The Art Diary April 2024 – Revd Jonathan Evens

Art Diary April 2024

The April 2024 Art Diary covers exhibitions as far apart as Salem, Massachusetts, Hong Kong, Venice, Cumbria, Welwyn Garden City and London.

‘Ethiopia at the Crossroads’ is an exhibition that examines the enormous cultural significance of this often-overlooked African nation through art. It tells the story of the region’s history and demonstrates the vibrancy of cross-cultural exchange and the human role in the creation and movement of these art objects. Nearly 2,000 years of Ethiopian art and culture are explored through more than 200 objects, including painted religious icons, illuminated manuscripts, gospel books, coins, metalwork and carvings paired with works by renowned contemporary Ethiopian artists, including Wosene Worke Kosrof, Julie Mehretu, Helina Metaferia, Aïda Muluneh and Elias Sime. Religious art underscores how Ethiopia has long been a meeting point of the three major Abrahamic religions. Works on display include objects related to the Queen of Sheba, the Ethiopian Queen whose union with King Solomon of Israel bore a dynastic line of Ethiopian kings lasting two millennia.

“At its core, this exhibition centres the profound foundational role Ethiopia has played in world culture and the humanities,” says Karen Kramer, Peabody Essex Museum’s Stuart W. and Elizabeth F. Pratt Curator of Native American and Oceanic Art and Culture. “Arising from a diverse, multiethnic, multifaith society, global intersections influence these artworks. At the same time, we see a distinct aesthetic emerge that belongs to Ethiopia alone. This exhibition provides a window onto a layered and complex region of the world whose rich cultural and artistic traditions have so much to teach us all. What is so exciting to me is not only having these amazing historic works together in one place but also showing the continuum of Ethiopian artistic achievement through the present.”

The Art Diary April 2024
Nicolas Poussin, Eucharist, about 1637–40, © The National Gallery, London

In time for Easter, the National Gallery, London acquired ‘Eucharist’, one of the greatest paintings of the Last Supper, by Nicolas Poussin. The painting is the first of the Gallery’s Bicentenary year acquisitions and can be viewed in Room 31 from 22 March 2024 alongside a new long loan, ‘Marriage’, from the same ‘Sacraments’ series. The 15th painting by the French classicising artist to enter the Gallery’s Collection, ‘Eucharist’, is part of Poussin’s revolutionary cycle of the ‘Seven Sacraments’. Dr Francesca Whitlum-Cooper, Acting Curator of Later Italian, Spanish and French Paintings, says, “Acquiring ‘Eucharist’ not only broadens and deepens our representation of Poussin: it also means that one of the pictures from the most beautiful and important series of paintings in the Western canon now hang on our walls.”

The picture is one of a cycle of seven scenes Poussin painted in the second half of the 1630s, showing the Catholic Sacraments for his friend and patron, the Roman antiquarian Cassiano dal Pozzo: ‘Baptism’, ‘Penance’, ‘Eucharist’, ‘Confirmation’, ‘Marriage’, ‘Ordination’ and ‘Extreme Unction’. Poussin represents the sacrament of the Eucharist with a depiction of the Last Supper. At the centre of the strikingly symmetrical composition is Christ holding the bread and cup of wine in one hand and raising the other in blessing. The most striking feature of this painting is its dramatic use of light, which comes from three sources: the two flames of the double-wicked lamp above Christ’s head and the candle on the stool in the centre-left foreground.

Beginning in the mid-19th century and plotting key moments through the UK’s glassmaking history, glass is presented in ‘The Glass Heart: Art, Industry & Collaboration’ at Two Temple Place as an experimental art form for today alongside work from those collections that have grown out of the heartlands of a historic industry. This bold new exploration of glass in the UK brings together for the very first time rarely seen works from key UK collections, celebrating this remarkable material – unforgiving, fragile, strong, and sustainable.

