Monday, September 3

On Display: Mr Brainwash at The Old Sorting Office

As I've mentioned a few times, I'm currently writing my thesis (due in on the 19th of September, eek), so there's absolutely no guilt with me about not posting here on a regular basis. I've been spending most of my time at my computer or at the library, but I did allow myself a little break in London over the Bank Holiday. 

I got a chance to visit a few exhibitions, I did a bit of shopping and yes, I went to the library. I'm going to save a couple of the exhibitions (The Body Adorned at The Horniman and British Ballgowns at the V&A) for another fashion themed On Display post,  but for now I wanted to talk a bit about the Mr Brainwash exhibition at The Old Sorting Office, on New Oxford Street. 

The concept of going to a gallery to view street art (or I suppose street art inspired work) is still quite new, and a little odd for me. I love the accomplishment you feel whilst wandering around a city discovering hidden pieces of art, made even more special by the fact that some get scrubbed off the walls so quickly. Nevertheless, as with this exhibition, free entry always helps, as do free gifts!
Mr. Brainwash is the moniker of Los Angeles-based filmmaker and Pop artist Thierry Guetta. He has spent the better part of the last decade attempting to make the ultimate street art documentary [Exit through the Gift Shop]. Meanwhile, inspired by his subjects, he started hitting the streets, from Los Angeles to Paris, with spray painted stencils and posters of his pop art inspired images.

For me one of the biggest annoyances about the exhibition (as well as the biggest plus) was that photographs were allowed. I know I complain about museums not allowing photography all the time, but sometimes they can be incredibly infuriating (although as a sidenote, my whole London visit was an extremely good one for photography in exhibitions). Firstly take note the framing, cropping and sometimes the content of each photo (they aren't just rubbish because of my camera phone) - the photo's I took had to be angled or cropped to avoid someone else's flash/arm/extended lens and sometimes the people were unavoidable as seen in the image above. 

Granted you may think my complaints are unjustified, but consider the fact that this is a 'blockbuster' exhibition, a free blockbuster exhibition, about a 10 minute walk from Tottenham Court Road (close to Oxford Street, close to Covent Garden. Basically if you're a tourist in London, you're probably close). Meaning this is bound to be busy. On the day I visited, I arrived early in the hope that it would be quiet. It was, so quiet that they weren't actually open (the Time Out listing didn't actually have an opening time and The Old Sorting Office don't have a website). The man on the door instructed me to come back at 1pm - I'd arrived at around midday  - when they would open. I apologise if this is getting a bit primary school creative writing, "and then I woke up and had my cornflakes", stick with me I have an anti-climactic point. The point being that when I returned at 12.57 (I'm nothing, if not prompt) people were queuing around the corner, to get in. Other than the fact that I hate being made to wait after being early/on time, only to have to queue, it also meant that I was let into the space with about 50 other people.  As you can imagine entering a exhibition with 50 other people, fully aware of the camera allowances  - it became a bit of a free-for-all, in the sense that everyone spotted a piece they liked took a photo, found another, moved on, and so on and so forth. What I'm trying to say, in my own long winded manner, is if you actually wanted to look at one of the pieces, you were more likely to get a chance if you stared at it through a viewfinder.

Which leads to my point, that if you spend all your time in an exhibition taking photographs, are you actually able to appreciate the pieces? Surely you might as well stay at home googling Mr Brainwash images. I had a similar discussion with one of my post-grad tutors, regarding the idea that people rely on outside objects to stimulate and engage themselves with artwork or in museums. We were discussing an award-winning IPhone app created by a popular UK gallery; as the only person in our class (including him) who had used the app I was asked of my opinion and unfortunately for him, I was honest. Perhaps my view is incredibly idealistic and naive, but I do believe their are ways to engage young people with the arts that will actually encourage them to put away their phone/ipod/tablet and actually consider what is in front of them. I think far too many arts organisations assume that the only way to engage young people is to almost patronise them by making an app or hosting a generic 'urban'/'street' themed event. If the purpose of cultural organisation is to educate future generations, diversify the outside community or expand one's knowledge is it possible to do so whilst pandering to a young persons existing experiences and knowledge?

Not to be misunderstood, I actually really enjoyed the exhibition; It was colourful, filled with iconic imagery and had lots of humour - but I love to air a peeve. The fact that it was free, that you received free gifts and yes, that photography was allowed was certainly a bonus. Within reason, I could go as many times as I wanted to stare intently at the pieces (or take photographs). Even the space, The Old Sorting Office, is engrossing, vast and industrial (I'm assuming it was previously a sorting office, as the name suggests) it felt like I was viewing the art in its natural habitat - on the street. At times I was tempted to go through to the next room whilst still looking in the one I was in, the space has been used incredibly well. 




The exhibition now closes on September 7th, after being extended for a week, so if you get a chance do go visit. Take your camera, take a lot of photos, then complain about people taking photos. Just like me!

What are your thoughts on 'street artists' displaying their work in exhibitions? Would you pay to see something, that by definition is free - 'on the street'?

Mr Brainwash Official Website
BBC News Article


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