The latest London art reviews
Every cloud might have a silver lining, but every clean, gleaming surface in Flo Brooks’s work has a thick sheen of filth and grime. Across a handful of twisted, oddly shaped paintings, Brooks creates a universe full of double meanings, scum, hygiene issues and gender that’s so fluid it’s flowing through sewage pipes.
When Flemish artist Ilse D’Hollander committed suicide in 1997, at 28 years old, there had only been one solo show of her works. As with any significant biographical detail of an artist, it’s tempting to view D’Hollander’s output through the lens of that tragedy. But the canvas- and cardboard-based paintings on display at Victoria Miro’s Mayfair space are far from melancholic or suggestive of distress.
Gunshots scream and scatter through the gallery, politicians bellow and protesters chant as you stand in the shadow of a steel transmission tower. There’s war in Dara Birnbaum’s show at the Marian Goodman Gallery, but it’s not a physical one: this is a war of information.
There’s an episode in Matthew Weiner’s series, ‘The Romanoffs’, where descendants of Russia’s last royal family get together on a cruise ship and re-enact the glory days of grand balls and staged entertainment. Those with Romanov DNA lap it up, while two married-in relations find the entire event slightly perplexing. Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs, a new exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, has the potential to inspire a similar division of response.
In 1855, Roger Fenton arrived in the Crimea on a commission from publisher Thomas Agnew & Sons to photograph scenes and figures from the ongoing Crimean War. After he returned to London, the images were exhibited at four venues in the capital and… that was it. There hasn’t been a London show of Fenton’s creations since 1856.
Everything was good once. Not like today. Back in the 1950s, America was booming. Money was flowing, business was good, the war had been won and the sun was always shining. It was the halcyon days of modern capitalism. Nonagenarian übermensch of achingly cool pop art Alex Katz is feeling nostalgic for those days.
Food porn gets everyone’s engines revving: images of pristine plates of immaculate profiteroles, steaming piles of mash and unctuous bowls of caviar, that throaty M&S voice uttering sweet nothings into your ear, etc. Well, young British artist Maisie Cousins is sort of the opposite.
Athi-Patra Ruga’s exhibition at Somerset House certainly justifies the reference in its title to rainbows. Each of the gallery’s Terrace Rooms is a kaleidoscopic mass of saturated colour. Ruby, fuchsia, turquoise, periwinkle, sunshine-happy yellow, this show of tapestries is the perfect inoculation against the growing greyness of London’s November sky.
The history of art is just the history of men with paintbrushes and erections, and no one had more boners than Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. There must have been something in the air in turn-of-the-century Vienna, because think of these two and you think of non-stop, boobs-out, full-frontal erotic action. And this show of rarely seen and truly stunning drawings that have been dug out from the attic of Vienna’s Albertina Museum isn’t going to prove any of that wrong.
Anxiety, despair, dread, depression, fear, misery, alienation: a pretty standard Friday night, but an unusual recipe for a kids’ comic strip. ‘Peanuts’ is special, though. Over his tens of thousands of strips – syndicated the world over and read by millions of adoring fans – Charles M Schulz combined simple line drawings and emotional non-sequiturs into little bundles of pure, heart-wrenching modern truth.
Imagine if Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were lovers, or if Henry Kissinger was engaged to Angola’s minister of petroleum, or if Jimmy Carter was a high-heeled lover to an Arabian oil politician. Well, stop imagining it because it’s stickily real in Sheida Soleimani’s photographs and videos.
Edward Burtynsky’s new show is dominated by a six-metre-long photograph of a quarry. A massive orange digger sits in the middle, but it looks like a toy in its surroundings. Burtynsky fans’ spidey senses go on high alert: EB is showing us the rape of the earth by man.
I like the Pre-Raphaelites the same way I like pumpkin spice lattes despite 85% of people telling me they’re repulsive. Because these medieval-loving Victorians are the pumpkin spice lattes of British art. They’re syrupy sweet gloop often tinted a strange orange colour and always topped with unnecessary frothy swirls.
There’s a part of you that wonders if the British Library has designed an entire exhibition as an ‘up yours’ to Brexit. Because the first thing you see, as you walk around this heady exploration of Anglo-Saxon treasures and literature, is an explanation of a worryingly continental fact: we’re all bloody German. Or Danish.
‘The Oscar Wilde Temple’ by McDermott & McGough is one of those artworks that’s difficult to ‘review’. Not because it isn’t beautiful, wonderfully detailed, clever in its use of art history or politically poignant. It is all of those things. But because this entirely immersive installation isn’t really intended to just be art.
