Top 10 art exhibitions in London

Check out our critics' pick of the art currently on show in the capital

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Fancy seeing an art show this weekend but no idea where to go? Well look no further. You can't go wrong if you head down to one of our ten favourite art exhibitions taking place in the capital right now.

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© The Estate of Sigmar Polke / DACS, London / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Sigmar Polke: Alibis

  • Rated as: 5/5

Sigmar Polke’s name isn’t (yet) up there with the giants of twentieth-century art. Maybe that’s because at every stage of his career he mocked, derided and rebelled against every art movement, historical legacy and consumerist ideal he encountered. Stuck in post-war Germany, between the Soviet realism of the East and the pop artistry of the West, Polke (1941-2010) fitted in nowhere, and pissed everyone off. If this major retrospective does its job, though, he’ll no longer be in the shadows of the likes of Warhol or his old pal Gerhard Richter.

  1. Tate Modern Bankside, SE1 9TG
  2. Sun Dec 21 - Sun Feb 8
More info
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'The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild, known as ‘The Syndics’', about 1662 by Rembrandt van Rijn

'The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild, known as ‘The Syndics’', about 1662 by Rembrandt van Rijn © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Rembrandt: The Late Works

  • Rated as: 5/5

It takes balls to show the best works first (museum etiquette dictates a sprinkling of masterpieces), so the National Gallery displays some hefty cojones by exhibiting probably the finest group of paintings anywhere in the world at the very start of this knockout show. It’s shockingly simple: four self-portrait canvases and a tiny etching by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, all made during the last 11 years of his life, hang, spotlit, side by side. Yet everything you could wish for in terms of Rembrandt’s genius and his humanity is displayed in front of you.

  1. National Gallery Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN
  2. Sun Dec 21 - Sun Jan 18
More info
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Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age

  • Rated as: 5/5

‘The long exposure time required by the first cameras favoured the static attributes of buildings, making them a far more reliable subject than the human figure,’ reads the dry introductory text to this extensive and actually quite moving show of photography from the past 80 years. The statement is true, up to a point. Barring disaster, buildings don’t tend to move. But the effects of light, weather and most noticeably, human activity, make architecture anything but a static subject.

  1. Barbican Centre Silk St, EC2Y 8DS
  2. Sun Dec 21 - Sun Jan 11
More info
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Ana Escobar

Conflict, Time, Photography

  • Rated as: 5/5

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.

  1. Tate Modern Bankside, SE1 9TG
  2. Sun Dec 21 - Tue Apr 14
More info
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Percy Wyndham Lewis, A Battery Shelled, 1919

Percy Wyndham Lewis, A Battery Shelled, 1919 digitised by Ted Dearberg (IWM)

Truth and Memory: British Art of the First World War

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Free

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.

  1. Imperial War Museum Lambeth Rd, SE1 6HZ
  2. Until Sun Mar 8
More info
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Late Turner: Painting Set Free

  • Rated as: 5/5

There are some artists whose final works have a special frisson attached to them. Late Rembrandt. Late Beethoven. All mortality is there, we are supposed to understand: the grave opens up and yet they cleave to existence, reporting back from the edges of the infinite. Maybe old Ludwig Van is not a bad comparison with Turner. Both were products of the enlightenment, but their final tonal experiments were greeted with horror, as they circled around their themes, as if pacing the cells of their own imagination.

  1. Tate Britain Millbank, SW1P 4RG
  2. Sun Dec 21 - Sun Jan 25
More info
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© Linda Nylind

Mirrorcity

  • Rated as: 4/5

City living might not always be easy but it’s certainly exhilarating. So how do you respond to London, a city that has it all? With fragmented, amplified, high-tech, illusionistic, psychedelic and sometimes cynical work by 23 artists who share a love of the city, that’s how.

  1. Hayward Gallery Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX
  2. Sun Dec 21 - Sun Jan 4
More info
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Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude

  • Rated as: 4/5

It wouldn’t be an Egon Schiele exhibition without a viewer advisory note at the entrance. Still, this survey of the Austrian artist’s drawings and watercolours is unflinchingly graphic, in both senses of the word.

