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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 twenty new art shows you'd be mad to miss

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A guide to 'Defining Beauty: The Body in Ancient Greek Art'

Discover the finer points of the Greek nude ahead of the British Museum’s spring blockbuster

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Must-see photography exhibitions

See the best snaps on show in London this week

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'Magnificent Obsessions' at the Barbican

Our guide to the Barbican’s spring blockbuster

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Peter Liversidge interview

We talk to the artist about 'Notes on Protesting', penned by local primary school children who, it turns out, are peeved with puke on the pavements

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The latest art reviews

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Nick Waplington / Alexander McQueen: Working Process

With the V&A’s all-singing, all-dancing ‘Savage Beauty’ exhibition attracting the likes of Kate Moss and the Beckhams, Tate Britain’s contribution to ‘season Alexander McQueen’ is a sobering companion piece. From Clerkenwell studio start to Paris catwalk finish, photographer Nick Waplington documented team McQueen over six months, as they devised ‘The Horn of Plenty! (Everything But the Kitchen Sink)’ – the notoriously guarded fashion designer’s last Autumn/Winter show. A hundred large-scale prints represent a selection from the wider book project, ‘Working Progress’, completed by Waplington and McQueen three months before the designer’s suicide in 2009. Returning to previous silhouettes and patterns, for A/W09 McQueen took on ‘recycling’ as a guiding theme. Waplington captures the studio’s many mood boards and fabric samples, candy and cigarettes, young interns, older seamstresses and ageless models. There is stuff everywhere. Interspersed among these photos are close-up shots of landfill sites: newspapers, plastic bags, beer bottles – yet more stuff everywhere. This trashiness guides McQueen’s designs: Coke-can headdresses, ‘plastic surgery’ makeup, and a ‘bin bag’ dress made of the finest silk. The photos are beguiling and impeccably composed. It all reads as exquisite satire. For those familiar with McQueen’s work, these images will be brimming with signifiers. For those not au fait, the show offers an entrancing journey from creative inception to final presentation. Kn

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Maggi Hambling: War Requiem & Aftermath

War: what is it good for? Well, art, actually. Some of Maggi Hambling’s greatest works have used violent conflict as their inspiration, and now the grumpy doyenne of British modern art has filled room after room of King’s College in the Strand with paintings and sculptures about that most gruesome and senseless of human endeavours. It’s not a pleasant exhibition, obviously. It’s vicious, angry, sad and gory. The various works on canvas in particular are powerful pieces of meditation on death and pain, some abstract, some figurative. Skulls cradle each other, faces peer morbidly out of some impossibly dark gloom, features melt into nothingness and, in ‘Gulf Women Prepare for War’, fighters in headscarves crouch in a pink desert, firing bazookas at unseen targets. Hambling’s is such a physical way of painting. She scratches into the canvas, tears and scrapes at the paint like she’s dragging her nails across each work. The best works here though are placed in an installation that does them no favours. ‘War Requiem II’ features a collection of dark little canvases filled with contorted faces that scream silently. These are the bloodied mutilated visages of war, flesh blown off by bombs, features hidden by gore and frozen in pain. They’re fantastic paintings, like mini, gory Francis Bacons. But they’re locked in a room where Hambling has set Benjamin Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ playing at ear-splitting volumes. It’s a great piece of music, but it distracts so fully from the painting

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
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John Baldessari: Pictures & Scripts

There’s nothing worse than boring art. Tedious paintings in bland mega-galleries – bleurgh. Eightysomething Californian artist John Baldessari has no patience for it either: in 1970 he burned his life’s work to ashes, and in 1971 he made a work called ‘I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art’. His work after 1970 is some of the funniest, most colourful and important art of the twentieth century. So it’s a little shocking to walk into this show of brand new paintings (all from 2015) and find a total lack of colour. Each work is made up of a black-and-white screen print of a film still – with big chunks of the image blacked out with acrylic paint – combined with a chunk of dialogue from an imaginary film script.  At first, everything seems glum, grey and miserable – you find yourself wondering if Baldessari has lost his edge. But as you walk through the gallery, reading all the made-up scripts and seeing all the blacked out film stills, you realise that this show may be one of his masterstrokes. The scripts are filled with characters from the art world – dealers, collectors, artists, hangers-on – and Baldessari is viciously lampooning the lot of ’em. Dealers rave about fennel salads, art critics discuss pointless descriptive language, collectors bargain for stolen artworks. They’re portrayed with an almost aggressive sneer. And always the artist is the victim, getting literally stabbed in the back. In one work, a character called Lois says: ‘Art is about who’s in power’. Edna rep

