Art

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

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This week's unmissable new art

Here are the new art shows, fairs and events you'd be mad to miss

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Richard Wentworth interview

He's one of our greatest sculptors. So why is Richard Wentworth making a giant painting in Peckham?

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Must-see photography exhibitions

See the best shots on show in London this week

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Where to see the best outdoor art this summer

What’s that giant yellow thing? Oh, it’s the sun. Time to check out this year’s crop of outdoor sculpture and art events

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The 100 best paintings in London

How many have you seen?

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The latest art reviews

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Victorian London in Photographs

Rapacious, unchecked development, a growing gulf between the richest and poorest and a realisation that modern life is damaging to mental health. Anyway, enough about London in 2015: here are some photos of dead people. There are plenty of contemporary resonances in these images of London from 1839 to 1901. One thing above all else drove Victorian photographers, and saw their technology evolve incredibly quickly: change. Almost all these pictures – many of them stunningly technically accomplished as well as being fascinating documents – reflect a city and a society whose pace of change is both thrilling and terrifying. So we have the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London, who couldn’t get the plates in their cameras fast enough to record the historic buildings getting pulled down around them. There was no legislation to protect architecture, so they were about all there was in terms of awareness-raising. At the same time, photographers strove to reveal the social iniquities beneath the Victorian dream of progress: the appalling slums just streets away from fashionable thoroughfares; the children cast aside by their parents; the homeless, the destitute, the maimed and the mad. Most moving is a series of portraits of inmates of the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum. Literally shorn of luxuriant Victorian hairdos and dressed with institutional severity, these men and women look startlingly contemporary. The unusually close-up portraiture (presumably they had little choice)

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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David Hockney: Painting and Photography

If this is the first David Hockney exhibition you’ve ever seen, you may be surprised at the number of people milling around the gallery. What brought them all here? It’s not immediately clear. The straight answer is that Hockney is one of Britain’s most distinguished living artists. He has a talent for creating a restrained, bubbling-under-the-surface tension – as seen in iconic paintings such as ‘A Bigger Splash’ (1967) on display at Tate Britain – and for capturing telling portrait details – most famously in ‘Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy’ (1970-71), also at Tate Britain. Then there are his bright, Van Gogh-esque paeans to the English countryside, and playful self-portraits. But what we have here is something wholly different. ‘Painters have always known there is something wrong with perspective,’ the artist says in the catalogue notes. ‘The problem is the foreground... and the vanishing point.’ His claim is a big one, and not borne out. But the gist is that we are no longer shackled to the rules of painting – or photography – because digital technology can ‘free us from a chemically imposed perspective that has lasted for 180 years.’ In other words, computers are liberating because they let more of us mess with how stuff looks. To this end we get Hockney’s ‘photographic drawings’: combinations of photos and digital painterly elements. There is a lot of stimulating, ‘What the heck is going on?!’ fun to be had, and the palette is bright and almost pathologically cheerful (in

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
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  • 1 out of 5 stars
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Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness

You may well think you’ve walked into a show that’s still being installed on entering this 35-year survey of Christopher Williams. But fear not, the unfinished feel of the galleries is intentional. Relatively unknown to a UK audience, the LA-based artist employs a display strategy that gives insight into the infrastructure of exhibition-making, while addressing image-making as a whole. The reuse of walls from the artist’s previous exhibitions means the overall effect is pristinely imperfect. This in turn mimics the immaculate photographs on display, which divulge the devices of the commercial photography that bombards us in daily life. Some of the photos are the artist’s own. Others are pre-existing images that Williams has re-photographed to disclose the technical requirements and trickery involved in creating an image. The subject of a photograph, whether it be a majestic cockerel or a giggling topless girl, is displayed alongside shots revealing the apparatus used to create such images, including a cross-section of a camera lens and darkroom developing kit. All the photographs are hung at a noticeably lower level than normal convention and lack any title labels. Indeed any accompanying text, by which you might plot the trajectory of the artist’s career and concerns, is absent. Instead, wall texts from the Whitechapel’s previous show, ‘Adventures of the Black Square’, remain behind coloured vinyl, a sort of exhibition branding that for this show is green, the same as Fuj

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Theaster Gates: Freedom of Assembly

