Large parts of the Imperial War Museum are closed for a refurbishment until next year, designed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. In the meantime it has been partly re-opened and it contains the Architecture of War exhibition. This show primarily focuses on the buildings and ruins of war rather than the soldiers and civilians involved.
There are big names such as Nevinson on display – but better quality works by them can be found at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. However, photography is strong in this display with a hulking Nazi fortification in France still exuding menace even in disuse and Paul Seawright's cleared out Taliban barracks lit up by searing sunlight blindingly breaking through.
The one painting that is particularly powerful is John Singer Sargent's massive canvas of soldiers suffering from the effects of mustard gas. It's a harrowing scene as many soldiers lie stricken on the floor while blinded victims are reliant on their brothers to guide them.
The Imperial War Museum has also embarked on a programme of contemporary art. The first installation – 5,000 feet is the best by Omer Fast – is a video work; the title references the optimum height for unmanned drones to conduct surveillance and engage perceived threats. This surreal video looks at the human impact of a process that is designed to distance drone operators from the battlefield.
By transposing the United States for Afghanistan, this powerful work highlights the impact of a weapon whose use in war zones is controversial. We're shown New England as if seen from a surveillance drone and witness an American family of innocents getting caught in the blast of a Hellfire missile strike. This was our favourite piece and worth sitting through its 30 minute run time to get the full effect.