Tom Rowland and India Ferguson collaborate in this article to review a recent exhibition in the Nottingham Contemporary, Still Undead: Popular Culture in Britain Beyond the Bauhaus.
Throughout our time at Loughborough, the Nottingham Contemporary has been a constant source of creative and artistic inspiration. Regionally, it is the leading contemporary arts institution; this has been recognised through its shortlisting for the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year 2019. The gallery hosts a wide range of exhibitions and events, with work ranging from up and coming artists to well respected names, such as 2017 Turner Prize winner, Lubaina Himid. The gallery tries to engage actively in topical debates around social changes, tackling contemporary debates on gender, race and sexuality. It also has an equally important coffee shop located in the basement of the imposing structure, which sells a high-quality range of artisanal, locally sourced produce. Overall, the Nottingham Contemporary creates a welcoming and inviting space for all ages and backgrounds.
The current exhibition engages with the Bauhaus movement and its influence through the 20th Century and beyond. Bauhaus is often thought of as an art and design movement limited to strange typography and somewhat aggressive modernist buildings. The exhibition addresses this imbalance in understanding, highlighting the crucial part the movement has played in the way that we all now experience contemporary society, with its effects being seen throughout art, media and pop culture.
The exhibition was arranged chronologically, with each room focusing on a different era and area of influence. It started slowly, with an underused and disappointing first room focussing on photography and early experimental film, such as work by the pioneering photographer, Lazlo Moholy Nagy. I felt the space was wasted, with a limited selection of photos and some oddly displayed films. The exhibition did, however, gain momentum as you went through, with the most engaging work in the last room. This was an assault on the senses, full of moving image and clashing sounds. Including film of dada performance through to stills of the iconic Leigh Bowery, the room almost felt like part of a different exhibition.
There was also the chance to make some art of your own, with an interactive activity which drew upon experimental teaching methods of the Bauhaus. This activity invited visitors to put their finished masterpiece up on the gallery wall, creating a more engaging personal interaction with Bauhaus teaching practices.
While in the exhibition, we listened to talks which went into depth about one element of the display. This provided an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the work and engage in a wider context. It was interesting to hear more about an individual work. These talks were free and happen daily – I would recommend giving them a go, as they provide a different area of focus and interest for the sometimes initially dry objects in the exhibition. It is these interactive elements, the talks and the activities, which give the exhibitions a much more personal experience than most contemporary art galleries. They show that the gallery is genuinely invested in its visitors.
The challenge with this exhibition was that because Bauhaus has had such a far-reaching influence, trying to show the full range in one exhibition is highly challenging and not something this exhibition managed to do successfully. The rooms felt disjointed from each other and though mostly successful by themselves, they didn’t flow well together.
Nottingham Contemporary does its best to be accessible to everyone and create a comfortable and welcoming environment. We fully recommend the gallery, as it is FREE! We encourage everyone to engage with art now and again, no one’s saying you need be an art snob!