It’s easy to accuse art of being irrelevant. Do paintings and sculptures in some white-walled gallery really matter? They have a cultural impact, yadda, yadda, but so what? Does art do anything to change the lives of average, everyday people? Probably not. But that’s not an accusation you can level at American artist Theaster Gates. He’s used his work to help redevelop impoverished parts of his native Chicago, building art spaces and cultural centres. He’s not just an artist or an activist, he’s an architect of social change through art. His works here paint a pained picture of an America that’s locked in a state of racial turmoil. In the first room, assemblages of bricks, pallets and chunks of metal from forklifts line the walls. A dilapidated section of roofing hangs near the ceiling. Along one wall, display cabinets from a hardware store hang threadbare. Mournful music leaks out of a video piece on the floor. The impression is of a desperate need to rebuild, but a total lack of tools and materials. In the next room, Gates has used old gym flooring to create two big beige tableaux. They’re full of the past, all those feet that have pounded that wood. The final room is the most affecting. The walls are lined with tar-drenched canvases, and the floor is dotted with obelisk-like ceramic and tar sculptures. The smell leaves its chemical tang hanging in your nostrils. The paintings are stunning; big, gloopy, angry constructions of impenetrable black. Gates nods to modern art

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

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The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay

Something the Tate does very well is give unsung artistic genius the recognition it warrants. And Sonia Delaunay, the Russian artist who found her avant-garde voice in Paris at the beginning of the last century, should be lavished with as much appreciation as her extraordinary output deserves. Not wanting to fly the feminist banner too high, but this woman had one hell of an abstract flair, which she successfully applied to art, interiors and fashion. The first few rooms introduce the spirited vision of a young Delaunay who saw the world in an entirely different colour spectrum. These portraits don’t mimic reality. Multiple paintings of her dressmaker Philomène are unreservedly gaudy with their garish colour combinations, making them truly fantastic. Faces have harsh green shadows and indelible black outlines. Paint is layered to give the canvases a textural quality, a liveliness that ensures representation goes beyond mere portraiture. There are hints at Delaunay’s later foray into textile design with bright, punchy patterned backgrounds.  The transition from representational expression to abstraction happens quite suddenly. Paintings of overlaid discs of various hues capture the vibrancy of Paris, lit by electric light. The colours clash and pop against each other with dizzying effect. Yet it’s Delaunay’s interpretation of Simultanism – a synchronised use of contrasting colours and shapes created with her painter husband Robert – into patchwork pieces ranging from a cradl

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840-1860

Another week, another photography show about death. It’s not officially about death, mind you; it’s officially about the years 1840 to 1860, when photographers made their images on paper sensitised with silver salts. The process was quickly superseded, but the pictures created this way have a beautiful artistic softness and subtlety of tone, quite apart from the fact that every single new photograph that succeeded represented a huge leap forward in the development of the medium. You see these early practitioners start to grasp the scope of what might be possible. Their subjects change, from ivy-covered walls and carefully posed family groups to more exotic landscapes and subjects: Egypt, India, the poor, war. By the time you get to Roger Fenton’s portrait ‘Captain Lord Balgonie, Grenadier Guards’ of 1855 you have an inkling of how photography is changing how we understand life, for ever. Balgonie is 23. He looks 50. His face is harrowed by his service in the Crimean War, his eyes bagged with fatigue, fear and what the future may hold. He survived the conflict, but was broken by it, dying at home two years after this picture was taken. That is yet to come: for now, he is alive. This sense of destiny bound within a picture created in a moment is what is new about photography, and you start to see it everywhere, not just in the images of war. It’s in William Henry Fox Talbot’s ‘The Great Elm at Lacock’: a huge tree against a mottled sky, battered by storms. It’s in John Beasly

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Ryoji Ikeda: Supersymmetry

Last year, Ryoji Ikeda Darth Vader-ed the bejesus out of London’s night sky. ‘Spectra’, the Japanese artist’s beam of light which scorched the skyline as part of the WWI centenary, became one of the most talked-about artworks of 2014. It’s a tough act to follow – and you wouldn’t think that filling the top floor of a car park with an installation based on particle physics would come close, but it really does. ‘Supersymmetry’ is inspired by Ikeda’s time as artist-in-residence at CERN, the Swiss supercollider that is smashing particles into each other in the hope of answering some of the questions posed by modern physics. But you don’t need a degree in quantum mechanics to enjoy what Ikeda has created. The first room is pitch-black, and dotted with waist-height light boxes covered in tiny ball bearings. They tilt and swivel, sending the balls flying across their surfaces like a flock of mechanical starlings. The light boxes strobe and pulsate. More lights flicker from the other room. As you walk through, you find a long corridor lined with a bank of monitors. Beams of light dash across them, graphs of data appear and disappear at speed, and speakers beneath them squeal and rumble. The images in this hallucinatory room veer between random computerised chaos (jumbled data, graphs and nonsensical sentences) and calm, spiralling visions of drifting dots. It’s like being stuck in a storm in a computer. But the main sensation is that of an impenetrable mass of information. Figure

