Fancy checking out some art in London but don't know where to start? Have a flick through our selection of the best shows on at the moment and take your pick. Or, if you'd prefer photography to portraiture, check out our list of the top ten photography exhibitions on right now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After decades of fuzz, fug, fog and gloom, there’s some clarity peeking out of Peter Doig’s work. The Trinidad-based Scottish painter has built a massively influential career out of clouding his works in a haze of dreamlike mist. He paints visions of childhood, nature and obsession that are barely there, like half-forgotten memories.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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