The latest London art reviews
If you’re British, Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) is a relatively unknown artist. If you’re Finnish, Helene Schjerfbeck is a very famous artist. This show of 60 paintings is the first chance London audiences have had to join the Schjerfbeck fan club.
The contemporary art world gives us many things, but laughter is rarely one of them. Opportunities to squeal? Even rarer. Which is what makes this exhibition at Southwark Park Galleries as precious to behold as a chug wearing a very small hat. If I was the Marie Kondo of art critics, I’d tell you to metaphorically throw out all the other exhibitions because only this one will bring you joy.
A highlight of ‘Sweet Harmony: Rave | Today’ is Vinca Petersen’s ‘A Life of Subversive Joy’: a great jostling timeline of dates, personal photographs and flyers alongside details of raves she ran and attended scrawled directly on to the gallery wall (‘1st August. Arrived at rave in Plumpton at 7am. Lost it on “blue sperm”!!? Really good!’). Next to it sits a bouncy castle entitled ‘Laughter Aid’ – since 2003, Petersen has taken it, along with more practical supplies, to Eastern European and West African orphanages in order to spread that joy.
Olafur Eliasson does epic like few others. The Danish-Icelandic artist was last at Tate Modern in 2003 with 'The Weather Project', a monumental installation that transformed the Turbine Hall into a pulsating, hazy sunset. This time, they’re showing 40 works, including many large-scale installations, made throughout his career.
There’s an oft-told story in my family about the time a friend’s kid drew on the living room wall, then denied it was her. The problem with escaping punishment was this: it was her own name she’d scrawled in crayon across the wallpaper. This seemingly primal need to impose our markings on the world around us, from cave paintings to bus-stop graffiti, informs the raw, tactile installations of Jodie Carey.
Wong Ping creates brutal, grim, sexually violent modern fairy tales. But there’s no Red Riding Hood or any cute little pigs here. Instead, the Hong Kong artist tears and rips at ideas of societal dynamics through a world of throbbing cocks, aborted foetuses and mistreated OAPs.
There’s a soft orange glow being cast across the floor of the Chisenhale. Warm shadows ripple out of mini glass chandeliers filled with cognac and palm oil, stuck into a low false ceiling. Opposite, Ima-Abasi Okon has screwed an army of air conditioners into the wall. Their fans spin and stop, juddering along to a syrupy, slow soundtrack emanating from behind.
Aliens and celebrities, Egyptian gods and cowboy boots: Issy Wood’s paintings are full of the banal and the surreal, the everyday and the extraordinary. The young American painter’s works are claustrophobic, close-cropped compositions.
Scraping, screaming, hovering, vibrating: the shards of metal in Takis’s show hum with invisible energy. Since the 1960s, the Greek artist has used magnets to create thrumming, shaking works of abstract sculpture.
Fans of the photographic uncanny are in for a great summer: first Cindy Sherman lands at the NPG, and now Canadian weirdo Jeff Wall has arrived at White Cube. Wall by name, wall by nature, he’s known for his epically scaled, carefully orchestrated set-ups, which have all the complexity of a movie, only they don’t – you know – move.
You can’t call the RSPCA for crimes against toys, apparently, but one look at Jamian Juliano-Villani’s art and you’ll desperately want to. I mean, if hammering a dildo into a toy tiger’s mouth over and over again isn’t abuse, then what is?
The voices of forgotten women echo through the Whitechapel Gallery. British artist Helen Cammock’s commission, made in a residency in Italy, is a mournful look at historical female pain.
Félix Vallotton wasn’t just one artist; he was at least three. The French-Swiss painter (1865-1925) was a historically indebted traditionalist, a satirical commercial printmaker and an experimental, fully paid-up member of the turn-of-the-century Parisian avant-garde. He was all of those things, often at once.
There’s this great Cindy Sherman quote that goes ‘I’m disgusted with how people get themselves to look beautiful.’ Disgust, anger, cynicism and mockery: those are the American artist’s fiercest tools. Her now almost iconic photography – mostly an exercise in extreme self-portraiture – might look like someone playing dress-up for decades, but Sherman has targets, and she is merciless.
Astonishingly, this is the first UK solo show for Liz Jonhson Artur, a London-based, Russian-Ghanaian photographer, who has been documenting the African diaspora for three decades.
Summer group shows in London galleries are the worst. They’re just naff excuses to sell leftover art in the quiet months, helmed by some curator who’s insisted on writing something on the wall about how the show focuses on physical spatiality or the violence of poetics or some shit. Urgh. But this one, somehow, isn’t awful.
It’s easy to take photography for granted. In fact, it’s easy to get sick of photography. But as this show of Latin American photography from 1959 to 2016 makes clear, cameras have long served a more important function than capturing the light bouncing off an acai berry bowl. T
Oscar Murillo is hyped. Or he was. Straight out of art school, people were buying the Colombia-born artist’s abstract paintings for huge amounts of money. He was touted as the next big thing, the future of abstraction, the saviour of painting, yadda, yadda, yadda. It was all bullshit, obviously.
Gender identity has only recently become a hot topic in mainstream society. I know, it’s hard to imagine what the tabloids wrote about before they could announce that gender-neutral toilets would be the downfall of humanity. But in art, the fluidity of gender has been a subject for centuries. From Jusepe de Ribera to Claude Cahun, art has almost always been a fertile place for radical gender thinking, and this show traces the last 50 years of it.
You can’t neatly sum up the black contribution to culture, and, if this show is anything to go by, you can’t do it messily either. The premise is that it’s a celebration of ‘the past 50 years of black creativity in Britain and beyond’, and if that doesn’t soound so ludicrously broad that it sets your eye twitching I don’t know what will.
