Victoria’s Top Ten London Exhibitions, February 2019


Art, art, art… What is life without it, eh? I certainly don’t know where I’d be without the refuge it gives me. And it’s a terrific array of artists, genres and themes that greets us this month and they all promise to give us much to think about.

We’ve big names such as Tracey Emin, Jeff Koons and Warhol. Plus, there’s the glamour of Dior at the V&A, which contrasts powerfully with the trauma in Don McCullin’s unforgettable photography opening at the Tate. Whereas at the other Tate, we’ve the playfulness of Franz West, and it’ll be interesting seeing this in the same month as diane arbus and Kader Attia at the Hayward with their intimacy and focused attention on life around us.

Even scale is up for grabs in February with Phyllida Barlow promising to fill the galleries in the RA with her vast installations, whereas over at the National Portrait Gallery there will be the tiniest of Elizabethan miniatures on display.

The breadth we have available this month is breath-taking; it shows how lucky we are here in the capital.


Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, Victoria and Albert Museum

“There is no other country in the world, besides my own, whose way of life I like so much. I love English traditions, English politeness, English architecture. I even love English cooking.” Christian Dior. This month, the V&A opens the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior – and the museum’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015. Spanning 1947 to the present day, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams will trace the history and impact of one of the 20th century’s most influential couturiers, and the six artistic directors who have succeeded him, to explore the enduring influence of the fashion house. Opens February 2. Admission £20.

Andy Warhol Polaroid Pictures, BASTIAN

How about this for an inaugural exhibition? BASTIAN is opening their London with this series of over 60 portrait and self-portrait Polaroid photographs by Andy Warhol – some of which are exhibited for the first time – depicting artists, actors, politicians and friends of his famous Factory entourage. The exhibition offers an intimate portrayal of New York in the 1970s and 80s during the establishment of a new visual culture. Positioning Warhol as both subject and spectator, the series highlights the artist’s prolific capacity as a chronicler of his time. Opens February 2. Admission free.

Don McCullin, Tate Britain

Renowned as one of Britain’s greatest living photographers, Don McCullin has captured images of conflict from around the world including Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Lebanon and Biafra. Often taken at great personal risk, these unforgettable photographs will be shown alongside Don’s work in documentary photography, his travel assignments and his long term engagement with landscape and still life. With over 250 photographs, all printed by the artist himself in his own darkroom, this exhibition will be a unique opportunity to see the scope and achievements of Don’s career. Opens February 5. Admission £18.

Tracey Emin: A fortnight of Tears, White Cube Bermondsey

There’s no overlooking this one… A solo exhibition by Tracey Emin that brings together new painting, photography, large-scale sculpture, film and neon text, all stemming from the artist’s deeply personal memories and emotions ranging from loss, grief, longing and spiritual love. Three monumental, bronze sculptural figures, the largest Tracey has produced to date, will be shown alongside her lyrical and expressive paintings. There’ll also be a new photographic series titled ‘Insomnia’, selected from thousands of self-portraits taken by the artist on her iPhone over the last couple of years, and a new film as well as the key early work How It Feels (1996), a candid and moving account of her abortions that changed her whole approach to making art. Opens February 6. Admission free.

diane arbus: in the beginning & Kader Attia: The Museum of Emotion, Hayward Gallery

An intriguing mesh of two solo shows at the Hayward this month… Photographs by American master Diane Arbus will take over the upper galleries, while artist Kader Attia will present his first major survey show in the UK in the lower galleries.

diane arbus: in the beginning features arresting portraits of individuals across the spectrum of American society. Diane discovered the majority of her subjects in New York City, from Fifth Avenue to the Lower East Side. Creating some of the most compelling photographs in the history of post-war photography, she depicted a cross-section of urban life, including portraits of couples and children, solitary city dwellers, carnival performers, strippers, and transvestites. The exhibition traces her growth from her early work with a 35mm camera to the distinctive square format she began using in 1962.

