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Art reviews and listings for London's best museum exhibitions and art galleries

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This week's unmissable art

Here are the ten new art shows you'd be mad to miss

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Christian Marclay interview

The king of sound art tells us about his latest symphonic masterpiece

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Top 10 art shows of 2015

Here's our pick of London's art offerings over the next twelve months

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Bob and Roberta Smith interview

Radical artist Bob and Roberta Smith tells us why art is an election issue

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Must-see photography exhibitions

See the best snaps on show in London this week

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The latest art reviews

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Helen Carmel Benigson

Art may not often deal with personal neuroses, but Helen Carmel Benigson confronts them head-on in her Technicolor one-room installation.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Rubens and His Legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne

Hear the phrase ‘Rubenesque’, and chances are it’s the Flemish master’s women that you’ll picture – big and buxom, fleshy and sexy. Yet beyond that, the expression points to a broader ethos of abundance and vitality, both in terms of Peter Paul Rubens’s own life (besides being an artist, he was a diplomat and all-round celebrity), and also his paintings in general, stuffed full with muscular, almost orgiastic scenes of energy and tumult. The Royal Academy captures this side of Rubens extremely well, eschewing a chronological display in favour of themed sections – ‘Violence’, ‘Lust’, ‘Power’ and so on – that showcase his baroque virtuosity: from his heady, sensuous masterpiece ‘The Garden of Love’ (1633, pictured), to landscapes brimming with eerie, esoteric detail, to astonishingly action-packed sketches of dancing peasants or savage lion hunts. Yet actually the exhibition’s main focus isn’t really Rubens at all (sometimes he has only a couple of works in a room), but rather an attempt to chart his inevitable influence across the centuries. It’s an approach that generally makes sense, with the dozens of prints that derived from Rubens’s compositions, or works by artists such as Van Dyck (a former pupil of his who went on to become equally celebrated) or Sir Joshua Reynolds (who tried to model his own, boringly proficient portraiture after Rubens). In certain cases, however, the concept gets stretched too thin, with too many mediocre works or vague comparisons – most ludicrou

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Wilhelm Sasnal

No subject matter seems too large or controversial for Wilhelm Sasnal to tackle. Here, the Polish painter focuses on historical events and tales from folklore that circumnavigate religious and racial prejudices. The canvases vary between large abstract views of interiors and op-art landscapes, and more penetrating portraits and narrative driven works. There’s fluidity to the work. Quick gestural brush marks give the sense of freshness, as if they were painted yesterday. His use of muted colours, moody intense black and greys, is offset by unexpectedly abrasive bright hues. Smaller paintings invite you in, especially the facsimiles of famous artists’ work. On what appears to be an old tablecloth, fruit has been painted in the distinct style of post-impressionist Paul Cézanne. Two rural scenes by none other than English sporting painter George Stubbs have been rendered in moody tones.Yet, Sasnal isn’t revering these eminent figures from art history; often, he’s highlighting social inequalities and cultural discrimination. He reframes Edgar Degas’s ‘At the Stock Exchange’ for example to zoom in on the conversation between two Jewish men and the apparent anti-Semitic subtext of the original. Sasnal continues to unpick the multifaceted layers of reality in his bright painting based on a Polish children’s poem from the 1920s about an African boy who doesn’t want to take a bath for fear of turning white. He interprets this somewhat questionable tale in a decorative illustrative m

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Adventures of the Black Square

Fun fact of the year, and it’s only January: under the military junta in Argentina in the 1970s, Venn diagrams were banned, since they illustrated collaboration and collective action. This is just one of the unexpected turns taken by this show tracing the course of geometric abstraction across the last century. Taking as its starting point the 1915 ‘Black Square’ by the Russian painter Kazimir Malevich, it looks at how abstraction grew from a radical ideology suggesting a new democracy of art to become a diffuse and various global language at once able to incorporate indigenous artistic cultures and transcend them. If that all sounds a bit like hard work, it really isn’t. The early Russian stuff in particular is quite a hoot: both earnest and startlingly imaginative, it presents a world where radio towers and rugs, paintings and railway stations are all equally important, and all formed from a set of basic shapes. It also anticipates a lot of things we now take for granted, like photography being an art form, and women being artists. So the ‘Black Square’ should have been the dropping of the bomb for twentieth-century art. In fact, two years later, Marcel Duchamp detonated a dirty bomb of his own by submitting a urinal for inclusion in an exhibition, and a lot of this show is really about the conflicting pulls of abstraction and conceptualism over the last hundred years. This means there’s tons of great things to look at: from the spiritual serenity of Josef Albers to wily,

