London’s museums and galleries are also getting into the Olympic spirit and have delivered a number of exceptional exhibitions that consider the cultural significance of athletic achievement and enduring importance of the Olympic Games and the perennial quest for victory. Below are a selection of some of the most inspiring and insightful Olympics-themed exhibitions taking place in London this summer.
Road to 2012: Aiming High; National Portrait Gallery, July 19 – September 23
The National Portrait Gallery’s ongoing series of exhibitions relating to those who have made the Olympic Games possible concludes with Road to 2012: Aiming High. The biggest photographic commission ever undertaken by the gallery, and one that is on display throughout the building, its focus is the athletes who are representing Britain, but also those who have supported them. Interspersed between the gallery’s regular displays these exceptional sportsmen and women glare determinedly at passers-by; staff at the Olympics village, residents of the Olympic boroughs and a multitude of organisers, administrators and supporters stand by their side. The focus and determination of all sears through the portraits; the hope of visitors will be that they’re rewarded for their efforts come Games time.
The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games medals; British Museum, until September 9
An infinitesimal number of people will ever be able to legitimately claim an Olympic medal, which is perhaps partially why they’re so alluring to the rest of us. This summer the British Museum will allow visitors the opportunity to get up close to examples of this year’s Olympic and Paralympic medals, as well as provide information about the historical context behind the medals and the modern Games. Supplementing the free display are medals from the 1908 and 1948 Olympic Games held in London and medals from the 1960 and 1984 Paralympic Games. If you’d like to learn even more about the subject it’s worth visiting on August 3, where Philip Attwood from the British Museum’s department of coins and medals will be giving a free talk on the topic at 1.15pm.
The Olympic Journey; Royal Opera House, July 28 – August 12
The Olympic Museum in Lausanne is currently closed for renovation, which works out well for London as our capital has been loaned some of its most interesting exhibits to form The Olympic Journey exhibition in the Royal Opera House. Examining the original Greek games and considering their revival and subsequent explosion in popularity, the free exhibition is one of the most comprehensive cultural examinations of the Olympics to be held in the capital this summer. The highlight for many will be the complete display of all the Olympic medals and Torches used in the modern Games.
Designed to Win; Design Museum, July 25 – November 18
Looking at how design can impact upon and improve sports performance, Designed to Win at the Design Museum examines key sporting moments and considers how innovative design has contributed to some of our most powerful shared sporting memories. Using film clips, photography and models alongside interactive displays and everyday sporting equipment, the exhibition also considers how sport has in turn influenced popular culture, design and art.
Olympex 2012: Collecting the Olympic Games; British Library, July 25 – September 9
The London 2012 Olympics will soon be over and then all we’ll be left with are memories to last a lifetime. And memorabilia. Recent Games have provided host nations and all manner of industry cause to create limited-edition tat, celebratory merchandise and genuinely beautiful commemorative products; Olympex 2012 at the British Library tells the stories of Games past through the medium of postage stamps and related memorabilia. Exhibits (mostly stamps, postal items and other associated pieces of Olympic memorabilia) on display are drawn mostly from private collectors so are both agreeably idiosyncratic and unlikely to have been seen by large audiences before. It’s another free exhibition and is complemented by a couple of talks – more details on the exhibition’s microsite.
Art of the Olympians; UCL Bloomsbury Campus, July 23 – August 15
Although based in Fort Myers in Florida, The Art of the Olympians Museum and Gallery is ‘popping up’ in UCL this month. Showing artworks created exclusively by Olympians past and present, it includes pieces by Shane Gould, Peggy Fleming, Kader Klouchi, Florence Griffith Joyner and Allison Wagner. In existence since 2005, the gallery seeks to mirror the original Olympic games in Ancient Greece, when athletes were considered role models that were able to understand and nurture the arts as well as promote excellence in sports.
Olympic and Paralympic Games posters; Tate Britain, until September 23
A dozen contemporary artists have created official posters for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games and these artworks are now on show in Tate Britain. The free exhibition includes screen prints and lithographs of the works and should provide plenty of fodder for debate. Contributing artists include Tracey Emin, Chris Ofili and Martin Creed, and the response to works has been variable. While you’re in the gallery you could also drop into the Another London photography exhibition. With the eyes of the world on the city, this temporary display shows some 180 pictures of London taken between 1930 and 1980 by foreign photographers.
Movement in Sport and Our Great Metropolis; Osborne Studio Gallery, until August 31
Sport and London are fused in this small-scale exhibition at the Osborne Studio Gallery in Belgravia, with the series of lushly finished paintings on show depicting either sports in progress, London on the go, or a fusion of both. Artists featured include Terence Gilbert, Sarah Maclean and Mao Wen Biao.
Charlotte Cory; The Green Parrot Gallery, Greenwich
More a nod towards the Olympics than a direct tribute, The Green Parrot Gallery’s current display sees the gallery owner, Charlotte Cory, modifying Victorian photographic visiting cards. The images which originally showed athletic feats have been adapted to now show mutilated man-animal hybrids enjoying wrestling, cycling and other activities. The gallery is near Greenwich Park and some of the artist’s works will also briefly be on show in the John Soane Museum.
Eleanor Cardozo; throughout London
A former gymnast, the London-born sculptor Eleanor Cardozo is a committed fan of the Olympics and over the coming weeks her gymnastics-inspired sculptures will be on show in locations throughout the capital. Tourists and locals visiting St Margaret’s Church in Westminster Abbey will be able to see five of her bronze statues there, including the three-metre-tall bronze sculpture PROMISE, dedicated to Brtiish Olympian Frankie Jones. Work will also be on show in Heathrow Terminal 5, Gatwick Airport, Adler in New Bond Street and the Osborne Gallery mentioned above.
London and the Olympics; Museum of London, until September 2012
Few cities have hosted the Olympics three times, so the Museum of London has chosen to commemorate this momentous occasion by looking back at London in 1908 and 1948, the previous years the Games were held here. Highlighting what those experiences were like both for locals and international visitors, the free London and the Olympics exhibition recounts touching individual stories and significant events. Running concurrently, the complementary exhibition Our Londinium also examines London’s Roman roots and considers how foreign influences have helped shape the nation’s capital.
Olympians at Madame Tussauds; Madame Tussauds, from July
Britain’s Olympic hopefuls and international greats from Olympics past have justly achieved celebrity status worldwide. Paying tribute to some of the world’s most renowned athletes, Madame Tussauds London has developed an interactive sporting zone that features some of the country’s greatest sporting stars. On show from this year’s Games are likenesses of Jessica Ennis, Tom Daley and Usain Bolt, with Jesse Owens and Mohammed Ali representing Games past. Encouraging visitors to get moving, some of the displays are interactive. It’s possible to join Bolt on a replica running track and to step onto the winners’ podium alongside Jessica Ennis.
1000th: A Bob Martin retrospective; Quaglino’s, until September 17
Sports photographer Bob Martin will be displaying a selection of his images at Quaglino’s restaurant in St James throughout the Olympics period. Showcasing a number of images picked especially by the photographer, 1000th: A Bob Martin retrospective includes numerous shots from previous Olympics and Paralympics and spans his 30-year career. The images are on display throughout the bar and dining area so the showcase is designed more as an additional point of interest to those eating or drinking on the premises rather than as one that one aimed directly at non-patrons. The show is one of a series of ongoing photography exhibitions that have been held at the venue.