  1. Courtauld Gallery Somerset House, The Strand, WC2R 0RN
  2. Sun Dec 21 - Sun Jan 18
More info
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John Constable, 'Brighton Beach', 1824 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Constable: The Making of a Master

  • Rated as: 4/5

There is a kind of decompression chamber at the start of this show. You stand before a screen that fills the wall while real-life scenes made famous by John Constable’s paintings – including Willy Lott’s Suffolk cottage from ‘The Hay Wain’ – gently roll by, apparently unchanged since he painted them a couple of centuries ago. It’ll soothe your soul, which could be a problem if you’ve come to see a radically reinterpreted Constable rather than the comfy heritage industry Constable we think we know.

  1. V&A Cromwell Rd, SW7 2RL
  2. Sun Dec 21 - Sun Jan 11
More info
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Giovanni Battista Moroni
<br/>Young Lady, c.1560-65
<br/>Oil on canvas, 51 x 42 cm
<br/>Private collection
<br/>Photo: Private collection
<br/>

Giovanni Battista Moroni
Young Lady, c.1560-65
Oil on canvas, 51 x 42 cm
Private collection
Photo: Private collection

Giovanni Battista Moroni

  • Rated as: 5/5

Because Giovanni Battista Moroni (1520-1579) didn’t travel far outside his native region of Lombardy, he wasn’t included in Vasari’s epochal primer on the Italian Renaissance, ‘Lives of the Artists’. And because of that, he was overlooked until the nineteenth century. And because of that, he doesn’t yet qualify for a one-name moniker like Raphael, Michelangelo and Titian, and is still relatively unknown. And because of that, this show in the RA’s compact Sackler Wing is a glorious revelation, as well as being a manageable size and not crippled by a catalogue the envy of Argos.

  1. Royal Academy of Arts Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD
  2. Sun Dec 21 - Sun Jan 25
More info

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Users say

9 comments
Nicky Z
Nicky Z

I agree with all these comments - this is all pre-digested for us. Can we not also decide what we want to see for ourselves? Where are the listings?

Daryoush
Daryoush

Agree with all the commentators the new listing system is really hard to understand.

mark de novellis
mark de novellis

One of the bext exhibitions of 2013 is the Madge Gill: Medium & Visionary exhibition at Orleans House Gallery. This free retrospective brings together over a hundred stunning works by the UK's leading outsider artist - many of which have never been shown to the public before. There is still time to see it - it ends on 26 January 2014.

David I
David I

Totally agree with the comments here. London no longer has a proper listings magazine, which is a major loss, and the website is terrible. Cluttered, utterly confusing to navigate, I am frequently defeated just trying to find out what's on in the major galleries or where a particular film is showing. It's totally unfit for purpose. Bring back the magazine with listings.

Lamaline
Lamaline

Couldn't agree more. No more top 10. The essential and that's it!

robspackman
robspackman

A little of me died when i first saw the gutted form of the Timeout I love on my return to London after two years in South Africa. At least I thought I could still find the listings online. I was wrong. What have you done with them? Sitting with a pencil planning what to do in this wonderful but at times bewildering city was once one of the highlights of my week. No more. Why?

Liz Eyres
Liz Eyres

I agree with Nik Wood totally. I was so upset when Time Out in its old form (IE you could buy it from newsagents) ceased to be as it was the art listings that I mainly bought it for. Not only is it almost impossible for me to get a copy of it now as I am never in central London when it is distributed, but it lacks the straightforward and comprehensive listings that were in the old incarnation of the magazine. Please can you reintroduce them.

Nik Wood
Nik Wood

Why don't you do a list of what's on any more? I don't want "Top 10". I don''t want "Critics' Choices". I don't want "Opening today". I just want a comprehensive list of what shows are running now so that I can make up my own mind which to go to.