Presented by King’s Cultural Institute and the British Library, and in close communication with many of Berger’s key collaborators, the exhibition is curated by Tom Overton, expert on Berger’s archive and collaborative PhD student at King’s College London and the British Library.
The exhibition borrows its title from one of the essays that fed into Ways of Seeing (1972), the collaborative series of films and later book which changed the way we understand art and its private and public ownership. The series also drew on G., the novel for which Berger won the Booker Prize and shared half of the proceeds with the Black Panthers. This year is the 40th anniversary of both works.
In an interview about the donation, Berger explained:
“I somewhere am perhaps deeply unmercantile, and it is market forces as they are now called who at the moment are ruling - both materially and socially, and politically - the planet. Therefore if one can take decisions and do things which have nothing to do with the values behind those market forces, then so much the better.”
“What interests me about the existence of archives”, he continued, is that “you enter the past which is as it were in the present tense. And so it’s another way of people who lived in the past who perhaps are still living or perhaps are dead; a way of them being present.” This exhibition invites you into this “company of the past”.
The exhibition starts in London in the 1940s, when Berger painted until art “dragged him into politics”, he became a Marxist critic, and wrote the novel A Painter of Our Time (1958). Paintings by Berger are brought together with drafts of the novel and key works by artists Leon Kossoff, Peter de Francia, Prunella Clough and Peter Peri to evoke and interpret its historical contexts.
The second room takes Berger’s own scepticism about the “anniversary cult” to Ways of Seeing and G., to draw out the stories of both archives. Previously unseen correspondence from British Library literary archives and private loans is brought together with video and audio to highlight Berger’s creative dialogues with contemporaries including writers Eva Figes and B.S. Johnson – a King’s alumnus – and collaborators on Ways of Seeing such as Mike Dibb, Richard Hollis and Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic workshop.
The book version of Ways of Seeing closes with the injunction “To be continued by the reader…”, and the third room draws this into an exploration of Berger’s many subsequent collaborations, from the photographer Jean Mohr, whose portraits of Berger form an uninterrupted 40-year sequence, to the film- and bookmaker John Christie, and an unrealised project with the singer Tom Waits. The visitor is invited into their own collaboration with Berger by making a drawing as part of Alan Kane’s Artangel commission Life Class: Today’s Nude (2009).
Art and Property Now closes with a darkened room, filled with the voices of Berger, Simon McBurney and Sandra Voe as part of another Artangel piece, The Vertical Line, originally installed in the nearby Aldwych Tube station in 1999, and limited to a very few visitors, it was “a journey into intimacy”, McBurney said; “the further we go into the past, the more intimate it becomes.”
Curator Tom Overton says: “It has been a huge pleasure working on the archive, and being able to discuss it with Berger and his wife Beverly, who has as much to do with its shape and survival as he. I’m really excited that more people are going to be able to see it as part of this show, together with such varied artworks. I hope that putting it on in a university-owned space starts some interesting discussions.”
Commenting, Jamie Andrews, Head of English and Drama at the British Library, who collected the archive from Berger’s home in France, says: “John Berger’s donation of his archive to the British Library in 2009 was a tremendously generous and exciting gesture, and we are delighted to be collaborating with colleagues at King’s College London to present highlights of the archive to the public for the first time”.
Deborah Bull, Executive Director, King’s Cultural Institute, says: ‘‘I’m very excited to see the Inigo Rooms animated by this wonderful exhibition, created in collaboration with our partners at the British Library. In revisiting the extraordinary cross-disciplinary output of this remarkable artist, I hope that the Inigo Rooms will offer, in some small way and, in Berger’s words, ‘a meeting-place of the invisible, the irreducible, the enduring, guts and honour’.’’
Art and Property Now will take place in the Inigo Rooms, King’s College London’s dedicated space for new forms of engagement between the College, the cultural and creative sectors, and the wider public. The Inigo Rooms are located in the East Wing of Somerset House.
A series of events will accompany the exhibition, including:
The premiere of Ways of Listening, a new film with John Berger and Tilda Swinton, made by London Consortium Television and held at the British Library
A conference, Ways of Seeing John Berger, on 6-8 September at King’s College:
A rare screening of John Berger and Timothy Neat's 1989 Play Me Something at the Whitechapel Gallery:
And a series of events at the Inigo Rooms:
For further information on the exhibition, please visit: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/cultural/index.aspx
King’s Cultural Institute is grateful to Annely Juda Fine Art, Artangel, Artevents, Arts Council England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Library, the Courtauld Library, HEFCE, the Henry Moore Institute, James Hyman Fine Art, and a number of private lenders for their loans to this exhibition.