Through 170 years of glassmaking, the exhibition investigates the artistry, ingenuity and innovation needed to work with this challenging material and examines how glass-making skills in the UK have evolved to contain and express stories, from historic marvels to contemporary works finding new relevance today. Expressive and amorphic from the initial molten state of its formation to the reflective and light-transmitting qualities of its final form, the artworks included here shine a light on some of the now-endangered traditions of working in glass. They include work for churches by Wilhelmina Geddes, Morris & Co, John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, Christopher and Veronica Whall.

‘Expressionists: Kandinsky, Münter and the Blue Rider’ at Tate Modern celebrates the radical experimentation of the Blue Rider artists, a loosely affiliated and diverse network connected by their desire to express personal experiences and spiritual ideas. Much of what characterised their movement was reflected in the name they chose. The horse represented creative energy, and the rider, the artist who controls it, which reflected Franz Marc’s mysticism centred, as it was, on the innocence of animals, symbolising a return to an earthly paradise. The colour blue symbolises spirituality, as reflected in Wassily Kandinsky’s search for a spiritual language for art. That search led him to abstraction, believing that colours and forms could purify the soul.

Together, through two Blue Rider exhibitions arranged by Kandinsky and Marc and ‘The Blue Rider Almanac’, which they edited, the Blue Rider artists sought to forge a new language in art. Their quest was to devise a visual language for spiritual and intellectual truths with the objective of finding multifaceted realisation in their work, from Kandinsky’s and Marc’s abstractions to Alexej Jawlensky’s, Gabriele Münter’s and Marianne von Werefkin’s expressive depictions of humans and nature.

Tim Marlow, Chief Executive and Director of the Design Museum in London, says that the Methodist Modern Art Collection is “…one of the art world’s unexpected treasures, including some of the most powerful and arresting religious art of the 20th and 21st centuries.” The collection includes exhibits by key figures of 20th and 21st-century British art, including Graham Sutherland and Elisabeth Frink, as well as works by international artists.

‘Deepening the Mystery: ‘Unexpected Treasures’ of Art’ is an exhibition of works from the Methodist Modern Art Collection at the Focolare Centre for Unity, Welwyn Garden City. The exhibition gives an opportunity to meditate on the life of Jesus portrayed in contemporary art and features twenty-five works from the Collection. These include Elisabeth Frink’s ‘Pieta’, Francis Hoyland’s ‘Nativity Polyptych’, Mark Cazalet’s ‘Fool of God’, Ghislaine Howard’s ‘Washing of the Feet’ and Richard Bavin’s ‘The Empty Tomb’.

My March diary included mention of ‘The Cookham Brotherhood: The Art of Gilbert and Stanley Spencer’ at the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham, which is now supplemented by ‘Gilbert Spencer’ at Abbot Hall in Kendal, Cumbria. For the first time in over 50 years, a selection of Gilbert Spencer’s major paintings is being exhibited alongside examples of his preparatory studies and illustrative art.

Painter, muralist, illustrator, teacher and writer, Gilbert Spencer’s career spanned more than six decades. During his lifetime, he was recognised as one of the leading artists of his generation and one of the most successful art professors, teaching at the Royal College of Art, Camberwell College and Glasgow School of Art. The exhibition tells stories of him and his multi-faceted career. These narratives include recalling the time the artist and several of his students were evacuated from London to Ambleside and his fascination with landscapes, people and everyday life in rural England.

Object & Thing has its first international and solo artist exhibition, which features a new body of work by F Taylor Colantonio, coinciding with La Biennale di Venezia 2024. The exhibition ‘Frutti di Mare’ features ten new works made in polished cartapesta (a unique material developed by Colantonio and a medium he has honed since 2012) combined with green patinated bronze and glass, among other materials. These intertwine otherworldly geologies, from the cosmos to realms of mythology.

US artist Colantonio, who lives and works in Rome, has a conceptual framework that transcends time, presented within the titles of his artworks, which evoke a wide range of cultural references from Kate Bush lyrics to Oscar Wilde’s poetry. He intertwines, in these new works, a captivating array of mythologies centred around the theme of water, minerals, surrealism, queer history, poetry and outer space geological phenomena. The forms showcased in the exhibition encompass a diverse range of aquatic imagery, including amphorae, ammonites, cosmic spheres, razor clam shells and abalone. Colantonio also celebrates the rich materiality in Venice as each sculpture is meticulously crafted using a blend of materials that evoke the grandeur of Venice’s marble-clad facades, terrazzo floors, and Byzantine mosaics. At the same time, the verdant patinated bronze pays homage to the city’s historic lagoon.

