Victoria’s Top Ten London Art Shows, February 2018


We all made it through January – well done! And we are rewarded with new shows almost everywhere as both February and March see pretty much all of the remaining art exhibitions from last year swept away to be replaced with bold, new and exciting ones. So, it’s last-chance saloon in a couple of cases, and a whole raft of new names to get our teeth stuck into elsewhere.

In fact, there’s so much to enjoy, I’ve had to squeeze out the list from a top ten, to a top eleven. And, moreover, for 2018, in addition to my ‘top ten for London’, I’m adding in an extra show that’s on out of town that I think is worth getting out of London to see. So I’m sure there’ll be something for you here.


Charles I: King and Collector, Royal Academy

The RA’s big Spring show is open – and what an ambitious one it is. For Charles I amassed a phenomenal, almost legendary, art collection in his time. In fact, so much did he enjoy spending taxpayers’ money on masterpieces that we cut his head off for it. But anyway, that aside… The collection itself was broken up after his execution in 1649, much of it sold across Europe to recuperate finances. Now, the RA has brought much of it back together for the first time. From Van Dyck to Rubens, and Titian to Holbein, this is a show packed with masterpieces. Closes April 15th. Admission £18 (without donation). Concessions available.

Rachel Howard, Blain Southern / Newport Street Gallery

Rachel is having a (well deserved) moment in London galleries right now. As well as being included in Age of Terror below, she’s also running with two solo shows. At Newport Street Gallery, she is the first female artist to have an exhibition there (though she is sharing some of the galleries with John Copeland). Whilst over at Blain Southern, Der Kuss is comprised of Rachel’s newest paintings and sculptures, with their focus on internal and external violence, the violence of the mind and the body. Whichever one is easier for you, do visit as Rachel’s works are so powerful and brilliant. Blain Southern: Closes March 17th. Admission free. Newport Street Gallery: Opens February 21st. Admission free.

Rose Wylie: Quack Quack, Serpentine Sackler Gallery

Third month in a row for this Rose Wylie show, I know, but it’s such a joyous and colourful breath of fresh air in what is, by and large, quite an intense collection of exhibitions out there, right now. Rose’s large and bright canvases capture a myriad of images – from Rose’s dreams to moments from her daily walks in the park, from her memories of the war to what we all see on our television screens, in cinemas and in books – and in doing so, these paintings lay testament to the avalanche, even overload, of visual stimulus we have in our world today. Closes February 11th. Admission free.

Glenn Brown: Come to Dust, Gagosian Grosvenor Hill

Now this one was, for me, an unexpected delight. One pf Britain’s most renowned contemporary artists, Glenn uses familiar, even iconic, images from the likes of Rembrandt, Delacroix and Raphael, and inverts them, explores them, finally reimagining them as distinctive new works that exist in swirls of monochromatic ink, or thick pastes of vivid oil and acrylic paints smeared over exquisite bronze statues. It is arresting and fascinating, the way such familiar images are transformed into something unfamiliar, almost other-worldly. But as well as enchanting and beautiful, these works from Glenn (and there’s sixty on display in this big show) evidence Glenn’s strong belief that art history isn’t static, but something that is always in motion, dynamic. A terrific show. Runs to March 17th. Admission free.

Modigliani, Tate Modern

This is a popular one, I know, and a few have been put off by the reports of large numbers of visitors but the galleries are large and roomy and, once inside, you often can find quite a bit of space. For instance, I found myself alone in front of the collection of his famous nudes – probably the highlight of this show. Modigliani died too young to veer away from his signature style so perhaps this isn’t a show of surprises, Nevertheless, this is an impressive collection of works – the largest exhibition on this artist for a generation – and it’s a terrific testament to the great man’s talents. Closes April 2nd. Admission £17.70 (without donation). Concessions available.

Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11, IWM London

If I had to make a call, I’d say that this is currently the best contemporary art show in London right now. Not only is it on a desperately relevant subject – how the Age of Terror has affected our lives and our society – but as well as big names such as Grayson Perry, Ai Weiwei, Mona Hatoum, Gerhard Richter, Jenny Holzer, and Jake & Dinos Chapman, there is also a terrifically vibrant and diverse set of emerging artists on display. Film, video, paintings, drawings, photos, sculpture, collages, ceramics, and even light installations. This is a dynamic and powerful show. Closes May 28th. Admission £15 (concessions available).

