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.
The latest London art reviews
A single nightmare recurs ceaselessly in Anselm Kiefer’s monumental, enormous new exhibition at White Cube’s cavernous Bermondsey gallery. The leading German artist paints a field – nothing specific, just variations on some anonymous field – over and over again. It has been laid to waste: the vegetation is charred, the furrows are filled with ash and have turned to mud.
The basements of Polish housing estates are home to countless DIY gyms, filled with improvised weights, hand-welded bench presses and makeshift pulley machines. They’re havens of masculinity, spaces for men to hone their bodies and escape the outside world. Marcin Dudek grew up on one of those estates, going to those gyms as part of a ritual deeply tied to the country’s pervasive hooligan culture. Now, in an ongoing effort to deal with the violence of his youth, he’s recreated one of those gyms in a London gallery.
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.
The National Gallery’s new immersive exhibition aims to drag visitors inside Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’ with a little help from cutting edge virtual reality technology. The painting, one of the gallery’s most popular, is normally on display for free in a room crammed with visitors who make a special point of seeing it. It now costs £18-£20, on the understanding that the ‘immersive’ additions will enhance your encounter.
Life is a mess of toxic, corrosive, acidic substances and ideas in Patrick Staff’s work. The young English artist has filled the Serpentine with barrels collecting steady drips of acid from leaking overhead pipes. The ground is a perfectly reflective sickly green, dragging you into a mirror world of grim gunge. And things only get nastier.
Caroline Coon has painted a vision of herself with a single, monstrous, enormous, gnarled, veined, manly hand. It’s one of the first things you see in this show (which opened back in October but is on through to December). Her naked body is thin, angled, fragile; her skin hangs loosely, her face is heavily lined. But that hand is something else.
Imagine one of those time-lapse videos from a nature show: clouds swirling past at Mach speed, tides ebbing, fruit rotting. And keep it in your imagination, because that’s where young English artist Hamish Pearch’s art happens – behind closed eyes, in the unconscious, in the dark night-time spaces we’ve all seen but can’t grasp.
I’m no stranger to stationery porn. The gentle give of embossed leather notebooks, the physical sensuality of heavyweight fountain pens, the quick-hit thrill of a shiny three-pack in Paperchase. But Sara MacKillop’s ‘Returns and Renewals’, running simultaneously at Peer and nearby Shoreditch Library, is pen and paper worship of a different kind.
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.
Cruelty courses through Lucian Freud’s work. Think of the painter’s most famous images and you think of flesh rendered lumpily, grossly, aggressively; of sitters forced to lie in twisted shapes for hours to appease his need to stare and analyse; of fat rolls and zits, cellulite and pubes.
Bridget Riley will make your eyes hurt and your brain ache. With her perception-altering lines and colours, it’s like the octogenarian grand dame of op art is reaching into your skull, grabbing a fistful of your optic nerves and twisting, pulling and yanking them in a million different directions.
We may need to eat to live, but food is rarely just fuel: it’s ritual, it’s celebration, it’s sex; a signifier of good or bad taste, status or aspiration, individual or national identity. This juicy new exhibition is alive to all of that, and draws images from fine art, advertising, magazines, and – hurrah! – all those lurid retro recipes that suggest vegetables are best served via jelly moulds.
Everyone’s desperate to hyperbolise the bejesus out of artists. Every other bloke who’s ever wielded a paintbrush is a ‘visionary’ or a ‘genius’. It’s almost always over-the-top nonsense, but not when it comes to Nam June Paik.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin. Once upon a time, seven young men were bored of art. So they formed a club and vowed to paint the way it was done in medieval times, with flat perspective and pointy hats. A few years (and a few affairs) later their group had disintegrated and from the ashes rose aestheticism: big, blooming portraits of large-necked women holding fruit and looking sultry. And that was the tale of the pre-raphaelites, the end [closes book with a decisive bang]. Or was it?
Soho has become a much-mythologised part of London’s psyche – especially as the Cross Rail developments seem set to wipe away any last vestige of its former grubby glories. So it’s no wonder that The Photographers’ Gallery – situated in Soho – should dedicate a show to its changing face and fortunes.
If you’ve ever had the traumatising experience of seeing yourself illuminated in the bright white glare of shop lights, you’ll know the importance of good lighting design. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) knew this as well, but he didn’t just cast his subjects in a flattering light, he made the soft, yellow-tinted beams slicing through bitter darkness the centrepiece, maybe even the point, of his art.
With impeccable timing, Sir John Soane’s Museum has gathered together for the first time all of William Hogarth’s series, including ‘A Rake’s Progress’ and ‘Marriage A-la-Mode’. The timing is great because the highlight here is ‘Humours of an Election’ (1754), in which a bogus general election goes from bad to worse, amid corruption, violence and national division, and in which literally every other character looks like Boris Johnson, including some of the animals.
