Age of Terror exhibition at the IWM review ***


Age of Terror: Art since 9/11

Imperial War Museum London, 24th November 2017

The IWM has a splendid collection of war art which is always worth seeing and reflecting on when it is exhibited. Here the curating team has assembled 50 or so works from 40 or so artists to reveal how they have responded to war. conflict, terrorism and security since the events of 9/11. So a first for the IWM I think in terms of contemporary work on this scale.

To quote the curators. The exhibition explores four key themes: artists’ direct or immediate responses to the events of 9/11, issues of state surveillance and security, our complex relationship with firearms, bombs and drones and the destruction caused by conflict on landscape, architecture and people. By and large they succeed though the plethora of artists, approaches, media, messages and effect makes it a bit jumbled. It is concise enough though, some very fine contemporary artists are displayed and there are a handful of works that really make you think. Mind you there are also a few that don’t stand up to much scrutiny.

The exhibition begins with a video from Tony Oursler who lived in Manhattan and recorded the day’s events in an immediate and spontaneous way, You may well have seen some of the footage before: that doesn’t make it any less raw or affecting. Hans Peter Feldmann’s 9/12 Front Page, which collated front pages from major newspapers around the world the day after, has a similar effect. And Ivan Navarro’s The Twin Towers which follows is another striking work, a light installation which creates the illusion you are at the top of the towers looking down through them. The next couple of rooms have some interesting works, for example Gerhard Richter’s September from 2005 which depicts the tail-fin of a speeding jet, but here it is a print not the original oil, and one of the rugs created by Afghan craftsman, which also appear later on. But there are some failures as well, Grayson Perry’s pot, Dolls at Dungeness, and the Chapman Brothers Nein! Eleven!, which is pretty facile.

Ai Weiwei’s Surveillance Camera with Plinth, works as do his other marble renditions of everyday objects, and makes its point, but doesn’t really get more interesting on repeated viewing. Jitish Kallat’s Circadian Rhyme, showing the gamut of everyday situations where we are now searched, makes a similar point through the use of model figures. Further on I was most struck by Rachel Howard’s iconic image Study, Mona Hatoum’s Natura morte, delicate, shiny Venetian glass versions of grenades, by Francis Alys’s video, Sometimes Doing Is Undoing and Sometimes Undoing Is Doingcontrasting the maintenance of automatic weapons by both sides in Afghanistan, Head of State by kennardphillips and, especially by Omer Fast’s 30 minute film, 5000 Feet is the Best, with its repetitions, genre swapping and blurring of fact and fiction. The nature of warfare in the age of the drone is also considered by James Bridle Drone Shadow, an outline created on the lower floor of the IWM. 

As I say there are other works, usually video, that didn’t really leave any impression on me I am afraid, and maybe diluted the overall impact of the exhibition. The direct responses to the events of 9/11 and the works which explore the nature of modern warfare were most effective. Worth seeing I think, it’s on until 28th May 2018, and worth taking the time, with the best of the art here, to think about the impact of 9/11 and the way the “war on terror” has changed our world and the nature of conflict.


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