh No George the show includes all kinds of lovely objects designed by Chris and then handmade by traditional Fair Trade craft-makers in Nepal - beautiful bags, plush toys, lampshades and incredible rugs. The exhibition continues until 7 December: find out more about it here.


I can't believe I managed to get through 28 years without discovering Diana Wynne Jones's brilliant books. I've been reading my way through her delightful Chrestomanci series, beginning with Charmed Life (pictured), as well as the wonderful Howl's Moving Castle and its sequels. Witch Week is my favourite so far but every one is fantastic.

So what's taken your fancy recently? Let me know in the comments if you've got favourite new finds to share...

Crazy for You

I do love a good musical, and so I was delighted to be invited to go along and see a performance of  Crazy for You, a new hit West End show inspired by the classic songs of George and Ira Gershwin, at the Novello Theatre earlier this week.

Crazy for You is the story of stagestruck banker Bobby who longs to dance on the Broadway stage, but instead his stern mother despatches him to a sleepy Western town in the Nevada desert to foreclose on a derelict theatre. On arrival he immediately falls for the owner’s daughter, the feisty Polly, and hatches a harebrained scheme to save the theatre and win Polly’s heart by impersonating famous impresario Zangler, and bringing the Zangler’s Follies chorus girls out West to put on a show.

All kinds of silly shenanigans ensure, especially when the real Zangler turns up with Bobby’s mother and overbearing fiancé in tow. But let’s be honest, it’s not really the story that matters here, but the fantastic, feel-good song and dance routines. Toe-tapping Gershwin favourites like I Got Rhythm, Someone to Watch Over Me and Nice Work if You Can Get It are used to excellent effect with delightful choreography from Stephen Mear. This is a true old-fashioned musical in glittering 1930s style, complete with high-kicking showgirls in glamorous outfits, vaudeville-style comedy routines, a tap-dancing hero and a romantic finish. The gilt interior of the Novello theatre makes an ideal setting for this gleefully escapist and nostalgic production.

Joyous and relentlessly upbeat, Crazy for You seems like the perfect antidote to ‘politics and axes taxes and people grinding axes’ of recent weeks - as the Gershwin number goes. If silly jokes and sparkles are your thing, then I can heartily recommend this as the perfect festive treat… and I know that I for one will be singing I Got Rhythm (and tapping the odd toe) for the rest of the week.