From blockbuster names to indie shows, Time Out Art cast their net far and wide in order to review the biggest and best exhibitions in the city. Check 'em out below or shortcut it to our top ten art exhibitions in London for the shows that we already know will blow your socks off.
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If you think a show about masculinity should be full of images of guns and cowboys and beer and beards, then you’re not going to be disappointed here. Unless you also want that show to be a celebration of those things, in which case you’re in for a rough ride. Because this exhibition doesn’t celebrate what it means to be a man, it undermines it, subverts it and totally reshapes it.
This show opens with a black blob. An inky, scrawly, looming lump of damp mountainside, like a geological metaphor for impending doom. And from there, it doesn’t get much lighter. Léon Spilliaert was born in Ostend, Belgium, in 1881. He spent most of his life between there and Brussels, and his gothicky, wobbly paintings are filled with the frigid features of the local landscape.
In the words of Blink 182, ‘Work sucks, I know.’ Harun Farocki and Hito Steyerl know too. These two German artists (Farocki died in 2014, but Steyerl’s still with us) are united by a drive to make art about labour, capitalist inequality and unjust financial and political systems.
Between ‘here’ and ‘there’, there’s a whole lot of in-between. And German punk minimalism supremo Isa Genzken’s installation at Hauser & Wirth revels in those transition spaces and moments.
This is heavy art. The deeper you go into Steve McQueen’s exhibition, the more each work seems to weigh down on your shoulders. Which won’t surprise anyone who’s seen the English artist’s Oscar-winning films. Whether dealing with sexual addiction in ‘Shame’ or the brutal history of slavery in ‘12 Years a Slave’, he likes to drop a titanic, hulking weight on you and force you to confront it.
Time has been a bitch to James Turrell. When he started making his legendary light sculptures in the 1960s, the world had seen nothing like it. Now, his influence is so pervasive that you see little hints of him everywhere: music videos, fashion shows, the interiors of fancy cars. The Turrell look – rooms of gentle undulating light – has become such a ‘thing’ that walking into this show feels like entering the lobby of a hotel you can’t afford to stay in.
Cerith Wyn Evans’s work looks impressive. His big, sprawling, humming white neons are real eye-pleasers. Their splintered, chaotic composition sits somewhere between hectic randomness and studied composition. You search them for patterns as they thrum and vibrate and fill the room.
Melvin Edwards’s art is heavy-duty. The African-American artist, born in 1937 and still very much practising, morphs the accoutrements of industry – clamps, pegs, crowbars, screwdrivers, metal plates – into twisted, layered sculptures, arranging the rough, weighty materials with the intricacy of a lace pattern.
Painting, schmainting. All anyone cares about these days in galleries are immersive installations, video works and conceptual interventions. So a show of just boring old painting is quite a bold move for the Whitechapel Gallery. And here we are, stood in a plain white room with some canvases nailed to the wall. No gimmicks, no schtick, just painting. Eerie.
Thousands of heavy-jawed faces stare back at you from the walls of this exhibition. And almost every one has the same set of worrying, vulgar, distended features. Royal inbreeding, it’s no joke. This is the big-chinned art of the British Baroque period: the art of power, dominance and shagging your cousins.
In possibly the most Jordan Wolfson move ever, the American artist has made a new work that might physically injure you if you get too close. Made up of spinning LED filaments – halfway between a cooling fan and a weed whacker – the whirling strands in front of you spit out endless holographic images, but they could slice off your hand too if you’re not careful.
All semi- or totally abstract paintings involving horizontal bands of naturalistic colours look like the sea. That’s the rule, right? You stare at the alternating thin and thick strips of blues/whites/beigey-yellows, take a calming breath, and go, ‘Ah yes, the sea – how lovely!’ Hedda Sterne’s paintings of horizontal stripes – completed in the early 1960s and shown as a group in this small exhibition alongside a set of works on paper – look like the sea. Sort of.
The paintings have leached off the canvas in France-Lise McGurn’s exhibition. They’ve spread across the walls: her nude, imagined figures have been left sprawled throughout the gallery like they’ve come alive in the night and frozen on sight, like in that Ben Stiller movie in the museum, but a lot more naked.
Mushrooms have had bad PR for decades. They’re either the grey coagulated slop in cheap supermarket soup or dream fuel for all the dreadlocked white guys you tried to avoid at university. But perceptions are changing, sometimes literally. Mycophilia is the love of mushrooms, and it’s blooming.
Christine Rebet’s artwork looks cute. In her hand-drawn animated films you’ll find blossoming flowers, galloping palomino horses, old-timey parlour games and neat rows of uniformed girls practising cheerleading in front of a screen. But ‘looks’ is the vital word. All six of the short animations on display here, alongside the original illustrations, deliver hammer blows to the sugary, whimsical world it initially seems you’ve walked into.
Art about contracts is a hard sell. But that’s what you’re buying into in American artist Cameron Rowland’s exhibition at the ICA. And not just buying into, but buying blind, because the artist has made absolutely zero concessions to approachability, legibility or comprehensibility.
The American dream is always on the verge of collapse. That’s the point of it, it’s a dream: something far away, unreachable. Try to grasp it and it’ll slip through your fingers. Artists have tangled with it ever since the country’s foundation, and this neat little show looks at the ones who pull at its countless threads of hope and optimism to reveal the truth beneath.
