Ever since early hunter-gatherer tribes first sought the protection and benefits of settlements –beginning with Uruk, Eridu, Ur and Çatalhöyük – towns and cities the world over have offered a rich source of fascination and inspiration for artists of all disciplines.
The Mesopotamians documented the beliefs of their society through obelisks, reliefs and statues. The Indus Valley civilization used their skills in pottery, painting and sculpture to depict their flourishing trading community. The Greeks and Romans gave the world architecture, music and literature amongst the other forms of art and expression born and nurtured in vast ancient cities.
The representation of densely populated areas and the imcomprehensible number of lives, interactions and happenings contained within cities is obviously a significant part of art today, whether through the awe-inspiring and instantly recognisable photograph Lunch atop a Skyscraper, the fearful expressionism of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, L.S. Lowry’s scenes of industrial life in the North of England or the Chicago house music derivatives produced from ghetto culture clashes.
It is from the multi-faceted theme of the metropolis that a major new exhibition in Birmingham takes its cue, presenting a collection of thirty-five contemporary works in a variety of media including photography, video and paintings.
Visions of modern cities and urban life by internationally-recognised artists including Miao Xiaochun, Zhang Enli, Grazia Toderi and Beat Streuli will go on display during a three month residency at Gas Hall, thanks to BMAG, Walsall’s New Art Gallery, Walsall and Ikon Gallery, all part of the £1 million Art Fund International Prize.
Birmingham’s own Ladywood district, Pallasades shopping centre and mix of buildings old and new around St Martin’s Square will sit side by side with illustrations of metropolitan Beijing, eerie snapshots of modern India and the ‘forgotten’ banlieues of Paris.
Video courtesy of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Metropolis: Reflections on the modern city
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
23 March – 23 June
Words: Lyle Bignon