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden

Part of Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s Gallery is in many ways the perfect venue for a show about gardens in art – it’s hard to tell where the floral shower bags in the gift shop end and the exhibition proper starts. Luckily, Buck House’s residents have a few knockout pictures and knick-knacks kicking around to suit the theme. Spanning 400 years of horticulturally inspired art, furniture and homeware from the Royal Collection, the show has everything from fifteenth-century painted Persian manuscripts to impossibly charming diamond-encrusted gold-and-enamel Fabergé cornflowers. There’s a lot of what you’d expect: medieval scenes set in paradise gardens; courtiers chasing ladies through bushy Renaissance mazes; aerial-view paintings of sweeping estates; Sèvres ceramics; a jolly tureen shaped like a cauliflower (the brassica à la mode of 2015, no less. Ciao kale!). But there are some strange and wonderful finds here too, like the psychedelic botanical drawings of seventeenth-century naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian, and Jan Brueghel the Elder’s fabulously weird ‘Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden’ (1615, pictured), populated by wild animals he’d certainly never encountered in life. An eighteenth-century vase on a golden mount, filled with a bouquet of soft porcelain removable flowers, with a sunflower at the centre that doubles as a clock face, really needs to be seen to be believed. Extensive notes offer a compelling narrative about gardens and earthly power, and a reminder t

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Modigliani: A Unique Artistic Voice

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) was a ‘bohemian’ cliché. An Italian who arrived in Paris just as modernism got cracking, he did the whole drink-and-drugs and no-bourgeois-trappings bit, before dying of TB aged 35. He lived in squalid poverty and got no recognition as an artist. But unlike other demi-monde poseurs, he was a bona fide genius. In these two rooms of modest drawings and small paintings, Modigliani’s increasingly intense and extreme reimaginings of the human figure are luminously powerful. Unlike Picasso’s works from the same era, the experimentation in these pieces doesn’t feel like an artistic one. Instead, Modigliani seems to be trying every possible way to understand what it means to be a human being. The awkwardness of this questioning is balanced with the assured fluidity of his drawing. His sitters are as vulnerable as plants, as epic as gods, tender, totemic, barbaric and solemn, often all at the same time. Harnessing disruption and disorder with such delicacy, his drawings on flimsy, tissue-like paper have astonishing emotional immediacy. ‘Caryatid’ (1916) has a tremendous ancient physical heft, though its pollen-like chalk seems barely to cling to the paper. From the same period, a portrait of the actress Cristiane Mancini has a wrong-footing domestic intimacy, as she lounges in an armchair. There is the immortal in all of us, Modigliani seems to say, but there must also be the mortal in the immortal for it to have any resonance. This is an old-fashioned

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Upcoming art exhibitions in London

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Max Mara Art Prize for Women: Corin Sworn

Following her six-month residency in Italy, Max Mara Art Prize winner Corin Sworn presents a new large-scale installation inspired by Commedia dell’Arte. Drawing on the rich theatrical history of the improvising troupe of masked actors, the Glasgow-based artist will create an engaging, immersive and dramatic environment filled with props, costumes, sound and video to investigate literary devices such as mistaken identity. 

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Carsten Höller

Let’s give one almighty holler for the Hayward’s final exhibition before they close for two years of renovation work. The Belgian artist, whose background in biology has informed and inspired his practice that challenges our perceptive boundaries, will have his first UK retrospective. He’s filled the Tate’s Turbine Hall with slides, placed giant replica mushrooms onto gallery ceilings and turned last year’s Gagosian Frieze stand into a children’s playground. Covering the last 20 years of the Stockholm-based artist’s work, which has truly put participation into art, we're expecting a rip-roaring presentation of fun-filled, hands-on exhibits.

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Barbara Hepworth

The last time there was a major retrospective of Barbara Hepworth’s work in London, the First Lady of British modernism attended herself (we’re hoping she wore her fabulous fur coat). That was in 1968. Forty-odd years later, Tate Britain’s summer 2015 show looks to reassess the reputation of this sculptor of famously holey forms who, thanks in part to her beautifully preserved studio in St Ives, is forever associated with Cornwall, where she lived from 1939 until her death in 1975. Hepworth, though, was internationally famous, a bona fide art star (hence the fur coat) whose works grace museums and public spaces around the world – most notably ‘Single Form’, which stands in the plaza of the United Nations building in New York.  The show includes carvings and sculptures in wood, stone and bronze, along with drawings, collages, textiles and experimental photogram works. 

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Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon

The waiflike muse of Givenchy, not only captivated the fashion world but also the big screen. This summer the National Portrait Gallery celebrate the British actress, dancer and humanitarian worker with an exhibition of exquisite and rarely seen photographs. Hepburn radiated elegance and sophistication thanks no doubt to her European noble heritage, but also managed to set aside her international stardom and iconic status to work as a Unicef ambassador from 1988 until her death in 1993. Chronicling the multi-award winning screen legend’s rise to fame are family snaps of Hepburn as a young ballerina, portraits by photographic greats including Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton and Norman Parkinson and behind-the-scenes images from the set of Sabrina by Mark Shaw.