You can’t imagine that having sex with Francis Bacon was very pleasant. And if this jaw-dropping little collection of paintings of male bodies pre-, during and post-intimacy is anything to go by, it definitely wasn’t gentle. The figures Bacon depicted in these works – some of which haven’t been seen since the 1970s – are writhing fleshy masses, their teeth bared, muscles taught.
Wolfgang Tillmans’s giant Tate survey show back in 2017 was a little overwhelming. It was a whole person on display; his passions, his art, his personality. You were dwarfed by the photographer and his life. This small show is a gentler, calmer look at the artist.
There’s an etching in this exhibition taken from Christopher RW Nevinson’s oil painting ‘Any London Street’. The joke explains itself: this scene of life in a Georgian terrace could come from anywhere in the metropolis, geddit? LOL. Only… it couldn’t. What makes London fascinating is how almost none of its streets or buildings look the same.
Art is a weapon. I mean, not always. Sometimes it’s just something pretty for rich people’s walls. But in the hands of octogenarian American artist and activist Faith Ringgold, art is a weapon. Art is a way of fighting back.
There’s something not quite right in Yang Fudong’s glitzy Chinese historical movie. You can see the wires the fighters are flying on, the rails the cameras are moving on, the places where the set ends. A camera keeps cutting in front of your view of the action, people with smartphones keep walking into shot. It’s a mess.
For many artists, painting is the act of capturing a single, still moment. For Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), it was the opposite. Long before the Russian artist painted bicycles in motion or factory machines mid click-clack, her images rejected the point-and-click freeze frame approach in favour of an explosion of life, noise and animation.
Walking into ‘Misbehaving Bodies’, the Wellcome Collection’s free exhibition of artworks by Jo Spence (1934-1992) and Oreet Ashery (b. 1966), you first notice two giant, bright pink teddy bears with extra-long arms. The terror-inducing teds sit on the floor under draping canopies of the same intestinal colour.
You might know Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz from his current Fourth Plinth commission ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’. It’s a recreation of a huge winged statue from the ancient city of Nineveh, destroyed by Daesh in 2015. Rakowitz’s version, though, is no monolith: it’s made of Middle Eastern wrapping paper and packaging materials, like a school papier-mâché project gone mad.
You can spot a Michael Craig-Martin from miles away. The influential British artist has been pumping out variations on the same theme for decades now: simple line drawings of everyday objects, rendered in bright Technicolour hues. He’s been a big shot of conceptual art for years, he’s had a massive influence on the YBAs, and he’s taught generations of future artists.
Frank Bowling was an outsider. He still is, really, at 85. But when he arrived in London from Guyana in 1953, he was just a small town black kid from the colonies. He wasn’t part of the Soho drinking set, he wasn’t some public school rebel, he wasn’t an art school-educated formalist. He didn’t fit in, and – this is the best bit – he didn’t have to fit in.
László Moholy-Nagy set things in motion back in the ’30s that are still picking up speed today. The Hungarian modernist fused art and technology, creating a body of work that explored the base, elemental, constituent parts of our aesthetic world. This small show brings together a handful of Moholy-Nagy’s collages, paintings and sculptures, and make a tidy case for him as one of the most relevant of modernists.
Lee Krasner (1908-1984) spent her life fighting for the right to be herself. She couldn’t be Lena Krasner, she had to become the androgynous Lee. She couldn’t be a realist or a cubist, she had to rip her work to shreds and collage it into new, unique forms. And she could never just be her, she always had to be the wife of Jackson Pollock.
The female gaze is a funny thing. Three little words used to describe everything from lesbian erotic fiction to the abstract expressionism of Lee Krasner. What’s missing from all this talk about ‘the gaze’ is any sense of a physical human being doing the looking. Enter: Luchita Hurtado.
If you’ve ever seen Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’, then you know you’ve never really seen it. What you’ve really seen is a jostling crush of irritable tourists with their cameras obscuring your view of an enigmatically grumpy Renaissance woman somewhere in the distance.
How do you sum up one of the world’s most popular cultural phenomenons; an art movement that’s lasted for hundreds of years and continues to grow, taking in video games, cinema, art and literature, with countless thousands of practitioners and millions upon millions of devoted fans. The answer, when it comes to the British Museum’s ‘Manga’ exhibition, is, well, you don’t.
The writer Kathy Acker (1947-1997) meant a lot of things to a lot of people. And she still does, as this sensory-overload of an exhibition at the ICA makes clear. Split across two floors, the show swirls together chunks of Acker’s own prolific output (mainly large segments of text or video footage of the writer talking or performing) with artworks, poems and films by an extra-long list of artists she’s inspired.
You’ve got two options with Sean Scully’s abstract paintings. You can either try to read a bunch of hefty conceptual meaning into their lines and colours, or you can take them for what they are: big bloody stripy paintings.
Loneliness, anxiety, jealousy, fear and torment: Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) probably wasn’t much fun at parties, but he sure had a knack for art. This exhibition doesn’t make for easy viewing: it’s heavy, dour stuff that’ll hang over you like a dark cloud.
Like half-forgotten crushes, some lost spaces might be sweeter to remember than they ever were at the time. Whitechapel Gallery’s glance into the spaces where London’s queer communities flirted and campaigned serves up heavy doses of nostalgia.
This show is great if you want to see a bunch of artists rip off Vincent Van Gogh. If you’re hoping to be immersed in Vince’s swirling night visions or undulating sunflowers and landscapes, you’ll get a bit of it, but only a nibble. The main gist of the show is to look at the British artists that influenced young Vinnie, and the British artists who in turn took inspiration from him.
Tate Britain is filled with the corpses of British industry, the long dead, rotting remains of this country itself. Strewn across the massive central Duveen Galleries are chunks of enormous abandoned machinery: presses, clamps, welders, cutters. Some have been left untouched, others have been piled on top of each other.
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