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.
It’s time to make like a tree and go see some art, because the Hayward Gallery’s new exhibition is all about our arboreal friends. Trees have always played powerful, symbolic roles in human society, and in contemporary art, they represent countless ideas.
Donna Huanca’s art drips, melts, trickles and slithers through the gallery. It coats and covers every inch of this brightly lit space. Plastic sheeting lines the walls like the space is being prepared for something very, very messy. An ice sculpture – big crystalline blocks filled with blue hair-like fibres – drips, drips, drips into a pool.
There’s a sadness to this show by the great British artist David Hockney. It feels like a long look backwards, with each room telling a story of ageing and facing the slow, creeping suffocation of time.
If you think a show about masculinity should be full of images of guns and cowboys and beer and beards, then you’re not going to be disappointed here. Unless you also want that show to be a celebration of those things, in which case you’re in for a rough ride. Because this exhibition doesn’t celebrate what it means to be a man, it undermines it, subverts it and totally reshapes it.
This show opens with a black blob. An inky, scrawly, looming lump of damp mountainside, like a geological metaphor for impending doom. And from there, it doesn’t get much lighter. Léon Spilliaert was born in Ostend, Belgium, in 1881. He spent most of his life between there and Brussels, and his gothicky, wobbly paintings are filled with the frigid features of the local landscape.
In the words of Blink 182, ‘Work sucks, I know.’ Harun Farocki and Hito Steyerl know too. These two German artists (Farocki died in 2014, but Steyerl’s still with us) are united by a drive to make art about labour, capitalist inequality and unjust financial and political systems.
Between ‘here’ and ‘there’, there’s a whole lot of in-between. And German punk minimalism supremo Isa Genzken’s installation at Hauser & Wirth revels in those transition spaces and moments.
Thousands of heavy-jawed faces stare back at you from the walls of this exhibition. And almost every one has the same set of worrying, vulgar, distended features. Royal inbreeding, it’s no joke. This is the big-chinned art of the British Baroque period: the art of power, dominance and shagging your cousins.
Colonialism didn’t just come for the minerals, spices and priceless artefacts, colonialism came for the art too. As the East India Company tightened its grip on the Indian subcontinent in the nineteenth century, it also grabbed at the arts of the places it was occupying. This gorgeous show brings together botanical, portrait and everyday scene paintings commissioned by wealthy European patrons.
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.
Ah, surrealism. A quick search on Twitter today for ‘surreal’ brings up posts about coronavirus and Russian cosmetics and someone called Rya saying ‘In a few months, I’ll be a junior in college. So surreal wow.’ ‘Surreal’ is now part of everyone’s vocabulary.
This is heavy art. The deeper you go into Steve McQueen’s exhibition, the more each work seems to weigh down on your shoulders. Which won’t surprise anyone who’s seen the English artist’s Oscar-winning films. Whether dealing with sexual addiction in ‘Shame’ or the brutal history of slavery in ‘12 Years a Slave’, he likes to drop a titanic, hulking weight on you and force you to confront it.
Cerith Wyn Evans’s work looks impressive. His big, sprawling, humming white neons are real eye-pleasers. Their splintered, chaotic composition sits somewhere between hectic randomness and studied composition. You search them for patterns as they thrum and vibrate and fill the room. And they’re not just pretty shapes.
Going from the White House to Walthamstow may seem like a bit of a step down, but it’s a move which makes a lot of sense to American artist Kehinde Wiley. He painted the official portrait of Barack Obama, and now he’s painted portraits of women and girls from the streets of Dalston and hung them in a big listed building in east London. In both of these endeavours, he’s had to the same intention: to celebrate, elevate and explore black identity.
Painting, schmainting. All anyone cares about these days in galleries are immersive installations, video works and conceptual interventions. So a show of just boring old painting is quite a bold move for the Whitechapel Gallery. And here we are, stood in a plain white room with some canvases nailed to the wall. No gimmicks, no schtick, just painting. Eerie.
Cao Fei is teleporting you from one constantly changing city to another. Step through the doors of this London show and suddenly you’re in her Beijing studio, walking through the foyer of the former cinema and theatre it’s housed in.
The Victorians: buttoned-up, sermonising, empire-loving sexophobes. And their art? Sentimental pictures of big-eyed children and bigger-eyed spaniels, right? Well, #NotAllVictorians. Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) did things differently. His slinky black-and-white drawings are filled with sex and death and… well, sex and death mainly.
The V&A does an excellent line in fashion exhibitions that are bright, brash, frothy, OTT madness – a mirroring, perhaps, of the atmosphere surrounding most major fashion weeks. So it comes as a surprise, initially, to step inside ‘Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk’ and absorb a calming scene of cool mint walls, plain white ceiling drapes and a fairly traditional layout of glass exhibition cases.