Top Ten London Art Shows, August 2017


Welcome to the height of the British summer! Hopefully there is the opportunity for some leisure time for you this month and, if so, you just may be looking for an art show to wander into in the capital this month. And there’s certainly some great ones to pick from.

Grayson Perry at the Serpentine and Sargent’s watercolours at Dulwich Picture Gallery are already proving popular – and no doubt Matisse at the RA will excite many – but take the opportunity to venture over to White Cube Bermondsey for their exhilarating show on female Surrealists, and even the Picasso show in the middle of Mayfair will not be as crowded as you think.

And it’s good to see the Tate continue its commitment to platforming overlooked artists. Not only is that honourable, but it pays dividends with some terrific shows, such as the examination of Black Art during the Civil Rights era, and the works of Turkish-born artist, Fahrelnissa Zeid.


Matisse in the Studio, Royal Academy

This month, the Royal Academy will be opening the first exhibition to consider how the personal collection of treasured objects of Henri Matisse were both subject matter and inspiration for his work. This show will be upstairs in the Sackler Wing so this is a small show rather than a blockbuster. Nevertheless, the RA will be bringing together around thirty-five objects and sixty-five artworks from the great man, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and cut-outs. Opens August 5th. Admission £14 (without donation). Concessions available.

Dreamers Awake, White Cube Bermondsey

This show is just wow. It’s full on and exhilarating. Over fifty artists are included in this exhibition that examines how surrealism has influenced women artists since the 1930s, and there are over 150 artworks on display, including paintings, drawings, objects, film, sculpture, and photography. It’s a glorious cacophony of voices, subjects, and themes. And the roll-call of artists included is mighty too, with works from Linder, Mona Hatoum, Leonara Carrington, Claude Cahun, Gillian Wearing, Francesca Woodman, Hannah Wilke, and Sarah Lucas on display, as well as a terrific series of collaborative works from Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin. Closes September 17th. Admission free.

Sargent: The Watercolours, Dulwich Picture Gallery

John Singer Sargent’s watercolours were never meant to be the main focus for audiences. In truth, Sargent used watercolours as a breather, as a way of recharging his creative energies when the volume of his commissioned portraits in oils would seem to overwhelm him. And certainly, that sense of release is evident in this collection of over eighty watercolours that have been brought together in this show. There’s plenty of sunlight glistening on calming waves, summery afternoons in gardens and fields, and romantic Venetian scenes. With its bright colours and pretty vistas, this is an irrepressibly uplifting show. One that puts a smile on your face. Closes October 8, 2017. Admission £15.50 (concessions available)

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, Tate Modern

What did it mean to be a Black artist during the Civil Rights movement and the birth of Black Power? What was art’s purpose and who was its audience? These questions are at the heart of this new show at Tate Modern, a landmark exhibition exploring how these issues played out among and beyond African American artists from 1963 to 1983. Featuring more than 150 works from over sixty artists, this show is a timely opportunity to see how American cultural identity was reshaped at a time of social unrest and political struggle. Closes October 22nd. Admission £15 (without Gift Aid). Concessions available.

Rachel Kneebone, Victoria and Albert Museum

There’s a sprinkling of Rachel Kneebone’s fantastically intricate porcelain sculptures in Dreamers Awake, but here at the V&A, her work is impossible to miss. At five metres high, 399 Days is the largest and most ambitious sculpture the artist has ever produced. The tower features intricately modelled and detailed figurative scenarios, and this theme continues in her three other works on display. Rachel’s almost-surreal sculptures explore what it means to inhabit a body, its physical limitations and cognitive possibilities. Capturing emotional states of high intensity, her porcelain works investigate themes of transformation and renewal. Closes January 14, 2018. Admission free.

Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave, British Museum

I can’t imagine that I will be much good for anything when I’m in my seventies. And that’ll be if I’m lucky enough to get there. Yet it was in his seventies that the talents of the great Japanese artist, Hokusai, reached their full potency, most notably in his iconic image, The Great Wave. But this was no freak occurrence, as this fascinating show proves. Hokusai’s output in his later years was not just impressive in volume, but also in skill. There are many terrific woodcut artworks here, as well as some glorious notebooks. A fascinating and revealing show. Closes August 13th. Admission £12 (concessions available)

Fahrelnissa Zeid, Tate Modern

When you look at Fahrelnissa Zeid’s vast canvases of vibrant kaleidoscopic colours humming with influences from abstract, Byzantine and Islamic art, it’s hard to believe that her pioneering work has been largely overlooked, but such is the lot of a female artist, it seems. So, props to the Tate Modern for continuing their commitment to platforming women artists by putting on this show, the first ever retrospective of Fahrelnissa’s work ever held in the UK. It’s a dazzling, uplifting show. Closes October 8th. Admission £11.30 (without donation). Concessions available.

The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt, National Portrait Gallery

It’s the Masters who take centre-stage in this new show at the National Portrait Gallery. Many of these drawings from the likes of Leonardo, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Holbein, are extremely sensitive to light so have rarely been seen or placed on public display. More than fifty of these drawings are on display and the rooms are in very low light to adjust for this. All of the drawings are by men, by the way. The NPG did say that they only came across two by women artists, out of the hundreds they looked at for this show, but neither met the criteria set for the exhibition, which is to have drawings that show ‘a moment of energy and connection’ between the sitter and the artist. A shame, but there are beautiful works here, as you can imagine. Opens July 13th. Admission £10 (concessions available).

Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors, Gagosian Mayfair

It’s not often you get to see a great show of rarely-seen Picasso works for free in London so do grab your opportunity to catch this terrific show at the Gagosian gallery before it closes. Its theme is Picasso’s enduring fascination with bulls and matadors – key elements of Spanish heritage. Of course, in Picasso’s hands, the snorting bulls become symbols of male sexual potency and lust, and there’s plenty of rampaging testosterone on display in these artworks, which includes paintings, drawings, ceramics and film. But, inevitably, you’re left marvelling at Picasso’s brilliance and mastery. Closes August 25th. Admission free.

Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!, Serpentine Gallery

Grayson Perry may well be the most popular artist in Britain today, and that’s not something I dismiss as much as a few others may do. It is a great thing that audiences feel an accessibility with Grayson’s artworks, and certainly I can’t think of another artist who has taken such a specific interest in channelling current social and political issues into their work. And that’s explicitly the case here where we have ceramics, tapestries, objects, and sculptures inspired by current contentious issues and hot subject matter, such as Brexit, masculinity, gender, gangland violence, and British identity. Closes September 10th. Admission free.

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