London is always offering up challenging new art installations, and though it may not be the centre of the universe for contemporary art aficionados, it manages to regularly juxtapose the old with the new in exciting ways.
I hot footed it to two such artworks this week, with mixed results.
In the fabulous plaster court at the V&A there is an installation entitled 'The Tower of Babel', in the form of a 6 metre cone of nearly three thousand ceramic houses with photographic images of street fronts on them. It sounded sort of interesting, but, well it sort of wasn't, failing for me to engage in anyway with the rather bemused statues around it. Perhaps I can cite the label to explain why I moved on rather smartly: "Barford playfully likens our efforts to find fulfilment through retail to the biblical Tower of Babel's attempt to reach heaven. His seemingly precarious Tower poses questions about our society and economy, celebrating London's retailers, yet exposing the divide between rich and poor." MONA has a word for such stuff.
Down the road however, the great Ai Weiwei has installed half a dozen massive trees in the forecourt of the Royal Academy, and the juxtaposition of that rich 18th century Palladian mansion and these stark bolted leaf-less limbs is breathtaking. They are part of a major retrospective exhibition, and alright perhaps I am a little biased, because I haven't washed my hands since I found the great man himself wandering around and shook his hand, but others seem to agree (see this article published in the Guardian).
Tree sculptures by Ai Weiwei
installed in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts, London
What is particularly interesting about the trees is that their inclusion in the exhibition only came about through crowdsourcing. Working with Kickstarter, the Royal Academy raised 123,500 pounds from 1,319 backers, all of whom are listed on two great banners as you go up the main stairs.
Inspirational on two fronts - the art itself, and the action by which it came to be in London.