So here we are – my last top ten art shows to see in London before Christmas. I hope you’ve enjoyed these lists this year and that you’ve found them useful! I really do take a lot of pleasure in pulling these together (I hope it shows!) as London art galleries have so much to offer, and it makes me so happy to hear many of you have seen shows because of my recommendations.
And we’re certainly ending the year with a bang. There are three huge solo artist retrospectives still on (we’ll gloss over the fact that they are all of male artists) but these are terrifically well curated shows that display artworks that span the careers of Modigliani, Basquiat and Jasper Johns.
But we’ve also got some great smaller, more focused exhibitions that I’ve found spellbinding, so I hope this list can twist your arm to see ones such as the wonderful Rose Wylie solo show, Wim Wenders’s romantic polaroids, and the fantastic display of Chaim Soutine’s portraits at the Courtauld. (Whisper it quietly, I found this far more dazzling and exciting than the much-talked about Cezanne Portraits at the NPG).
But whichever galleries you warm yourself up in during these cold months, I hope you find something that delights and fascinates you.
Enjoy – and Merry Christmas!
Jasper Johns, Royal Academy of Arts
If you want to catch the Jasper Johns retrospective at the RA, you’ll have to make a move soon as this closes this month. (Similarly, there’s also only a few weeks left for the joint show of Dali and Duchamp in the neighbouring rooms). But this show is a rare opportunity indeed for it is the first comprehensive survey of Jasper’s work to be held in the UK in forty years. There’s over 150 works on display, including sculpture, drawings and prints, together with new work. Jasper Johns is recognised as one of the most significant and influential artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and the exhibition spans over sixty years from his early career, right up to the present time, and considering this show brings together artworks that rarely travel from international private and public collections, we are not likely to see such a comprehensive look at this great man’s work again. Closes December 10th. Admission £17 without donation (concessions available).
Soutine’s Portraits: Cooks, Waiters and Bellboys, Courtauld Gallery
Chaïm Soutine may not be a household name like his best friend Modigliani (nor have a show that is as big as his one at the Tate M) but the man was one of the leading painters in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, and seen by many as the heir to Van Gogh. So, get to know Soutine better in this excellent show that focuses on a group of remarkable modern portraits that helped establish his name and reputation. In the early 1920s, Soutine became fascinated by the cooks and waiting staff of French hotels and restaurants, attired in boldly coloured uniforms. His commitment to depicting these modern urban workers recalls Cézanne and Van Gogh’s portraits of humble rural figures, and the distinctly modern expressiveness of the works revealed the man’s soon-to-be-recognised talents. Closes January 21, 2018. Admission £9.50 without donation (included in general admission).
Modigliani, Tate Modern
Welcome to the most comprehensive Modigliani exhibition ever held in the UK for the Tate Modern has brought together a dazzling range of his iconic portraits, sculptures and the largest ever group of nudes to be shown in this country for this show. Although he died tragically young (he was only 35), Modigliani was a ground-breaking artist who pushed the boundaries of the art of his time. There’s almost 100 works on display here, from his well-known nudes to his less familiar sculptural works, and collectively the pieces demonstrate why Modigliani is considered one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. Closes April 2, 2018. Admission £19.70 (concessions available).
An exhibition on artists’ responses to 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ may not strike you as the most enticing of shows but Age of Terror: Art since 9/11 is fascinating, relevant, and – crucially – the most diverse contemporary art show in London right now. Whether it’s the attacks themselves, the perpetual wars that it has created in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East, or the attacks on civil liberties and human rights, the variety of subject matter under the spotlight here is terrific. But what pleased me most was the excellent blend of big names, such as Gerhard Richter, Weiwei, Grayson Perry, Mona Hatoum, Jenny Holzer, and the Chapman Brothers, with new and emerging artists from overseas. Closes May 28, 2018. Admission £15 (concessions available).