Sophie Hacker’s work in St Marylebone Parish Church embraces many disciplines, including stained glass, textiles, bronze, painting and found objects. Recent commissions include stained glass windows, chapel crosses, vestments and altar frontals, ecclesiastical silver, and a range of private commissions in sculpture and glass. Her driving passion is ‘the beauty of Holiness’ and how the creative process can convey something of divine mystery. A Visiting Scholar at Sarum College in Salisbury, an Artist Liveryman at the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and an Advisor to Art+Christianity, Sophie is currently working on a reliquary dedicated to an Anglo-Saxon saint in Kent and a large orrery for an estate in France.

Her ‘The Infinity Series’ exhibition offers a chance to appreciate some of her recent artwork, inspired by and created in response to a new Reredos painting at St Marylebone Parish Church. This work, “A Sea of Glass Like unto Crystal”, has recently been installed as a commission for the Church to complete the ‘lunette’ of John Compton’s impressive apse composition. Canon Jeremy Haselock describes the work as showing, beneath the heavenly throne, “a swirling cosmic sea, a vortex of divine love, drawing into salvation the whole created and uncreated order.”

Hignell Gallery will shortly be presenting ‘Together’ by the sculptor Helaine Blumenfeld OBE. This is an exhibition featuring Blumenfeld’s newest works, conceived against the backdrop of our turbulent world and exploring the essence of vulnerability and the light of hope. The exhibition includes 30 marble, bronze, and wood sculptures, presented in two adjacent venues, the gallery space, and an open-air exhibition of the historic gardens of St James’s Square in the heart of St James’s.

Blumenfeld has created more than 90 large-scale sculptures for private and public clients, including works at Canary Wharf, The Lancasters, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Leicester. Her work was first shown in a cathedral in 2013 (‘Messenger of the Spirit’ at Salisbury Cathedral) and has subsequently been seen at Lichfield, Gloucester, and Ely. Her sculptures are symbols of hope through their depiction of the natural cycles of growth, bloom, withering, death and renewal.

Cameroonian artist Marc Padeu says: “‘ The baptism of Roxane’ highlights a baptism ceremony as it appears in my own mind. The different scenes of the paintings are made up of my childhood memories in church and the holy images that decorated the family home, but also of a few lines of holy writing that I was able to read at the time when I was learning about Christianity.”

He also says: “I want to paint the everyday life of the people around me, my family and friends. Since we all live together, I share their moments of joy, but also their sadness. Not everything is perfect; there are many difficulties. However, I don’t feel obsessed with simply showing this state of affairs. When I manage to capture a moment of joy, a slice of happiness, it is just as perfect. In a way, painting their lives allows me to talk about my own life. I can’t work without historical and religious references in my painting. History is my passion, and religious belief has always been very present around me.”

In October 2022, as part of Hodge Hill Church’s journey together to pursue racial justice, they commissioned a new set of Stations of the Cross for the church’s main worship space. Hodge Hill Church in Birmingham is a ‘Local Ecumenical Partnership’ between the Church of England (St Philip & St James, Hodge Hill) and the United Reformed Church (Hodge Hill URC). Eddy Aigbe, their commissioned artist, was born in Nigeria, has lived permanently in the UK since 2007, and is based in Walsall in the West Midlands. Alongside his art, he works as a community organiser with Methodist churches in the region.

Aigbe led a series of workshops and conversations with the church community in late 2022 and early 2023, helping them reflect on the story of Jesus’ journey to the cross, in the gospels and in the ancient tradition of the Stations of the Cross. They shared together some of the meanings and resonances found in the Stations: the feelings they stirred, and the connections they sparked with what was happening in their lives, in their communities, and in the world. Aigbe drew on these reflections as he created a new set of Stations for the Church. These were launched during Holy Week 2024 with an event at which Aigbe spoke movingly about his evocative images.

