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

Six art shows totally worth leaving London for
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Six art shows totally worth leaving London for

Escape town for one of these arty wonders just a train ride away from the capital

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The latest art reviews

Dinh Q Le: The Colony
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Dinh Q Le: The Colony

You think your job’s shit? You’ve got nothing on the labourers who harvest guano on the Chincha Islands off the coast of Peru. Every few years they head across the ocean to these barren rocks to collect sack-loads of guano – bird shit – to sell as fertiliser.  But the trade in guano isn’t what it used to be. Once, nations went to war over these shitty islands because of how valuable guano was. The Great Guano Rush (seriously) of the 1800s made people rich beyond their wildest dreams; these islands were scatological goldmines. Chemical fertilisers put an end to all that in the early twentieth century, and now the islands have sat uninhabited for over a century, recolonised by the birds that made it worth fighting over in the first place. Workers return only intermittently to get their hands on the brown gold. Vietnamese artist Dinq Q. Lê’s film captures one of these harvests. You stand dwarfed by three immense screens, one showing the workers shovelling guano and heaving bags, another showing their grim lodgings and the third filled with swooping, drone-based shots of the islands themselves. Alongside the screens are a series of 19th century pictures of the islands and a map of territories claimed by the USA. The work is powerfully unsettling, helped no end by Daniel Wohl’s mournful soundtrack. These islands are so vile, so barren and inhospitable, but they tell a brutal story of economics, migration and colonialism. Once, the mountain of guano here was so massive, and so v

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Samara Scott: Developer
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Samara Scott: Developer

Battersea park’s mirror pools are looking a little queasy. Young English artist Samara Scott has filled the two ponds here with swathes of swirling fabric and an almost stomach-turning array of coloured dyes for what she calls ‘liquid paintings’. One pool is filled with silver sheets and orange dye, the other with nets that drift through hues from blue to green to red.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Mark Wallinger: Self Reflection
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Mark Wallinger: Self Reflection

We’re constantly being told how self-obsessed we are. The selfie has become the emblem of first-world shallowness; we’re all self-entitled; there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’ etc. So here’s an opportunity to reflect on what the idea of ‘self’ even means. And where better to do it than Sigmund Freud’s house. Not only did the father of psychoanalysis theorise human consciousness, as a refugee he had a particular sensitivity to the relationship between what we are and who we are. 

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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William Eggleston Portraits
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William Eggleston Portraits

Legendary Memphis photographer William Eggleston has created a whole genre of psychologically ambiguous Americana, much of it centred on apparently mundane bits of his home town. I expected that isolating his portraits from the rest of his work wouldn’t work. How would they fare, without all those existential landscapes and unanswered questions to problematise them?

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

Ragnar Kjartansson
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Ragnar Kjartansson

The first piece in Ragnar Kjartansson’s Barbican show features ten male performers playing the guitar, singing in Icelandic and drinking beer. Playing on a screen behind them is a soft-focus sex scene, from a 1970s Icelandic movie, between a housewife and a plumber. 

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Lukas Duwenhogger: You Might Become A Park
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Lukas Duwenhogger: You Might Become A Park

Initially, I wasn’t very impressed by Lukas Duwenhögger’s paintings. Then I was. The works of this German artist, who has lived in Istanbul since 2000, have a distinctive Ottoman sensibility, both sunlit and sinister: a superficial queer theatre of languorous fabulousness, shot through anxiety. The settings are fluid, moving from an operatic nineteenth century into a gilded 1930s and on. It always seems to be the afternoon, waiting to see what the evening will bring. Individually, the works suggest dreams; collectively, they hint at an unspoken history of persecution and betrayal. There is a special delight in seeing Duwenhögger in the Georgian, domestic elegance of Raven Row. As you climb its four floors, as the scale of the galleries contracts, the paintings take on a more vivid intimacy. An installation on the top floor, ‘Probleema’, hangs five small works in a wooden shed: four men around a table in the midst of some kind of argument look across at four individual paintings of men in the street seen from behind. As in a lot of Duwenhögger’s works, the tensions – sexual, political, cultural, temporal – are strung across the room like wires. One of the most overt works is the model ‘The Celestial Teapot’, a ludicrous ‘proposal for a memorial site for the persecuted homosexuals of National Socialism in Berlin’. At the top of a tower, and surmounted by a conch shell, the titular vessel has human arms: one hand on hip, one limply waving. However you are memorialised, Duwenhö

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Georgia O'Keeffe
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Georgia O'Keeffe