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Must-see art exhibitions in London

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Sigmar Polke: Alibis

Sigmar Polke’s name isn’t (yet) up there with the giants of twentieth-century art. Maybe that’s because at every stage of his career he mocked, derided and rebelled against every art movement, historical legacy and consumerist ideal he encountered. Stuck in post-war Germany, between the Soviet realism of the East and the pop artistry of the West, Polke (1941-2010) fitted in nowhere, and pissed everyone off. If this major retrospective does its job, though, he’ll no longer be in the shadows of the likes of Warhol or his old pal Gerhard Richter. The earliest works have their roots in the consumer-culture riffs of the pop-art movement. But instead of clever branding or pretty design such as Warhol’s soup cans, Polke paints neat images of buckets, socks, sausages and unbranded chocolate bars. From there, we get the first of Polke’s ‘raster’ works – no dreadlocks here, just awesome hand-done dot paintings of newspaper photographs. Fashion models, food adverts, dancing girls – all are splashed on the canvas in pointillist style. Throughout these early works, Polke is aggressively mocking not only mass culture, but the art and artists it inspires. And it only gets worse (or, better). He goes on to mimic the visual language of modern art in works filled with swirls and abstract geometric shapes. He makes a shed out of potatoes and wood, claims to have had a constellation named after him and depicts himself as a powdered drug. It’s all funny – and deeply cynical. The 1970s brought

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Conflict, Time, Photography

Conflict has an immeasurable impact on civilisations, landscapes, countries, cities, towns, loved ones and our memories. So a photographic exhibition about war might not strike you as an engagingly rewarding blockbuster show. But this enlightening and thoughtful survey is exactly that. Through images taken moments, days, weeks, months and years after the event, the effect and trauma of war is re-evaluated from the reflective viewpoint of artists and photojournalists without relying on explicit imagery. In the first gallery, four grainy black-and-white photographic prints of pillowy cloud formations are displayed opposite a peaceful landscape devoid of activity, but for a few puffs of grey smoke. If you didn’t read the wall text, you’d be unaware of the importance of these seemingly incidental moments. The fluffy mass is in fact the mushroom cloud from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and the photo was taken by Toshio Fukada some twenty minutes after the event. Similarly the dusty vista by Luc Delahaye captures the moment after intensive bombing by the US of the Taliban in Afghanistan. These images are an abstract way to open a show about war, and successfully set it up to build a lasting impression. There are haunting works such as Don McCullin’s photograph of a shell-shocked Marine taken post-combat in Vietnam. Clenching his rifle, he seems to stare right through you in an utterly distressed trance. Extraordinary pieces include Matsumoto Eiichi’s pho

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Post Pop: East Meets West

Who would’ve thought a borderline sociopath and devoutly homosexual voyeur like Andy Warhol would wind up siring so many children? Even though his work doesn’t feature, Warhol’s DNA is all over this exhibition of art made from the 1970s up to today, and it’s a potent stream of influence that takes you from New York to Moscow to Beijing. Here’s an image of a Campbell’s soup can reimagined as a charred poster by the Russian duo Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid in 1973. Here’s another soup can picture, this time rendered as a dead-eyed pop art facsimile by 1980s US appropriation artist Mike Bidlo. And here’s Warhol’s famous image of Elvis shooting from the hip, given an early computer-art makeover by Belarus artist George Pusenkoff in his 1996 painting ‘Double Elvis (After Warhol)’, and morphed with Sid Vicious in YBA Gavin Turk’s semi-self-portrait ‘Ghost Pop’ (2012). Marilyn Monroe crops up, too, as a grinning foil to glum chops Stalin in New York-based Russian artist Leonid Sokov’s ‘Two Profiles’ (1989), and as a clever composite of Chairman Mao postcards in British artist David Mach’s ‘M&M’ (2014). The show sets out to tell us why pop art, that most disposable of twentieth-century art movements, has had such an enduring global influence,taken up by artists from fundamentally different cultures and backgrounds. But it doesn’t, at least not in any straightforward way. However through the sheer amount of stuff on display, it does reveal just how easily the subjects of mass

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Truth and Memory: British Art of the First World War

