The latest London art reviews
You’re going to leave Elizabeth Prentis’s show with sticky feet. And a sticky mind too, if you’re not careful. A bubbling tub of pink Nesquik foams and bubbles onto the blue carpet as giant alien broccoli sculptures loom over it, threatening to dip their fronds into the pink froth.
The title of this show is a promise, but not one that anyone ever managed to keep. ‘New Order’ refers to the band, obviously, but also to the era. 1976-1995 represented a time of hefty culture-shifting.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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