Dream Chambers

I went to Whitechapel Gallery to see the new Eileen Agar exhibition, as well as the other free exhibitions now running.

Although restrictions are now loosening, it is still necessary for visitors to book a time slot in advance (including the free shows), and then check-in with the NHS App as well as having a temperature check with a face-scanner. Of course it was always the case, even pre-COVID, that the bigger galleries and museums had times admission slots to keep the crowds down to manageable numbers.

First of all I went in to the free show of Can You Hear Me? by Nalini Malani.

Animated sequences mixing graffiti text and drawings, with a soundtrack vaguely like Stereolab circa Margarine Eclipse. The title reminded me of Do You Heard Them? by Nathalie Sarraute, a meditation on voices discussing the value of some art works.

On the way out we have some more words:

Displays of old clippings of Eileen Agar:

On a screen, Eileen herself giving a reading:

In the Zilkha Auditorium, a female artist was talking to an empty room:

Upstairs to A Glittering City.

Of course gentrification is a hot topic in Shoreditch and Aldgate, as in the street outside Whitechapel Gallery several new blocks of luxury flats have gone up in the last few years. It surely can’t be long before the anarchist Freedom Bookshop becomes the ground floor of Freedom House, in the Anarchy Towers development.

Nearby was the selection From The Living Room.

This final exhibit is “Seat Belt” (2009) by Jim Lambie, “mild steel, acrylic paint.”

Now for Phantoms Of Surrealism.

That great Sheila Legge moment:

Of course the surrealists would have appreciated their works being displayed in a gallery where all the staff and visitors had to wear facemasks, and the floor included messages like these:

We see micro-recreations of their worlds:

Displays of the literature surrounding the movement:

Surrealism in the media:

Works by Claude Cahun and David Gasgoyne:

Paintings by Edith Rimmington and Ithell Colquhoun:

And so to Eileen Agar. I first heard of her in the late 80s when there was a wave of interest in her as a lost female artists who needed to be given her due, and so there was a documentary about her on Channel 4. She also got some more attention when there was a Max Ernst a few years later and she was available to reminisce about his tremendous influence. The documentary talked about her conventional artistic training and how she was drawn by Ernst and others to become the creator of great works like “Autobiography Of An Embryo”, included in this show.

A journal she contributed drawings to was very interested in the relation of religion and art:

We see the footage of the Pathe News item about her “Ceremonial Hat” in 1948, which contains the priceless comment:

COMMENTATOR: That’s the trouble with a woman – you can never tell what she’s thinking.

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