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  • 1 out of 5 stars
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Latest art interviews

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

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Art exhibitions calendar

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

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Free art in London

Take in photography, wander through sculpture or be blinded by beautiful neon all at London's free art exhibitions this week

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Photography in London

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

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What's on at

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Barbican Centre

The Barbican Centre, a vast concrete estate of 2,000 flats and a leading arts complex, is a prime example of brutalist architecture, softened a little by time and rectangular ponds of friendly resident ducks. The lakeside terrace and adjoining café are good spots to take a rest from visiting the art gallery, cinema, theatre, concert hall or library within the complex. The art gallery on the third floor stages exhibitions on design, architecture and pop culture, while on the ground floor, the Curve is a free exhibition space for specially commissioned works and contemporary art. At the core of the music roster, performing 90 concerts a year, is the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). The annual BITE season (Barbican International Theatre Events) continues to cherry-pick exciting and eclectic theatre companies from around the globe. The Barbican regularly attracts and nurtures experimental dance, and the Pit Theatre is a perfectly intimate space.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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National Gallery

Founded in 1824 to display a collection of just 36 paintings, today the National Gallery is home to more than 2,000 works. There are masterpieces from virtually every European school of art. The modern Sainsbury Wing extension contains the gallery’s earliest works: Italian paintings by early masters like Giotto and Piero della Francesca. The basement of the Sainsbury Wing is also the setting for temporary exhibitions. In the West Wing are Italian Renaissance masterpieces by Correggio, Titian and Raphael; in the North Wing, seventeenth-century Dutch, Flemish, Italian and Spanish Old Masters. In the East Wing (reached via the street-level entrance in Trafalgar Square) are some of the gallery’s most popular paintings: works by the French Impressionists and post-Impressionists, including on of Monet’s water lily paintings and one of Van Gogh’s sunflowers series. You can’t see everything in one visit to the National Gallery, but the free guided tours and audio guides will help you make the most of your time. There’s also a wonderfully atmospheric café stocked with Oliver Peyton goodies, and a fine-dining restaurant, the National Dining Rooms.

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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National Portrait Gallery

Portraits don't have to be stuffy. The National Portrait Gallery has everything from oil paintings of stiff-backed royals to photos of soccer stars and gloriously unflattering political caricatures. The portraits of musicians, scientists, artists, philanthropists and celebrities are arranged in chronological order from the top to the bottom of the building. At the top of the escalator up from the main foyer are the earliest works, portraits of Tudor and Stuart royals and notables. On the same floor, the eighteenth-century collection features Georgian writers and artists, with one room devoted to the influential Kit-Cat Club of Whig (leftish) intellectuals, Congreve and Dryden among them. More famous names here include Wren and Swift. The Duveen Extension contains Regency greats, military men such as Wellington and Nelson, as well as Byron, Wordsworth and other Romantics. The first floor is devoted to the Victorians (Dickens, Brunel, Darwin) and, in the Duveen Extension, the twentieth century. One of the NPG's most popular highlights is the annual BP Portrait Award where the best entrants for the prestigious prize are exhibited.

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Tate Britain

Tate Modern gets all the attention, but the original Tate Gallery, founded by sugar magnate Sir Henry Tate, has a broader and more inclusive brief. Housed in a stately Portland stone building on the riverside, Tate Britain is second only to the National Gallery when it comes to British art. The historical collection includes work by Hogarth, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Constable (who gets three rooms to himself) and Turner (whose works are displayed in the grand Clore Gallery). Many contemporary works were shifted to Tate Modern when it opened in 2000, but Stanley Spencer, Lucian Freud, David Hockney and Francis Bacon are well represented here, and the Art Now installations showcase up-and-coming British artists. The gallery also hosts the controversy-courting Turner Prize exhibition (Oct-Jan). The gallery has a good restaurant and a well-stocked gift shop, and the handy Tate-to-Tate boat service zips along the Thames to Tate Modern.

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Tate Modern

The permanent collection draws from the Tate’s collections of modern art (international works from 1900) and features heavy hitters such as Matisse, Rothko and Beuys – a genuinely world-class collection, expertly curated. There are vertiginous views down inside the building from outside the galleries, which group artworks according to movement (Surrealism, Minimalism, Post-war abstraction) rather than by theme.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Whitechapel Gallery

This East End stalwart reopened in 2009 following a major redesign and expansion that saw the Grade II listed building transformed into a vibrant, holistic centre of art complete with a research centre, archives room and café. Since 1901, Whitechapel Art Gallery has built on its reputation as a pioneering contemporary institution and is well remembered for premiering the talents of exhibitions by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Frida Kahlo among others. Expect the rolling shows to be challenging and risqué.

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
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