Throughout his career, Glenn Ligon has pursued an incisive exploration of American history, literature, and society across bodies of work that build critically on the legacies of modern painting and conceptual art. His latest exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, Hong Kong, includes a continuation of his ‘Stranger’ paintings, a new abstract painting series titled ‘Static’, and a series of untitled drawings on Kozo paper. These works all use excerpts from James Baldwin’s landmark essay ‘Stranger in the Village’ and exemplify the artist’s radical use of text to explore the politics of culture and identity.

With the ‘Stranger’ series, Ligon evokes both hypervisibility and invisibility in the Black experience and explores language’s inability to fully articulate issues surrounding race, citizenship and subjecthood. ‘Static’ questions whether language–in our ‘post-truth’ world—can function as a way to describe the cultural moment we find ourselves in. All three series offer a reflection on, in Ligon’s words, “the things that can be said and the things that cannot be said, or the things that are difficult to say, or that remain opaque despite this will to be clear and explain…”

‘Tears of Gold’, an exhibition at Garden Court Chambers, London, by the artist, author, and human rights activist Hannah Rose Thomas, features portraits of Yazidi women who escaped ISIS captivity, Rohingya women who fled violence in Myanmar, and Nigerian women who survived Boko Haram and Fulani oppression. Thomas’ most recent portraits depict survivors of the re-education camps in Xinjiang, China, and of conflicts in Afghanistan, Ukraine and the Gaza Strip.

With these artworks, along with the associated publication ‘Tears of Gold’, Thomas bears witness—painting by painting, relationship by relationship—to the singular stories shared by each individual and, by extension, the trauma and recovery experienced by their communities. In these works, she demonstrates the potential of caring and creative practices that take time to listen, learn, and focus a prayer-like attention on the suffering of others and, in the process, reveal a sense of interrelatedness, common vulnerability, and shared humanity that allows for healing and hope. This body of work not only serves as a reminder to remain concerned about the ongoing persecution of people around the world based on their backgrounds and beliefs but also reflects on the complexities and limits of empathy as we look to pursue justice more compassionately.


‘Ethiopia at the Crossroads’. 13 April – 7 July 2024, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, USA – Visit Here 

Poussin’s ‘Eucharist’ and ‘Marriage’ can be viewed in Room 31 of The National Gallery from 22 March 2024 –  Visit Here 

‘The Glass Heart: Art, Industry & Collaboration’, 27 January – 21 April 2024, Two Temple Place

Visit Here 

‘Expressionists: Kandinsky, Münter and the Blue Rider’, 25 April – 20 October 2024, Tate Modern – Visit Here

‘Deepening the Mystery: ‘unexpected treasures’ of art: An exhibition of works from the Methodist Modern Art Collection’, 1 March – 7 April 2024, Focolare Centre for Unity, Welwyn Garden City –  Visit Here

‘Gilbert Spencer’, 23 March – 29 June 2024, Abbot Hall, Kendal – Visit Here

‘Frutti di Mare’, 15 April – 23 June 2024, Object & Thing with D.H. office – Spazio Malipiero, Venice –  Visit Here

‘Sophie Hacker: The Infinity Series’, 7 March – 22 April 2024, St Marylebone Parish Church – Visit Here

‘Together’, 16th April – 3rd May 2024, Gallery Eight, London. Open air exhibit in St James’s Square gardens, 16 April – 26th July (participating in London Art Week 2024) – Visit Here

‘Marc Padeu: Le baptême de Roxane’, 14 March – 5 April 2024, Larkin Durey, London – Visit Here

‘Stations of the Cross’, from 23 March 2024, Hodge Hill Church, 242 Coleshill Road, Birmingham B36 8BG – Visit Here

‘Glenn Ligon’, 25 March – 11 May 2024, Hauser & Wirth Hong Kong

Visit Here

Tears of Gold, 15 March – 14 June 2024, Garden Court Chambers, London

Visit Here –


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