Entangled Pasts, 1768–now


On until 28 April 2024

Menacing calls to decolonise art history loom large over the museum. But contrary to its stated ideological mission, the project is beneficial to everyone involved. At £20 per indulgence, this show absolves The Royal Academy of its original sin. An optional £2 donation excuses the visitor too.

But this more smoke and mirrors than a pious endeavour. One gallery parades John Singleton Copley – an academician painter forgettable save for his slave holdings – as the gift shop brand scapegoat. Another confusingly notes that the 1807 act of abolition had both supporters and opponents among artists. Later, US and British histories and art worlds mix with little discipline, laying the ground for claims that are as faddish as they are hyperbolic. A noxious mix of evidence and emotion dismisses any niggling doubts.

The show’s decisive weakness, however, is its aesthetic reliance to lift guilty souls from the gutter of history on a handful of already familiar works. The fragments of Himid, Locke, Walker, and Shonibare which frame the narrative have done so much ‘work’ in another parish that they are no witness to the Academy’s half-sincere contrition. Who could have thought that these mantras would turn into rote? 

notes and notices are short and curt exhibition reviews. Read more:

Trevor Yeung, Soft Ground, at Gasworks ★★☆☆☆

Trevor Yeung

Soft Ground


It’s stressful enough to fuck in the forest for fear of passers-by or the police; imagine having to also look out for curators.

When Forms Come Alive at Hayward Gallery ★★☆☆☆

When Forms Come Alive


This exhibition cannot decide if it’s a tourist attraction or a serious examination of sculpture’s relationship with movement.

Siobhan Liddell, Been and Gone at Hollybush Gardens ★★☆☆☆

Siobhan Liddell

Been and Gone


A twee aesthetics native to a grandmother’s mantlepiece collection of tourist souvenirs and devotional figurines.

Deimantas Narkevičus, The Fifer at Maureen Paley ★★☆☆☆

Deimantas Narkevičus

The Fifer


In the age of the decolonial, this is as quaint as it is outmoded

Choon Mi Kim, ACID—FREEEE at Ginny on Frederick ★☆☆☆☆

Choon Mi Kim



Some forms of abstraction simply scream ‘my kid could have made that’.

Joshua Leon, The Missing O and E at Chisenhale Gallery ★☆☆☆☆

Joshua Leon

The Missing O and E


This embarrassing display indicts today’s second-fiddlers with narcissism and egomania.