John Berger: Art and Property Now, Inigo Rooms, King's College, London

4.00

On the trail of an idol and exotic hero of the old left

In retrospect, there is no doubt that I had a crush on John Berger. He had won the Booker Prize with a phantasmagorical novel called G, then threw the organisers into disarray by announcing that he was giving half the money to the British Black Panthers. In the same year, 1972, he wrote Ways of Seeing, the most arresting television series about art ever made. He was craggily handsome, smoked Gitanes, rode a powerful motorcycle.

And he was both ours – British born and bred – and entirely exotic: he had fled the parochialism of London for the Continent and a mere 10 years later seemed quite unplaceable, pronouncing English slowly and with exaggerated precision, as if handling toxic material with tongs. I was 20 when I interviewed him for a student arts magazine, and I'm sure I wasn't the only undergraduate who wanted nothing better than to be John Berger.

So many of our idols from those years have crumbled: how has this one fared? A sympathetic exhibition in London gives an opportunity to reconsider the work of this gifted artist who gave up painting full-time before he was 30 because, as he wrote, "for me there were too many political urgencies". With press cuttings, photographs, scribbled notes, and a fan letter from Tom Waits, Art and Property Now is a lightning tour through a unique career.

In a series of rooms it charts Berger's development from journeyman painter to critic and novelist then into voluntary exile in France where today he continues to write.

In the 1940s and 1950s, under the influence of intellectual émigrés, Berger became a Marxist art critic for whom society's property relations have a defining effect on the art it produces and values: "being potential slave masters", he wrote, "became part of the Europeans' way of seeing everything". The critic who ignored these factors was complicit in tyranny.

Capitalism and colonialism had not only enslaved half the world but dehumanised the European in the process, making him "clench himself up in his own violence". With the indignation of a revolutionary and the vision of a poet, he forced us to confront this process in G and Ways of Seeing, works that exploded existing categories.

In 1962 Berger left London for good, and very successfully set about turning himself into a European writer. And the more European he became, in his refusal to resort to jokes and his insistence on the political imperatives of writing, the less British.

But in leaving England, did he perhaps lose something vital? Since then he has produced scintillating books but none with the scope or impact of the ones written in his first years of exile. In the long run, the cultural fit with Europe was simply too snug: Berger's seriousness can at times slide into self-parodic solemnity, leading him to make lapidary statements that are not always as profound as they sound.

Speaking about archives – this exhibition selects from the archive he donated to the British Library in 2009 – he told one interviewer, "You enter the past which is as it were in the present tense. And so it's another way of people who lived in the past ... a way of them being present." The English is stilted, the meaning commonplace. Perhaps after all it was the irritation of the London grit that produced the pearls of his career.

To 10 Nov (020-7836 5454)

Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game