Art Review: The Road to 2012 – Aiming High @ National Portrait Gallery

With the Olympics imminent, let the Olympic-themed art exhibitions begin!

The National Portrait Gallery brings us an exhibition that looks at the people behind the games. As well as featuring those who’ve been hogging the spotlight like Anish Kapoor and Boris Johnson, it also looks at the less recognised faces.

The photographs by Jillian Edelstein may be cheesily posed for but they’re effective at telling the stories of the multitude of people involved in the Games. From the catering director for the Olympic village to the composer responsible for recording all 205 national anthems — though you’d be right to wonder how many of them will actually be played.

The best contributions are the two sets of portraits by Nadav Kander. His moody black and white minimalist head shots of athletes reveal a range of emotions. The youthful innocence of Jade Jones belies the fact that she’ll be representing GB in Taekwondo, while the sheer muscular presence and intensity of Lawrence Okoye (Discus) is intimidating. Kander has also photographed a set of torch bearers. Their full-length portraits hang next to the stories behind their selection. As these works project from the wall, they mirror the amiable and well-rounded presence of these individuals.

Also of note is the multi-screen video training montage of Duncan Goodhew, so well presented that you’re almost waiting for the Rocky theme to kick in.

These portraits are of a mixed quality but they’re at their best when bringing to our attention the stories of the many unsung contributors and participants at London 2012.

BT Road to 2012: Aiming High is on at the National Portrait Gallery until 23 September. Entrance is free.

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