William Cobbing’s works resemble manhole covers and include stories from locals, ranging from the everyday to trying to avoid a bomb blast during World War II - though it’s unclear why one is separated from the rest, it would have made more sense to have them placed throughout the show.
Other strong works include Matthew Krishanu’s figurative paintings of childhood and the journey into adult life and Osman Yousefzada’s recreation of his mother’s bedroom with wrapped objects that is so personal it can be discomfiting as we walk through it. This tension carries through to Rana Begum’s work as she paints chain link fencing - an object designed to keep people out, repurposed into something far more aesthetically pleasing.
There’s humour in Mark Wallinger’s slow motion film of arrivals at London City Airport to a heavenly soundtrack that can draw parallels to both Brexit and the ability to travel again after the pandemic. While John Smith’s work where he narrates as if he’s directing the people on the streets of London starts off factual and descends into absurdity as he suggests a man walking by is fleeing after robbing a bank.
The most overtly political works is also by John Smith as his film Citadel shows his view out of his home during lockdown overlooking the City, and is overlaid with excerpts from speeches by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The film equates the delay in locking down the country as protecting the interests of the City, which feels like an overly simplified reading of the difficult decisions that had to be made in 2020.
There's a real mix of artworks here, including some good ones, but it feels like they’ve been thrown together around a loose theme and the narrative across them all is lacking. On the plus side it’s free entry but when there are so many great shows across London right now this is a hard one to recommend visiting. Life is more important than art, but we’re not convinced that some of that life should be spent amongst this art.
Second image: © Mark Wallinger, © Tate Images
Third image: Courtesy of John Smith, Kate MacGarry, London and Tanya Leighton, Berlin and Los Angeles
|Life Is More Important Than Art, Whitechapel Gallery, review
|Whitechapel Gallery, 72-78 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX | MAP
|Aldgate East (underground)
14 Jun 23 – 03 Sep 23, 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Click here for more information