Langlands & Bell at Charleston

Ideas of Utopia, until August 29

Charleston’s Wolfson Gallery hosts a 40-year retrospective of collaborative duo Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell which explores their (conscious or unconscious) portrayals of domestic, religious, social, or commercial utopias, in a variety of media. Works include their first ever collaborative piece, The Kitchen (1978) and considers Charleston as a site of early Modernist social experimentation.

Near Heaven

This is a separate installation located in the attic of the farmhouse. When we climbed the rickety old stairs to the light-filled space which Vanessa Bell used as her studio (look closely and you can see pencil sketch marks on the wall), we had no idea what to expect. Our first response was to gasp. Here, Langlands & Bell have installed a mirrored structure that opens up the roof and brings the garden inside. Stunning.

Absent Artists

Curated by Langlands & Bell, this imaginative show depicts artists’ studios seen through the prism of their (or other artists’) artwork. Some of the subjects (Phyllida Barlow, Annie Liebovitz, David Hockney, Michael Craig-Martin) are still active; others (James Ensor, William Hogarth, Pierre Bonnard) are long dead. The exhibition, comprising paintings, drawings, photographs, sculpture and print, poses the questions: “What do the rooms we inhabit say about us? Can they speak on our behalf after we’ve gone?” There are parallels, of course, with Charleston itself, an artists’ home which both preserves their legacy and acts as an art space, in their absence.