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Pascale Marthine Tayou: Boomerang

There’s birdsong and the heady scent of grass, or perhaps chamomile, as you walk into the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. It’s like being in the park on a summer’s day. Which, since the park is just outside, might make you wonder why you visited in the first place. What can art possibly offer that nature can’t? Fortysomething Cameroon-born, Belgium-based artist Pascale Marthine Tayou isn’t offering any answers to that, but amid the sensory delights of his installation, he makes it plain that nature is one thing we’re royally good at fucking up. ‘Boomerang’ is a bit like a game of hide and seek – with troubling issues such as colonialism and exploitation (of labour and natural resources) there to be unearthed. As you approach a spidery tangle of petrol pipes (‘Octopus’), or a ceiling of cornershop bags trapped in branches (‘Plastic Tree’), or circuits of waste pipes and water bottles that line the walls, the closer you get to these political, social and environmental concerns. Also on display are hand-written reports of oil and chemical spills. Yet the overall effect isn’t one of sermonising or admonishment. While holding up a mirror to our failings, Tayou happens to have made one of the most upbeat, engaging shows in town. He’s also one step ahead of you throughout, transforming himself from a conceptualist into a graffiti artist into a mirhtful magiciende la terre into a maker of faux-ethnographic material, all the while warning against the sterotypes attached to African art.

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

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Richard Diebenkorn

If you thought Monet, Renoir and co had the whole ‘sunshine on canvas’ thing sewn up, then grab your shades and get yourself to the RA where, thanks to this sparkling survey of US painter Richard Diebenkorn, a warm Californian breeze wafts through the Sackler Galleries. Considered a modern master in the States, with auction prices to match, Diebenkorn (1922-93) is barely known outside of art circles over here. That’s partly down to geography – West Coast artists traditionally have a harder time exporting their talents than their East Coast counterparts. Partly to history – he’s of the difficult-to-place generation between abstract expressionism and pop. It’s also has a bit to do with biography – despite an ever-present ciggie on the go, Diebenkorn lived a life of almost monastic dedication to art. But it has nothing to do with his work. What’s clear throughout this three-room survey is that, first and foremost, Diebenkorn is a great visual seducer. He just has one of those touches that makes you believe in everything he paints – be it a pair of scissors, a half-open window offering an oblique view of a garden, or a series of verticals and horizontals that read like a simplified landscape. The first part of the show is taken up with Diebenkorn’s initial experiments with abstraction. From student work like the jokey abstract expressionism of ‘Disintegrating Pig’ (1950) he becomes adept at painting interlocking, jigsaw puzzle-like compositions that look partly like exhilaratin

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Inventing Impressionism

Museums generally shy away from the grubby subject of buying and selling art, even though we’re all fascinated by who bagged what and how much they coughed up (especially if scandal’s involved). So what’s the National Gallery doing recreating the vulgar front room-cum-salesroom of Parisian art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel and, in so doing, reminding us that the stuff on the walls came not, unsullied, from the hands of geniuses but from a glorified shop? Re-imagining that sure-bet crowd-puller, the impressionism exhibition, that’s what. On one level, pursuing a mercantile line of enquiry about this most bankable band of artists makes perfect sense. Yet, the tale of how Durand-Ruel – right wing, royalist, Catholic, not naturally prone to bouts of crazy punt-taking – wound up as the saviour of a band of paintbrush-wielding anarchists, atheists and republicans like Manet, Monet, Renoir and Degas is, for the most part, one so spectacularly devoid of money and success that it tricks you into thinking about the impressionists as true radicals. It does so while serving up some of the sweetest impressionist works ever made. You’ll see Renoirs so cloying they’ll make your fillings ache, such as ‘Study: Torso, Sunlight Effect’ (1875-’76), yet the handout reminds us how a critic at the time described it as being like a ‘putrefying corpse’. Durand-Ruel didn’t invent impressionism, of course; the artists themselves did that. But he saw its potential when everyone else was laughing it off the

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Leon Golub: Bite Your Tongue

