So, there are no new exhibitions opening in August in London (so shape up for a WAVE of new openings in September!!) but there are plenty closing so if you’ve missed out on some of the biggies this year, prepare to get your skates on to catch them before they shut up shop!
I suppose it’s a fair question – is social documentary photography art? But, whichever way you cut it, this exhibition on the work of Dorothea Lange demonstrates what a brilliant talent she was. Initially a relatively successful photographer in 1920s San Francisco, it was the 1930s and the Great Depression that made Dorothea’s reputation – and through which she found her calling in social documentary work. Of course, Migrant Mother is here – as are other shots of that iconic image – but there’s also Dorothea’s work in Japanese internment camps in the 1940s and racism in the 1950s, all of which are powerful and worthy of attention in their own right. Runs to 2 September. Admission £13.50.
This exhibition has rightly drawn criticism for its packed gift shop that commodifies the iconic image of the famously-communist Frida for the sake of a capitalist profit, but the show itself is a remarkable combination of the personal and the public with some of Frida’s most private possessions – her prosthetic leg and make-up proudly displayed alongside some of her most famous paintings. Add to that, there is some fantastic photography included in the show too, including portraits of the artist by Imogen Cunningham and images of Mexico from Edward Weston. But book in advance as the time slots are continuing to sell out for this popular show. Runs to 4 November. Admission £15.
Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy
Well, I’m going to be one of those getting a move on to see this as, what with starting a new job and all my other commitments, I haven’t yet caught this 250th anniversary special of this famous annual institution. And I’ve only got a few weeks left to see how national institution™ Grayson Perry has put his own stamp on this open-entry show, the largest of its kind anywhere, and by far the most famous. Sure, I’m here for the Kiefers, Emins, Kapoors and Hockneys, but I’m also here to see what so many others are doing. It’s the collision, the energy and the democracy of it all that excites me. Runs to 19 August. Admission £16.
Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire, National Gallery
A self-taught artist from Bolton in England, Thomas Cole (1801–1848) was the greatest American landscape artist of his generation. This exhibition is a rare chance to see his works – mostly travelling from America – including his masterpiece the ‘Oxbow’, and his awe-inspiring portrayals of Eden showing the force of nature. The paintings are shown alongside the sublime masterpieces by Turner and Constable that inspired him. And whilst you’re at the NG, see the free exhibition – inspired by Cole’s ‘The Course of Empire’ – by arguably the most famous artist working in Los Angeles today, Ed Ruscha. Runs to 7 October. Tickets from £8.
I’ve held off talking about this show every month this year in these lists, but this is it, this is your last chance, for this hugely enjoyable exhibition closes at the end of the month and I really wouldn’t want you to miss out on this. Sure, attempting to curate on show on ‘painting life’ is always going to be an impossible job as that pretty much could encompass any artist and almost any work but, nevertheless, there is so much to admire here, from Freud’s monumental nudes to Bacon’s trauma, from Auerbach’s energy to Paula Rego’s tenderness, from Sickert’s shadows to Jenny Saville’s stark realism. Closes 27 August. Admission from £16.
Serpentine Pavilion, Serpentine Gallery
There’s a lot going on at the Serpentine Galleries this summer, from this year’s atmospheric Pavilion designed by Frida Escobedo (that masterfully crafts an interplay of light, water and geometry) to the whopping Christo mass floating in the Serpentine lake. Plus, there’s Christo’s designs for the work on display in the Main Gallery whilst over at the Sackler, there’s a display of acrylics and oils from Turner Prize winner, Tomma Abts. And all of this for free so mix up a bit of art with a desire to soak up the sun with a walk around Hyde Park. Throw in a selfie with the swans and you’ve got a great afternoon out! Runs to 9 September. Admission free.
Crashing is a damn astute title for this exhibition from the Korean pioneering artist for the display is a collision of energy and ideas. It feels like an assault on the sense. Dismembered cyborgs and human bodies dangle from the ceiling whilst, underneath them, neon signs hum, karaoke pods belt out Springsteen, and deep pools of dark ink hint at brooding observations and emotions. For Lee Bul attacks contemporary society for all its worth, from its racism and sexism – its fetishism of Korean woman – to the pursuit of wealth and progress. Lee Bul is a creator of landscapes and the galleries of the Hayward have been transformed into whole new worlds – ones that seem familiar but also dystopian. I loved this show. Maybe not everything here works but the ideas and risk are intoxicating. Runs to 19 August. Admission £14.50.
Sculpture in the City, The Square Mile
Sculpture in the City, the City of London’s annual public art programme set amongst iconic architectural landmarks, is up and running. Eighteen artworks comprise this year’s outdoor sculpture park in the Square Mile, including works from Sarah Lucas, Sean Scully and Nancy Rubins (pictured). This year, the project includes two sound projects, a new venture for this year’s edition, challenging the idea of public art, including Marina Abramovic’s Tree (1972), which presents visitors with the sound of birdsong, with an insistent, distorted repetition, enclosed within a tree at 99 Bishopsgate. Click here for your guide and get walking! Admission free.
Surely the blockbuster of the year in the London art calendar, but the opportunity to catch this extraordinary exhibition is coming to an end so, please, don’t forget to see this. It’s quite something for a show to live up to its hype – especially one on such a famous and well-known artist as Picasso – but Picasso 1932 is a superbly curated exhibition that not only brings together some of his most famous paintings (displayed in the UK for the first time for generations – or indeed ever) but also one that demonstrates how Picasso found himself at a crossroads – in his private life as well as in his work – and the inspiration and exploration he drew on to push himself on to ever greater heights. Runs to 9 September. Admission £22.
Tish Murtha: Works 1976-1991, The Photographers’ Gallery
We started with a social documentary photography show and we’re going to end with one too… Tish Murtha’s work focused on the brutal effects of the 1970s and, subsequently, Thatcherism on communities in the North and North East. Tish was herself born in South Shields and brings her insight into life there into these extraordinary images that compel us to confront the extent of social deprivation in the UK. These strong personal ties to the subject matter compelled Tish towards creating work that could help those being offered little assistance from the government in times of mass factory and mine closures. Runs to 14 October. Admission free.
And One That’s Out of Town…
This major touring exhibition has been one of my highlights for this year. I saw it at Tate St. Ives and I most certainly will be going to see it again at Pallant House in Chichester. It features 80 female artists from 1854 to the present day, and has at its heart the pioneering writings of novelist Virginia Woolf. It seeks to show how her perspectives on feminism and creativity have remained relevant to a community of creative women across time: visual artists working in photography, painting, sculpture and film who have sought to record the vast scope of female experience and to shape alternative ways for women to be. With artists including Laura Knight, Vanessa Bell, Claude Cahun, Gluck and Mona Hatoum, this is a show most definitely worth seeing. Runs to 16 September. Admission to exhibition included in gallery admission fee of £11.