Each month I round-up those art exhibitions and displays in London that I would recommend to anyone and everyone. Whether they’re opening, closing or, simply, still open, these are the shows that I would say, you know what, if you’ve got some spare time and you’re looking for an art show to see, pick one of these.
There’s plenty to see, plenty of different styles to choose from – and plenty for those on a budget too as, in London, we’re lucky to have a lot of free museums and galleries. So, here is my top ten list of favourite art shows in June (in no particular order). Well, actually, there are eleven as one, Performing for the Camera, closes this weekend so it seemed unfair to leave you out of options!
And, don’t forget, the list could be vastly different next month as a few of the below will be closing and we will have new shows from David Hockney, Wolfgang Tillmans, Georgia O’Keeffe, and a new show on the connections between painters and the paintings they owned to consider, as well as a totally revamped Tate Modern.
Mona Hatoum, Tate Modern
If you’re an artist blending politics into your work, consider yourself on my radar! And the Tate’s new survey on the work of Palestinian-born Mona Hatoum showcases an artist with plenty to say not just on the state of the Middle East, but also gender politics, domesticity, and the vulnerability and resilience of the human body. This is an electric exhibition, in some cases, literally – one exhibit is charged with a voltage so strong that if you touch it, it will kill you (you can’t btw; the scene is behind barriers) but this is a show that seethes with anger and injustice. An exhibition that leaves its mark. Admission £16.00.
Alex Katz, Serpentine Galleries
Alex Katz is a bold, brash painter who paints bold, brash paintings. Usually it’s his portraits that are front and centre but this new show makes his landscapes the focus. His huge colourful canvases grab your attention and draw you in. Simple representation and blocks of colour, Alex’s work is deceptive – these are works that give more the longer you stay with them. Given his style, it’d be easy to file him under ‘Pop Art’ but he was painting like this before Warhol came along. (Alex’s recent comment that “Warhol ripped me off” inferring that the comparison is not appreciated either). But this is a great showcase of Alex’s work over the past few years and shows that, even at 88, Alex is still a prolific artist. Admission free.
Strange and Familiar, Barbican Centre
A photography exhibition that examines the changing face of Britain’s landscape, its communities and its rituals over the past century. Only this show comes with a twist. For it is Britain captured through the lenses of international photographers, rather than domestic talent. How do others see us? What can they see in us that we cannot see ourselves?
Curated by iconic British photographer Martin Parr, the breadth and variety of photography on display is impressive. In addition to the shots of urban and rural settings, there is also some impressive and revealing portraiture. There’s an element of nostalgia in the shots of Swinging London and the muddy fields of Britain’s amateur football league but don’t be fooled – this show does not pull its punches. There are some deeply unsettling reflections of our society included too, such as Akihiko Okamura’s photos of war-torn Northern Ireland, and Axel Hütte’s shots from the 1980s of the empty and decaying communal spaces in London’s council estates powerfully convey the political change of the period. But above all, this exhibition is a reminder of how fleeting, how temporary, all these facets of our existence are. Trends come and go, our landscape is constantly changing so is there something enduring that is quintessentially British? Closes June 19. Admission £12.00
Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts
The annual institution is back once again. The largest open exhibition in the world that sees works from amateurs and new artists hang alongside works from the big names of the current art world, such as Anselm Kiefer, Tracey Emin and Marina Abramovic. There was a period recently where these shows had become dreadful deluges of poor quality works in chaotic galleries but the RA has found its stride over the past couple of years and this year’s show builds on the success of last year with a dynamic, energetic display full of high quality works. Admission £13.50 (concessions available)
Jeff Koons, Newport Street Gallery
Now, it may seem a little strange to have on this list a show from an artist who, frankly put, I am no fan of. But that is exactly the point. For Jeff Koons is one of the most divisive artists around and a vast new survey of his work at Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery is a great opportunity for visitors to go and make up their own minds. Will you adore his aluminium sculptures that mimic helium-filled balloons and inflatables, pumped so full of air that it seems as if the balloon itself is about to burst? Or will you think, ‘no seriously, what is the point of this’? Be warned though, parts of this show are very exh h plicit… and I realise now that this last comment is probably all the encouragement some of you will need! Admission free.
