Art

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

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What's London's favourite Pop Art icon?

London may be popping with Pop Art but which of these ten artworks is top of the pops?

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Jennifer Rubell interview

The US artist tells us why she wants us to strip off and get hands-on with her brilliantly inclusive art

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Tate Sensorium

Your chance to touch, smell, hear, even taste art at Tate Britain

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This week's unmissable new art

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

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The latest art reviews

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The Temptations of Pierre Molinier

To say that Pierre Molinier (1900-76) was a legs fetishist would be putting it mildly. The Frenchman was a legs obsessive; a legs idoliser and worshipper who turned his mania into some of the most exultantly libidinous artworks you’re ever likely to see. In dozens of small, monochrome photographs, his obsession is manifested time and again – from legs of women or female mannequins dressed in stockings and suspenders, to his own nylon-clad legs or those of other men who shared his transvestitism. Then come countless writhing thighs and figures bending over in scenes of posterior-fixated debauchery. One astonishing self-portrait, entitled ‘Mon Cul’ (‘My Arse’), is a picture of just that: the artist naked on his back, his legs strapped behind his head and buttocks spread towards you, as he fingers his anus while simultaneously and rather acrobatically fellating himself. There are plenty of other, less confrontational images, mainly involving sexy women and bondage themes, all made between the 1950s and Molinier’s suicide in 1976. Yet little of it actually feels erotic. It seems too indulgent, too much an expression of his particular pleasures – and sometimes too desperate to appear shocking or transgressive. Not that there’s any actual intercourse: just a lot of posing against boudoir backdrops, and the occasional insertion of objects into various orifices. The best pieces use photomontage techniques to suggest an atmosphere of magic and mutation. One photograph, with its orgi

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Unfinished:Š Works from the Courtauld Gallery

This small but fascinating exhibition contains 19 works from the Courtauld’s collection that have all been deemed, at different times and for different reasons, unfinished. Not that nowadays you’ll necessarily be able to notice, particularly when looking at the more modern pieces. Paintings of fishing villages by Matisse and Derain were deliberate experiments, and patches of bare canvas are all part of the works’ sensuous, shimmering appeal – though at the time such apparent mistakes led to the pair being ridiculed. And with earlier impressionist works, the notion of completion is even more difficult  to grasp – for what better captures that sense of a brief, glimpsed impression than a work whose very forms appear unresolved? Manet’s quick oil sketch of an elegant woman is a masterpiece of economy and suggestion – this is portraiture by the barest possible means. And Degas’s ‘Woman at a Window’ – her silhouetted shape collapsing into sketchy abstraction – was later considered his ‘finest work’ by nineteenth-century painter Walter Sickert. With the older paintings in the exhibition the issue is more clear cut. Backgrounds might be unfilled, or alterations left visible, or figures left unfinished – most strikingly in Perino del Vaga’s ‘Holy Family with St John the Baptist’, where the infants are exquisitely realised while the bodies and faces of the surrounding adults are left in roughly drawn guidelines. Yet from the Renaissance onwards, such works-in-progress became valued

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Word by Word

You don’t have to be a bookworm to enjoy this exhibition of works from the 1960s to today, which all incorporate text in one form or another. On the scale of a mini museum survey but without the summer blockbuster queues, the show enables you to view – or rather, read – the works in relative silence. Or even say them out loud, if you so wish. For centuries, visual imagery did the job of describing a narrative to the illiterate masses. This ambitious show, curated by Francesco Bonami, presents a concise overview of how, from the middle of the twentieth century, artists began to supplant traditional forms of representation by using language. Here, letters become abstracted forms. Words are translated into ciphers. Sentences morph into landscapes. And statements replace the need for the physical presence of an artwork. The big names of text-art are present and correct, including conceptual wordsmith Lawrence Weiner, whose seminal 1969 vinyl wall piece proclaims ‘A translation from one language to another’. Or Joseph Kosuth who, in ‘One and Three Lamps’(1965), presents a standard lamp, a photograph of it and a dictionary definition of the word ‘lamp’. Which is the most accurate, Kosuth appears to ask: object, image or words? Other artists manipulate the meanings of words visually, like thirty-something New Yorker Will Boone. In his painting ‘Load’ (2015), each letter of the title is overlaid – literally covered with black paint – so that, while the word ‘load’ becomes obscured

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Alice Anderson: Memory Movement Memory Objects

