Victoria’s Top Ten London Art Shows, October 2017


Much like my October article for theatre, my top ten is a top eleven just to squeeze as much as I can in! And much like that list, there’s as many new shows left off as there are included. 

Last month saw a thought-provoking survey of Rachel Whiteread’s work open at Tate Britain and the small collection of Degas’s pastels that have gone on display at the National Gallery (and for free!) are a real guilty pleasure – you know what to expect but the colours and scenes are entrancing. And though I’m not the biggest fan of Jasper Johns, there’s no doubting the scale of the work that has gone into collating the 150 of his artworks together for the show at the RA.

And don’t forget, there’s still a few long-running shows to enjoy. At the Tate Modern, Soul of a Nation and the Fahrelnissa Zeid retrospective both close this month. If you haven’t seen these, they are worth a visit – both dynamic, exciting shows on artists who’ve been overlooked too long.

And I know there are some big shows opening in the last week of this month at Imperial War Museum, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and Marlborough Fine Art but I’ve had to tide those over to the November list just to make sure I can bring the right ones to your attention at the right time. The pressure!!

So, with all this in mind – and God forbid any of you take my recommendations at face value (!) – below are my tips for the best shows to catch this month. But, whichever way you cut it, there are a lot of great exhibitions out there for a range of budgets.


Matisse in the Studio, Royal Academy of Arts

In a busy season, this small show of rarely seen Matisse paintings and drawings alongside personal objects featured in the artworks – whether that be tables, coffee pots, nude photographs or colourful rugs – still stands out. The final works are terrific – wonderful collisions of colour – and it’s a rare opportunity to explore artistic creation and inspiration. It’s a popular show but if you’re heading that way for Jasper Johns and/or Dali/Duchamp anyway… Closes November 12th. Admission £14 (without donation). Concessions available.

Jake & Dinos Chapman, Blain /Southern

Jake and Dinos Chapman are brothers who aren’t shy of controversy – they’ve deliberately vandalised some of Adolf Hitler’s paintings, they’ve even been accused of sending death threats to a journalist, and their works always look to provoke. Now, in their first show at Blain Southern, they are revisiting a popular subject for them – Goya’s etchings, The Disasters of War – as a launch point to examine the graphic violence and our obsession with imagery in our society today, whether that be midnight tweets from a White House gripped by idiocy, or videos of beheadings on YouTube. Opens October 4th. Admission free.

Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites, National Gallery

This is a small show – the National Gallery’s major exhibition, Monochrome, opens later in the year – but, here, one of the most celebrated paintings in the Gallery’s permanent collection, Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait, will be exhibited for the first time alongside Pre-Raphaelite works to examine how these young British artists of the nineteenth century responded to the painting and one of its most distinctive features, the convex mirror. And those others works on display will include Sir John Everett Millais’s Mariana, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, and William Morris’s La Belle Iseult. Opens October 2nd. Admission £8.

Dan Colen, Newport Street Gallery

This is the fifth show at Damien Hirst’s gallery in Vauxhall – and it is the fifth show in a row for White male artists. Considering these shows are largely drawn from Damien’s own personal collection of art, make of that what you will. But anyway. This exhibition is Dan’s first major London solo show and the works on display will cover his output over the last fifteen years, since he emerged on the New York art scene in the early 2000s with his witty and vivid artworks on masculinity, individuality and the American Dream, as well as new pieces and large-scale installations. Opens October 4th. Admission free.

Arthur Jafa’s Love is the Message, The Message is Death, Store Studios, 180 The Strand

Now, THIS is exciting. 180 The Strand held one of my favourite shows from last year – The Infinite Mix – and now it’s back with Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death, a new video by artist, director, and award-winning cinematographer Arthur Jafa. Set to the searing highs and lows of Kanye West’s gospel-inspired hip-hop track, Ultralight Beam, this film is a masterful blend of found footage that traces African-American identity through a vast spectrum of contemporary imagery – from civil rights photographs, to helicopter views of the LA Riots, to a wave of bodies dancing to “The Dougie.” This contemporary revisualisation of black American history will be shown in a bespoke tent inspired by revival tents, a custom from the southern United States where Christian worshipers gathered in a marquee erected specifically for meetings, healing mission church rallies or simply to hear a preacher speak. Closes December 10th. Admission free.

