The ten best art exhibitions in London
Emma Kunz was a visionary of the old-fashioned kind. Not a ‘visionary’ in the way we now bandy around the term to mean an artist who’s particularly good at being an artist, but a visionary whose brain filtered, systematised and comprehended the world in a fundamentally different way to those around her.
Tate Britain is filled with the corpses of British industry, the long dead, rotting remains of this country itself. Strewn across the massive central Duveen Galleries are chunks of enormous abandoned machinery: presses, clamps, welders, cutters. Some have been left untouched, others have been piled on top of each other. T
While the world was patting New York, LA and London on the back for inventing pop art and conceptualism back in the late ’60s, a group of artists in Chicago were too busy having the time of their lives to care. The Chicago Imagists are criminally under-known – a bunch of friends turning acid trips and comic strips into vivid, hilarious, ridiculous painting – but this exhibition should go some way towards changing that.
Diane Arbus was the original people-watcher. Some lads larking around by the coast, a glamorous receptionist at her desk, two women shooting evils at the universe: nothing escaped her notice. The Hayward Gallery’s exhibition of photographs from the first seven years of her career (1956-1962) is sleekly arranged with each small print attached to one side of a tall white rectangle.
Big isn’t always better. Not here, anyway, because this is a show full of tiny, tiny, tiny paintings, and they are gorgeous; achingly small and stunningly intricate portraits of Elizabethan royals, courtiers and poshos by the masters of the form, Isaac Oliver and Nicholas Hilliard.
Art can be a weapon. And what at first seems like some unintelligibly complicated and dense neutron bomb in this exhibition by German artist Hito Steyerl eventually reveals itself to be as powerfully direct and brutally effective as a club to the head.
In a world of mindful affirmations and positive reinforcement, Spanish artist Joan Cornellá is the negative kick in the shins we deserve, and probably need. This little show finds him flexing his art muscles, rather than the cartoon strips he’s known for, with a series of drawings, paintings and a ridiculous sculpture.
Before smartphones, sending a nude was seriously hard work. There were no quick pics in the bathroom mirror in renaissance Europe; instead, they had to rely on good old-fashioned pen and ink. This neat little show – dedicated largely to drawings, engravings and woodcuts from the time – explores the different ways that the nude was used back in the middle of the last millennium.
Some paintings seem to shimmer with light, but Pierre Bonnard’s breath-taking images of landscapes, domestic scenes, crowds and bathing women absolutely shake with it. And not just light. They hum with sexuality, vibrate with tension, pulsate with melancholy and almost strobe with colour, colour, colour.
Franz West took all the stuffy, conservative formality of the art world and told everyone where to shove it. The austere reverence of the gallery, the contemplative deification of the artist: West just couldn’t be arsed with it. Instead, the anarchic Austrian artist (1947-2012) created a body of work that’s playful and ludicrous, that feels like one drink too many in a Viennese bar, the art equivalent of a hangover you somehow don’t regret.
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