There are two ways of experiencing Alice Anderson’s show. You can look at several rooms of things that have been wrapped in copper wire: a camcorder, a canoe, a wheelbarrow, a flight of stairs. Or you can have a go yourself. One I would recommend; the other not. Anderson’s work is about the preservation of objects and the creation of memory in the digital age. The copper ‘wire’ (actually a stretchy metallic thread) presumably refers to the virtual nature of contemporary experience: it’s all just electrical pulses down cables. But once you’ve got that, these small-scale bits and bobs with their identical coverings have little impact or totemic heft. Nope: if you’re going to get much out of it, you need to get hands-on. That involves booking ahead to spend an hour wrapping the body shell of a 1967 Ford Mustang, pride of Detroit. It’s a bit like the one Steve McQueen drives in ‘Bullitt’ (though it’s a coupé rather than a fastback). You snag your thread on a sticky-out bit of the car, and keep going. It’s a strange, meditative experience, and surprisingly tiring. When the hour’s up, my knees have turned to jelly from all the bending and stretching, and my mind has wandered through odd places. Crouching by the Ford’s nose, feeling underneath for a point to hitch your thread to, you might be a mechanic, a handmaiden, a car bomber. You’re reminded that a lot of the Industrial Revolution, which presaged the automobile industry, was domestically scaled, with women and children doing

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

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Duane Hanson

There are a lot of people in Duane Hanson’s show and that’s not including the gallerygoers. A cowboy is propped against the wall by the entrance. A lady sits at an ad hoc yard sale surrounded by paintings and books. Duster in hand, a cleaner grips on to her cart of sanitation supplies. Workmen are taking a well-earned break from grafting. And a house painter has half finished covering the gallery’s back wall in a shade of baby pink. These, of course, aren’t real people. They are the meticulously crafted fibreglass and bronze fabrications of the late American sculptor, who sought to capture the familiar and daily activities of Middle America. They represent a considerable populous that are typically ignored. Some sit on the fringes of society, like ‘Homeless Person’, (1991) who holds a cardboard sign proclaiming ‘Will work for food.’ It would seem society hasn’t really moved on since Hanson began making his hyperreal sculptures in the late 1960s. His intention to ‘achieve a certain tough realism, which speaks of the fascinating idiosyncrasies of our time’ makes his work as relevant now as it was 40 years ago. By placing figures like ‘Queenie II’, (1988) within a gallery context, Hanson forces us to take notice of the menial worker, the bum, the ordinary men and women who are so often overlooked. He shifts our focus so that the typical becomes extraordinary. Although there is obvious ageing to the sculpture’s material, it doesn’t diminish their awe factor. But once the doubl

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Carsten Höller: Decision

Carsten Höller’s art requires you to use your hands quite a lot. Whether it’s finding your way through pitch-black metal corridors from the entrance to the lower gallery; gripping on to the handrail of a flying machine that soars over Waterloo Bridge; attempting to get inside a giant die; taking a red and white pill that may or may not be a placebo or getting yourself in position before you whoosh down a slide upon exiting the show. Hands aside, the key element in the German-Belgian artist’s survey is decision-making, hence the exhibition’s title. From the moment you step into the gallery’s foyer, Höller puts us through our paces by offering numerous choices. So does it matter if you pick entrance A or entrance B into the show? Or take the left flying machine as oppose to the right flying machine? Yes and no, as ultimately everyone is going to have a different experience regardless of what they pick. It’s the fact that we have to choose. Höller disturbs our expectations by using perception-altering effects. For those less willing to get strapped into a flying machine – which I highly recommend – fortunately Höller isn’t all about the spectacle and merely observing is as active as partaking. Other works play with duplicate scenarios, like a series of TV monitors on which seven sets of twins address one another, or the competition between two rival music groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo played out over two film projections. This alternating between direct engagemen

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Soundscapes

Forget the art slides and flying machines at the Hayward. The most controversial show of the summer, the one that’s sending some critics into a Victor Meldrew-ish tailspin of invective, involves six paintings and a few loudspeakers. You’d think, given the outcry, that someone had drilled holes in Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’ and glued super woofers to the back, so that the dudes in fur coats might appear to rap. They haven’t. In the basement spaces of the National Gallery – now a dark and rather mysterious labyrinth, thanks to all the soundproofing – half a dozen paintings are, for a couple of months, being spotlit in rooms to themselves while the thoughtful responses of sound artists and musicians are relayed through discreetly positioned speakers. The real shock is not how distracting it all is but how much sound concentrates vision: there’s a clarity here that’s spine-tingling. Turner Prize-winner Susan Philipsz has gone for one of the collection’s biggies in selecting ‘The Ambassadors’, Holbein’s early Renaissance puzzle picture. This image is loaded with allusions to wealth, learning, the role of religion and (with its distorted skull) mortality. Philipsz runs with the idea of the lute that has a broken string as a symbol of discord to create a piece for violin that creeps round your own skull with an intensity that glues you to the spot. Jamie XX, meanwhile, translates the basic components of Théo van Rysselberghe’s pointillist ‘Coastal Scene’ – dabs of colour – as burb

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Revelations: Experiments in Photography