Basquiat: Boom for Real, Barbican Centre

It’s quite something for a show to live up to expectations, especially when it’s a show that has been as anticipated as much as this Basquiat retrospective has, but Boom for Real is everything I had hoped it would be – vital, exciting, relevant, and packed with original artworks. There’s over one hundred paintings, drawings and objects to enjoy (many of which have never been seen in the UK before), as well as film footage, music, and memorabilia, including books and birth certificates. It’s a big show – even an electric one – but it vividly brings to life both the man and his output. Closes January 28, 2018. Admission £16 (concessions available).

Ilya and Emilia Kabokov: Not Everyone Will Be Taken into the Future, Tate Modern

Marking the centenary of the 1917 Russian revolutions with a different spin, the Tate Modern is opening its doors to the Kabokovs – amongst the most celebrated artists of their generation and renowned for their installation works. Drawing upon the visual culture of the former Soviet Union, whether it be the dreariness of communist communal living to the fabrication of propaganda art, the Kabokovs examine universal ideas of utopia and fantasy, and hope and fear, as well the role of the artist in uncertain times. The show will comprise drawings, plans and three full-size major installations. Cracking stuff. Opens October 18th. Admission £11.30 (concessions available).

Torbjørn Rødland, Serpentine Sackler Gallery

I’m a big fan of the Serpentine Galleries and alongside their Wade Guyton show in the main gallery is this one on Torbjørn Rødland who creates portraits, still lives and landscapes, which simultaneously inhabit, defamiliarise and disrupt the realm of the everyday. I love the fact that this is everything we recognise – but a little off-kilter. With an often fetishistic approach to subjects, objects and materials, he produces photographs that are intense, conceptually playful and psychologically evocative. His staged scenarios ‘keep you in the process of looking’, simultaneously revealing layers of discomfort and pleasure. Closes November 19th. Admission free.

Dali/Duchamp, Royal Academy of Arts

An impressive second entry for the RA in this month’s list sees this, the first exhibition to explore this surprising friendship between two of modern art’s great provocateurs. The show will bring together around eighty works, including some of Dalí’s most inspired paintings and sculptures, and Duchamp’s ground-breaking assemblages and readymades, as well as correspondence and collaborations between the two artists. Maybe it will also mark the occasion I finally “get” Duchamp, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Opens October 7th. Admission £15 (without donation). Concessions available.

From the Vapor of Gasoline, White Cube Mason’s Yard

White Cube can come up with some crackers and this one is no exception. It smartly leverages many of the themes being explored in other big exhibitions this year around the collapse of the American Dream to display works from big names such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Mapplethorpe, Bruce Nauman and Cady Noland. There’s a lot on the deconstruction of what it is to be American and the perception of national identity to examine disillusionment, alienation and discrimination. But, also, there’s such an exciting tension with what arrived in its place – bold and refreshing works that revealed and revelled in reality. Closes October 21st. Admission free.

Willem de Kooning: Late Paintings, Skarstedt

This new show at Skarstedt in St. James’s will be the first opportunity to see this body of work from one of the twentieth century’s most influential artists in the UK for over twenty years. The exhibition will include exceptional paintings created in the 1980s, during the last decade of de Kooning’s sixty-year career. Characterised by their luminosity and the fluidity of their arcing lines (as well as their vast size), the bright and often translucent colours of the works from the 1980s mark a radical departure from the dense painterliness of earlier periods. Demonstrating de Kooning’s capacity for renewal, this final chapter in his long artistic career was one of his most productive and as the works themselves reveal, one of his most accomplished. Opens October 4th. Admission free.


Post your comment