FRANCIS SULTANA shares his first monthly arts and culture column in collaboration with Times of Malta, in which he presents a set of must-see local and international events he encourages readers to explore.

In 2018, I became one of the Ambassadors of Culture for Malta. Growing up in Gozo, I dreamt of being able to go to exhibitions and shows in London, Paris, Rome and New York. Today, as an international designer, I am incredibly fortunate that I have access to artistic and cultural events.

In my new monthly column for Times of Malta, I want to try and bring a few of my go-to shows and must-see exhibitions to your attention, not to mention issues on art, design and architecture that have a relevance both locally and internationally.

Ambassador of Culture Francis SultanaAmbassador of Culture Francis Sultana

I also want you, the reader, to connect if you have questions or need advice – not everyone is able to travel around the world, especially right now, so I hope I can bring a little bit of news and inspire you to go online to search for more.

I divide my time between London and Malta. The cultural diversity of London is, of course, part of the very fabric of what makes that great city come alive. So many people from all over the world have come to the capital to make better lives for themselves and their families.

The Serpentine Galleries pavilion for 2021 reflects that communal history – a story of a city that morphs and changes to adapt to the needs of its citizens.

The pavilion, designed by Johannesburg-based firm Counterspace (architect Sumayya Vally is the youngest architect to have been honoured with the prestigious commission) has been created with collaboration, belonging and gathering at its heart – all such essential elements for us as humans and yet aspects of all our lives that have been so sorely missed during the pandemic.

As the co-chair of the cultural and social affairs committee, to have a voice that connects the gallery to the wider community is something that we always strive to achieve.

Serpentine Pavilion 2021, designed by Counterspace, Exterior View. Photo: Iwan Baan/CounterspaceSerpentine Pavilion 2021, designed by Counterspace, Exterior View. Photo: Iwan Baan/Counterspace

The design for this year’s pavilion is based on the meeting places, both past and present, of the diasporic and cross-cultural communities in London. The pavilion has been built from reclaimed steel, cork and timber covered in micro-cement with textures and colours taken directly from the urban architecture of London.

The current must-see exhibition at the V&A is Alice: Curious & Curiouser which runs until the end of the year. It is incredible to think how a children’s book that came out over a hundred and fifty years ago has had such a huge impact on the creative arts: fashion, photography, literature, art, music, film and food.

The dance between real and surreal, conscious and subconscious has inspired so many artists over the years and this show cleverly recreates themes and ideas from across the creative arts that have been inspired by one young girl’s journey into wonderland.

The global design community was rocked earlier this year by the very sad news that the icon of British design, retail and hospitality, Sir Terence Conran, had passed away. The Design Museum, of which I am delighted to be a board member, remains an important part of his legacy.

A new exhibition The Conran Effect celebrates the life of the museum’s founder, looking back at his extraordinary achievements and features early furniture designs and material relating to the establishment of the brand Habitat.

‘Alice Curiouser and Curiouser’, May 2021, Installation Image. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum‘Alice Curiouser and Curiouser’, May 2021, Installation Image. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum

Conran emerged on the scene in the late 1950s and his influence remained at the heart of UK design until his death. A retailer, entrepreneur, restaurateur and property developer, Conran was the ultimate 20th-century tastemaker, and yet, he always described himself as a designer, first and foremost.

His ideas revolutionised everyday life in Britain, ensuring that contemporary design should not be determined by luxury or exclusivity, but rather by the premise that form and function could come together in a timeless way to improve the quality of life. A book, Terence Conran: Making Modern Britain, written by Deyan Sudjic, accompanies the exhibition which is free to the public.

I hope I can bring a little bit of news and inspire you to go online to search for more- Francis Sultana

I am very fortunate to live next to The Royal Academy in London, and a trip to the annual Summer Exhibition is a must. This year, the show has, like many stalwarts of London’s traditional summer calendar, been delayed until now, for the second time. The 253rd Summer Exhibition is a unique celebration of contemporary art and architecture and provides a vital platform and support for the artistic community.

The Summer Exhibition is the world’s largest open submission contemporary art show and has taken place every year without interruption since 1769. Works from all over the world are judged democratically on merit and the final selection is made during the eight-day hang in the galleries. This year, the Royal Academy received over 15,000 entries, of which around 1400 works, in a range of media, are on display. 

‘Claire and Nelia’ by Chantal Joffe RA. Photo: Royal Academy‘Claire and Nelia’ by Chantal Joffe RA. Photo: Royal Academy

Yinka Shonibare RA is the coordinator of this year’s exhibition which explores the theme ‘Reclaiming Magic’ to celebrate the joy of creating art. David Adjaye RA has also curated this year’s Architecture Room, which considers architecture through the expression of ‘Climate and Geography (or vice versa)’ focusing on the context of site, geography, climate, po­liti­cal climate, people, community and culture, which is all the more important in light of the COP26 taking place in Glasgow. 

The majority of works in the Summer Exhibition are for sale, offering visitors an opportunity to purchase original work. Funds raised support the exhibiting artists, the postgraduate students studying in the RA Schools and the work of the Royal Academy. The show runs until January 2, 2022. 

I met Jeff Koons once in his studio in New York. It was a masterpiece of processes, seeing the team of assistants working alongside the creator. It really was very impressive, and I have always loved Koons’s ability to merge high and low, popular and academic, large scale and detail. His controversial work still divides and will continue to inspire debate.

His new show, a retrospective at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, is open until January 30, 2022, and I urge anyone going to Italy to incorporate a visit into their itinerary.

Artist Cristina Iglesias alongside an installation from ‘Sea Cave (Entrance)’. Photo: MICASArtist Cristina Iglesias alongside an installation from ‘Sea Cave (Entrance)’. Photo: MICAS

Curated by Arturo Galansino and Joachim Pissarro, the show offers a wide selection of some of Koons’s most celebrated pieces from the mid-’70s to the present day. Jeff Koons: Shine is all about just that – the shine, the star, the aspiration, the celebrity and the very nature of what art is, from style and aesthetics to the place of the viewer to its role of art within our art history. Like him or loathe him, I urge you to see him!

Here in Malta, we just celebrated a new addition to the MICAS contemporary art collection, with the unveiling of an outdoor sculpture by the Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias as part of the third edition of the island’s International Art Weekend, which ran from October 15 to 16.

Sea Cave (Entrance) is a compelling piece which suggests an underground space, related not only to the geology of Malta but also the island’s unique history and relationship with its caves. The installation is sited in Hastings Gardens and will be open to the public until the work is moved to MICAS sculpture garden when the site opens.

Stay tuned for the next monthly cultural column in December.

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