Welcome to 2020, everyone!
Now, I don’t want to lecture you or anything like that… But let’s just say that I am gently persuading you/twisting your arm / telling you firmly to consider having a resolution for this year that ensures you go to an art exhibition AT LEAST once a month. AT LEAST! Obvs I go more often but, I tell you, it’s such a joy. And there is so much opportunity in London to see fantastic shows from a breath-taking diversity of artists.
2020 is going to bring us a lot, exhibition-wise, but I appreciate we are all as broke as hell this month so, for January, I am focusing on FREE exhibitions. And these are in addition to the world’s-best free permanent collections you can see at the Tates, the V&A and the National Gallery.
Last month, my list focused on big-name exhibitions that you don’t want to miss – if you have a few pounds left in your pocket, have a quick refresh of that list too – but this list has NINE free exhibitions and these include works from some of the most brilliant contemporary artists including the man Kiefer, photographer Nan Goldin, filmmaker and visual artist, Steve McQueen, and Surrealist star, Dorothea Tanning.
But even I had to squeeze in one show that has an admission charge and that is the latest Picasso show – this one at the RA. After all, I’m capable of many things but could I really ignore the biggest exhibition opening of the month??!
The man is back for yet ANOTHER show. I mean, let’s be frank, there hasn’t exactly been a shortage of Picasso shows in London recently with big ones at both the Tate and National Portrait Gallery in the past couple of years alone – so what will the RA bring us that we haven’t considered before? Paper. For Picasso, paper was more than just a medium for drafting and sketches; he used everything from tablecloths and newspaper cuttings to antique papers with distinctive watermarks. He created sculptures with torn and burnt pieces of paper, assembled collages, worked with pastel, gouache and watercolour, and spent decades investigating an array of printmaking techniques – all on the medium of paper. Bringing together more than 300 of the artist’s works, both on and with paper, this exhibition spans his entire prolific career and represents a significant chapter in modern art. Runs 25 January to 13 April. Admission £18 – £22 (concessions available).
God, I love this woman. And, like many others, I’ve been desperate to see even more of her work following the fantastic retrospective on her extraordinary career that was held at the Tate last year. And Alison Jacques Gallery has delivered with this focused show on a rarely displayed body of late work dating from 1981 to 1989 – artwork focused on bicycles. The works presented were created during the decade following Tanning’s return to New York in 1980 after having lived in France for some thirty years. Many encapsulate the energy of city life she enjoyed in Manhattan but in a city very different from her time living there as a young artist in the 1930s and 40s. As to be expected with Dorothea, the media is hugely diverse with large scale works on paper in media as varied as graphite, charcoal, crayon, watercolour, gouache, and collage. Runs 24 January to 21 March. Admission free.
For the past year, the Richard Saltoun Gallery has been hosting ‘100% Women’, a programme to support female artists by platforming their work. And this, the last exhibition in the series, concerns yet another fascinating subject: themes of maternal experience, and, specifically, the etymological root of the word mother with work from Eleanor Antin, Judy Chicago, Helen Chadwick, Jo Spence and Annegret Soltau on display. The show sounds a gem as it will not only feature work that draws on the material and bodily processes of mothering, but also those that question the technological relationships that look to govern the body’s cycles of fertility and reproduction, from apps that monitor fertility to the voices of the web that police and influence maternal behaviours. The show will also look at how art concerning maternal themes can disrupt social norms governed by capitalist patriarchal culture by considering work made through the lens of the politics of childcare or migration. Runs 10 January to 15 February. Admission free.
Right, this is it. I’m not going to tell you again. I think this marks the third month in a row that I’ve been pushing the Kiefer show on to you and, frankly, you’ll only being let off from here on as this exhibition of (vast, huge) paintings and installations closes at the end of the month. For those of you familiar with Kiefer’s works, you’ll know what to expect – his trademark huge ravaged canvases wrestling with life, death, eternity and the cycle of destruction and damage that is the hallmark of the 20th and 21st centuries are present. As are vast vitrines of masses of knotted cables. For those who don’t know Kiefer, welcome to the mind – and the work – of the greatest artist working today. This is a man towards the end of his life and career wracking his mind to understand what the hell it all means. Magnificent and troubling in the most extraordinary of ways. Runs to 26 January. Admission free.