The first ever retrospective to be held in the UK of influential artist Jean-Michel Basquiat – and, rightfully, probably the most popular art show in London right now. Weekend tickets routinely sell out but don’t be put off by the thought of crowds as the Barbican art gallery is a big place so buy your ticket in advance and make sure you catch this superb show, which is packed with many of Basquiat’s paintings and drawings, as well as film, music, and some of his personal items, such as lease agreements with Andy Warhol, and a few of his most valued books. This is an exciting and dynamic exhibition that captures the man, his talent, and the environment and city in which he worked. Closes January 28, 2018. Admission £16 (concessions available).
This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see the personal and previously unseen Polaroid work of Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Wim Wenders. Whilst his larger photographic works are well known, this is the first time he has shown a selection of the many thousands of Polaroid photographs taken, both on and off location, between the late 1960s and mid-80s. There are about 200 on display, alongside a selection of moving images from his films, and these atmospheric and nostalgic images of friends and family, still-lives, street-photography and landscapes take us on a literal and metaphoric journey through Europe and the US. Closes February 11, 2018. Admission £4 (free before midday).
Gilbert and George, White Cube Bermondsey
It’s the fiftieth anniversary for this iconic duo and White Cube is celebrating this with, The Beard Pictures and Their Fuckosophy. And it’s an appropriate title as, in keeping with their career-long merger of cultural and artistic provocation, this exhibition exhaustively employs the common swear word to create a vast directory of absurd, unusual, amusing, bland or memorable statements. As with their GODOLOGY the artists interrogate the nature of a culturally primal word through myriad repetitions, each in a different context. Add to that, a whole raft of images of this usually clean-shaven pair in beards standing in front of barbed wire. Why this combo, you might ask? ‘We see it as an exploration of our modern times,’ said George recently. ‘You switch on the news and you see barbed wire and bearded people.’ Well, quite. Closes January 28, 2018. Admission free.
Rose Wylie, Serpentine Sackler Gallery
This month, the Serpentine is opening a show on the works from the wonderful Rose Wylie. Famously, Rose did not get the recognition her talent deserves until she was in her sixties, having put aside her art to raise her children. Now, rightly acclaimed, this is a great opportunity to see more of her paintings, which are an assortment of visually compelling images that she encounters on a day-to-day basis, with inspiration from a variety of sources, from art history, cinema, comic books and the natural world to verbal anecdotes, news and celebrity stories. These might include a scene from Quentin Tarantino’s iconic Kill Bill films, a self-portrait of Wylie eating a chocolate biscuit, or an olive oil label. Her vibrant, large-scale canvases fill the walls of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery and I love it! Closes February 11, 2018. Admission free.
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, National Portrait Gallery
The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize is the leading international photographic portrait competition, and each year, finalists and those shortlisted are put on display at the National Portrait Gallery. This year’s winner was César Dezfuli for this striking image of Amadou Sumaila, a sixteen-year-old from Mali – a migrant rescued in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast. There’s so much in this single shot: not only a record of current politics, but a terrible mix of the relief of bring rescued and fear of what could come next. Also on display in this exhibition are works from American photographer Todd Hido, whose portraits of women set against cinematic backdrops of the American landscape, are wonderful. Closes February 8, 2018. Admission £6 (concessions available).
From Life, Royal Academy of Arts
We opened with the RA, and we’re going to close this list with them too for as one show closes, another opens! From Life is a special exhibition project that will examine what making art from life has meant to artists throughout history, and how the practice is evolving as technology develops. Beginning with a display of historic paintings and works on paper drawn from the RA Collection, the show will explore the practice of life drawing from 18th century to the present day, whilst also looking to the future. Work in diverse media by artists such as Liane Lang, Jonathan Yeo and Ellen Altfest will feature alongside Royal Academicians Chantal Joffe (pictured), Jenny Saville, Michael Landy, Antony Gormley, Yinka Shonibare, Humphrey Ocean, Farshid Moussavi and Gillian Wearing. Opens December 11th. Admission £14 with donation (concessions available).