Shortcut it straight to the good stuff by heading to one of the very best art exhibitions taking place in the capital right now. From modern and fancy, to classical and serene, we've got your next art outing sorted. Or, if you're skint until pay day, how about trying one of London's many free exhibitions instead?
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The ten best art exhibitions in London
The work of black artists is too often hidden behind the plaster of whitewashed gallery walls. Things are improving, sure – most London galleries now trip over themselves to share the ‘percentage’ of artists of colour in their collection. But numbers don’t tell the story: big, blockbuster displays of diversity are what’s needed if we are to see any significant movement. Finally, the plates are shifting with ‘Soul of a Nation’, a sonorous and sensitively curated group show dedicated to African American artists, and the work they produced in the turbulent period between 1963 and 1983. The voice of Martin Luther King greets you at the door, and leads you into the visual aftermath of his assassination. These are the creations of Spiral, a collective of African American artists formed at the pinnacle of the civil rights movement. Among them are the ritualistic collages of Romare Bearden, and haunting monochrome paint strokes of Norman Lewis. On the fringes, 1960s archive copies of the The Black Panther newspapers are preserved, framing the unapologetic political prints of Emory Douglas who said: ‘the ghetto itself is a gallery.’ An awakening comes with Dana C Chandler’s luminous green monument ‘Fred Hampton’s Door 2’, a recreation of the bullet-riddled front door of a young Black Panther revolutionary killed by Chicago police. Equally devastating is Betye Saar’s sculpture ‘Sambo’s Banjo’, a mockery of the racist ‘black entertainer’ caricature where a vintage banjo case houses th
There’s something special about a tapestry, something traditional, a tangible aura of history. It’s as if the act of creating an image by slowly and meticulously weaving countless threads together is somehow more permanent, more holy, than just slapping a bunch of paint on a canvas.
How can you go about your everyday business when it feels like the world is collapsing around you? When Richard Nixon started dragging America through a swamp of war, death and corruption in the 1970s, Philip Guston couldn’t just keep painting in the same old way. It felt fake, a betrayal.
‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ said a wise uncle to his superhero nephew once. It’s a sentiment that hovers around Grayson Perry’s exhibition. Granted, Perry’s own alter ego wears lipstick and gingham rather than a mask and spandex, but the artist/transvestite/unlikely national treasure feels just as much the reluctant hero. This show is intended as a meditation on the role of popularity in art, but if it does anything, it highlights there’s little difference between one ‘P’ word and the other. It was Perry’s ceramic pots that threw him into the mainstream's limelight, but here you’ll also find tapestries, woodcuts, assemblages and custom-made motorbikes and skateboards. Those who deride him for glibly milking the zeitgeist (middle-aged broadsheet critics for the most part) won’t be converted here. Nationalist politics, art-world bickering, the class divide, austerity Britain – Perry casts his net far and wide, with a wry frown and his tongue in cheek. Curiously, it’s the bleaker moments that resonate most. Those who’ve read his book ‘The Descent of Man’ will know he views traditional masculinity as a ticking time bomb of rising suicide rates, domestic abuse and online misogyny; in one woodcut, it’s depicted as a snarling beast with humongous bollocks whose innards are labelled with words like ‘logical’, ‘rational’ and ‘important.’ Another piece, a savage takedown of the institution of marriage, features two miserable-looking wooden spouses encased in an ai
Most of us don’t get any better with age. After our twenties we just get uglier, fatter and more useless. But Katsushika Hokusai was like a seriously fine wine. He was in his early seventies when he created ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ – a work that would become one of the most iconic images in all of history, and he just got better.
The title of this excellent show is taken from a work called ‘We Will Be’ (1983) by current Turner Prize nominee Lubaina Himid. It’s a plywood cutout of a woman with arms folded, her skirt variously decorated with images of black cultural and historical figures, scrawled-over pictures of revolting-looking examples of British cuisine and a poem-cum-manifesto.
Next up: the best photography shows
Addicted to Instagram or permanently attached to your SLR? Even if your camera roll is totally empty, you'll find a way to appreciate London photography; we have the widest variety of styles in some of the best exhibitions at the most beautiful galleries. Find them in a flash with our guide to photography in London.