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
Art’s a matter of taste, and Charles I (1600-1649) knew his Tiziano from his Shitziano. Before he had his head lopped off, the monarch and his wife Henrietta Maria had been avid art buyers and assembled a collection of renaissance paintings to rival any out there – we’re talking Titian, Holbein, Tintoretto, you know, the big guns.
The Hayward Gallery reopens after two years with a bang and two-and-a-half floors of photos by German snapper Andreas Gursky. I say ‘snapper’, but obviously he’s an art megastar, whose massive prints sell for millions. And I say a ‘bang’ but it’s more of a vast low-frequency ‘Oooooaaaaauuuuummmmmm’ sort of sound: the sound of things being crushed flat on to photographic paper.
It’s not often that you get access to the studio of an artist – never mind one who died 97 years ago. But for their new Modigliani exhibition, the Tate has collaborated with a tech company to recreate the Italian artist’s Parisian digs in virtual-reality form. Put on the headset, and you’re suddenly there: watching the smoke drift from the cigarette beside his easel; listening to the rain beat down on the street outside.
‘Wunderkammer’ is a neat little German word. It means a ‘room of wonder’, filled with incredible, awe-inspiring objects and trinkets. Now imagine if that wonder was replaced with something much darker: the truth of humanity’s legacy. US artist Mark Dion has been replacing wonder with ecological misery for his whole career.
Concrete sport pitches are dotted throughout this city like thousands of tarmac scabs that just won’t heal. They’re places for congregating, for fighting, for socialising, for competing: they’re where countless Londoners do their growing up. And Eddie Peake is one of them. He spent his youth near Finsbury Park, doing what kids do on concrete recreation grounds. In this show, he’s reimagined the gallery as a new pitch, a concrete playground for grown-ups.
Gideon Rubin’s family fled the Nazis 80 years ago, just like Sigmund Freud, in whose Hampstead home the artist has secreted a series of new artworks. Most of this show is based on pre-war German magazine images, from which the taint of Nazism has been erased. Swastikas have been removed from the vests of exercising girls, parades have been doctored out of streets, colourful flags have replaced red ones we’d rather forget, but never can, or should.
Humanity's capacity for atrocity was laid bare during the Iraq war when images emerged of the humiliating treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. One showed Ali Shallal al-Qaisi stood on a box, a hood pulled over his head, arms spread wide, with wires attached to his fingers and genitals. A painting of that horrifying act opens Rachel Howard’s show at Newport Street Gallery. Brutal, painful, degrading.
Based on traditional African stringed instruments, the banjo came to life in the hands of enslaved Africans in the Caribbean before finding its feet in the poor American South. Now, it’s a ubiquitous symbol of white redneckery, with a violent aura heaped on it thanks to ‘Deliverance’. So when you encounter two banjo cases daubed with hand-painted slogans in Lubaina Himid’s first show of new work since winning the Turner Prize last year you’d better believe they’re carrying some serious symbolism.
‘Diversifolia’, in case you don’t know, is a scientific term indicating that a single species of plant has a variety of different leaves. Look at Nancy Rubins’ sculptures and, while they may not feature any actual foliage, you get the gist: her bouquet-like structures sprout a range of different animals, cast in metal and held together with tensile cables. Zebras flail; hogs hover mid-air. Crocodiles are caught in flight. Think an explosion in the zoo, frozen in time, basically.
From its earliest days, photography has probed the hidden: from porn to politics, it’s been there and brought back the evidence. Beyond that, though, is a shadowy place where photographers become so tangled up in what they’re chronicling that roles become blurred. These are not just the margins of society, they’re the margins of creativity. That’s what ‘Another Kind of Life’ is about.
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.