Think modern love is complicated? Wait until you see this exhibition. Here’s half a century’s worth of explosive couples, transgressive throuples, affairs, gaslighting fuckboys and, mercifully, some great art to contend with. ‘Modern Couples’ wants to show how intimate relationships between artists influenced their works, but it does something even better. By giving equal visibility to women artists who have previously been reduced to ‘muses’ or ‘dilettantes’ tied to more famous men, it subverts the image of the avant-garde artist as an untouchable male genius.
Despite its name, modernism sure had some old school failings. When Anni Albers got through her first year at experimental German art school the Bauhaus in 1923, she was kept away from disciplines like painting and sculpture and was shoved roughly towards something more suitable for a woman: weaving. But Albers took her shitty stick and ran with it.
Usually when you say an art show is ‘challenging’, you mean it’s got a stuff in it you don’t want to look at. And, yeah, ‘Mantegna and Bellini’ contains scenes of torture, execution, religious fanaticism, totalitarian regimes, disturbing hybrid animals and child nudity. That’s the Bible for you. But this survey of the work and relationship of two giants of the Italian Renaissance is challenging in another way.
At this point, no one really needs another Yayoi Kusama review. Her art is so distinctive, so clearly defined, so ubiquitous and so over-written about that no one really has anything to add that’s going to change your mind. She’s the world’s biggest art superstar. If you like her pumpkins and mirrors shtick, you’re going to like this show. If you don’t, you won’t. Easy.
Deep in the bowels of an abandoned brutalist office block on the Strand, a pair of Arab men are dancing in a bank vault, a nude silver-skinned woman is prancing around some sculptures, some bloke is stroking a fish as it slowly dies and a glittery android is singing on a stage. Nah, it’s not London’s newest and most terrifyingly awful sex club, it’s a show of video art curated by New York’s New Museum.
The Serpentine Gallery stinks. There’s something in the air, some intensely chemical stench, half way between bleach and rotting meat. Flies buzz around or lie dead on the ground, the paint on the walls has been sanded back, the floor is caked in dust. Dotted throughout the space, screens spin through ceaselessly strobing and mutating images that your eyes just can’t grasp.
It’s staggering that after all these years the Turner Prize can still induce such apoplectic, tumescent, viscous rage in the general public and red-top media. It’s a contemporary art prize you absolute weenies, why is it shocking to you that it’s not just a room full of copies of ‘The Hay Wain’?
Flayed skin and dislocated shoulders are two recurring themes of Jusepe de Ribera’s art. The first, normally inflicted on Christian saints as part of their martyrdoms, and the second, the result of a foul seventeenth-century torture device known as the ‘strappado’.
The Whitechapel Gallery is being turned into a luxury hotel. Sorry about that. Its galleries will be turned into suites for the moneyed hipster elite to huff designer drugs in, and its pool will become an opulent spa. You probably didn’t know the Whitechapel had a pool, but it does.
Oceania is vast. Hundreds of islands spread out across thousands of square miles of ocean, each filled with countless cultures that lap and overlap. Trying to sum up the whole artistic production of a single culture, let alone multiple, is a stupid, insurmountable task. But here we are, doing just that at the Royal Academy.
If I had a penny for every time I heard about the importance of light in art I’d have a shitload of pennies. From Caravaggio’s dramatic chiaroscuro to Turner’s swirling dusky seascapes and Monet’s shimmering waterlilies, light has been a necessary obsession in art for centuries. This show of art that teases and toys with light and space is an eye-bending journey into the brightest recesses of minimalism.
There’s crap everywhere in this show. There’s a bin full of plastic tubing and a cricket bat, a stepladder, metal shelves covered with popcorn, teacups and trainers, watermelons on the floor, big bottles of fizzy drink, a paddling pool. Just a bunch of junk hastily and messily laid out. Feeling dismissive is a legit reaction – until it dawns on you what this all means.
Like an expert butcher, Swiss artist Heidi Bucher (who died in 1993) was a master of flaying skin. But it wasn’t animals that she peeled with intricate precision, it was whole lives.
Short of Banksy reinterpreting ‘Guernica’ accompanied by bottomless prosecco, it’s hard to think of a more solid banker of a show than this. The Courtauld Gallery is being refurbed for two years, but the decorators have hardly had time to stick the radio on, than its greatest impressionist hits are back on display, with support from iconic works from the National Gallery.
What you see is what you get with Renzo Piano. Literally. His buildings are all about guts-on-the-outside, glass-for-days clarity. And the Italian architect is a behemoth of his art form. From the eviscerated shock and awe of the Centre Pompidou to the shimmering, looming blade of The Shard, Piano’s buildings have a habit of defining a city.
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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