The latest London art reviews
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.
Wandering bushes, two-faced hedges, burbling baths of purple water and spinning tornadoes of hair: Sarah Cockings and Harriet Fleuriot’s mesmerising show is a heady, trippy nightmare, a weird voyage into the surreal depths of the countryside.
There’s stuff happening in Nevine Mahmoud’s first European solo show. Sensual, tactile stuff; sexual, bodily stuff. You feel like you’re walking in on a seriously private moment, bodies caught midway through something you maybe shouldn’t be seeing. There are just five sculptures here – all tits, butts and tongues made of marble and glass – but they are totally lovely.
Your body is a battleground. Capitalism wants to own it, society wants to control it. In Kate Cooper’s three-screen installation, female bodies are constrained and manipulated, abused and deformed; they are the sites of war.
Some art screams and shouts its existence, but other art stakes its claim a little more quietly. Prabhavathi Meppayil’s art is of the silent type. The Indian artist creates ultra-minimal white canvases, totally monochrome but highly textured works that are so subtle they’re barely there.
Denzil Forrester’s paintings don’t look like the kind of art you normally find in contemporary galleries. They aren’t full of nods to art history, they’re not drenched in conceptual theorising and they don’t fit neatly into the canon of Western art history. Basically, they don’t look exactly like everything else. And thank fuck for that, because that’s what makes them great.
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.
It’s always nice when art comes along and rips you out of your comfort zone, drags you out of your knowledge bubble and tears you from the established canon. You get so used to your idea art coming from books and museums, and being so proscriptive as a result, that it can all get a little staid sometimes. But then something like this Mohamed Melehi exhibition shows up and gives you a bit of a jolt.
There’s some serious information overload in Mandy El-Sayegh’s art. News, magazines, the internet, pornography, advertising and poetry are all splashed across the gallery walls, glued and smudged in place. At the root of El-Sayegh's work is a particularly modern condition: how do we navigate a world so inundated with information.
Maps: they’re lush. And the British Library has lots of them. In 2013, it extracted maps from its newly digitised collection of nineteenth-century books and put the results on Flickr. Artist Michael Takeo Magruder has now used these 1 million historical images as the basis for four new artworks.
We’ve all got mummy issues and daddy issues. Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff wanted to do more than just prove their parents wrong, though, they wanted to use their work to explore childhood trauma and how it manifests throughout life.
The title refers to inches: two and a quarter inches (stop sniggering at the back). Medium-format cameras use 2.25-inch square negatives. You can blow them up real big, and the quality is amazing. US photography legend William Eggleston isn’t usually associated with this format, but these pictures, taken in 1977 are as glowingly, troubling beautiful as any of his work, doused in a light that’s sweet and sickly as barbecue glaze.
As hypoallergenic environments go, there are few places more meticulously grime-free than the average art gallery and the items inside it. Not so with this small collection of Derek Jarman artworks. Go nose-to-nose with the sculptural canvases and you’ll start to notice a thin, perfect layer of… dust.
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.
In the opening scene of ‘Superman’ (1978), Krypton’s sun explodes, destroying the planet. The cave of crystals that the Superfamily calls home shatters, the planet is blown to smithereens. It’s not far off what’s happening in Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo’s big abstract works here.
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.
In April 2018, the media flocked to a historic meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea. Part-way through, the two men requested privacy. As they went to chat, the remaining journalists kept their recording equipment whirring. This is what it picked up: birdsong. This alternative version of political tweeting is now chirruping out of speakers at the South London Gallery as part of Haegue Yang’s ‘Tracing Movement’.
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.
While the world was patting New York, LA and London on the back for inventing pop art and conceptualism back in the late ’60s, a group of artists in Chicago were too busy having the time of their lives to care.
Countless accusations have been lobbed at Jews over the millennia. They’re money-grabbing, hooked-nosed Christ-killers who control global finances, Hollywood and the music industry. Stereotypes prevail, and the Jewish Museum is trying to tackle the big one: money.
Some art makes you laugh. Some art makes you cry. Some art makes your skin crawl off your body so you have to chase the fleshy sheet across the foyer of Tate Britain to put it back on again. Joanna Piotrowska’s photography and video works are on display at Tate Britain as the latest instalment of the gallery’s Art Now series, and you just might leave feeling fleshily exposed.
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida has slipped through the cracks. Art history can be a cruel bastard, and it’s hard to figure out where he fits in all of it: behind the Spanish painter are the waves of innovation of the French Impressionists, ahead of him is the birth of modernism, and hanging over it all are the imposing shadows of the Spanish greats, Velázquez and Goya. Bad timing, really.
Chances are you haven’t heard of Dave Heath. The American photographer, who quietly documented post-WWII US society, has flown under the radar. This is his first major UK show, and despite only being two rooms, ‘Dialogues with Solitudes’ packs a big emotional punch.
Down in the bowels of The Wallace Collection lies an armoury, filled to the brim with countless items of historical brutality. Dullards like me and you might walk through and just see weapons and armour. Very pretty weapons and armour, sure, but still, little more than tools of war. But the great Henry Moore saw something else in the helmets displayed in those dusty glass cabinets.
Before smartphones, sending a nude was seriously hard work. There were no quick pics in the bathroom mirror in renaissance Europe; instead, they had to rely on good old-fashioned pen and ink. This neat little show – dedicated largely to drawings, engravings and woodcuts from the time – explores the different ways that the nude was used back in the middle of the last millennium.
Everyday life can be a nightmare, and Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) created art that was like a dream diary of domestic horror. Her images ripple with gothic, fantastical paranoia, tearing at the fabric of living: the dinner table, the chores, the sex, the food, the very tedium of existence. This major show makes a strong case for her being one of the greats of surrealism, overshadowed throughout history by the macho men of the genre.
Visiting the Royal Academy can make a person feel small. That naked Grecian sculpture? It’s massive. Those ceilings? They’re towering. The staircase? Gargantuan! And you, tiny insignificant creature, are worthy only of cowering in the corridors of this prodigious Palace of Art. You’re small and it’s big. But the bigness of the RA just got even bigger, thanks to Phyllida Barlow’s new exhibition ‘cul-de-sac’.
Franz West took all the stuffy, conservative formality of the art world and told everyone where to shove it. The austere reverence of the gallery, the contemplative deification of the artist: West just couldn’t be arsed with it. Instead, the anarchic Austrian artist (1947-2012) created a body of work that’s playful and ludicrous, that feels like one drink too many in a Viennese bar, the art equivalent of a hangover you somehow don’t regret.
Pop quiz: who’s the national painter of Norway? The guy who painted ‘The Scream’, right? Wrong, the actual owner of that title is Harald Sohlberg. But if that’s art historical news to you, don’t feel ashamed. This retrospective at Dulwich Picture Gallery is the first major show of the artist’s paintings and drawings ever in the UK.
American artist Jenny Holzer’s work is decades’ worth of statements, aphorisms, quotes and poetry. She takes words and sentences and plasters them over the streets, prints them on cups and condoms, engraves them into marble, and sends them stuttering at lightspeed along LED columns.
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