Perhaps the most famous painting depicting springtime is Botticelli’s Primavera or Allegory of Spring. It is therefore fitting that a major Botticelli exhibition is one of the art events of the season.
Botticelli Reimagined at the V&A (until July 3) is not just a retrospective of the great Renaissance artist’s work, but it is an examination of the influence the artist has had on all those artists who came after him, from the Pre Raphaelites to the French performance artist Orlan, who created a series of photographic images in the 1970s in which she transformed herself from a robed Madonna to a parody of Botticelli’s Venus. The exhibition begins in the modern day, with a display case featuring Dolce and Gabbana’s 1990s ‘Birth of Venus’ print dress, Uma Thurman standing in a shell in a scene from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and kitsch David LaChapelle photomontages. Many of the works in this section are created with pastiche and playfulness, but show how Botticelli images pervade modern culture. We then step back in time to the 19th Century when Botticelli was ‘rediscovered’ by the Victorian aesthetes with some exquisite works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Burne Jones and William Morris. Only at the very end of the exhibition do we get to Botticelli himself, to fascinating drawings and paintings, including the 1500 Mystic Nativity, which is the only painting in existence that bears his signature.
Another London exhibition that looks at the lasting influence of a master is Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art at the National Gallery (until May 22). Here you’ll find paintings by Matisse, Kandinsky, Gauguin and Van Gogh; all works that pay homage in some way to the French romantic Delacroix, who was revered by many of the modernists that came after. It is interesting to see the originals and the works they inspired juxtaposed together, although we don’t get to see the huge 5-metre canvas of the The Death of Sardanapalus, which hangs in the Louvre, but a much smaller and later reproduction. Of particular interest is the room that reveals Delacroix’s fascination with North Africa, which resulted in iconic paintings such as The Sultry Women of Algiers, and the exploration of the same themes by the later artists, such as Renoir’s version of Delacroix’s Jewish Wedding in Morocco or his Arab Festival.
If conceptual art is more your thing then head to Tate Britain, where Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979 is running until August 29. Here you can ponder Roelof Louw’s 1967 pyramid of oranges called Soul City (although the oranges, I’m sure, are from 2016), or Richard Long’s Line Made by Walking (photograph of a line of trodden grass made by Long walking backwards and forwards over it). This kind of thing is not everyone’s cup of tea but the exhibition brings together a range of art from the period that illustrates that conceptual art was not a movement or a style but a set of strategies. Here we find a multiplicity of position and voice from artists that are united only in the idea that the very concept of what constitutes art should be challenged. Display cabinets of magazines such as the hugely popular Studio International also show that the concept of what constitutes an exhibition space was also up for debate. It was a time when art could be circulated as successfully in the pages of a book or magazine as on the walls of a gallery. This is a unique chance to see 250 objects that usually inhabit space in the Tate archive, rather than being on display. Of particular interest are Mary Kelly’s examination of the mother-child relationship in her Post-Partum Document 1974-8 and Victor Burgen’s critique of modern consumerism Possession 1976.
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