Shortcut it straight to the good stuff by heading to one of the very best art exhibitions taking place in the capital right now. From modern and fancy, to classical and serene, we've got your next art outing sorted. Or, if you're skint until pay day, how about trying one of London's many free exhibitions instead?
The ten best art exhibitions in London
Being an architect must be so frustrating. At every turn, your artistic vision gets constrained by town planners, clients and engineers. Even the laws of physics stop you in your tracks.
If there are no original ideas left in art, it’s probably because Robert Rauschenberg had them all. Over the course of his 60-year career (he died in 2008 aged 82), he reinvented, reused, recycled and revolutionised himself so many times that walking around this retrospective feels like stumbling through a textbook on twentieth-century art history.
Wagner. Hitler. Kiefer. If you want to join the club of six-letter, ends in ‘-er’, mythology-obsessed, visionary-crackpot creator-destroyers you’ve got to think big. Really big. I’m not saying Kiefer is like those two anti-Semitic, delusional, megalomaniac pricks, just that his response to their legacy has always been to adopt their weapons: size, volume, density, humourlessness, repetition.
Sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the shtick. Gavin Turk’s shtick especially. He’s the guy whose degree show was just a blue plaque with his name on it (he failed), the guy who thinks rubbish bags are art, the guy who reckons his signature is a masterpiece in itself, the guy who put himself on the cover of ‘Hello!’ magazine.
It’s a big one, this new exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery: 200-plus works by 48 artists from 20 countries. It’s also got a big name that some people will find pretty off-putting. In some ways that’s fine: more space for the rest of us to admire some incredible works of feminist art from the decade of ‘The Female Eunuch’, Spare Rib and defiantly abundant body hair.
No one liked Victorian art in the 1960s, when Sir Frederic Leighton’s masterpiece ‘Flaming June’ couldn’t reach its ultra-low estimate at auction. No one cared about it except for Puerto Rican industrialist Luis Ferré, who spotted it in a Mayfair gallery and snapped it up for just £2,000. He then whisked it away to the brilliantly named Museo de Arte de Ponce in his home country. But when it was first painted in 1895 and shown along with five other works, Sir Fred was a big deal.
In 1917, Paul Nash wrote a letter to his wife from Ypres: ‘I am no longer an artist interested and curious, I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever.’ Nash had returned to the Western Front after convalescing in England and was appalled by what he found: a ruined, flooded landscape of endless death, where all nature – men, horses, trees – was reduced to charred lumps half-sunk in mud.
Mali got its independence from France in 1960, and immediately became in thrall to a different kind of colonialism: a cultural one of rock ’n’ roll, motorbikes and jeans. At a time when the West was fretting about whether photography was even an art form, Malick Sidibé was taking pictures of young people in Bamako which contain all the issues in that debate: authenticity, imitation, control of the image.
Ceramics might be enjoying a kind of hipsterish resurgence in art right now, but it's never been taken particularly seriously as a means of expression. Certainly not in the avant-garde scene of early-’60s Los Angeles.
Next up: the best photography shows
Addicted to Instagram or permanently attached to your SLR? Even if your camera roll is totally empty, you'll find a way to appreciate London photography; we have the widest variety of styles in some of the best exhibitions at the most beautiful galleries. Find them in a flash with our guide to photography in London.