By Lou Knight Weeks before the exhibit opened at Gas Hall, it was brought to life in this stunning trailer Metropolis: Reflections on modern city. Developed alongside the New Art Gallery in Walsall and Ikon Gallery, as part of the £1 million Art Fund International initiative, it showcased work by 25 contemporary artists. Curved partitions made flowing pathways where at any time you could view multiple pieces from various angles. The exhibit included projections, media installations, paintings, sculptures and photos from around the world.
A blue mural featuring a photo of the Selfridges building marked the exhibit’s beginning; the voluptuous curves of silver discs unanimous with the city. Untitled by Barry McGee (2011) brought street art and geometric pattern together (see above left). With its bright colours and concave design it was a visual loudspeaker clamouring for attention. Studying its many components; the humorous and calligraphic sketches were diverse, as fascinating close up as the entire piece was impressive, stood at a distance.
Photos of the social divide existing at the outskirts of Paris comprised scenes of conflict in a set of framed photos. Improvised by Parisian youth and based on the artist’s direction, they were unsettling and yet vulnerable. Juxtaposed screens in an enclosed space, showed a woman blowing air and each time the video opposite sped up; the city streets racing by with each exhale. The simplicity of the idea and complexity of its timing made it compelling viewing.
Some of the other media projections included two giant screens set beside one another, capturing overlaid city views by night. The imagery in soft purples and inky hues blinked with lighthouses and outlines of Ferris wheels. A kaleidoscope of Las Vegas collapsed and expanded upon itself in sharp angles, making the neon landscape dance.
Simple design took metallic shades to great heights in a commentary on the digital age with Aleksandra Mir’s World Map of Social Networks (2009) (see above right). Stooped and bent figures painted in sharp repose spoke volumes of the vagaries of city life. A large painting of smoke curling upward made a hauntingly wistful image.
Audio taken of marches accompanied by black and white footage reminded us of how cities have suffered at human hands. Memories retold on the softly spoken stereo that you could sit beside invited and then drew out strong emotions if you lingered. In the next room, a 30 foot long mural of an Indian street scene brought the vibrance and cacophony of a morning market to life. Dayanita Singh’s photos from the Dream Villa sequence 2008 (see above centre) beautifully captured the rich depths of colour in urban back streets, by lamplight.
Despite its success, BMAG continues to provide free exhibit such as this to the public. The ambitious collection was a rare insight into how our cities operate and have evolved. Invaluable to students and admirers of art and history alike, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is a zeitgeistian labyrinth that nourishes the creative spirit of all who enter. For current events at BMAG click here or follow them on Twitter @BM_AG
Writer Lou Knight can be contact on Twitter: @louknightweb