Nine art exhibitions we can’t wait to see in 2021
Despite everything else that happened in 2020, the year of doom still had some great exhibitions: you just had to catch them between lockdowns. But if all goes well this year, we’ll be back to being able to see art whenever we want – not just in government-approved 20-second bursts – and there’s a lot to look forward to. From mirror rooms to science experiments, this could be a year to remember, instead of one to try and forget. We’ve only included vague dates, because fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Check the websites for details, but in the meantime, get excited.
Punk poet Patti Smith is taking over Piccadilly Circus
Punk pioneer and pivotal poet Patti Smith is the latest artist to take over the big screens in Piccadilly Circus for a month-long residency. Every day at 8.21pm (or 20:21, get it? It’s like a number pun. That’s a thing, honest) this January, the amazing rocker is doing a poetry reading. She’s already celebrated environmental activist and death metal icon Greta Thunberg’s birthday, and now she’s got a whole schedule of poetry going up on the big screen.
You can do virtual tours of almost every major London museum and gallery
Life without art and museums is just a whole lot of Netflix and cheap lager, that’s what self-isolation has taught me so far. Good heavens, I miss museums. The smell, the light, the people, the ART. I really miss art. But it’s good to know that way before everything went crazy, most of London’s museums digitised their collections and even created virtual tours of their spaces. From Tate Modern through to the Natural History Museum, here are our favourite virtual tours of our most beloved London cultural institutions. Tate Modern Photograph: Facebook/Tate The Tate’s collection is staggering: Monet, Picasso, Rothko, all the big names. In this tour, Tate Modern’s director Frances Morris takes you on a tour of one of the Tate’s new buildings, showing you works by Louise Bourgeois, Carl Andre and plenty of others. For some reason, Nick Grimshaw’s there too. I don’t know why. I don’t like it. The Courtauld Gallery of Art Photograph: Courtauld This is a virtual tour of a museum that was shut even before the current crisis. The Courtauld’s been closed for refurbishment for ages, but cleverly created this digital tour for posterity’s sake. It’s room by room, so start at the beginning with Cranach the Elder’s ‘Adam and Eve’, scoot through the portraits of old dead people in room four and then head straight for the Impressionist and modernist delights of rooms six and seven. Van Gogh, Manet, Kandinsky? Yes please! The National Portrait Gallery Photograph: National Portrait Gall
Here are five paintings that perfectly express the boredom of isolation
Art is full of bored-looking people. Take a walk through any museum or gallery around the world (when they re-open, obviously) and you’ll see hundreds of faces expressing nothing more than ennui. That’s because sitting for portraits is a tedious business, what with spending all those hours sat still doing absolutely nothing. Sound familiar?
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.