Review: Stanley Kubrick's Spirit Alive and Kicking at Somerset House

03/08/2016 15:12 | Updated 03 August 2016


Somerset House is currently hosting an exhibition of art, Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick, inspired by the master film-maker. And it is a challenging and thought-provoking show that not only celebrates Kubrick's work, but also uses the director's work as a springboard to examine issues of violence, rebellion and sexuality in society today.

What strikes you most about this show are two things: the impressive list of over forty artists who have been brought together to contribute to this exhibition, and the effort that has gone into making this a dynamic experience.

James Lavelle and James Putnam, who curated this, have weaved a maze through Somerset House's West Wing galleries, where its rooms - like corners of the mind - are filled with examinations of such intense emotions and conditions as desire, revenge, lust and madness. Or where the imagination is allowed to run riot, a feeding frenzy of ideas on the future, our place in the world, and the ever-marching drive towards automation.

This is evocative stuff, just conceptually, yet the artworks and installations that fill these rooms all capture something not just of Kubrick's films and their subject matter, but also his unique vision.


Broomberg & Chanarin have smothered the corridors with a carpet design lifted straight from the hotel in The Shining, its glaring geometric print and its lurid orange hues setting the scene perfectly.

And every turn you make, each room you enter off this corridor, brings you face to face with more challenging works, be it Julian Rosefeldt's film with Cate Blanchett reciting the Supremacist Manifesto in a futuristic building, or Seamus Farrell's assemblage of glass objects with Kubrick film titles carved into their surface.

Other rooms off the corridor will see you confronted with the intense heat Stuart Haygarth's tower of blazing electric fires, or Sarah Lucas' huge concrete penis that has crushed a car beneath its immense weight. Then you turn into another gallery to see Mat Collishaw's space helmet with a human skull in it - but with a primate's face projected on to its visor. Go around another corner and you're confronted with see an eerily accurate waxwork figure of Kubrick himself encased in a upright freezer (with echoes of The Shining).

It's an assault on the senses, for sure. But I wouldn't want you to think that you need to be a Kubrick aficionado to enjoy this show. Not at all.


There is so much to admire here that you do not need to have in-depth Kubrick appreciation for, whether that be in Peter Kennard's installation - a room filled with apocalyptic nuclear imagery (a la Dr. Strangelove) complete with photos of all the world leaders with a nuclear arsenal at their fingertips (including a presumably-hastily added picture of Theresa May) - or in Norbert Schoerner's exciting virtual reality creations, which has visitors immersed in a sterile computer-driven space station, as inspired by A Space Odyssey.

So whether you know Kubrick inside out, or are simply aware of his brilliance in passing, this exhibition is one of the best art shows on in London right now. The works are from some of the most exciting names in art, and they are bold, challenging and ask many prescient questions about our society and culture today. Terrific.

Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick, Somerset House, London
To August 24, 2016
Admission: £12.50/£9.50 concessions

All installation images © Peter Macdiarmid, Courtesy Somerset House