The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at
The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at

Barbican Firsts: 2010s Part I

Friday 3 March 2017

On 3 March 1982, the Barbican Centre opened its doors for the first time.

To celebrate our 35th anniversary, we’ve looked back through the archives and uncovered 35 Firsts from our boundary-pushing heritage over the last three and a half decades.

In this next chapter, we head back to the 2010s – so many we had to split it into two….Read Part II

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23) 27 February–23 May 2010: Céleste Boursier-Mougenot
First time that zebra finches play electric guitars (in public).
Trained as a musician and composer, French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot creates works by drawing on the rhythms of daily life to produce sound in unexpected ways. His installation for The Curve consisted of a walk-though aviary for a flock of 40 zebra finches, furnished with electric guitars. As the birds went about their routine activities, perching on or feeding from the various pieces of equipment, they created a captivating, live soundscape.
24) 3 March-22 May 2011: Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark: Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970s
First performance of Trisha Brown’s dance piece Walking on the Walls in the UK
With the city as their backdrop, canvas, stage and inspiration, this exhibition is the first major presentation to examine the experimental and often daring approaches taken by these three key figures, both individually and collectively, in the burgeoning arts scene in downtown New York during the 1970s. Featuring sculptures, drawings, photographs, documentation of performances and mixed media works, the exhibition focuses on the intersections between their practices and explores their shared concerns – performance, the body, the urban environment and found spaces.
25) 22 July 2011: A Night in Tahrir Square
First time musicians, including Ramy Essam, perform in the UK at A Night in Tahrir Square
It was the biggest party in Egypt’s history. Between 25 January and 11 February, the people turned Cairo’s Tahrir Square into a cross between Woodstock and a giant soapbox. Music and poetry played a crucial role in breaking the ice and melting the fear of tyrannical decades. The Barbican was proud to celebrate people power in the Arab world with an exceptional line-up of artists, all of whom contributed to Egypt’s revolution. This was the first time this collection of musicians played in the UK following the popular protests.
26) 6 October 2011–19 February 2012: OMA/Progress
First major exhibition of OMA and ‘starchitect’ Rem Koolhaas in the UK.
OMA/Progress was the first major presentation of OMA’s work in the UK and is guest curated and designed by the Brussels-based collective Rotor, who were responsible for the much praised Belgian Pavilion at the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale. With unprecedented access to OMA’s archives and daily practice, Rotor created a revealing portrait of OMA. The exhibition was laid out in three parts; the public zone, which included a browsable index of all OMA’s projects, videos of lectures given by OMA partners from the 1970s to now and an OMA shop including seminal books and an exclusive collection of prints. Three lower-level gallery spaces introduced OMA and their current preoccupations, including a raw sequence of every single image from OMA’s server – almost 3.5 million – that ran on a 48-hour loop.
27) 4–13 May 2012: Einstein on the Beach
First time Robert Wilson and Philip Glass' opera, Einstein on the Beach was performed in the UK
Widely credited as one of the greatest artistic achievements of the 20th century, this rarely performed work launched its director Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass to international success when it was first produced at the Metropolitan Opera in 1976. It is still recognised as one of their greatest masterpieces. Nearly four decades after it was first performed and twenty years since its last production, Einstein on the Beach was be reconstructed bringing this ground-breaking work to new audiences and an entirely new generation.
28) 25–26 July 2012: Wynton Marsalis' Swing Symphony
First UK performance of Wynton Marsalis' symphonic meditation on the evolution of swing
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis shared the stage with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the award-winning Chief Conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle. The first half of the programme featured the London Symphony Orchestra performing Rachmaninov’s dramatic Symphonic Dances – written in the US in 1940 yet infused with nostalgia for his Russian homeland.
29) 4 October 2012–3 March 2013: Random International: Rain Room
First (and only) time people are able to control the rain.
Known for their distinctive approach to digital-based contemporary art, Random International’s experimental artworks come alive through audience interaction. Their largest and most ambitious installation to date, Rain Room was a 100 square metre field of falling water designed for visitors to walk through and experience how it might feel to control the rain. On entering The Curve, which was transformed by the monumental proportions of this carefully choreographed downpour, visitors heard the sound of water and feels moisture in the air before discovering the thousands of falling droplets would respond to their presence and movement – meaning they never got wet!