Cities use streets as the arteries that connect them together; street and graffiti artists use streets and urban fabric to provide their inspiration and very often their canvases. Mapping the City, an exhibition curated by the arts organisation A(by)P in an un-refurbished space in Somerset House in London brings the two together; it is surprising that this has not been done more.
We are so used to the quality of the classical spaces in Somerset House, from the great courtyard at its heart to internal spaces such as Sir William Chambers’ tour-de-force, the Navy Staircase (later renamed the Nelson Stair) and new restaurants such as Spring in New Wing, that it is initially a shock to find this exhibition in a semi-derelict space; a few of the last rooms in New Wing recently occupied by the Inland Revenue and stripped out in anticipation of refurbishment. It has echoes of the old unused Sorting Office in New Oxford Street and the lower level spaces of Victoria House in Bloomsbury. As such, it provides a fitting backcloth for this exhibition of part of a city that is changing; for in truth this is what keeps cities dynamic and alive.
The exhibition features works by over 50 internationally-known artists such as Shepard Fairey, Swoon and Aryz, along with emerging talent from across the world. One of the strengths of this exhibition is the variety of media including prints and illustration such as the graphic work by French artist Honet, paintings and sculpture including an orange tent by British artist Petro and a pyramid of coloured cement castles by 3TT Man and video presentations by Cult of RAAM and by Tim Head with the exhibition supplemented by performance, music and talks. As you would expect there is much use made of acrylic and spray paint. Over 40 of the works were specially commissioned by A(by)P, with artists using their own characteristic styles to illustrate their view of imaginary or real cities and challenge the viewer to rethink the city environment, perhaps as they travel home from Somerset House.