How uplifting art shows are easing us out of lockdown

By Anna Bailey
BBC News

image copyrightDavid Hockney/Royal Academy
image captionDavid Hockney’s Waterlilies give a nod to Monet

As art galleries begin to reopen many are hoping to bring joy and to lift the spirits of visitors after lockdown.

Galleries such as Tate Modern, the V&A and the Royal Academy are offering a variety of new exhibitions, from contemplative and reflective shows to bright and immersive experiences, to help ease us back into their spaces after a year of looking at art online.

“Nothing quite replicates experiencing the real thing,” says arts psychologist Rebecca Chamberlain from Goldsmiths University, who has missed her regular art fix.

“Getting physically close to artworks which have been touched by an artist is a special experience and looking at them in a social space is great for wellbeing, which you just don’t get by looking into a flat screen at home.”

image copyrightAlzbeta Jaresova
image captionVisitors are being encouraged to touch Henry Moore’s bronzes in This Living Hand exhibition in Hertfordshire

Many galleries are now offering prebooked timed slots to help reduce the flow of visitors to their exhibitions so there is more room to enjoy, ponder and interact with their works as well as to practise slow art.

For those feeling nervous about re-entering the gallery environment, Chamberlain advises checking what’s on offer and being prepared. “Know what you’re comfortable with and what the restrictions are going to be,” she says.

Kew Gardens in London, for instance, is hosting yoga and forest bathing alongside its exhibitions to help curb anxiety and put visitors in the mood for art.

And if you cannot get to a gallery then many art institutions are continuing to put some of their exhibitions and collections online.

Whether relaxing or challenging, art can help us to “connect with an artist”, “engage with the world” and “make us feel less alone,” says Chamberlain.

We take a look at a selection of some of the uplifting art exhibitions on offer.

David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020, London’s Royal Academy

image copyrightDavid Hockney/Royal Academy

Spring has definitely sprung at the Royal Academy courtesy of David Hockney. The figurative artist has filled the gallery with baby pinks, bright yellows and fluorescent greens while depicting the unfolding of spring from his garden in Normandy, France, where he worked alone last year.

He originally created the digital work on his iPad to cheer friends up during lockdown, and has now enlarged them onto paper for the public to enjoy.

“Spring is exciting,” says Edith Devaney, curator of the exhibition, a friend of Hockney and a recipient of his work. “It’s about starting again, refreshing ourselves and it’s kind of remarkable that we don’t necessarily notice it when perhaps we should.”

image copyrightDavid Hockney/Royal Academy

In his new works, Hockney also pays tribute to the painters who worked in France before him, including Van Gogh, Bonnard and Monet, whose garden in Giverny, northern France, delights visitors each year.

“Even when everything is shut, nature carries on and that’s interesting to reflect on,” says Devaney.

Exhibition runs until 26 September 2021.

Joan Miró: La Gran Belleza, Newlands House Gallery, Petworth, West Sussex

image copyrightSuccessió Miró

Another artist spreading cheer is the painter, sculptor and ceramicist Joan Miró. Fifty pieces of his work are on display at the Newlands House Gallery in Petworth, West Sussex, in a show spanning the artist’s long and fruitful career.

“We wanted a life affirming exhibition that’s colourful, positive and uplifting,” says gallery owner Nicola Jones. “Miró drew inspiration from the moon and the stars, and his art was influenced by nature.”

He also survived the Spanish Civil War and both World Wars and sought solace from creating art that was optimistic.

Popular pieces in the exhibition include an ink drawing on corrugated cardboard (Tête, 1960), a playful stencil from his time hanging out with the American sculptor Alexander Calder (Gouache-Dessin, 1934), and sculptures inspired by fruits and vegetables in the Spanish market town in which he lived.

“If he lived today, he probably would have been inspired by Banksy – come and be invigorated,” says Jones.

Exhibition runs until 4 July 2021.

