Accidentally Wes Anderson: The Exhibition is now open in London, found just a Kovac’s cat’s throw from South Kensington station in a fittingly symmetrical red-brick building. The exhibition features over 200 photographs of hidden gems in all corners of the world, all presented in rooms covering themes like doors, maritime, sports and transport. It calls itself ‘a tribute to travel, photography, community, and adventure’, so I – in major need of some adventure inspiration – went to see if this exhibition would have me dusting off my passport and daring to part with my dogs for more than a day or two. Here’s our review of Accidentally Wes Anderson: The Exhibition…
To some extent, the neighbourhood in which the exhibition is found helps to set the scene for what is to come. South Kensington is no stranger to historic, regal architecture with uniform facades and striking features making it the perfect place for Accidentally Wes Anderson: The Exhibition to lay down its roots. All that’s lacking is the bold colours, but don’t worry – once you push through the doors the vibrant painted interiors more than make up for that. Just pick up your ticket from the friendly person behind the desk and the adventure begins.
The Themed Rooms
There were seven rooms to journey through and, to provide a bit of much-needed background for those unfamiliar, the first was an introduction to Accidentally Wes Anderson. From the humble beginnings – the very first Instagram post by founder Wally – to their first large-scale exhibition in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it was clear the travel-inspiring account has found its global community of fans and adventurers. This became very clear the more I wandered through the exhibition, with hidden wonders ranging from the frozen wilds of Alaska to an ice cream-pink Oyster bar in Whitstable. Clearly, they have eyes (and cameras) everywhere.
In true Wes Anderson style, colour plays a big part in immersing you in the theme of each room. Step inside Maritime and you’ll be plunged into a deep ocean blue, pierced by the sun-yellow telescope in the middle and the red-and-white lifebuoy hanging on the wall. You almost feel like a Birds Eye-reminiscent sea captain will emerge from behind one of the photographs, shaking salty water from his beard and jacket. Elsewhere the retro red and off-white stripe of the Sports room conjures up images of seventies football kits and lace-up boxing boots. One thing is for sure, the colour palette is bold and bright, making for a perfect backdrop to take your own cinematic photos.
I won’t give everything away but there were a few personal highlights. One of which was the wildly differing landscapes you discover in the Nature room – and finding out exactly where they were taken. While it was no surprise to learn the boy scout-style cabins were largely in America, the snow-covered vistas and sand-dusted landscapes found me leaning in closer for another look – let’s just say Norway, Morocco and Antarctica have made my travel wishlist. A particular shout out to one photo, which at first looked like it might be located in the fern-covered wilderness of Jurassic Park but actually turned out to be Ireland, and has warranted a third visit to the Emerald Isle in my books.
The other was the Doors room – who knew such an everyday thing could be so magical? These weren’t your grandma’s average doors no, they were portals to an endless expanse of green, a sleek entryway offering a glimpse into a seemingly infinite procession of golden-yellow train carriages and even a gate to the city of Babylon. This room felt like the most accurate reflection of seeing the magic in the mundane. You almost wish you could buy the photographers who capture it so beautifully on camera a drink.
Luckily, each Accidentally Wes Anderson photo does come with a caption. Although I’ve got to say it was like reading the fine print on a box of paracetamol – I found myself leaning over and squinting at the text, feeling like I was doing an impersonation of my grandma at the supermarket (sorry again grandma). While it did suit the aesthetic I did wish I could’ve reached out and pressed an arrow to increase the font size.
Not all was lost though – there was a QR code on each that whisked you away to the online description once your aching back gave up the ghost. Once you do read it you’ll find that alongside the fascinating story behind each piece (and trust me, these locations don’t just look intriguing) there was the type of camera used and the photographer’s name. So, if you do fancy doing some Instagram detective work, you might just be able to get them that drink after all. But maybe not, it’s a bit weird.
Is it just photographs?
If the sound of perusing photos has you ready to hit snooze then you’ll be happy to know there are some interactive elements. The photo ops for one. You can sort a new profile pic with a Wes Anderson-worthy photo by a timber boat shed in the Nature Room or stroll on a bit to take a seat in an old-school tube carriage which has stopped at the ‘AWA South Kensington’ station. This is found in the special London room – a tribute to the host city which works well as a reflection of the city’s many personalities. Each one portrayed through its many gems – from restored tube carriages which would have Wes himself reaching for the camera to colourful 70s launderettes and brilliant baroque architecture away. While you’re there keep an eye out on how to enter a competition to see your own photography on the walls.
Elsewhere you can take a seat in the exhibition’s very own ‘Adventure Cinema’. Where a compilation of AWA’s travel videos take you along to places such as Switzerland, all filmed in – of course – the classic Wes Anderson style and accompanied by narration. It was then I spied a queue out of the corner of my eye, and, ever the curious Brit, I followed it to reveal something I should have expected: a retro photo booth. So, even if you don’t fancy yourself much of a photographer, they have you covered with a charming memento. Or, you could always keep things digital and send yourself an email postcard to be in with a chance to win a signed copy of their book – just look out for the red post boxes at the end.
Speaking of mementos there is, of course, a gift shop to stock up on exclusive Accidentally Wes Anderson goodies. As well as selling the book and jigsaw puzzles, there was also the ideal thing to jot down all your jet-setting plans in – a travel journal. Plus, there are stickers, badges and more so you can decorate your travel gear before you head off on an Accidentally Wes Anderson-inspired adventure.
Do you need to be a Wes Anderson fan to enjoy it?
While this definitely caters to those who are fans of Wes Anderson’s work and distinct aesthetic of symmetry and colour, I would say that everyone can enjoy the striking photos in their own right. They’re sure to give you a case of wanderlust and reveal far-flung places you’ve never seen before – as well as introduce you to some gems that are just around the corner in the UK.
You can’t deny the director’s visual style, as following his unwritten rules the talented photographers have captured the wonders of the world in a mesmerising way. And it’s not just untouched deserts or tangled forests you can expect. In fact, the Transport room seemed to be the one in which people lingered the most. Now, that might be a Londoner trait – you know how we love (and depend on) our chaotic public transport here – but it was interesting how the likes of cable cars, train carriages, vintage cars and even aircraft can double as a form of art when they’re normally not something we would look twice at. Unless you are crossing the road or runway of course.
To put it simply, for those in search of travel inspiration this is a treasure trove, for those who love Wes Anderson it’s a wonderland and for those who are simply curious, there’s plenty to pique your interest at Accidentally Wes Anderson: The Exhibition!