Botticelli Reimagined, Victoria and Albert Museum
Never again in our lifetime are we ever likely to see fifty Botticelli paintings in one room. For that is the impressive haul of works from the great man that the V&A has brought together in this exhibition that examines the legacy of Botticelli’s iconic image of Venus emerging from the sea (though that particular painting remains firmly in the Uffizi in Florence). But though the rest of the show is a little uneven, the galleries focused on 20th century interpretations and challenges, with fashion from D&G, and art from the likes of Warhol, David LaChapelle and Cindy Sherman, are terrific. Tickets £15.00 (concessions available).
Jenny Saville, Gagosian Gallery
This is a small display of Jenny’s most recent works but I am such a fan of her work that I gladly crossed London to see these. Half a dozen large canvases and drawings comprise ‘Erota’, this show in the Gagosian Gallery on Davies Street. “I’m trying to see if it’s possible to hold that tipping moment of perception or have several moments co-exist,” Jenny said of the works, “Like looking at a memory.” And that is exactly what is captured in these drawings of shifting torsos, all movement a blur. The images seem in perpetual flux, as if the scenes are being pieced together by fragments of memory, or as if a single scene is being captured from multiple perspectives. Almost other-worldly. Admission free.
Georg Baselitz, White Cube Gallery
If you want to face up to your mortality, this show is the one for you. This is a haunting collection of recent works from Georg Baselitz that includes paintings, sculpture and drawings. The majority are vast canvases using the same recurring image – that of his and his wife’s ageing naked bodies floating in large expanses of black. Starting off in tones of flushed pink and cream, the figures steadily fade to the deathliest of pallor, before evaporating altogether – obliterated by the darkness. I’m not usually one to fist-bump Georg Baselitz (he doesn’t hold the most progressive views on women) but the intensity and emotion contained in these works is so powerful and overwhelming that it almost swallows you whole. Admission free
Performing for the Camera, Tate Modern
Artists have been performing for the camera long before we picked up our iPhones, pulled a duck-face and took a selfie. In fact, performing deliberately for the camera, as well as using the camera to capture performance art performed for a physical audience, has been around since, well, since the invention of the camera itself. And the Tate has curated together an extraordinary range of work from a vast number of artists to explore this development – from the pop culture of Andy Warhol to the haunting self-excavation of Francesca Woodman, from the gender politics of Hannah Wilke and Linder, to the challenge to cultural veneration from Ai Weiwei. A dense exhibition with much to explore. Admission £16.00. Closes June 12.
Yayoi Kusama, Victoria Miro Galleries
To immerse yourself in Yayoi’s works is to step inside a beautiful mind – one that sees the world in such an incredible array of psychedelic colours, patterns and formations. That Yayoi herself may struggle with her mind is a sad irony of that (Yayoi has lived, voluntarily, in a psychiatric hospital in Japan for the last forty years) but now Victoria Miro is giving audiences the opportunity to experience more of Yayoi’s works by dedicating both of their London galleries to showcasing her distinctive paintings and installations. At the Gallery in Wharf Road, visitors can lie down in a room full of knee-high vivid yellow pumpkins, or experience solitude in a confined hall of mirrors that emotes grief though infinite reflections of a dazzling chandelier; whereas the gallery in Mayfair displays some of Yayoi’s recent paintings. Glorious and affecting. Admission free.
Russia and the Arts, National Portrait Gallery
This is a gem of a show. It’s a dramatic and evocative collection of portraits of many of the greats of Russian culture – Chekhov, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Tchaikovsky – yet all captured during a tumultuous period of Russian history. The Imperial dynasty was in decline at the end of the 19th century and the spirit of revolution was in the air. Incredibly much of that turmoil is captured by the portraitists in their sitters’ demeanour and appearance. Admission £6.00. Closes June 28.