Forty-four million dollars is a lot of money. That’s how much someone spent on a painting by the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) in 2014. It set a record for a work of art by a woman. That last part there is important, because the most ever paid for a work of art by a man is around $300m. O’Keeffe doesn’t even make the top 50, not even close.  In the art world, women are simply worth less. And not just financially. Throughout art history women have consistently been ignored. But modernism would be an entirely different beast without O’Keeffe. This retrospective is herfirst show in the UK in 20 years and, with none of her paintings displayed here in public galleries, it is depressingly overdue.  The show takes you from her early abstracts through to her landscapes of New Mexico, and she deserves every inch of space she’s been given. The early works, all charcoal swoops and stark lines, ease you into her world. A neat appetiser for the explosion of colour that follows in her early paintings, filled with twisting shapes, hooded curves and plunging lines in bold, contrasting watercolour. Then there are her flower paintings, including that $44.4m masterpiece, before you’re shoved head first into the desert of New Mexico, which she painted obsessively. You’re going to look at some of these and think: Hold on, that looks an awful lot like a vagina (see our blog about that here). It’s an idea she repeatedly rejected. But if you’re looking for vaginas, you’ll also find

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Jorge Otero-Pailos: The Ethics of Dust
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Jorge Otero-Pailos: The Ethics of Dust

Seriously, ‘The Ethics of Dust’ is a terrible name for a work of art. Yes, it’s taken from something written by John Ruskin, but out of context it sounds like a philosophical treatise by Kim and Aggie (‘How morally clean is your house?’). Fortunately, Spanish preservationist and artist Jorge Otero-Pailos makes better art than his titles suggest. And for this latest Artangel commission, he’s filled Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament with one of the best sculptures you’ll see this summer. The idea is simple: in the process of cleaning this Unesco world heritage site’s walls, the artist covered them in latex and peeled it off to trap centuries of pollution, dust and dirt. The result is two huge sheets hanging from the rafters in the 900-year-old hall. And it’s absolutely stunning. Stark and minimal, but literally full of history. In all this dust and muck you’ll find centuries of political wrangling, hundreds of years of decisions that have shaped the fate of Great Britain. It’s like he’s peeled layers of skin of the walls and hung them from the ceiling. Disraeli’s dandruff, Cromwell’s skin flakes, John Major’s ancient, coughed-up saliva – it’s all probably here, glued into these giant latex curtains.   The work has to fight against the grandeur of this ancient space, the flocks of jabbering school kids and the occasional panicked MP rushing by. It survives – thrives, even – because of its beautiful simplicity.   Hanging there, glowing, it looks like some ancient

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Alex Katz: Quick Light
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Alex Katz: Quick Light

If you put all clever, jargon-filled analysis to one side, paintings of any kind tend to provoke one of two basic reactions in people. The first is: ‘I could do that.’ (Or just as often: ‘My five-year-old could do that.’ I worry about the pressure being put on these kids.) The second is: ‘I wish I could do that.’ The Serpentine’s new show of American artist Alex Katz will send you on a hell of a journey from one to the other. Born in Brooklyn in 1927, Katz came of age in a New York where abstract expressionism was in the middle of supplanting the old realists, and the anarchy of pop lay around the corner. In between, he developed an oeuvre which made nods to all three, while also being entirely its own thing. He’s best known for his portraits of friends and family: warm, crooked hybrids of naturalism and illustration. It’s in these that Katz’s playfulness comes through, especially in pictures such as ‘Vivien’ (pictured, 2015) , which shows his subject  in six different poses. But at the Serpentine – and all credit to them – it’s Katz’s landscapes, which usually play second fiddle, that really shine. It’s easy to heap praise on an 89-year-old artist for still working on canvases nearly 20 feet wide, but that does a disservice to him, because the simple fact is that they’re also very, very good. The work in the gallery’s central space, in particular, will knock the air from your chest. Katz has frequently likened his work to poetry, and there’s something haiku-like in his ab

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

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Dorothea Tanning

An exhibition of the surrealist artist Dorothea Tanning's final paintings: a series of 12 ghostly, erotically atmospheric pictures of mauve flowers.

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London Design Biennale 2016

London's first biennial for design will showcase the talents of designers from 35 nations across the globe, who are responding to the theme of 'Utopia by Design'.

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Maggi Hambling – Touch: Works on Paper
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Maggi Hambling – Touch: Works on Paper

Although she's probably best known for her controversial public sculptures (Oscar Wilde, 1998 opposite Charing Cross Station and Scallop, 2003 on Aldeburgh Beach), Maggi Hambling has also amassed a huge body of work on paper, with drawing continuing to be fundamental to her practice. The British Museum has been collecting her drawings since 1985 after acquiring a piece depicting her former teacher Cedric Morris on his deathbed which will be on show here, alongside thirty nine other works spanning early student sketches and etchings, and portraits of Stephen Fry and curator Norman Rosenthal, on show for the first time.

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The Infinite Mix

Multimedia works by 10 different artists will come together into an immersive installation at this newish creative space on the Strand. Expect holograms, cinema-style projections and music from the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Sonic Youth. 

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The 40 best photos of London ever taken
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The 40 best photos of London ever taken

Our (almost) definitive list of the best photographs ever taken of the capital

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Free art in London
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Free art in London

See all London's free art exhibitions this week

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Latest art interviews
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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

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

Barbican Centre
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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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