Théodore Gericault’s ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ (1918-19) is a masterpiece. It shows the brutal, gory truth of death and destruction in a turbulent world, on a raft. Swiss duo Peter Fischli & David Weiss’s (Fischli is still around, though Weiss died in 2012) raft sculpture plays on similarly apocalyptic themes, but squidged through a lens of sci-fi dystopia, Cold War paranoia and contemporary fear.
Alex Israel isn’t an artist, he’s a brand. He’s the conclusion of all those artist-as-celebrity, art-as-business ideas we’ve been wading through since Warhol. He’s a selling point, a personality, an assemblage of symbols and signifiers to be sold and traded. The problem is, he’s not that great at it.
Gordon Cheung’s landscapes are vast. Massive craggy mountains dominate the skyline, mega cities consume the plains, great swathes of ocean bite into the coastline. There are representations of giant bridges, world-conquering shipping routes, recordbreaking railways and passages of superhighway.
Of all the things the world needs in 2020, another effing Picasso show is not one of them. There have been countless major Pablo exhibitions in London over the past decade. Hell, I’m tired of typing the word Picasso, let alone looking at the bloke’s art. But the British public seems to have the same appetite for Pablo as it does for binge drinking and vomiting on the high street on a Saturday night, and British art institutions just can’t seem to stop pulling the Picasso pints.
Vivian Suter’s canvases swarm across the lofty, swimming-pooly spaces of Camden Arts Centre. They hang from the ceiling in swathes, and overlap each other on the walls. In one corner, a dozen or more are suspended in a row, like plates drying in a rack: as a result, you can’t see most of them, but you know they’re there. Suter is a refugee. Not from conflict or oppression, but from the Western art world.
Sometimes a simple idea executed well is all that’s required for a stellar exhibition. The idea behind Bethlem Museum of the Mind’s latest show is this: artworks by women relating to the lived experience of women. Boom, done, that’s it. Bung that concept in a bigger space and it could end up a sprawling confusion, but the MotM’s small-ish one-room gallery keeps it contained and, thanks to the amazing variety on display, far-reaching.
Forward, backward. Backward, forward. Forward, backforebackward. The more times you watch Bruce Conner’s short film ‘Breakaway’ (1966) the less sure you become of which direction the action is running in.
Colonialism didn’t just come for the minerals, spices and priceless artefacts, colonialism came for the art too. As the East India Company tightened its grip on the Indian subcontinent in the nineteenth century, it also grabbed at the arts of the places it was occupying. This gorgeous show brings together botanical, portrait and everyday scene paintings commissioned by wealthy European patrons.
There are a lot of limbs in David Bomberg’s paintings. Bent, angled, twisted body parts jut out at awkward angles as sweaty figures clamber over each other on the wrestling mat, in the tight hold of a ship or on the sticky floor of a sauna. These are paintings with the raw, bloody, masculine attention to sweat and skin seen in Francis Bacon or Lucian Freud, although Bomberg was painting at an earlier date than either (everything here’s from the 1910s) and his images are more geometric and abstract.
Troy vey, this show is seriously big. I mean huge, grand, ambitious, sweeping, in-depth, enormous. But take a deep breath and set an afternoon aside because it’s more than worth your time.
‘Lady artist deleted from history’ is a pretty familiar story. And it’s the one that, broadly speaking, underpins this show at Tate Modern. Dora Maar (1907-1997) was a female artist footnoted by history thanks to her gender and her relationship with Pablo Picasso. But the most interesting thing to emerge from this fascinating retrospective – the first ever held in the UK – isn’t simply that Maar is an artist forgotten, it’s that she is such a ridiculously prolific and varied artist forgotten.
At this point, it’s hard to imagine that you could change anyone’s mind about climate change. If you’re someone who genuinely believes – despite the overwhelming scientific consensus – that global warming is a sham, then an art exhibition isn’t going to sway you. But here we are at the RA, the choir showing up to be preached to in an exhibition of art and architecture about climate change.
The best thing about Steve McQueen’s ‘Year 3’ project is imagining all the gammon-faced, xenophobic, anti-immigration bigots it’s going to get frothing with rage. Because the artist and filmmaker’s project is a brazen, forthright, unapologetic celebration of multi-cultural London. It’s a simple enough concept: every primary school in London was approached to have its year 3 class photo taken.
If there’s anything old people love talking about it’s how young people spend too much time on their phones, staring at screens, playing Pacman or whatever they think young people do. Sound familiarly tedious? Well, stay away from ‘24/7’ at Somerset House, because it’s just that conversation in exhibition form.
London’s streets are haunted by vile ghosts. Everywhere you walk, there are statues of Britons who conquered the world and pillaged its nations looming over you. And in front of Buckingham Palace stands the Victoria Memorial, an ornate, lavish celebration of Queen Vic and her imperial achievements. Now a version of it haunts the Turbine Hall.
Fantastical. Fairytale. Magical. Lot of words are used to describe the photography of Tim Walker, but rarely this one: sex. Yet as this exuberant solo exhibition at the V&A proves, the British photographer’s special brand of surrealism, honed over decades working for fashion magazines, is far from saccharine innocence.