You couldn’t think of a more appropriate time for mounting a retrospective of Leon Golub (1922-2004). What with the recent reports of CIA torture, and the brutalities of America’s increasingly militarised police forces, the late US painter’s angry, politically-charged work suddenly feels incredibly urgent again – particularly his most iconic and malevolent paintings, the ‘Interrogation’ and ‘Mercenaries’ series from the ’80s. Although their original context was different (Golub was mainly addressing the USA’s involvement in Latin America), his pieces from this period radiate a kind of pure, untrammelled savagery, depicting a world where injustice and inhumanity go hand-in-hand with power and authority. Sound familiar? Indeed, part of what makes these enormous canvases so powerful is the way they directly implicate you, the viewer. With their intense red backgrounds, they bear down on you like a kind of threat, as a uniformed police chief menacingly points towards you, or a covert operative turns to glare at you while stuffing a body into a car boot. You feel intimidated and terrorised. Yet at the same time, by simply gazing at these atrocities, for living in a world where such things occur, you also feel complicit – particularly when confronted with Golub’s horrific depiction of torture. The rest of the exhibition focuses on earlier and later periods. Works from the ’50s and ’60s show Golub developing his dense, heavily worked style, the slathered and scraped surfaces appea

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album

Superstition, madness, monstrous cruelty… but enough of the news. Let’s see what was going on 200 years ago in Spain, when Francisco de Goya began work on the extraordinary ink drawings in his ‘Album D’. Oh, it was pretty much the same. That’s the incredible thing about Goya: even when he’s commenting on, say, the ulcerous 1807-14 Peninsular War, or the interminable shadow of the Spanish Inquisition, he does it in a way that’s supremely relatable to today; to Ukraine or Syria or… take your pick. Of course, by extension, that’s also the fairly shit thing about the world. Young artists, take note: make conflict, corruption and hypocrisy your targets, and you’ll never go out of style. What Goya gives us here are the deft sketches of an old man, an artist-warrior left deaf by disease, yet at the height of his creative powers. He doesn’t need much to convince us of his genius. Building up lines of ink on small sheets of paper, he describes faces and bodies contorted by grief, rage, madness and old age (he’s incredible at doing paper-thin skin over ancient bones). There’s no narrative context – figures rise up or fall through the blank space of the page – and very little background detail. ‘Madness’ is one of the few images to offer any architectural setting. It shows a figure appealing to us from behind the rails of a balcony, like a clown or a monarch. As with most of Goya’s albums, ‘D’ was given its ‘Witches and Old Women’ tag after his death, when the book was broken up and d

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden

Marlene Dumas paints celebrities, nonentities, supermodels, porn models, terrorists, tyrants, dead people, fictional people, children, herself, history’s ghouls and spectres – and Phil Spector, twice capturing the jailed former record producer with and without his fright wig. All succumb to her dissolving, fluid style, as if being carried along a Styx-like river of dark undercurrents. Across 14 impeccably-installed galleries, Dumas, born in South Africa 61 years ago and based in Amsterdam since the 1970s, shows why, even though she is little known outside the art world, she is the figurative painter-doyenne of our times. Hers is a kind of collective portraiture. Even when she’s doing, say, Naomi Campbell in a white thong, or Ingrid Bergman in tears in ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, or her five year-old daughter caught red (and blue) handed as ‘The Painter’ (1984), she somehow speaks to all our anxieties and desires. There’s righteous ire on display in this retrospective. Asked to contribute to a show in St Petersburg in 2014, she responded to Russia’s homophobic laws by painting a roster of gay ‘Great Men’, including, naturally, Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and poet Mikhail Kuzmin. These men are rendered simply in black and white. Dumas’s palette more often tends towards the off-hues of stains and bruises – rained-on concrete, over-ripe fruit – just as the atmosphere of her paintings tends towards ambiguity. She’s brilliant at ennobling the persecuted and oppressed

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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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Pick Me Up

Celebrating graphic design in all its manifestations, the best artists, illustrators and designers will once again create engaging displays and interactive stands in the Embankment Galleries at Somerset House. For all the high-profile names involved, there’s an informal art-school vibe to this annual festival. There will be plenty of opportunity to learn about the different processes and techniques at live demonstrations as well as encouraging festival-goers to get involved and try their hand at making their own work.

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Sony World Photography Awards

The leading photography competition returns to Somerset House to showcase the winning and shortlisted images selected form a staggering 173,444 entries from 171 countries. Featuring work by professionals and amateurs in categories including travel, wildlife, portraiture, landscape and fashion. As well as a special display of photographs, films and books by this year’s Outstanding Contribution award recipient, the renowned Magnum photographer, Elliott Erwitt (pictured above), there will be a guest exhibition presented by Sony’s Global Imaging Ambassadors, ‘#FutureofCities’ that explores how cities are evolving and dealing with high-lveels of urban migration. And for the first time you’ll be able to purchase these stunning and arresting images through the online service at The Print Space. Exhibition opening hours: Mon, Sun 10am-6pm; Tue-Sat 10am-9pm

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