The war was just too big, confided William Kennington after he had completed his masterpiece ‘The Kensingtons at Laventie’ in 1915, one of the first things you’ll see in the ‘Memory’ section of this captivating two-part show. The authorities had hoped that Kennington would make more paintings to rival his pin-sharp, quietly devastating depiction of his unit – knackered, wounded, each soldier caught in a moment of reflection after their march back to billets from the trenches. But he couldn’t do it. The war was just too big. Compare Kennington’s painting with the canvas that kicks off the preceding section of the show, ‘Truth’ – William Barnes Wollen’s ‘2nd Ox & Bucks defeating the Prussian Guard at Nonne Bosschen’ (1914) – and you’ll see just how much had changed in the world, in art, in just a year. Wollen carved his reputation reconstructing famous battle scenes in paint for a patriotic home crowd and he paints war from a distance, like it’s a game of football. Kennington’s painting, by contrast, focuses on an everyday scene of stillness, but it’s easily the more epic. The war changed everything, of course. The biggest shift in art, though, was that WWI was a conflict depicted by the soldiers themselves. And because their work carried with it the weight of authenticity, suspiciously regarded modernist styles started to be viewed sympathetically by a geographically distant, uncomprehending public. CRW Nevinson, a medical orderly, took the fractured language of futurism and

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Drawn by Light: The Royal Photographic Society Collection

Got to love a pun in the name of a serious exhibition. ‘Drawn by Light’ could refer to the pull of the nascent technology of photography in the early nineteenth century, which drew scientists, artists and wealthy dilettantes, mothlike, to this incredible new way of recording the world on light-sensitive plates. But it also reflects the ‘artistic’ tack of a lot of early photography. This was drawing with light: a noble creative calling, whereby the treasures of the earth and the human soul might be delineated, analysed, catalogued. A path to enlightenment, if you will. A biggish chunk of this show of works from the Royal Photographic Society’s collection is so astounding because it is the product of artists-turned-scientists, scientists-turned-artists, self-taught geniuses and pioneering visionaries who had more in common with brave/naïve Victorian explorers than with modern ideas of what a photographer might be, or do. It’s also the reason why quite a lot of the photos are blinking peculiar: strange, moving, other-worldly. Fin-de-siècle aesthete-cum-nutjob Fred Holland Day had himself crucified in pursuit of the snapper’s art. Not only that, but he starved himself for weeks in advance to get the right Cranach effect of a sackload of sticks hung from a tree. The resulting photograph, a self-portrait as the dying Christ from 1898, is psychologically troubling, but not for any insight it might afford into Christ’s passion. Rather, it is in his conviction that this new artform

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Upcoming art exhibitions in London

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Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector

Tune into your inner hoarder with the Barbican’s spring blockbuster ‘Magnificent Obsessions’. Showcasing 14 artists’ collections including Arman’s tribal masks, Damien Hirst’s skulls, Dr Lakra’s bizarre LP covers, Martin Parr’s Soviet space dog memorabilia and Andy Warhol’s kitsch cookie jars, the exhibition will be a veritable cornucopia of all things eccentric, rare and curious.

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Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden

Enter a Marlene Dumas exhibition and you never know who you might meet. Among the subjects of the South Africa-born, Amsterdam-based painter’s work over the past few years are Jesus, Princess Diana, Phil Spector, Amy Winehouse and Osama bin Laden. Dumas is the painter-doyenne of dark undercurrents, tragic lives and falls from grace. ‘I have always been interested in how you can depict suffering without being heavy-handed,' she told us when we spoke in 2011. Dumas avoids heavy-handedness with a free-flowing style and wraith-like portraits that seem to float like apparitions. Despite being among the world’s most prominent painters, the sixty-something artist is not well known in the UK. This retrospective looks set to change that. Big time. 

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Beard

Calling all pogonophiles, this exhibition of over 80 portraits by Mr Elbank is just for you. Here, all manner of facial tufts come under the spotlight from John Hurt's wiry fisherman’s whiskers to Harnaam Kaur’s unexpected beard, which she’s been growing since she was sixteen when she was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries. 

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History is Now

Ahead of the general election, the Hayward Gallery has invited seven UK-based artists and duos, John Akomfrah, Simon Fujiwara, Roger Hiorns, Hannah Starkey, Richard Wentworth and Jane and Louise Wilson to curate works that define certain periods of our recent history. Over 250 objects have been selected from public and private collections, archives, libraries and local museums. As part of the Southbank Centre’s ‘Changing Britain' festival, this group show will create unexpected connections between events and look at how we remember from individual and collective perspectives. 

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Top 10 art exhibitions in London

You can't go wrong if you head down to one these shows

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Art exhibitions calendar

Get your diary out for a new season of must-see exhibitions

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Photography in London

Get in the picture with our guide to the capital's best photography

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Latest art interviews

We speak to the biggest names and emerging talent in the art world

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Read the latest Time Out art features