‘Chickens scared by a torpedo’ may not be Eadweard Muybridge’s most popular work, but it’s definitely the one with the best title. In the 1870s the British photo pioneer broke new ground with his famous study of horses at full gallop. Now his shots of cluckers losing their cool are in an exhibition of science-related photos spanning the last 170 years. There are trippy colour photomicrographs of mica (1908) from Arthur Clive Banfield, plus nineteenth and early twentieth-century telephotographic space shots, up-close images of the effects of magnetic fields, and the captivating ‘smoke studies’ by Étienne-Jules Marey that influenced aerodynamics. Baffling are Carl Strüwe’s microscopic images of water fleas, which bear an uncanny resemblance to the bison of the Altamira cave paintings. How extraordinary to look back a century or more and see manifest the human desire to understand phenomena both incomprehensibly big and inconceivably small. And this is only the first room of the exhibition. Room two is dedicated to works from twentieth-century artists responding to early science-focused photography. Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy’s photograms do away with single-point perspective, while motion studies by influential architecture photographer Berenice Abbott exemplify her belief that artists should help make science accessible to all. There are some exceptional works in room three, too. Trevor Paglen’s faraway shots of American military ‘black spots’ are clever, unsettling

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World

The last time the Tate held a Barbara Hepworth retrospective, the artist herself had a hand in organising the show. That was in 1968, seven years before Britain’s first lady of modernist sculpture died in a fire in her St Ives studio – a fatal combination of sleeping pills and a fondness for smoking in bed. In the intervening years, so this show’s argument goes, we’ve tended to view Babs through rose-, or perhaps clotted cream-tinted spectacles; as a kind comfy heritage-industry modernist, when in fact she was a towering figure of the international avant-garde. If that sounds like a lot of curatorial justification to swallow with your scones, it really isn’t. The exhibition is quick to place Hepworth in the company of her peers – literally, in the case of work by Henry Moore and her second husband Ben Nicholson, as well as through contextualising timelines. But the work itself is so tactile – a gorgeous parade of variously chiselled and polished materials such as green onyx, hoptonwood, fossil stone and lignum vitae (the densest wood, as any timber bore will tell you) – that you’ll want to go out and hug a tree at the very least. (The sculptures, alas, are mostly displayed behind Perspex). From early carved figures to interlocking semi-abstract forms (the highlight of her loved-up interlude with Nicholson) to ancient-looking totems, Hepworth’s sculptural progression can be seen as a gradual rising up. She goes it alone, guided by her responses to nature. But the results are

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Upcoming art exhibitions in London

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The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop

The pop art phenomenon entranced artists all over the world from Latin America to Asia, throughout Europe and the Middle East. Although popular culture including advertising, movies, music and packaging gave artists the impetus to create visually stimulating and engaging works that celebrated consumer culture, it also gave them the means to critique the political and social climate. This exhibition of over 200 works created between the 1960s and 1970s reveals how artists from different countries put their individual spin on pop art.

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Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei always promised to come to London to open the show himself if he ever got his passport back, and the briliant news is that he has just received his passport from the Chinese authorities. Which means, he's free to travel outside of China and will be in London for the launch of the exhibition in September.

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Goya: The Portraits

The first ever show to focus on the portraits by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Spain’s leading artist in the late eighteenth century and one of the most psychologically revealing painters of all time, is set to be a highlight of autumn 2015.  Two masterful and deeply moving self-portraits are among the important international loans. Painted in 1793-95, ‘Self-Portrait in the Studio’ shows Goya backlit against a window, his features silhouetted against the brilliant white of the sun. He’s at the height of his powers (by this point, he was court painter to King Charles III; later he would be appointed painter to Charles IV and Ferdinand VII) yet a mysterious illness had recently left him completely deaf. A quarter of a century later, in ‘Self-Portrait with Doctor Arrieta’ (1820) he paints himself after another illness, weakly gripping the bedsheet, his grasp on life apparently slipping away while his doctor administers medicine. Whatever was in the glass did the trick; Goya lived for another eight years, during which he painted his famously bleak ‘Black Paintings’ which, alas, are far too fragile to travel. 

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The Amazing World of MC Escher

Having busted the block with its summer show of Eric Ravilious, Dulwich Picture Gallery looks set to have another hit on its hands with this survey of the Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898–1972). He of the impossible perspectives, gravity defying waterfalls, buildings morphing into bodies and, most famously, stairs rising inexorably to nowhere is the subject of this retrospective comprising nearly 100 prints and drawings stretching across his career. Escher set out to become an architect in 1918 and started to work as a printmaker shortly after. But it’s not surprising that he became truly famous in the 1960s, when his mind-melting images chimed with the pervading mood of the era and his prints were bought in their thousands by students, stoners and anyone   groovy and far-out to put on their walls. Escher remains immensely popular, and his influence has been massively influential on popular culture. Possibly because of his general popularity, museums shows of his art are relatively rare, making this full-scale retrospective (which comes to London from the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh) one of the most anticipated shows of autumn. You can expect to see all the greatest hits – including  ‘Day and Night’, in which two flocks of birds, one white, one black, emerge magically from the centre of the image to head towards daytime and night, and ‘Drawing Hands’ (1948) where two hands seem simultaneously to draw each other on a single page.

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Photography in London

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

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Free art in London

See all London's free art exhibitions this week

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Latest art interviews

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

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The 100 best paintings in London

Our expert guide to the best paintings in the capital

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Read the latest Time Out art features

What's on at

Art

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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