Brighton has always been known as a city for the arts. It’s windy streets and cobbled lanes are dotted with boutique galleries and independent craft shops. It feels like the home of a free spirit, do-it-yourself mentality to arts – almost the antithesis of the London world of auction houses, national institutions and big name galleries. But that’s what gives Brighton its charm.
Everything is low-key, personal and a little bit off the wall. In recent years, representative of the increased disdain for the “London model”, people prefer to get out of the capital and explore these new and exciting artistic territories. The rise of the sculpture park, the farm-cum-gallery and the independent artist (all spreadable via the internet and social media) has got a new generation of art thrill seekers looking further ashore. This has helped Brighton raise its profile enormously. Piggybacking off of its reputation as a haven for hippies, artists and lovers, in recent years it has staged some real noteworthy shows, and its reputation keeps on the up. Candid rounds up what to see and where to go in Brighton at the moment.
The Third Paradise: The Labyrinth and the Well, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Fabrica (9 July – 29 August 2016)
Michelangelo Pistoletto is best known for his 60s mirror paintings, where he would paint a life size character on to a mirror, leaving the background reflective. The works broke the mould for what painting could achieve – as soon as you glance at your reflection in the work, you become part of the image; part of the journey of the art. Simultaneously actor and voyeur, you cause the work to spring to life as you're life is placed in front of it. At the ripe old age of 83, Pistoletto shows no sign of slowing down, and has created a special commission for Fabrica arts centre – a dedicated space in a converted church in the centre of Brighton, which has a particular focus in engaging the elderly in contemporary art.
For this commission, Pistoletto constructed a labyrinth of corrugated cardboard that sends the visitor of a journey of discovery through the church, causing you to follow a path trodden many times before, but a playful game for the uninitiated. Drawing on a fascination-tradition of mazes that extends back several thousand years, Pistoletto examines what it is about getting lost while searching for the centre that captivates humans. Pistoletto rarely exhibits new work these days, especially not outside of his native Italy, making the trip alone worth it for this rare opportunity to be a part of what will no doubt be one of his last shows.
Fashion Cities Africa at Brighton Museum (30 April 2016 – 8 Jan 2017)
This is the first UK exhibition dedicated to contemporary African fashion. From the streets to the catwalk, this show explores the culture and identity of African style, through the eyes of designers, photographers, bloggers and stylists – the movers and shakers in the African world. Geographically the show departs from the four compass points of the continent; Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya and Johannesburg, illustrating the breadth of tastes but also their influence on one another.
Often inspired by bold colourful prints mixed with second-hand wear, the styles are never dull and often outlandish, displaying Africa’s love for pomp and ceremony. The exhibition mixes apparel, alongside image, sound and film for an immersive and exciting journey. The curation is clever, the content is engaging and the show proves yet again that Brighton is one of the most forward thinking artistic cities in the UK for hosting niche and provoking exhibitions.
Cass Sculpture Foundation – A Beautiful Disorder (3 July – 6 November 2016)
Founded in 1992 as a commissioning charitable trust, the Cass Sculpture Foundation prides itself on giving all it sale proceeds directly to the artists. Every year, the park commissions a new series of roughly 80 works to fill the 26 acre site in the Sussex countryside estate of Goodwood. This year, the exhibition consists of works by contemporary Chinese artists who are breaking the mould for what the West considers “Chinese art”.
China is now post-revoltiuon – the political unrest has died down, mass media has exposed them to the west and the rise of industry is no longer unusual for the new generation of artists emerging from the Eastern country. Their art is less political and less radical – but don’t mistake this for being watered down “Westernised” art. It certainly has its own set of agendas, but these represent a global consciousness; mass consumerism, production and consumption, global warming and socio-economic anxiety are now prevalent in this generation’s art. The 16 works by artists including Cheng Rang, Lu Pingyuan and Cao Dan, are monumental and ambitious. The name of the show has a historical connotation of Chinese landscapes being disruptive of order yet creating beauty in the chaos, as a comparison with English gardens during the 18th century when the phrase was coined by a Jesuit missionary. Taken as a starting point, the artists have explored this theme with great gusto – works burst out of the leafy landscape with violence. This is the first international commission by Cass, and proves that it remains one of the most forwardly looking promoters of contemporary art in the country, championing this group of emerging artists who are no doubt set to be huge.
And the rest…
The originality doesn’t stop with the galleries in Brighton. Just as its art is ambitious yet often charming – maintaining its singularity boutique essence that made it what it is. Boutique shops, antique markets and retro piers all make Brighton pulse with its strong identify. The perfect place to stop for a drink or stay for the night while vising the new capital of cool is Hotel Du Vin – a stones throw from the iconic pier, yet feeling a million miles from the bustle, this charming hotel has a newly designed yet timeless-feeling bistro, suntrap courtyard and cocktail bar to keep you going through the night.
Rooms feature double showers and roll top baths all in that unique Brighton style of elegance with a fun twist, and a brand new afternoon tea menu launching in September offers the perfect respite from gallery hopping. The building itself exudes the notion of handcrafted, and lovingly made, and the hotel is dotted with contemporary fixtures that keeps your eye trained for a masterpiece. Sculptures hanging from the ceiling, wood carved ornaments and retro prints adorn the surfaces of this boutique bolt hole. More info can be found here.
By James Heard