Victoria’s Top Ten London Art Shows, February 2020


Well, the ‘London’ in the title is in brackets this month as my 10th show in my list of recommendations is actually in Cambridge but it promises to be so great that I couldn’t bear to leave it off.

In fact, I’m pretty excited about all of the entries on my list as there’s so much diversity here, from the glory and magnificence of the baroque show at the Tate to the austere palette of Léon Spilliaert, from internal examination via the surrealists to a wider examination of society via Steve Mcqueen and Trevor Paglen, from the many themes to explore in masculinity and its representation to the female gaze in Kehidne Wiley.

God, I love art!


Baroque in Britain: Power and Illusion, Tate Britain

First, what is baroque? Well, in art, the baroque is usually associated with the pomp and glory of European courts, epitomised by that of Louis XIV. Think status and influence expressed through magnificence. But the baroque visual culture also thrived in Britain. From the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 to the death of Queen Anne in 1714, and from royal courts to religious worship, the exhibition will explore the rich connections between art and power in this often-overlooked era. Runs 5 February to 19 April. Admission £16 (concessions available).

British Surrealism, Dulwich Picture Gallery

I’m expecting this one to be special… This major exhibition marks 100 years since the birth of surrealism, championing the British artists that contributed to an iconic movement. See over 70 eclectic works from 42 artists including Leonora Carrington, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore and Paul Nash as well as lesser known figures such as Marion Adnams, Conroy Maddox, Reuben Mednikoff and Grace Pailthorpe. Cannot wait. Runs 26 February to 17 May. Admission £15 (concessions available).

To Exalt the Ephemeral: Alina Szapocznikow, 1962-1972, Hauser & Wirth

In a brief but explosively inventive career, Alina radically re-conceptualised sculpture as a vehicle for exploring, liberating and declaring bodily experience. Born in Poland to a Jewish family in 1926, she survived the horrors of concentration camps as a teenager. In the post-war years, moving from Prague to Paris, she ultimately abandoned the Socialist Realism endorsed by the Polish government, as well as the prevailing winds of modernist abstraction, to embrace Surrealist tendencies and the Pop-influenced New Realism of the Paris avant-garde ‘This show promises to reveal the full expressive potential of this pioneering artist’s work through the material innovations she made during the last decade of her life. Runs 7 February to 2 May. Admission free.

Kehinde Wiley: The Yellow Wallpaper, William Morris Gallery

This will be the first solo exhibition of new work shown by American artist Kehinde Wiley at a public institution in the UK and also the first to feature exclusively female portraits. The works, featuring women Kehinde met on the streets of Dalston, offer a visual response to American novelist Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s acclaimed feminist text, The Yellow Wallpaper (1892). (Gilman holds a personal connection to William Morris as his daughter struck up a friendship with Gilman in July 1896). Building on his interest in the relationship between the human body and the decorative, Wiley’s models are depicted in reimagined fields inspired by the William Morris oeuvre. For over 15 years Wiley has sourced William Morris’ iconic floral designs for his paintings. Runs 22 February – 25 May. Admission free.

Steve McQueen, Tate Modern

Over the last 25 years, Steve McQueen has created some of the most innovative works of moving image designed for gallery spaces, as well as four critically acclaimed films. Spanning two decades of his career, the exhibition will reveal how Steve’s pioneering approaches to filmmaking have expanded the ways in which artists work with the medium, creating poignant portraits of time and place. I’m particularly looking forward to End Credits 2012–ongoing, which will be shown in the UK for the first time. This is Steve’s homage to the African-American singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson who, after a successful career as a performer, was blacklisted in the 1950s and put under surveillance by the FBI. Runs 13 February to 11 May. Admission £13 (concessions available).

Trevor Paglen: From ‘Apple’ to ‘Anomaly’, The Curve, The Barbican

In this new commission, Trevor Paglen has installed approximately 30,000 individually printed photographs pinned in a complex mosaic of images along the length of the curved wall. Taking as a starting point ImageNet: one of the most widely shared, publicly available collection of images, (which is also used to train artificial intelligence networks), Trevor queries the content of images chosen for machine learning. ImageNet contains more than fourteen-million images organised into more than 21,000 categories or “classes”. In most cases, the connotations of image categories and names are uncontroversial i.e. a “strawberry” or “orange”. Others are classified under “debtors”, “alcoholics” and “bad persons”. These definitions, if used in AI, suggest a world in which machines will be able to elicit different forms of judgement against humankind. Runs to 16 February. Admission free.

Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography, Barbican Art Gallery

A major group exhibition that explores the ways in which masculinity is experienced, performed, coded and socially constructed as expressed and documented through photography and film from the 1960s to the present day. Sounds fantastic. And there is a lot to explore given the scale of the global conversation on this with terms such as ‘toxic’ and ‘fragile’ masculinity filling endless column inches. Touching on themes of patriarchy, power, queer identity, race, sexuality, class, female perceptions of men, heteronormative stereotypes, and fatherhood, the works in the exhibition present masculinity as a largely unfixed performative identity shaped by cultural, political and social forces, with photography and film central to the way in which masculinity is shaped and understood. Runs 20 February to 17 May. Admission £15 (concessions available).

Radical Figures: Painting in the New Millennium, Whitechapel Gallery

So, as you may be aware, painting was pronounced dead in the 1980s, overtaken or abandoned in favour of cool installations, performance art, the YBAs and the rest. Whitechapel though is taking that on with this show from a new generation of artists who represent the body in radical ways to tell stories and explore vital social concerns. Presenting for the first time this new direction in painting, the exhibition features ten painters at the heart of this zeitgeist: Michael Armitage, Cecily Brown (whose work I adore!!), Nicole Eisenman, Sanya Kantarovsky, Tala Madani, Ryan Mosley, Christina Quarles, Daniel Richter, Dana Schutz and Tschabalala Self. Runs 6 February to 10 May. Admission £9.50 (concessions available).

Léon Spilliaert, Royal Academy of Arts

If you are familiar with the work of Léon Spilliaert (1881–1946), give yourself a gold star as you’re one up on me. Leon, though, was intriguing, singular artist who left an indelible mark on the twentieth century art of Belgium and this is the first major exhibition of his work to be held in the UK. Bringing together around 80 works drawn from public and private collections, the exhibition will offer a rare opportunity to discover Leon’s brooding, intense work often influenced by literature and philosophy, in particular the work of Edgar Allan Poe and Friedrich Nietzsche. Runs 23 February to 25 May. Admission £12 (concessions available).

Linderism, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

So. Cheating a bit here but my final recommendation for February ain’t in London but I’m just too excited to omit this from my list so, join me on a train up to Cambridge for a new solo exhibition of work by Linder. Most well known for her photomontage, this exhibition explores the diverse range of Linder’s practice. It explores Linder as performance artist, zine-maker, musician, documentary-photographer, collaborator, muse, guru, medium and body-builder. Linder was born in Liverpool in 1954 and was an active figure in the punk and post-punk music scenes. Probably best known for the album covers which she created, her photomontages often combine everyday images taken from fashion or home magazines with images from pornography. I love her work; I absolutely love it. Runs 15 February to 26 April. Admission free.

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