The Horror Show! at London’s Somerset House explores fifty years of creative rebellion


Creative rebellion, Design, Exhibition,

October 27 sees the opening of a “scary” exhibition at London’s Somerset House: The Horror Show! A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain. The exhibition, curated by Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard and Claire Catterall, explores how ideas rooted in horror have informed the last fifty years of creative rebellion in Britain, with a long list of participating artists and more than 200 works on display. Three keywords break down the exhibition into three acts, each interpreting a specific era between the 1970s and the present through the lens of classic horror archetypes, the Monster, the Ghost and the Witch.

The Horror Show! at London’s Somerset House explores fifty years of creative rebellion

Double, double, toil and trouble! The witches are back at London’s prestigious Somerset House, where an unusually scary exhibition opens on 27 October. The Horror Show! A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain is the title chosen by co-curators Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, BAFTA filmmakers and resident artists at Somerset House, and Claire Catterall, Senior Curator of the British art institution, who also conceived the idea.
The name of the exhibition is pretty much self-explanatory: the production of horror since the 1970s is studied and exhibited for its contribution to the creative industry in the form of monsters, ghosts and witches. But there is nothing facetious or fantastic about the concrete implications and significance of the exhibition, as the curators point out in a note for the press: "The show looks beyond horror as a genre, instead taking it as a reaction and provocation to our most troubling times. The last five decades of modern British history are recast as a story of cultural shapeshifting told through some of our country’s most provocative artists. The Horror Show! offers a heady ride through the disruption of 1970s punk to the revolutionary potential of modern witchcraft, showing how the anarchic alchemy of horror – its subversion, transgression and the supernatural – can make sense of the world around us. Horror not only allows us to voice our fears; it gives us the tools to stare them down and imagine a radically different future".

More than two hundred carefully selected items, including objects, photographs and paintings ideally represent the most turbulent and – at least apparently – most frightening part of the British psyche, culture and emotions of the past half century. The exhibition is divided into three acts, separating three time periods, referred to as Monster, Ghost and Witch. Each of these ages is filtered through the lens of these archetypes of horror through a series of works dating from different eras and centring around a single theme.

The Horror Show! opens with the Monster section, investigating the economic and political turbulence of the seventies and the social division of the eighties. Against a backdrop of revolt and disorder, this first part of the exhibition traces the origins and rise of the personalities who disrupted, destroyed and redefined British culture at that time, exploring the many "monsters" who have plagued and continue to plague contemporary society in various ways.

The second act in the exhibition, Ghost, marks the collapse of the hyperinflated culture of the eighties and the disturbing and drastic changes in global lifestyles that took place in the late nineties and early 2000s, tracing the path to the global financial crisis of 2008 and the dawn of the digital age and invisible cyber wars.

The last act in the exhibition, Witch, focuses on the Britain that survived the financial crash of 2008 to come down to the present, celebrating the emergence of the new hyperconnected generation: a global coven readily embracing a dynamic grounded in integration and equality. And in fact the final works in the exhibition are The Goddess Who has Sky as Hair (2019) by Linder and Three Thousand and Thirty High Priestess of Pluto (2016) by Zadie Xa, artists who have given up the patriarchal occult to promote a new form of artistic witchcraft rooted in ecology, feminism and bodily autonomy.

Francesco Cibati


Dates: 27 October 2022 – 19 February 2023

Co-curators: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard, Claire Catterall

Contributing artists include Ackroyd & Harvey, Josh Appignanesi, Ruth Bayer, Anna Bunting-Branch, Juno Calypso, Leonora Carrington, Charlotte Colbert, Marisa Carnesky, Damselfrau, Jesse Darling, Jake Elwes, Gazelle Twin, Bert Gilbert, Miles Glyn, Tyreis Holder, Matthew Holness, Sophy Hollington, Bones Tan Jones, Isaac Julien, Tina Keane, Serena Korda, Linder, Hollie Miller & Kate Street, Grace Ndiritu, Col Self, Tai Shani, Oliver Sim, Suzanne Treister, Penny Slinger, Matthew Stone, Linda Stupart & Carl Gent, Cathy Ward, Ben Wheatley, Zoe Williams and Zadie Xa, Hamad Butt, Adam Chodzko, Kevin Cummins, Graham Dolphin, Angus Fairhurst, Paul Finnegan, Laura Grace Ford, Lucy Gunning, Paul Heartfield, Susan Hiller, Stewart Home, Derek Jarman, Michael Landy, Richard Littler, Jeremy Millar, Haroon Mirza, Drew Mulholland, Pat Naldi & Wendy Kirkup, Cornelia Parker, Steve Pemberton, Nic Roeg, Nick Ryan, Adam Scovell, Reece Shearsmith, David Shrigley, Iain Sinclair, Kerry Stewart, Tricky, Gavin Turk, Richard Wells and Rachel Whiteread, Marc Almond, Judy Blame, Leigh Bowery, Philip Castle, Chila Burman, Helen Chadwick, Monster Chetwynd, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Tim Etchells, Noel Fielding, Mark Moore & Martin Green, Pam Hogg, Dick Jewell, Harminder Judge, Daniel Landin, Andrew Liles, Linder, Luciana Martinez de la Rosa, Lindsey Mendick, Dennis Morris, Matilda Moors, Tim Noble & Sue Webster, Guy Peellaert, Gareth Pugh, Jamie Reid, Derek Ridgers, Nick Ryan, Ralph Steadman, Ray Stevenson, Francis Upritchard and Jenkin van Zyl.

Images credits:
01. The Horror Show! (c) Barnbrook; Somerset House
02. Ray Stevenson, The Bromley Contingent, 1978 (c) Ray Stevenson
03. Juno Calypso, The Honeymoon Suite, 2015. © Juno Calypso. Courtesy of the artist.
04. Self Portrait as a Drowned Man (The Willows), 2011. © Jeremy Millar. Courtesy of the artist.
05. Martin At Billy's, London, 1978. © Derek Ridgers. Courtesy of Derek Ridgers Editions.
06. I'm Dead, 2007, (c) David Shrigley. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery
07. Penny Slinger, Penny Red Dakini, 2019, Courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery
08. Trojan & Mark At Taboo, London, 1986. © Derek Ridgers. Courtesy of Derek Ridgers Editions.
09. Boy George outside St Moritz, London, 1981. © Derek Ridgers. Courtesy of Derek Ridgers Editions.
10. Monster On a Nice Roof, 1972. (c) Jamie Reid. Courtesy of John Marchant Gallery
11. The Boy From The Chemist Is Here To See You, 1993. Courtesy of Kerry Stewart
12 W.I.T.C.H. (“We Invoke the Culture of Heretics”) , 2015 . © Anna Bunting - Branch

Content guidance: This exhibition contains some graphic and disturbing artworks and therefore may not be suitable for children under 12.