Vera Lutter & Nancy Rubins, Gagosian Britannia Street

Hugely excited about this joint show, especially as for Nancy Rubins, this will be her first solo exhibition in London. Her huge sculptural works are extraordinary. For these, she transforms found objects and industrial refuse into expertly orchestrated abstractions. And it’s a pretty mean feat of engineering too as these pieces aren’t welded together, no. Rather, the individual components are arranged in balanced compression and secured with tensile cables. As for Vera, she’s been creating pinhole-camera photographs of architecture, landscapes, cityscapes, and industrial sites since the early 1990s, and her studies reflect her deep relationship with the forces of time. Runs 7 February – 14 April 2018. Admission free.

Monochrome: Painting in Black and White, National Gallery

This is a small show on a very big subject – how and why artists, across the centuries, have chosen to work in black and white. But though this one might have fallen under most people’s radar, (lost a little in the melee of blockbuster shows elsewhere), this is a fascinating show that not only includes some big names and iconic artworks – hello Picasso, Van Dyck, Ingres, Malevich, Rembrandt, Richter, Hatoum – but its final room installation from Olafur Eliasson of a room swathed in orange light is fantastic. Why orange light, you may well ask? Because the effect is to suppress all other light frequencies. In layman’s terms, that means your own sight becomes reduced to shades of grey. Everyone around you and all you see is in a monochrome palette. Closes February 18th. Admission £14 (£16 on weekends). Concessions available.

Medardo Rosso and Lee Bul, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac

Medardo Rosso is one of the founders of modern sculpture and this show is the first to focus on his relationship with London. Rosso subverted traditional modeling and casting methods to animate the surfaces of his sculptures, often going against prevailing monumental and heroic tendencies by depicting vulnerable subjects such the poor, children and the elderly. And these works are shown alongside haunting pieces from Lee Bul, a Korean artist whose artworks explore issues ranging from gender roles and the perceived failure of idealism, to the relationship between humans and technology. Quite a double act. Glorious. Closes February 10th. Admission free.

Rhythm & Reaction: The Age of Jazz in Britain, Two Temple Place

Rhythm & Reaction will bring together painting, prints, cartoons, textiles and ceramics, moving film, instruments and the all-important jazz sound to explicitly examine the influence of jazz on British art, design and wider society. Jazz is well-understood as a soundtrack to the interwar years, but its reception was always complex. In Britain, jazz provoked reactions ranging from devotion to abhorrence when first the idea and then the sound of the music entered the consciousness of the British public in the aftermath of the First World War. Closes April 22nd. Admission free.

Under Cover: A Secret History of Cross-Dressers, The Photographers Gallery

This show sounds like it could be a real treat. It is comprised of a rare selection of found, largely anonymous, photographs of men and women posing for the camera, using the apparel and gestures traditionally assigned to the ‘opposite sex’. This exhibition of amateur photographs from Europe and the US explores the surprisingly widespread practice of cross-dressing, through a century of private images. Dating from 1880 onwards, the photos are mostly of unnamed and unknown figures and offer a candid view into the hidden worlds of individuals and groups that chose to defy gender conventions. Opens February 23rd. Admission free before 12 noon; £4 after.

And One That’s Out of Town…

Journeys With ‘The Waste Land’, Turner Contemporary

Head out to the beautiful sea front in Margate for this dramatic group show exploring T.S. Eliot’s seminal modernist poem and its influence on visual arts over the past century. Presenting over sixty artists, and almost 100 objects, the exhibition is the culmination of a three-year project designed to radically rethink traditional curatorial processes. Significant works by 20th Century artists alongside historic pieces, contemporary works and new commissions are on show, including works from the likes of Turner himself, Man Ray, Henry Moore, Leonora Carrington, Edward Hopper, Paula Rego, and Cy Twombly. Runs 3 February – 7 May 2018.

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