Top Ten London Art Shows, May 2017


Now, in compiling this list of those art shows in London that I’d recommend seeing this month, I had the complete opposite of the challenge I had in my list of stage shows. There, I had too many to choose from; here, well, it’s slim pickings this month, if I’m honest.

Usually I like to ensure there’s a good representation from independent galleries, and from galleries with no admission charge, but the shows I’ve seen so far in those, well, I’m loathe to recommend – From Selfie to Self-Expression at the Saatchi Gallery is lightweight, the Ashley Bickerton show at Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery is nothing to write home about, and I’m not convinced that many would find the John Latham exhibition at Serpentine Gallery that interesting.

Nevertheless, the shows below are well worth seeing and as we get into the tail-end of the month and into June, new shows will be opening over town as the galleries gear up for the Summer season. So, stay posted to my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, and as any new exciting ones appear on the horizon, you’ll be the first to know!

David Hockney, Tate Britain

So, here it is. Finally making my list! This is the last month to see this blockbuster exhibition, which has seen crowds flocking to Tate Britain. To address this, the exhibition will stay open until 10pm each Friday and Saturday, and on the last weekend, the gallery will be open until midnight. It is the most comprehensive show of David Hockney’s work ever staged. Perhaps I would have liked to have seen more from his early years and less of his later work on the iPad, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see many unforgettable works together. Closes May 29th. Admission £17.50 (concessions available).

Vanessa Bell, Dulwich Picture Gallery

I know I’ve had this show in this list for a few months now but it has been one of the most revealing and rewarding shows I’ve seen this year. So often in the shadows of both her sister and the legend of the Bloomsbury Group overall, this exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery shows how much we have missed in not focusing on Vanessa and her output. The influence of the radically new artistic styles of the new century – the glorious colours of Post-Impressionism and the challenge to representation from Cubism – can all be seen in this impressive collection of paintings and drawings. A show that improves the reputation of Vanessa Bell no end. Closes June 4th. Admission £14 (concessions available)

Alberto Giacometti, Tate Modern

The first of the big Summer shows at the major galleries to open and this is the UK’s first major retrospective on the celebrated sculptor and painter, Alberto Giacometti, for twenty years. This promises to be an ambitious and wide-ranging exhibition that will bring together over 250 works, and will showcase the full evolution of Giacometti’s career across five decades, from early works such as Head of a Woman, 1926 to iconic bronze sculptures such as Walking Man I, 1960. Opens May 10th. Admission £16.80 (concessions available).

America After The Fall, Royal Academy of Arts

It’s a small exhibition, this one, in the Sackler Wing of the RA. But there are some big names in this show that examines the impact of the Great Depression on America’s artists in the 1930s. There’s Jackson Pollock and Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper and Charles Sheeler. And, in addition to this, there’s also Grant Wood’s mighty American Gothic, on display in the UK for the first time ever. But it’s the diversity of artistic styles as well as names that grabs you. And, indeed, that is the very point. For just as much as America was wrestling with its place in the world, its purpose, and its identity, so was its artistic scene. A terrific show. Closes June 4th. Admission £13.50 (concessions available).

Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors, Gagosian London

Picasso, though one of history’s most innovative modernists, was grounded in the traditions of his Spanish heritage. And this new show at Gagosian in Mayfair examines Picasso’s fascination and recurring use of bullfighting imagery, as well as incorporation of other imagery from folklore and mythology. There’s paintings, drawings, sculpture, prints, ceramics, and even a home movie on show, and all curated together in an innovative installation. Closes August 25th. Admission free.

Howard Hodgkin, National Portrait Gallery

This is a challenging show but, if you set aside questions on whether these abstract works constitute portraits, this is an enjoyable and rewarding exhibition. It’s a shame that Howard Hodgkin did not live long enough to see this show open, but it’s one that richly reflects his style for capturing friends and family through colourful representations of their memory and his time with them, whether it’s in the romantic azure blues of the Italian coastline for his partner, or giant pink phalluses, as in his picture of David Hockney. But it’s the melancholy in paintings of lost friends and his own later self-portraits that really tug on the heart strings. Closes June 18th. Admission £12 (concessions available).

Alice Neel: Uptown, Victoria Miro

Alice Neel has bene described as ‘one of the greatest portrait artists of the 20th century,’ and a collection of the many paintings she made of friends, neighbours and strangers in the five decades she lived in Upper East Side New York are going on display at Victoria Miro. Highlighting both the innate diversity of Alice’s approach to portraiture and the extraordinary diversity of twentieth century New York City, this show brings together a selection of Neel’s portraits of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and other people of colour. Opens May 18th. Admission free.

Annette Messager, Marian Goodman Gallery

Annette Messager is a French artist whose works always excite me, whether it’s the palpable anger in her pieces, or the evident feminism in her mocking of society’s expectations and standards for women. And even though she’s now in her seventies, there seems to be no let up, as this show of new works at Marian Goodman shows. There’s a uterus whose fallopian tubes are twisted and contorted enough to give the viewer the middle finger, and a Femen-inspired stripped body with ‘I Am My Own Prophet’ emblazoned across her stomach. Fearless message, fearless art. Closes May 27th. Admission free.

Cerith Wyn Evans, Tate Britain

The quality of the Tate Britain commissions can be a bit all over the place – the sooner we all forget about Pablo Bronstein’s dancers, the better. But the Tate has come up trumps with this wonderful installation from Welsh artist, Cerith Wyn Evans. Neon lighting fills the rafters of the Duveen Galleries, but it’s not glaring, but instead, exciting, uplifting and rather romantic. Drawing on inspiration from Japanese Noh theatre, this ‘drawing in space’ is well worth seeing if you’re at Tate Britain for either of its two big shows. On display to August 20th. Admission free.

Queer British Art, Tate Britain

I think the best way to enjoy this show is to see its title as more a loose attempt at a unifying theme rather than anything too definitive as though this show’s aim to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality is laudable, more than a few of the pieces feel a bit shoe-horned in. But this aside, there are some great pieces on display, such as Laura Knight’s wonderful and controversial self-portrait – a female artist reclaiming the female nude – and a terrifically sexual collection of works from Duncan Grant, as well as important objects including Oscar Wilde’s gaol door and posters of censored plays at the Royal Court. Closes October 1st. Admission £15 (concessions available).

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