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser, V&A, London

image copyrightJohan Persson/V&A
image captionZenaida Yanowsky as the Red Queen in Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The V&A’s latest blockbuster takes you down the rabbit hole (well the steps of the gallery) to a labyrinth of themed rooms containing hundreds of objects associated with Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland books.

Highlights include photography by Tim Walker featuring the models Naomi Campbell and Adwoa Aboah; stage costumes for the Royal Ballet’s 2017 production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and original manuscripts written for the real Alice, Alice Liddell, who was photographed by the V&A’s photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.

The exhibition also looks at how Alice became a symbol for the surrealist and hippy movements with artwork from Salvador Dali and the San Francisco poster company East Totem West.

image copyrightV&A

“You don’t only learn about Alice, but you get to be Alice,” says Rosalie Fabre, who runs the show’s virtual reality gaming element. “You can smell roses, stroke flamingos and play croquet with the Queen of Hearts. It’s a very vibrant and visceral experience, which is just what we need after being in the dark for so long.”

Exhibition runs until 31 December 2021.

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms, Tate Modern, London

image copyrightYayoi Kusama/Joe Humphrys/Tate Modern
image captionKusama takes you to another dimension

One of Alice in Wonderland’s biggest fans is the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Her new show at Tate Modern features two immersive experiences including Chandelier of Grief and the return of her largest infinity room: Filled with The Brilliance of Life.

It is actually filled with “hundreds of tiny LED lights along with mirrors and water, like stepping into a galaxy of stars,” reveals co-curator Katy Wan. “While Chandelier of Grief suggests even in times of great sadness we might be able to find beauty however fleeting.”

image copyrightYayoi Kusama/Tate Modern
image captionDespite its title Kusama’s Chandelier of Grief offers a flicker of hope

Exhibition runs until 12 June 2022.

Ryoji Ikeda at The Vinyl Factory, London

image copyrightRyoji Ikeda/Jack Hems/Vinyl Factory

Ryoji Ikeda’s latest show is not so much reflective as an assault on the senses. The Japanese DJ and light artist takes you on an immersive journey through bright light (sometimes strobing), a blizzard of data (taken from Nasa and Cern) and high-pitched sound frequencies around the dark basement of The Vinyl Factory in London.

The show is also premiering two new works in the UK including Point of No Return, an installation that organisers describe as entering a black hole, and A (Continuum) – an artwork compromising six giant speakers with 300 recordings of tuning forks resonating the note A, which Ikeda says is up to the visitor to interpret.

“Music is beautiful because we can’t see it and we can’t touch it, but everyone knows it. You don’t need special tools to understand it. You can change it with meaning all by yourself,” he says.

The contemporary composer Max Richter, who is an Ikeda fan, says: “His work has an immediate sensory impact. It feels like you’re being asked a question and being engaged by a mind. A very rich experience and not one you always get with artworks.”

Just make sure to take your sunglasses.

Exhibition runs until 1 August 2021.

Naturally Brilliant Colour, Kew Gardens, London

image copyrightRoger Wooldridge/Kew Gardens
image captionA kaleidoscope at Kew featuring the brightest colours in nature

And finally, the Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew Gardens has opened its doors to what it claims is the brightest colour in the world, pure structural colour. It is the iridescent jewel like shimmer you might find on butterfly wings, the backs of beetles and on hummingbird feathers.

It has been created in the lab, much to the delight of botanical painters who up until now have always struggled to replicate what they see in nature, explains artist and scientist Andrew Parker.

Parker has worked with scientific researchers at Lifescaped to develop the colour, which is being used by companies to produce products like illuminated eye spectacles and glowing running trainers.

image copyrightRoger Wooldridge/Kew Gardens

The exhibition also features what Kew describes as the world’s brightest painting and a large kaleidoscope filled with the brightest colours in nature, while exploring the evolution of colour and the science behind it.

Once dazzled you can enter Kew’s tranquil gardens and enjoy the colours for real.

Exhibition runs until 26 September 2021.

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