Kader Attia. The Museum of Emotion pushes the boundaries of traditional museum presentation whilst it raises questions about the hegemony of Western cultural models. Spanning a wide range of media, Kader’s works inventively explore the ways colonialism continues to shape how Western societies represent and engage with non-Western cultures. Opens February 13. Admission £15.50.

Franz West, Tate Modern

This is very exciting as this will be the first posthumous retrospective and the most comprehensive survey of Franz West’s work ever staged in the UK. This ambitious exhibition will explore the irreverent sensibility and playful approach to materials, colour and form that characterise Frank’s punk aesthetic. Almost 200 works including abstract sculptures, furniture, collages and monumental outdoor works, will be brought together showing him as one of the most influential artists of the past 50 years. PLUS, his friend and collaborator Sarah Lucas will contribute, developing innovative displays that capture the unique sensibilities of Franz West’s playful yet profoundly philosophical work. So all good. Opens February 20. Admission £13.

Phyllida Barlow: cul de sac, Royal Academy of Arts

I’m a huge fan of Phyllida’s installations – and of the RA’s tentative first steps in getting more work from women artists in their galleries. So, let’s go explore this acclaimed British sculptor’s new series of space-changing installations, spreading through RA’s new galleries. It will be an entirely new, site-specific work, which she is conceiving as her own interpretation of a residential ‘cul-de-sac’. Opens February 23. Admission £12.

Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures by Hilliard and Oliver, National Portrait Gallery

The first major exhibition of Tudor portrait miniatures for over 35 years goes on display this month at the NPG. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, miniature painting was regarded as an art form at which the English excelled above all others, and Nicholas Hilliard (1547? – 1619) and French born Isaac Oliver (c.1565 – 1617) gained international fame and admiration. The exhibition will explore what these exquisite images reveal about identity, society and visual culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. Expect royalty, famous figures, and a lot of squinting. Opens February 21. Admission £10.

Swinging London: A Lifestyle Revolution, Fashion and Textile Museum

This show is all about the fashion, design and art of the Chelsea Set; a group of radical young architects, designers, photographers and artists who were redefining the concept of youth and challenging the established order in 1950s London. At the forefront of this group of young revolutionaries were Mary Quant and Terence Conran but this show will also look at the avant-garde artists, designers and intellectuals who worked alongside them, such as designers Bernard and Laura Ashley, sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi and artist and photographer Nigel Henderson. Opens February 8. Admission £9.

Dorothea Tanning, Tate Modern

Well, perhaps I’ve saved the best to last. It is a stunning line up of art shows this month but there is a very special place in my heart for Dorothea Tanning. This will be the first retrospective on Dorothea since her death in 2012, exploring how her dreamlike paintings and eerie soft sculptures challenged ideas about the body and identity over a career spanning seven decades. Her surrealist work in the 1930s and 1940s combined the familiar with the strange, exploring desire and sexuality. From the 1950s, her paintings became more abstract, and in the 1960s she started making pioneering sculptures out of fabric. A highlight of the exhibition will be the room-sized installation Chambre 202, Hotel du Pavot 1970-3., a sensual and eerie work that features bodies growing out the walls of an imaginary hotel room. Come on in! Opens February 27. Admission £13 (concessions available).

And One That’s Out of Town…

Jeff Koons, Ashmolean Museum

Love him or loathe him, this is one hell of a catch for the Ashmolean and, intriguingly, this will be a show of rarities as well as some popular favourites. Curated by the man himself together with guest curator Norman Rosenthal, the show will feature seventeen important works, fourteen of which have never been exhibited in the UK before. They span the artist’s entire career and his most well-known series including Equilibrium, Statuary, Banality, Antiquity and his recent Gazing Ball sculptures and paintings. To quote, Dr Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean, “I am sure it will also provoke conversations among those who see it.” Ain’t that the truth. Opens February 7. Admission £12.25 (concessions available).

Post your comment