There’s a great duo of shows at the two Serpentine Galleries at the mo with the influential contemporary artists, Albert Oehlen, in one gallery, and, in the other, a site-specific installation from Patrick Staff exploring structural violence, registers of harm and the corrosive effects of acid, blood and hormones. Seemingly so different – Albert with his paintings, Patrick with their prints and videos, but though individually they are terrific exhibitions in themselves, together I felt they are a great testament to the diversity in contemporary art: Through his Expressionist brushwork, Albert engages with the history of painting, pushing its essential components of colour, gesture, motion and time to bold new extremes. Whilst Patrick, through a varied and interdisciplinary body of work, interrogates notions of discipline, dissent, labour and queer identity. Runs to 2 February. Admission free.
Dóra emerged as part of the neo-avant-garde in Hungary in the 1960s, pursuing highly experimental work in parallel to the ‘official’ art system of the socialist regime. This is the first UK survey to celebrate Dóra’s five-decade career, bringing together 35 works from her conceptual photographic series and experimental films to her colourful graphic works and striking geometric paintings. And I would really recommend you make some time to see Dóra’s pioneering and playful works and experiments across all media, at the same time, keeping in mind that Dóra was at the centre of an independent community of artists, poets and musicians that championed their own culture outside of the official Hungarian system during the socialist period. Playful at first sight, sure; but powerful and challenging on a whole political level if you scratch beneath the surface. And if you want to hear from the woman herself, Dóra herself is in conversation at the Tate on January 16. The exhibition runs to 5 July. Admission free.
It’s amazing what can move you. Steve McQueen’s Year 3 project to use the medium of the traditional school class photograph to collect images of tens of thousands of Year 3 pupils from across London I knew was honourable. I even thought, as a visual portrait of citizenship, it would be epic. But I did not expect it to be as affecting as it is. To spend time looking across the hundreds of little faces in these images, some of joy, others with anxiety; here and there you catch glimpses of stress and signs of pain, in others, a sense of fun and hope. Hugely impressive and somehow captures a generation on the brink of change, and – in the viewer – a weight of depression as we consider what this generation will have to confront. Runs to 3 May. Admission free.
The Sigmar Polke retrospective at the Tate Modern, oh, some years back now, was one of the exhibitions that will stay in my memory forever. It was a dazzling show that, for me, transformed my opinion from Sigmar as ‘that artist that did enlarged newspaper prints’ to one of the most innovative and influential post0war artists. So, hallelujah for this new show that will present some of Sigmar’s early sculptures and drawings from the 1960s, including loans from private and public collections. Fascinated by the ambitious inventions of Leonardo da Vinci, Sigmar imagined monumental works made from plaster, glass and leaves, as well as sculptures made from everyday items such as potatoes, beer coasters, cardboard and matchsticks. Just like the Potato House shown above. I CANNOT WAIT. Runs 23 January to 21 March. Admission free.
Right, much like Kiefer at White Cube, this display of Nan’s photography at Marian Goodman is in the list for the third month in a row. Nan has been in the UK recently and much of the press coverage has been focused on her public protests against Sackler funding of arts institutions, most notably the NPG and the V&A. And the damage of opioids is at the heart of Sirens, which hosts a new digital slideshow titled Memory Lost (2019), recounting a life lived through a lens of drug addiction. This captivating, beautiful and haunting journey unfolds through an assemblage of intimate and personal imagery to offer a poignant reflection on memory and the darkness of addiction. Runs to 11 January. Admission free.
Topping and tailing with the RA this month – only this one is FREE! This display celebrates the work of Laura Knight RA, one of the most famous and popular British artists in the first half of the 20th century. Drawn from the RA’s Collection of paintings, drawings and sketchbooks, the show explores three distinct themes from her long working life – the countryside, the nude and scenes from the theatre, ballet and circus. Laura was the first woman to be elected to full membership of the Royal Academy in 1936. Her portrait of Joan Rhodes, a music hall strong woman known as “The Mighty Mannequin”, will be on show alongside drawings and sketchbooks from around 1911 to the 1960s. These include drawings from the Folies Bergère and the Ballets Russes. Runs to 2 February. Admission free.