On a dazzling day of May, I got an opportunity to attend the preview of Bedwyr Williams’ new exhibition at the Southwark Park Galleries, an independent art centre niched in a scenic green area of otherwise industrial South-East London. It was luminous, light-hearted, precisely what audiences need in this reopening period. A bit of light, a bit of humour. The MILQUESTOAST project showcases the characteristic bittersweet humour of Williams, this time aimed at arts themselves, lined with nostalgic ars poetica undertones.
Now 20 years into his artistic career, Bedwyr Williams is widely regarded as a talented multimedia satirist, whose self-appointed mission is bringing laughter into art galleries by combining installation with stand-up comedy. MILQUETOAST, which opens shortly after the 15th anniversary of Williams’ first solo exhibition, lives up to these expectations, combining drawings, paintings, video and sculpture.
The exhibition opens at the Lake gallery, where Williams’ giggle-inducing drawings are displayed in vitrines. Inspired by the artist's’ experiences of the art world and, as he told me, originally created from his bed. The vitrine is an inviting insight into the artist’s colourful daily ruminations. The postcards depict his thoughts, experiences, and interactions. Described at times with frustrated bafflement, at others, with pure fondness.
The rest of the exhibition is hosted by Dilston Gallery, one of the UK’s oldest concrete churches. In its dimly lit central nave, we’re introduced to the exhibition’s protagonist – a vaguely anthropomorphic piece of futuristic architecture named Milquetoast (meaning feeble, timid or bland). It is a miniature of an absurdly modern building, presented in the solemn holiness of a traditionally sacred space, corresponding to Williams’ thoughts on architectural trends predominant among art galleries. The display of comic miniatures and sculptures in this space is incongruous, yet endearing. The oddly personal atmosphere of it, seeing a peanut-shape cement bloc in a church for instance, is genuinely much more entertaining than it has any right to be.
Once you stumble into the neighbouring exhibition room, an animated short film titled Militia, written and narrated by Williams, is playing. It tells the story of an unfortunate occupation of an urban art gallery, which I would spoil if I were to try and pitch, so I’ll just mention that it’s all the funnier for how it ties to Williams’ drawings, both in terms of content, and comedy style.
The whole of MILQUETOAST reads like a letter to Williams’ life-long love, the arts. All faults are in the open, all are disclosed, known, accepted. It’s a chuckle-inducing, disarmingly honest satire, without a trace of viciousness. The testimony of an artist, and a spectator. What makes it so heart-warming to me, as a lover of both art and comedy, is how extraordinarily accessible the exhibition is. There is no hint of snobbery in Williams’ work. The artist manages to make his points clearly and cleverly, without falling on overt simplification, which, Williams admits, was the intent all along.
To conclude the narrative of anger and despair that has marked our year, Williams offers to his audience the most precious gift of all. A good laugh. MILQUETOAST strikes me as a perfect reintroduction to the arts, with its uplifting but oddly sentimental charms. The exhibition is free and opens at the Southwark Park Galleries on May 19th. Waiting there? An artistic experience that’ll leave you with the sweet feeling one gets after a colorful café conversation with a giggly old friend.
Written by Majka Wankiewicz
Edited by Garance Querleu
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