Somerset House South Wing lit up blue at night

Reekie's Round-Up 2020

Jonathan Reekie CBE

18 Dec 2020

Somerset House director Jonathan Reekie shares his annual round-up of cultural highlights from the year gone by at Somerset House.

In many ways 2020 has been a year to forget, with the arts and creative industries suffering a devastating impact, and many of our much-loved events having to be cancelled. Despite this, we've seen creatives respond to the situation in all manner of exciting ways, and a highlight of the year has been seeing so much art and culture migrating online, including our own digital programme. Here are my picks from the year.

Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi

Like mycelium, this very popular exhibition burst back after the first lockdown and the virtual tour sent its spores into homes everywhere.

Way back when in January we all went mycelium-mad (and discovered quite a lot of people are, too) with out exhibition dedicated to the fascinating world of fungi. Curated by Francesca Gavin, the exhibition explored how artists, writers and thinkers have been compelled by this organism's healing and psychedelic properties for centuries, as well as shining a light on how designers are using mushroom matter as a wonder material in sustainable design-thinking for the future. Sadly, the exhibition had to close early when lockdown came into effect, but we were excited to launch our first ever virtual tour in response, and thankfully managed to re-open the exhibition in July for so many more visitors to enjoy.

Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi Virtual Tour

I Should Be Doing Something Else Right Now

Covid-19 meant our Gallery 31 exhibition, 'I Should Be Doing Something Else Right Now' had to close early. But the themes inspired our summer of digital programming, including a series of live commissions from Somerset House Studios artists, who were invited to explore the format of the live stream from isolation, and ruminate on the theme.

I Should Be Doing Something Else Right Now Live: Alan Warburton - Country Diary

Sleep Mode

Presented at midsummer as a reflection on the theme of 'always-on' culture, this online mini-series picked up where our 24/7 exhibition left off, imagining what kind of world we can create post-Covid. Curator Sarah Cook was joined by artists Michael Mandiberg and Garnet Hertz to discuss the technological surveillance issues with working online and from home during lockdown, reflect on new routines and explore how habits have changed in time of socially distanced connections.

Sons of Kemet Live Stream

Nothing could make up for the lack of live music this summer, but this replay of Sons of Kemet's politically charged Summer Series show, featuring saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, very nearly did. A highlight of our 2019 Summer Series, over twice the amount of people that were in the courtyard joined us to relive the concert online.

A photo of the band Sons of Kemet. Four men, stood against a patterned black and white backdrop.

Upgrade Yourself

This surprise lockdown hit series saw creative luminaries sharing their life experiences and helping young people get into the profession. Watch the whole series on our YouTube channel, including presentations from Selma cinematographer Bradford Young, internet pop sensation Hannah Diamond, and musician Nabihah Iqbal.

Upgrade Yourself: The Cinematographer's Lens with Bradford Young

Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage and 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

The return of 1-54, with the first UK exhibition of the wonderful photography of Leila Alaoui, made us think that perhaps life was returning to normal. We even had a (socially-distanced!) opening party - remember them? Watch our online tour of the exhibition with writer and curator Ekow Eshun to learn more about Alaoui's powerful and important work.

Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage Virtual Tour


Our annual experimental music series took on a new life this year, a fantastic example of how the constraint of not being able to present music to a live audience spawned a whole new experimental sound platform for new work. Five musicians joined us for a four-month digital residency to develop a new work using spatial sound technology, and these were presented on a brand new listening platform over five nights in September. Explore the works - with headphones! - here.

ASSEMBLY 2020: Ben Vince in conversation with Coby Sey

New Music from Somerset House Studios Residents

I've been enjoying two brilliant albums released earlier in the year from Somerset House Studios residents - Anna Meredith’s Fibs (nominated for the Mercury Prize) & Beatrice Dillon’s Workaround. I also caught Anna’s tour opening (a live gig, remember those?) and recently got a sneak preview of her music for DODGE, which is typically inventive and upbeat and something to look forward to in 2021.

Anna Meredith - Paramour, filmed at Somerset House

Amplify 2020

Our partnership with British Council and MUTEK took place online this year with a collection of digital works, a panel discussion and an evening of live streamed performances. Particular live favourites were Obuxum and GLOR1A’s film from the Deadhouse plus an audio-visual sound work from Kathy Hinde recorded on the River Frome.

Kathy Hinde - River Traces

National Gallery

Our neighbours presented a very moving Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition (about time!) & Somerset House Studios resident Nick Ryan's soundscape of Jan Gossaert’s Adoration of the Kings, a completely new way to see and hear a painting.

Gossaert in 10 minutes | National Gallery


There's been lots of time to watch TV this year, but two stand-outs were Michaela Coel’s funny and unsettling I May Destroy You and Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock, so good I’ve seen it twice.

BBC Smal Axe - Lover's Rock Trailer

Ways of Listening

An online talk with Simon McBurney, Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, Nitin Sawhney, bringing together four extraordinary artists who all have links to Somerset House to explore the act of listening. Part of a series of online talks inspired by Complicité's play The Encounter, one advantage of our online life is such encounters are much more likely to happen.

Ways of Listening | Complicité