There are some big shows opening this month as the galleries make sure they’re all ready for tourist-season – but there are also some big names closing too as the galleries start to shape up for the Autumn/Winter season already so, if you want to get to see the likes of Monet and Rodin, you’re going to have to get your skates on.
But what I love most about the London art scene is the amount of high-quality art shows you can see without ticket admission. Take the new show opening at the White Cube, who are dedicating both their London galleries to artists’ investigation of ‘memory’, plus the arrival of a Jenny Holzer-dedicated display at the Tate Modern – an artist whose examination of language is a phenomenon.
And don’t think I’m dragging you all into galleries either as, for those who want their art AND their sun, the wonderful Sculpture in the City is back with its public display of sculptures from some of the most famous names in art running once again in the Square Mile.
Michael Jackson: On the Wall, National Portrait Gallery
Michael Jackson would have turned sixty in August had it not been for his addiction to painkillers and his willingness to keep doctors only too happy to prescribe them on his payroll. But whatever the circumstances of his tragic death, the man’s legacy will outlive us all, and it’s how artists have responded to MJ and his iconic status that is the subject of this, I have to admit, rather surprising summer exhibition at the NPG. If I’m honest, this could go either way as some of the art veers towards uncomfortable religious-esque iconography, but the man was one of the most influential cultural figures to come out of the 20th century and his impact on contemporary art is an untold story so this could be revealing… Runs to 21 October. Admission from £15.50.
The Influence Project, Somerset House
It’s obviously all about music icons this summer as Somerset House is going for hip-hop pioneers. Featuring never-seen-before photographic portraits of pioneers of R&B, Funk, Soul, Afrobeat and Hip Hop, Congolese, London-based photographer Alexis Chabala and producer Lorayne Crawford have captured the characters of both icons and contemporary artists, from George Clinton, Shuggie Otis, Bill Withers and Candi Staton to Mark Ronson, Michael Kiwanuka, Aloe Blacc and Laura Mvula. The Influence Project will investigate the connections between these established and emerging pioneers, reaching across time to shape the sound that we hear today. Runs to 22 August. Admission free.
Memory Palace, White Cube Galleries
You know, the White Cube galleries always pull out a gem from leftfield that turns out to be one of the shows of the year and, this summer, Memory Palace may well be that show. It’s certainly going to be HUGE as it spans both the Bermondsey and Mason’s Yard buildings. Featuring more than 100 recent works by over forty artists, including Harland Miller, Tracey Emin, and the glorious Etel Adnan, the exhibition will lead visitors on a path through the spaces that will inspire reflection on the forms and themes of memory. Am looking forward to this. Opens 11 July. Admission free.
Joan Jonas, Tate Modern
There’s so many big shows at the moment that I suspect this little gem may have fallen by the wayside. It’s certainly a risky show, for sure, but this survey of the work of pioneering performance artist Joan Jonas is well worth a visit for the real art lovers amongst you. Now, putting on exhibitions on performance art can be a nightmare as it can often be reduced to simply endless reels of video footage but with the expected Marina Abramovic retrospective at the RA on the distant horizon, the Tate curators lay out a terrific marker on how they can be done right for I was utterly mesmerised by this show. Mixing footage and photos with installations and objects, Joan’s work touched on so much, from the interplay between us and our landscapes, to the place of women in history as outsiders and even witches. Closes 5 August. Admission £13 (concessions available).
There have been so many big-name blockbusters in London this season that it’s been hard to know which ones to platform when but take this as your last-month warning to catch this hugely popular show on this hugely popular artist. The theme is Monet’s fascination with architecture but that’s more a succinct way of ‘all paintings except the gardens, lilies and flowers’ for Claude Monet’s fascination has always been with light – its illuminative effects or the shadows it casts – and that is truly the focus here in this wonderful collection of paintings that really do demonstrate why this guy is as loved as he is. Runs to 29 July. Admission £20.
And here’s another big-name show in the last-chance saloon for this wonderful exhibition that looks at how Rodin drew inspiration from the Parthenon and ancient Greek sculpture also closes at the end of the month. The instantly familiar and iconic are here, from The Kiss to The Thinker, but it’s the wider perspective here that impresses and informs so much. Rodin was hugely influenced by the idea of a ‘ruin’, how ‘incompleteness’ e.g. statues without heads or limbs, could become a finished state in itself. Add to that Rodin’s talent for capturing and representing the full gamut of extreme emotions – pain, passion, anguish and pleasure – in stone and you have one very special exhibition. Closes 29 July. Admission from £17.
Jenny Holzer, Tate Modern
I love Jenny Holzer, love her. Love her passion for truth and language and for her willingness to use both so confrontationally in her works. And, indeed, it is her use of language that has made her one of the pioneers of conceptual art. Working on both a small and, more recently, large scale, her use of new technologies and subtle understanding of architectural and even landscape spaces shows her to be one of the most significant and uncompromising artists working today. ARTIST ROOMS is a terrific initiative that takes collections of works from great artists and takes them around the UK and now this special collection focusing on themes such as violence, power, war, sex and money is coming to the Tate Modern. Opening date not yet confirmed but it’s this month! Admission free.
Sculpture in the City, The Square Mile
This annual event remains as much an artistic highlight of the summer as the RA’s annual Summer Exhibition. I love the democracy of bringing big name artists into public spaces, and for sculpture to have such a platform. Big names are always included and this year is no exception with works from Marina Abramovic (pictured), Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin, Nancy Rubins and Sean Scully all included. The exhibits are scattered around the Square Mile and all free to see so download a map from the website, put on your trainers, and spend some time discovering some fantastic works whilst also enjoying the sunshine. Runs to September 2018. Admission free.
Cindy Sherman, Spruth Magers
It’s not unusual to see Cindy’s pieces in shows each year so it was quite a surprise when I realised that this is her first solo show in the UK since 2011. Cindy’s thirty-five-year career in photography has established her as one of the most influential figures in contemporary art, creating photographic portraits that are predicated on themes of identity, gender and role-play and this exhibition showcases her most recent body of work from 2016, including several new and previously unseen works. I’m expecting more of the parodying of the representation of women in film and television, fashion magazines, advertising, and online – only this time we see Cindy bringing age and vulnerability into the mix too. Runs to 1 September. Admission free.
BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery
We started this top ten with the NPG and we are going to finish with it too as the most prestigious portrait painting competition in the world is back. I mean, I wish for the love of God we could have a change in sponsor as I loathe BP and the way, generally, oil companies legitimize themselves through arts patronage but, that side, this exhibition is always worth seeing as it represents the very best in contemporary portrait painting. And it’s free too. And I’m always interested in seeing how photographers are developing and challenging portraiture through their work. Runs to 23 September. Admission free.
And One That’s Out of Town…
Life in Motion: Egon Schiele/Francesca Woodman, Tate Liverpool
It takes a very special show to convince me to travel all the way up to Liverpool to see it – but then this is a very special show. Francesca Woodman – always yes. Her photography was revolutionary both in style and for women artists, blending surrealism and the female body with an almost transcendent beauty. Oft copied; never bettered. Compared with Egon Schiele’s confrontational angular nudes, you’d think this was an odd pairing, but nope. Intimacy and the personal were critical to both these artists; the difference in how they brought this to their work is what makes this a fascinating compare and contrast. Runs to 23 September. Admission £12.50 (£10 advance booking).