Victoria’s Top Ten London Art Exhibitions, October 2019


My goodness, we’ve a lot packed into one month here – from the big guns such as Gauguin and Rembrandt to underrated women artists such as Bridget R and the Pre-Raphaelite women to emerging talent such as Mary Sibande. And there’s a couple of cracking group shows in there too.

As always, admission prices remain a concern – the admission charge for Gauguin is eye-watering and, as a general rule with the big shows, you’re only getting enough change from a £20 note to buy a postcard so art shows remain prohibitively priced. That’s why I’m particularly pleased to be able to balance my lists; this month, half of the shows listed can be visited for free.

Every little helps.

Rembrandt’s Light, Dulwich Picture Gallery

Given that 2019 marks the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death, there’ve been a few art exhibitions on the Continent to showcase the man’s dazzling brilliance. Not so many in the UK though. Perhaps the National Gallery show on the Master a few years ago casts a long shadow but Rembrandt’s Light at Dulwich is a great opportunity to enjoy some beautiful works. The show will explore the artist’s mastery of light through 35 of his greatest paintings, etchings and drawings including major international loans from The Louvre and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Expect a masterclass from one of the greatest ever on drama, theatricality, and the manipulation of light and shadow in painting. Opens 4 October. Admission: £15 (concessions available)

Feminism in Italian Contemporary Art, Richard Saltoun

It’s quite something to hear about an exhibition that has subject matter that’s totally you (feminism in art, obvs) yet to have no awareness on the artists involved (Marinella Senatore and Silvia Giambrone). The works on display in this two-artist show will focus on two critical aspects of the feminine space – domesticity and activism. One very often hidden, a place of isolation, fear and raised fists; the other, an opportunity for public expression, solidarity and, well, raised fists too. Should be fascinating. Runs 2 October to 9 November. Admission free.

Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art, Barbican Art Gallery

I want this exhibition pumped straight into my veins as we’re exploring the electrifying history of cabarets, cafés and clubs in modern art across the world, from London to New York, Paris, Mexico City, Berlin, Vienna, and Ibadan. There’s going to be over 200 works of art on display, many rarely seen in the UK, that will span almost 100 years from the 1880s to the 1960s. This show is all about celebrating the creativity of the spaces in which artists, performers, designers, musicians and writers congregated to push the boundaries of artistic expression. And with promises to offer insight into the immersive Cabaret Fledermaus in turn-of-the-century Vienna; the heady atmosphere of Berlin clubs in Weimar Germany; the pulsating energy of the jazz scene in Harlem, New York; the vibrant context of the Mbari clubs in 1960s Nigeria; and more, how can you resist? Opens 4 October. Admission: £15 (concessions available)

Gauguin Portraits, National Gallery

Can you believe it? The first-ever exhibition devoted to the portraits of Paul Gauguin. Seems almost impossible yet here we are. And frankly it’s probably a smart way to both platform a crowd-pleaser (just look at that ridiculous admission charge) and sidestep the more problematic of his works (hello Tahiti). But it’s also important to focus in on how Gauguin approached portraiture. Although he was fully aware of the Western portrait tradition, Gauguin was rarely interested in exploring his sitters’ social standing, personality, or family background, which had been among the main reasons for making portraits in the past. Add to the mix his use of intense colour and his interest in non-Western subject matter, and Gauguin’s approach had a far-reaching influence on artists throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries including Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Opens 7 October. Admission: £22-24 (concessions available).

Pre-Raphaelite Sisters, National Portrait Gallery

For far too long the male protagonists of the Pre-Raphaelite movement have dominated accounts of this revolution in British art. This exhibition aims to redress the balance in showing just how engaged and central women were to the endeavour – as the subjects of the images themselves, certainly, but also in their production. For though it was male artists such as John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti who dominate the genre, their paintings were dominated by beautiful pale-faced women with tumbling locks. Who were these women? Some were models, sure, but others were sisters, wives, daughters and friends of the artists. Several were even artists themselves with aspirations to match those of the men. But though their backgrounds varied widely, all were engaged in creating Pre-Raphaelite art. Runs 17 October to 26 January. Admission: £18 (concessions available).

Shot in Soho, The Photographers Gallery

God, I love Soho. I love its sleaze, its rebelliousness, its pioneering spirit and its refusal to follow conventions. So, hey, a photography show celebrating much that Soho has brought to the table? Hell, yes? And the TPG, being that it is in Soho, seems like the perfect place to host it. But it’s also important to note that this show comes at a time when the area is facing radical transition – gentrification seems impossible to push back and transformation with the imminent completion of Cross Rail (a major transport hub being built on Soho’s borders) is set to make a landmark impact on the area. This may well therefore be a celebration of much that will, sadly, be lost too. Runs 18 October to 9 February. Admission: £5 (concessions available); free after 5pm (late opening on Thursdays).

OTHER SPACES, 180 The Strand

This brutalist architectural venue opened its creative reinvention with a real metaphorical bang a few years ago with The Infinite Mix, a humdinger of a show that announced the building as a place for visual and often immersive artworks. This Autumn, United Visual Artists (UVA) will be taking over the space with three large-scale installations. This includes the UK premiere of an immersive installation featuring sound recordings of wild ecosystems around the world which conveys the importance of preserving the beauty of the animal world; a meditation on time experienced in a pitch-black room illuminated by oscillating light pendulums; and an installation that uses light as an architectural material to explore our perception of space. Runs 2 October to 8 December. Admission free.

Mary Sibande: I Came Apart at the Seams, Somerset House

Now this looks fan-bloody-tastic – an exhibition of new and celebrated works from one of South Africa’s most prominent contemporary artists, Mary Sibande. Mary is a South African artist who uses painting and sculptures depicting the human form to explore the construction of identity in a postcolonial South African context. Her art also attempts to critique stereotypical depictions of women, particularly black women. This is her first solo exhibition in the UK and I can’t wait to see works from an artist I’ve heard much about. Runs from October 3 to January 5. Admission free.

Bridget Riley, Hayward Gallery

Bridget Riley was a ground-breaking artist. Perhaps her highly-stylised, instantly recognisable works may jade many viewers these days but her pioneering approach to painting involves the skilful balancing of form and colour, that constantly challenges the viewer with its enquiry into the nature of abstraction and perception. Vivid colours or monochrome, her works actively engage the viewer. And this major retrospective at the Hayward will be the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of her work to date, spanning a whopping 70 years of an extraordinary working life. Runs 23 October to 26 January. Admission: £18 (concessions available).

Cy Twombly: Sculptures, Gagosian Grosvenor Hill

Now, I’ve never really got fully into Twombly’s paintings – I’ve always found them too obscure to really get to grips with – but I love his sculptures, love them, so I’m looking forward to this. If you’re not completely au fait with the man’s sculptures, well, they’re more assemblages – found materials such as plaster, wood, and iron, as well as objects that he habitually used and handled in the studio. Often modest in scale, the individual elements are coated in white paint, which unifies the group of objects and somewhat smothers their previous identity, and then these pieces are configured to make a new object entirely, ones that usually evoke narratives from antiquity and fragments of literature and poetry. They’re smart and a great commentary on the enduring legacy of historic legends. Runs 30 September to 21 December. Admission free.

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