Victoria’s Top Ten London Art Shows, April 2017


Do you know what, I’ve had a nightmare with this list. Much like last month I have to point out that the big guns still haven’t made it through to my Top Ten – there’s still no Hockney, no space for the terrific Wolfgang Tillmans (even if the show layout doesn’t showcase his work to the best), and nor is there a place on the list for the RA’s main Spring show on Russian Art in the wake of the Communist revolution.

So, there we have it – the big three shows at three of the big four London galleries haven’t made the cut.

I’m sure they’re gutted.

But as ever, my rationale is fair. I’m always keen to make sure there’s a number of art shows with no admission charge on the lists, and I always want to ensure there’s a good balance of gender diversity in the list. (Though, and I can see this plainly, the list below is unbelievably White. I know this and I will try to do better but, my, the lack of diversity in art, generally, is appalling.)

And, of course, I want to showcase a wide variety of art and artists to you, and platform shows and galleries that you may not have heard of.

But above all this, I really do have a lot of faith in the shows listed below. Each of them brings so much to the viewer in terms of art history, in terms of subject matter, and also by engaging us, provoking us, and bringing us pleasure with the display of immense skill.

So, if you adore Hockney – go see his show! If Tillmans excites you – get to the Tate Modern! But, I promise you, the shows below are gems.

Enjoy – and, as ever, let me know which ones you get to see.

Vanessa Bell, Dulwich Picture Gallery

Not only is the first ever major respective on Vanessa Bell, but it is also one that showcases the extent to which Vanessa was also a radical artist, one at the forefront of developments in art at the time.

Too often Vanessa’s work has been in the shadow of her sister’s or rolled up into, or even overwhelmed by, the drama of her own personal life. But this exhibition shows the influence of the Post-Impressionists in her work, with all her glorious exploration of colour and line. There’s the wonderful portrait of her sister slumped in a vibrant tangerine-coloured armchair, and her Nude with Poppies, with its fleshy pink forms and vivid blues and reds, show all the hallmarks of inspiration from the works of Matisse.

Closes June 4th. Admission £14 (concessions available)

America After The Fall, Royal Academy of Arts

This is a small show, up in the Sackler Wing, but, boy, what a show! America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s examines how American painters responded to this period of immense turmoil. The 1929 Wall Street Crash trashed the global economy and, when combined with the savage droughts and dust storms across the Southern Plains, it plunged America headfirst into the Great Depression.

And it’s that conflict of hope and despair, of conservatism and revolutionary thought that is captured beautifully in this selection of works. There’s the simplicity and stoicism of the mighty American Gothic contrasting with the early experiments with abstraction from Jackson Pollock. And there’s the portrayal of the might of industrialisation from Charles Sheeler, but set this against the poignant images of isolation from Edward Hopper, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s work cattle skulls in the arid desert. A terrific show.

Closes June 4th. Admission £13.50 (concessions available).

Howard Hodgkin, National Portrait Gallery

How sad that this wonderful artist died only weeks before this show, the first to focus on his portraits, opened at the National Portrait Gallery. Portraiture, an important aspect of Hodgkin’s work, has been largely overlooked because his work appears abstract.

However, this exhibition – with over 55 works from collections around the world and dating from 1949 to the present – shows not only the breadth and depth of Howard’s love for portraits, but also his important contribution to our understanding of what constitutes a portrait, as well as examining key themes within the artist’s work: colour, memory, emotion, process and imagination. Challenging works – it’s not always easy to make them out as portraits – but they are beautiful, expressive paintings that capture the essence of the sitters.

Closes June 18th. Admission £12 (concessions available).

Traumata: Bourgeois/Kusama, Sotheby’s S2 Gallery

It’s as if my own personal art fairy has waved her magic wand and created a show of my dreams! Building on the current interest in re-examining feminist art, and art from female artists in the latter half of the twentieth century, Sotheby’s has brought together a small, focused but powerful collection of works from two of the biggest names: Louise Bourgeois and Yayoi Kusama.

There’s sculpture, paintings and works on paper, but, together, Traumata examines how both these artists challenged patriarchal conventions of art making during the later 20th century. It’s a small collection of works, true – forty pieces in total – but there is such pain and such healing in these works… Well, it makes you wish for more from both. WARNING THOUGH: This Gallery is only open Monday to Friday. I know, crazy.