It might seem like it sometimes, but European art didn’t evolve in a bubble. For centuries, millennia even, western art existed in dialogue with art from the east. In the same way that black pepper made its way over from India and set European palates on fire, so the colours, shapes and intricacies of the East lit a flame under European culture. This small exhibition aims to show the Islamic influence on Western art.
The problem when people show you their holiday photos isn’t that it’s boring, it’s that you weren’t there. You didn’t experience that cocktail, that beach, that sunburn, so the photos have no nostalgic power over you. This is a whole exhibition of that feeling.
In the gallery entrance sits a vending machine selling Cofftea/Kafftee, a coffee-tea hybrid by Albert Oehlen that apparently 'won’t let you sleep ever again'. That might sound like a bold claim, until you look at the paintings, drawings and collages filling the exhibition space. All painted in the last 30 years, the artworks are a manic, sprawling cacophony of shape, colour, line and vaguely-emerging images.
It’s not easy to like Paul Gauguin. He was, in almost every way, an absolute prick. He abandoned his wife and five kids, liked to paint himself as Jesus, called provincial French people ‘savages’, married a child, used his Western dominance to shag half of Tahiti and died of syphilis as a miserable, lonely old man. So how do you deal with his art (in this case his portraiture)?
Art’s a business. All the work you see in London’s galleries is for sale, all the work you see in its museums has been bought. It’s something we’re not meant to think about. We’re meant to believe in art for art’s sake and pretend it’s not this global commercial undertaking. But there’s no commercial thinking in Honey Suckle Company’s show at the ICA.
Big turds greet you as you head into this show by Italian-born Brazilian artist Anna Maria Maiolino. Made of unfired clay, they’re packed, sinuous and sausage-like, into an aperture in a wall. At the same time, a soundtrack of stuttering clicks and high-pitched keening fills the air – Maiolino’s sonic interpretation of one of her own devised alphabets. The conjunction of giant jobbies and agonised straining noises might be ripe with comic potential, but if there’s one thing you won’t find a lot of in this show, it’s lols.
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.
‘This is how we find Angel after use,’ explains the nice lady on ‘Maintainancer’, Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s German brothel documentary. The camera turns to the bed –where a plastic doll lies in a tangle of cheap lace, bouncy balloon boobs and cream sheets. And then, the woman starts to clean her.
AI networks are tracking photos of you. Sorting and categorising you by your face and actions, by the digital breadcrumbs you leave behind. Artist Trevor Paglen doesn’t trust that. And with good reason.
It’s a weird one, because on the surface, Elizabeth Peyton’s work is so traditional it’s almost boring, so simple it’s almost bad. Any one of the paintings in this show would fit neatly into the rest of the NPG’s collection (and some have even been placed upstairs among it).
At one point in their show, United Visual Artists make your stomach turn. The walls of the room collapse around you, or split wide open, or spin sickeningly. But it’s not real. It’s a trick of perspective that reaches through your eyes and tickles your brain. The laser installation, inspired by the perspective tricks of the Renaissance, is a good example of what this collective (led by Matt Clark) does.
‘He’s away with the fairies!’ shouts a young guy midway through ‘Under Under In’, Mark Leckey’s latest film. The narrative work, shown across multiple screens, is inspired by the myth of changelings, little fairy children left in place of real babies like cuckoo chicks in another bird’s nest. And, to an extent, so is everything else in this dreamy, intoxicating exhibition.
Anxiety sucks. It’s pointless, debilitating and, often, very boring. This multi-artist exhibition is about the condition in all its nail-biting, bile-rising, dizzying forms.
Sex, violence and religion: Danh Vō’s new exhibition isn’t shy about getting into life’s nitty gritty. And that might kind of be the point. The Danish artist seems like he’s tired of cranking out the monumental, critically engaged sculptures he’s known for and has opted instead to try another tack and just make everyone a little uncomfortable.
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.
There’s a whole lot of Tony at the RA. Just room after room of Gormley, Gormley, Gormley. He’s a series of staccato pixelated blocks, an exploding cloud of frazzled steel, a silhouette chomped out of white bread. Everywhere you look, Antony Gormley’s there.
Anxiety is at epidemic levels. The painful agoraphobic stress of contemporary life is everywhere, and we’re all looking for a mindful way to escape it. American video artist Shana Moulton uses a character called Cynthia as an avatar for all of that modern angst.
For a man who casts such a huge, dark shadow over the history of British art, William Blake’s drawings, paintings and etchings are quietly unobtrusive little things. The poet, artist and printmaker (1757-1827) spent his life huddled over, creating mesmerising, tiny works to illustrate poems and histories.
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 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.
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.
Snap up exclusive discounts in London
Time Out's handpicked deals — hurry, they won't be around for long...