The ten best art exhibitions in London
It’s not easy to like Paul Gauguin. He was, in almost every way, an absolute prick. He abandoned his wife and five kids, liked to paint himself as Jesus, called provincial French people ‘savages’, married a child, used his Western dominance to shag half of Tahiti and died of syphilis as a miserable, lonely old man. So how do you deal with his art (in this case his portraiture)?
Blue is a big deal in art history. In the Renaissance it implied wealth and opulence; for Picasso it implied overwhelming, overpowering sadness. Matisse used it for his most sexual of works, and then Yves Klein came along, trademarking his own shade, splodging it everywhere and using women as paintbrushes to daub his canvases with it. Blue, over the centuries, became a weapon of male sexuality. And now there’s Lisa Brice, prizing it out of the rigor mortis grip of the past and imbuing it with new meaning.
With impeccable timing, Sir John Soane’s Museum has gathered together for the first time all of William Hogarth’s series, including ‘A Rake’s Progress’ and ‘Marriage A-la-Mode’. The timing is great because the highlight here is ‘Humours of an Election’ (1754), in which a bogus general election goes from bad to worse, amid corruption, violence and national division, and in which literally every other character looks like Boris Johnson, including some of the animals.
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.
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.
If you’re British, Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) is a relatively unknown artist. If you’re Finnish, Helene Schjerfbeck is a very famous artist. This show of 60 paintings is the first chance London audiences have had to join the Schjerfbeck fan club.
Olafur Eliasson does epic like few others. The Danish-Icelandic artist was last at Tate Modern in 2003 with 'The Weather Project', a monumental installation that transformed the Turbine Hall into a pulsating, hazy sunset. This time, they’re showing 40 works, including many large-scale installations, made throughout his career.
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.
Fantastical. Fairytale. Magical. Lot of words are used to describe the photography of Tim Walker, but rarely this one: sex. Yet as this exuberant solo exhibition at the V&A proves, the British photographer’s special brand of surrealism, honed over decades working for fashion magazines, is far from saccharine innocence.
The worst people on earth are the ones who take the tube from Covent Garden to Leicester Square. They have no idea what they’re missing. London is a walking city. These damp, polluted streets are built for trudging down; you’re meant to slap your feet on the pavement and make the city your own. Young English artist Rhys Coren knows that.
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