I must confess that I had never read Aldous Huxley’s Island. But after an encounter with some giant purple mushrooms at the Dairy Art Centre, I now feel as though I have.
To explain. Huxley’s 1962 novel concerns a utopia where exotic religions and psychedelia rule. It’s the inspiration behind a similarly named exhibition at the recently opened Dairy Art Centre in Bloomsbury, a gallery of contemporary art.
Tucked away in a tiny backstreet a few steps from the Brunswick Centre bustle, the building is a squat brick structure that once was a milk depository. A suitably white interior shelters behind a chic glass facade fronted by a small sculpture garden.
But if the walls are plain, the exhibition adds pops of colour and excitement, with 70 works by 40 artists including Jake and Dinos Chapman, Peter Doig and Cindy Sherman. This non-selling show spans an eclectic range from sound to mixed media, courtesy of collectors Frank Cohen and Nicolai Frahm.
Immediately inside is Ai Weiwei’s Map of China, hewn from a Qing Dynasty block of wood. I loved its combination of brutish force and the way its folds and rings suggest a rich past and diversity. Another favourite was Takashi Murakami’s Army of Mushrooms (yes, it was those fun fungi again).
Some works, such as Fang Lijun’s 2007-2008, obviously channel the kaleidoscopic, tropical Island theme. Likewise, Tomas Saraceno’s delightful Flying Garden, made of transparent pillows, was suggestive of a hippy drippy world. Then there was Douglas White’s Crow’s Stove, rearing up like a malevolent palm tree about to transform into a fearful bird.
The relevance of others, such as Adriana Lara’s ink print of a Dunhill cigarette packet, Smoking Kills, was harder to fathom. But that, and works like John Armleder’s handless clocks, were no less intriguing and worthy of their place.
I’ll let my photographs tell the rest of this very visual story, but just add that the gallery offers free guided tours at 3pm on weekends. I can think of no better antidote to the winter chill than casting your mind adrift and becoming marooned on this island of brilliance and wit.
The Dairy Art Centre, 7a Wakefield Street, Bloomsbury, WC1N 1PG 020 7713 8900, free, until 1 December.