London’s cutest exhibition, quite literally, has arrived in Somerset House. Celebrating all things adorable, kawaii, and sweet, CUTE explores the force of the cultural phenomena of cuteness using contemporary artworks and new artist commissions in partnership with Sanrio.
From the beginning of cuteness to the development of kawaii and the cross-contamination of culture from Japan, popular objects including games, plushie toys, cats and other doe-eyed animals, emojis, flowers, hearts and more feature in the exhibition to discover the power of the allure of cuteness. Five key themes are explored, Cry Baby, Play Together, Monstrous Other, Sugar-Coated Pill and Hypersonic, to understand how cuteness has evolved over the years.
What can I expect to see at the CUTE exhibition?
A part of the exhibition pays homage to the mascot of cuteness – Hello Kitty, celebrating her 50th anniversary this year. Her dedicated space features a plushie area, the collection of super fan Amy-Louise Allen who has over 50,000 pieces of Hello Kitty merchandise, and an immersive Hello Kitty disco, with a giant mirror ball to boot. Guests who are in the mood for a boogie can dance along to a DJ playlist featuring pop and disco hits from The Archies to Olivia Newton-John, Donna Summer to The Human League.
Cats take centre stage at the exhibition’s introduction, investigating how these adorable felines have dominated the world of cute. Famous depictions of cats by Louis Wain are featured, looking at the shift from when cats were thought of as working animals to lovable pets, as well as contemporary artist Andy Holden’s grandmothers’ collection of feline figures.
Visitors are invited to consider the development of kawaii culture, featuring artefacts rarely exhibited in the UK including materials from the archive of Yayoi Museum in Tokyo. Looking at the design of products from the 1910s to the 1950s for schoolgirls and young women with motifs romanticising the idea of girlhood, along with the rise of Japan’s female illustrators, the exhibition maps out the role that kawaii culture had to play in cuteness and how it permeated to the US and UK.
Beyond celebrating and showcasing popular objects, materials and memes found in cute’s pop culture landscape, CUTE also address the links to capitalism and the deeper less cute side of cuteness with capitalism its ability to shapeshift between being ugly and adorable or human and inhuman. It invites visitors to ponder how something so seemingly sweet has gained traction and if everything is cute just for cute’s sake or if is there something darker behind it…
Where is the CUTE exhibition?
At the Embankment Galleries in the South Wing of Somerset House, on the Strand. The exhibition is closed on Mondays except for February 12, and April 1 and 8, and is otherwise open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 6pm with the last entry at 5pm.
How long is it running for?
The CUTE exhibition is open now and runs until April 14.
How much are tickets and where can I get them?
General admission tickets are priced at £18.50, and concession tickets start from £11. Pre-booking is advised to avoid disappointment. Find tickets at Somerset House’s website here.
Those aged under 25 can visit the exhibition on select Tuesdays in February and March, dates of which you can find on the website, and there’ll also be Relaxed Sessions available on March 16 and April 5 for those who wish to explore the CUTE exhibition in a calm and comfortable environment.