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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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What to see at First Thursdays

Our pick of after-hours art in east London on Thursday March 5

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Inventing Impressionism

The impressionists may be the biggest names in art but for years they were derided and unsellable. This blockbuster celebrates their champion, Paul Durand-Ruel

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Patrick Staff Interview

We talk to the young artist about his new film installation and the complexities of gay culture

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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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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 The process was quickly superseded, but the pictures created this way have a beautiful artistic softness and subtlety of tone, quite apart from the fact that every single new photograph that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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Dominic Hawgood: Under The Influence

Photographer Dominic Hawgood met evangelist Christian pastors all around London – predominantly from the capital’s African communities – while researching his latest series ‘Under the Influence’. The recent Royal College of Art graduate, and 2014 winner of the British Journal of Photography’s prestigious International series award, did so in part to observe the churches’ intense exorcism rituals (often peculiarly livestreamed on to huge in-house screens), and in part to further his own search into the eternally fascinating subject of faith. Printed on vinyl in noir-ish monochrome, one image shows an enraptured woman dribbling on to a tissue. In another, an arm grasps theatrically at the feet of a microphone wielder. This set contrasts with a number of backlit, garishly hued, but similarly unsettling pictures. A pointing hand clasps a spray bottle of holy water, for example, while a sheet of scrunched paper simply levitates. The images of these dramatic, energetic ceremonies feel like something of a culmination for Hawgood. For previous projects, he photographed roadside church signs in Texas and locals that speak in biblical tongues. Hawgood also has previous in advertising photography, and its highly-staged, sometimes questionable tropes chime perfectly with the more dubious strands of religious ceremony. Hawgood explores the crossovers while questioning photography’s apparent authority. He refuses to say whether the images in this series are ‘genuine’ photographs or comp

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Heinz Mack: Zero and More

Is art meant to elicit some kind of emotional response? Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, two German artists, decided in the ’50s that feeling things was overrated and chose instead to make art that was about (and for) nothing. Nada, zilch and, yup, zero. Their ‘Zero’ movement was about removing all the emotion and colour and letting art exist for its own sake. So what’s left when you reduce everything to nothing? In Mack’s early Zero-period works on display here (canvases, sculptures and kinetic works), he gives you a blank emotional slate to project on, and it’s great. Simple black-and-white stripes dominate the paintings – little visual battles between darkness and light. Some are almost completely black, others bright and grey. There’s so little happening that you’re drawn in, forced to consider the paint, the shapes, the lacquer, the canvas itself. They’re just paintings, nothing more. Steel sculptures dot the room – nasty pointed shapes, gleaming like models for future skyscrapers. A large light box fills one wall. Under its clear rippled surface a disc of reflective aluminium spins silently, its shapes twisting as it moves. These early works are powerful, simple, beautiful and empty. They leave the thinking to the viewer. Some of the newer works by the 83-year-old do a good approximation of that too. They’re just bigger, more confident, less subtle. However, two recent multi-coloured canvases in stripes and blocks of yellow, orange and blue seem like travesties. They’re li

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Sarah Sze

Sarah Sze has had solo shows at major museums around the world, represented the USA at the Venice Biennale and won a MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ grant. So she’s a big deal. But don’t go to this two-venue show expecting heavy or self-aggrandising art. In precarious-looking sculptures and installations, the fortysomething New Yorker makes light of big ideas – chiefly, how we measure time, space and make sense of our place in the universe. And she likes to keep things simple. To this end, Sze will use whatever’s to hand, including crumpled Post-It notes, cutlery, scrunchies, cotton buds, paint charts and pot plants. You’ve probably got most of the materials for a Sze artwork on your desk right now. In fact, the first thing you see at Victoria Miro’s Old Street space is a sprawling structure of wire cubes that resembles an exploded desk. Perhaps it’s a model of a thought process: placed on, within, or suspended from this rambling, lattice-like form are pens, charts, rolls of tape and styrofoam cups. Photographs of oceans and constellations hint at distant dreaming. Closer to home, Sze was reading a copy of Time Out (our recent Art issue) during the installation of the show, so she rolled it up and folded it into the art work, too: very meta. Upstairs, in an installation that includes copies of the New York Times placed on the floor, their photographs replaced by elemental images of sea, sky, earth, ice and fire, Sze plays brilliantly with scale.  A third installation of bould

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

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Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector

There are moments in this exhibition when you forget you’re in an exhibition at all – when looking through the personal collections of 14 artists feels more like being in some fantastic bazaar. In Peter Blake’s part of the show alone you’ll find creepy Edwardian dolls and puppets, faked taxidermies of mythological animals and gorgeous old tin signs. Elsewhere, the cornucopia includes glass eyeballs owned by photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, Soviet space dog memorabilia from Martin Parr, and psychedelic, cod-surrealist paintings sourced by American artist Jim Shaw from thrift stores around the world. However, while the objects are often fascinating, the show does raise a few niggling questions, and although there’s plenty of background given about each collection, there’s little about collecting per se – about the human drive to hunt and gather, to organise and categorise. Does late German conceptualist Hanne Darboven’s Hamburg home, filled with all kinds of diverse bric-à-brac and partly recreated here, really qualify as a collection? Or is it just an incoherent hoard? Conversely, Howard Hodgkin’s antique Indian paintings or Arman’s African masks are wonderful, but simply because the individual pieces are extremely beautiful in their own right. Other displays, meanwhile, appear decidedly commonplace, like Mexican artist Dr Larka’s wall of LP covers. Shouldn’t artists be collecting less typical objects, things whose aesthetic appeal might normally be overlooked? Ultimately, the

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 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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Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915-2015

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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  • 2 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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  • 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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Upcoming art exhibitions in London

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Roman Signer: Slow Movement

Towed by a rope, a kayak will travel through the 90-metre long gallery as if on water. Joined by two other canoes placed around the centre in bizarre ways and early films featuring the kayak, Signer transforms an ordinary scenario into something absurd. An avid kayaker for many years, Signer has used boats in his practice since the 1980s to explore the experience of landscape and 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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Leon Golub: Bite Your Tongue

The late-figurative painter, who was shunned for many years by the American establishment, is celebrated in this survey of his rugged, politically charged work that spans the Vietnam War and 1990s dystopian urban scenes.

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Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint

This spring the Wallace Collection will reveal a more radical side to the British eighteenth century portraitist who founded the Royal Academy. Bringing together fascinating archival material, x-rays and twenty paintings, Reynolds’ unconventional technical approach will be unearthed. Enthralling detective antics aside, it’s also the perfect chance to appreciate his magnificent portraits of London’s colourful elite.

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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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Photography in London

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

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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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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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