Beyond plain white walls

Art curator and London member Lawrence Van Hagen uses virtual reality to make his latest exhibition an immersive experience for all

By Aleah Aberdeen  Thursday 23 July, 2020  Short read

With shows across London’s Soho, New York, Hong Kong and Seoul, the popular What’s Up exhibition sought to showcase what can essentially be described as an insight into the art world as it is today. It offers a full spectrum of works from international artists, both emerging and established. However, in these uncertain times, it was evident to founder and London member Lawrence Van Hagen that the traditional space was no longer appropriate for What’s Up. In order to mirror the changes and physical challenges this year has brought us, as well as the art world at large, he decided to shift venues towards a digitally rendered space. 

Transgressing beyond plain white walls, ‘this is a vision of what art will look like in the near future’, he says, noting that careful attention has been paid to light, rendered colours and the historical aspects to the curation. Inspired by different architects and locations, the What’s Up / Twenty Twenty exhibition showcases five spaces ranging from a ‘timeless Venetian palazzo’ to ‘the warmth of a Mexican casa’. The use of old and new visual references blends together a unique dialogue. Each space embodies a different theme and a sense of realism, complemented by soundscapes to evoke a ‘relaxing yet stimulating’ experience. This was a ‘personal and bespoke’ project, says Van Hagen – one enabling an ‘opportunity for artists who have had their shows cancelled to be shown for the world.’ 

Exclusively for Soho House, Van Hagen shares his selection of five key What’s Up / Twenty Twenty exhibition pieces.

‘Shadow’ by Andy Warhol

Conjuring the feeling of warmth through ‘colourful walls and spirited shadows’, space three – inspired by the Casa Wabi in Mexico – holds room for established artist Andy Warhol and his significant body of work, titled ‘Shadow’. Created with diamond dust, this collection demands for our attention to detail. This small, abstract series, completed in 1979 and conceived as one painting together, explores the positive and negative imprints directing our gaze to the light. ‘The room was created for this piece, to have the light go through the paintings,’ Van Hagen explains. ‘The picture needs to be able to react to environment. If you want the light there, you have to build it.’ Digitally rendered from scratch, the grouping of this work is rare. The curated space allows us to experience Warhol’s full range and the multiple perceptions of each shadow. 

‘Subject’ by Antony Gormley

Placed in space one – ‘an open-air haven of peace reminiscent of Tadao Ando’s architecture’ – Van Hagen selected the works of British sculptor Antony Gormley. ‘Subject’, created in 2012 as part of Gormley’s Cube Works series, critically examines the human body. It explores how form and gesture is reflective of human experience, ‘evoking a feeling of reverence and submission’. ‘The physicality of this work is iconic’, says Van Hagen. ‘It is very rare to see this in an outdoor space.’ Through virtual exhibition, life-size sculptures that are often hard to acquire are given an ‘exceptional’ spotlight. 
An abstract painting of different shades of blue and grey swirls.

‘Drosera Corymbosa’ by Donna Huanca

An amber disc on a plinth.

‘Circle Sepia to Violet’ by De Wain Valentine

‘Drosera Corymbosa’ by Donna Huanca

Emerging, young and experimental artist Donna Huanca also occupies space four, where she incorporates performance, pigments and paints to craft a unique visual language in ‘Drosera Corymbosa’. Her figurative work is a product of sensory performance, where she uses female dancers and the nude body to compile photographs that are reworked with paint. Contrasting to more minimal works selected, Huanca’s ‘showcases themes that anyone can understand’, Van Hagen suggests. Through abstract compositions, ‘these themes are accessible to enjoy because they are aesthetically beautiful, but have a deep meaning behind them which is empowering.’

‘Circle Sepia to Violet’ by De Wain Valentine 

Inside space two, ‘a classically elegant 19th-century Parisian home filled with art’ exhibits American artist, De Wain Valentine and his work ‘Circle Sepia to Violet’. Created in 1970, it formed part of the Light and Space Movement, alongside the works of Robert Irwin and Larry Bell. Inspired by the sky and the sea, Valentine’s minimal work is made up of glass, resin or plastic, and changes according to the light and environment. This particular sculpture embodies the Californian sunset through its warm and translucent colours that captivates one’s gaze. ‘I wanted to showcase what I love, what I can see on the walls of people’s homes,’ explains Van Hagen. ‘The Parisian home setting gave me an opportunity to explore not only art, but also creative design.’

‘Birds Fighting for Worms’ by Nicolas Party 

In 2017, Swiss-born figurative artist Nicolas Party presented his ‘Birds Fighting for Worms’. The painting is situated in space four, the virtual Venetian Palazzo, that is a ‘cool and unusual example of art’ inspired by Magritte. Using soft pastels and drawing upon natural landscapes, Party made idiosyncratic choices. The thought-provoking and vibrant nature of the work encourages ‘art-historical dialogues between observation and the imagination’, offering a space to challenge conventions and perceptions. ‘The colours and shapes are distinct, which is something you should look for in an artist. It shows uniqueness and innovation,’ says Van Hagen.

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