Exhibitions

London Making Now

A showcase of contemporary makers and their contribution to the capital's long history of creativity and craft.

Museum of London
24th September – 24th February 2022

By Grant Gibson / 17th November 2021
Romilly Saumarez-Smith with Laura Ngyou, 'Amethyst, citrine and black diamond earrings', 2015 COURTESY: © Museum of London

Romilly Saumarez-Smith with Laura Ngyou, ‘Amethyst, citrine and black diamond earrings’, 2015
COURTESY: © Museum of London

I’VE SPENT QUITE a lot of time this autumn on the design ‘circuit’ chatting with friends, colleges and fellow writers. Truth be told, they tend to be of a certain age and many of us grew up together professionally, drinking and gossiping in bars and clubs in Shoreditch during the mid-nineties. A few questions have kept recurring: where is the next generation of designers hanging out, swapping ideas, making bonds (or enemies) that will last a lifetime? Are we just getting old, our collective finger removed from the pulse? In short, what’s happening with the design scene now?

Nobody seemed to know. Several of us reached the conclusion that there isn’t a central hub – the reasons for this are not hard to glean. London isn’t an easy place to live unless you’re earning well. The inner-city areas that were the playground of up-and-coming artists, designers and architects twenty-five years ago have been gentrified, while the courses at the Royal College of Art, whose graduates classically stuck together to build enclaves of creativity, are full of students from the far east, who are less likely to stay in the city.

Rachael South, 'Chair', 2017 COURTESY: © Museum of London

Rachael South, ‘Chair’, 2017
COURTESY: © Museum of London

As I picked my way through the Barbican to the Museum of London, was I hoping that ‘London Making Now’ might showcase a new scene? Well, maybe a little bit, yes. Then did it deliver? Well, no, not on that front necessarily, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile, if bijou, exhibition.

Rachael South, 'Stool', 2017 COURTESY: © Museum of London

Rachael South, ‘Stool’, 2017
COURTESY: © Museum of London

The display features 15 designers, artists and makers that cover a panoply of disciplines and materials. Some have been working in their field for a while, such as Romilly Saumarez Smith, others, like Piotr Frac, are relatively new names (to me at least). Arguably, the best known is the increasingly ubiquitous, Yinka Ilori.

Yinka Ilori, 'What God Has Joined Together, Let No Man Put Asunder', 2015 COURTESY: © Museum of London

Yinka Ilori, ‘What God Has Joined Together, Let No Man Put Asunder’, 2015
COURTESY: © Museum of London

Each was selected by curator, Danielle Thom, according to three criteria: their work has a connection to London’s crafting history; it explores a pertinent social or cultural issue which affects contemporary London (think housing or climate change); and the maker’s practice is explicitly informed by their own experience as a Londoner. Every designer also gets an opportunity to explain why and how the capital has inspired them.

James Shaw, 'Plastic Baroque', 2017 COURTESY: © Museum of London

James Shaw, ‘Plastic Baroque’, 2017
COURTESY: © Museum of London

Simone Brewster, for instance, writes that her work “seeks to capture the British culture of today, bringing together the voices of all its contributors and their history in the objects I create”. Meanwhile, stained glass artist Frac says the city’s “shifting shapes and creative heritage have helped me in combining contemporary style alongside traditional techniques in my work.”

Piotr Frac, 'Gorilla', 2017 COURTESY: © Museum of London

Piotr Frac, ‘Gorilla’, 2017
COURTESY: © Museum of London

The work is of a uniformly high quality. Personal highlights include: earrings made from London waste – cigarette butts and broken clay-pipe stems – mounted in silver by Emily Frances Barrett; sculptures fashioned from clay excavated during the redevelopment of London Bridge Station in 2015 by Alison Cooke; and a tiled mural telling a history of London by Laura Carlin (with Jo Briggs), which runs from the dinosaurs to our current grid-locked roads. It might not always be historically accurate but it is full of fascinating detail, emanating a sense of joy and, of course, place.

All this goes to show that London remains full of people with ideas and the ability to make them happen. Is the city at its creative zenith? On balance no, I don’t think it is, but as one of the exhibitors, James Shaw, points out, it remains “big, messy and exciting. It’s not the cleanest city, it’s not the prettiest city but there are layers and layers of interesting things built up everywhere.” London will come again.

London Making Now at the Museum of London.

Article By

Grant Gibson
Grant Gibson is a former editor of Blueprint and Crafts and hosts the podcast Material Matters.