Closes April 13th. Admission free.

Michelangelo and Sebastiano, National Gallery

This is the big Spring show at the National Gallery and it examines the friendship, collaborations and rivalry between these two Renaissance artists through some of their work. And there’s some impressive loans included in this exhibition, such as Lamentation Over the Dead Christ – the artists’ first collaboration – and Michelangelo’s marvellous marble Taddei Tondo, as well as casts of the mighty Pieta and The Risen Christ.

In fairness, you’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Sebastiano here – it’s a tough gig having your work shown alongside Michelangelo’s as, well, you’re always going to come off second best. But this show does afford us the opportunity to understand more about art history at this time, as well as admire the brilliance of Michelangelo up close.

Closes June 25th. Admission £18 (concessions available).

Queer British Art, Tate Britain

This new exhibition, the first dedicated to queer British art, is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. It will present work from the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy in 1861 to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 – a time of seismic shifts in gender and sexuality that found expression in the arts as artists and viewers explored their desires, experiences and sense of self.

We’ve the promise of works from the likes of Francis Bacon, Keith Vaughan, Evelyn de Morgan, Gluck, Glyn Philpot, Claude Cahun and Cecil Beaton alongside queer ephemera, personal photographs, film and magazines, as well as a particular focus on the Bloomsbury set and their contemporaries – an artistic group famous for their bohemian attitude towards sexuality.

Opens April 5th. Admission £16.50 (concessions available)

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography, Tate Modern

This exhibition on modernist photography is drawn entirely from Elton John’s vast collection, and it’s a glorious selection that covers classic modernist images from the 1920s to the 1950s. It features almost 200 works from more than 60 artists, including seminal figures such as Berenice Abbott, André Kertész, Man Ray, and Edward Steichen among many others.

It’s a unique opportunity to see remarkable works up close, including Dorothea Lange’s iconic Migrant Mother (which ties in nicely with America After The Fall at the RA), and portraits of Gypsy Rose Lee, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar.  Individually, the photographs are elegant and beautiful, innovative and pioneering. But together they tell the story of modernist photography in an era when this medium came of age, and pushed boundaries both in terms of technology and artistic expression.

Closes May 21st. Admission £16.50 (concessions available).

Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun, National Portrait Gallery

This, the first exhibition to pair the works of contemporary British artist Gillian Wearing with the innovative early-twentieth century French photographer Claude Cahun, is a gem of a show that examines these artists’ mutual interest in exploring gender, identity, masquerade and performance.

Gillian, who won the Turner Prize in 1997, has been heavily influenced by Claude’s work and it is wonderful to see so many of Claude’s pioneering, experimental photography, and then see how this has been expanded on by Gillian, and developed, to consider the extent to which we, today, all wear masks and battle with our own identities. A terrific show.

Closes June 18th. Admission £12 (concessions available).

Anish Kapoor, Lisson Gallery London

Anish Kapoor, one of the most influential artists of his generation, presents a major exhibition of new work at Lisson Gallery London. This is his sixteenth exhibition at the gallery and on display is a new series of sculptures covered in a permeable and translucent mesh, simultaneously wrapping and revealing the inner forms that are protruding and bursting forward into outer space.

The thrust behind them? To suggest that violent, natural processes that are ready to explode are being held at bay only by a gossamer-thin membrane. Deliberately evocative pieces for volatile times.

Closes May 6th. Admission free.

Maggi Hambling, Marlborough Fine Art

It’s the last few weeks to catch Edge at Marlborough Fine Art, an exhibition of powerful and extraordinary new paintings and sculpture by Maggi Hambling, widely regarded as one of Britain’s most significant and controversial artists.

Maggi’s work offers a counterweight to the careful irony and deliberate self-conscious awareness in much contemporary art. Instead, her work demands a direct and unmediated encounter with the viewer. Her work asks not so much what do we think, but what do we feel. Maggi has never been afraid of addressing big themes in her work and there’s no change here for, in this new series, polar icecaps melt, a trafficker drifts, Aleppo and its inhabitants fall, ghosts hover and Hamlet questions. Powerful and brilliant.

Closes April 13th. Admission free.

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