Essential London Art Exhibitions To See This Easter

The Easter Holidays are finally here, and how better to spend them than getting out and about the capital to see some world class art! And, to help you out, here is ArtLyst’s selection of the biggest shows in London right now. Some are free but check on the links for full details…


Damien Hirst @ Tate Modern

‘We have more press here at the Damien Hirst press view, than there were people at the premier of Harry Potter’, Director of Tate Modern, Chris Dercon gleefully announced this morning. And, if the artworld really is the new Hollywood (as those in the know say that it is), then verily does Hirst step into the shoes of Robert De Niro, Tom Cruise, and George Clooney; for if his international renown does not quite matchup to his celluloid analogues then, most certainly, do his paycheques.

A Tate Modern retrospective of this scale and profile is about time then; the first substantial survey of his work in a British institution, taking us right back to the beginning in the late 1980s, and traversing the monumental career of an exceptionally talented and precocious art student who would become perhaps the world’s most ostentatious luxury brand.

Gillian Wearing @ Whitechapel Gallery 

It was long ago that Gillian Wearing won the Turner Prize (1997). And a major survey of her work – like the exhibition opening this week at the Whitechapel Gallery – is equally long overdue. Having arrived, this exhibition demonstrates the enduring concern of the artist over nearly 20 years of practice; namely, the multifarious mess of public masks and private identities that make up humans, alone and in interaction.

The first visible work, Dancing in Peckham (1994), sets the tone; a video piece in which Wearing, surrounded by busy shoppers, gets her freak on with all the daddy-grooving cringe of a private hairbrush moment, this work investigates the specificity of human identity via a jarring collision of private self-abandonment with public space.

Gilbert & George: London Pictures @ White Cube 

White Cube bedecks the world with the largest series ever made by iconic artist duo Gilbert & George – London Pictures. These new works are composed of 3,712 tabloid headline posters, collated and sorted according subject so as to create 292 pieces – with one for ‘Race Hate’, one for ‘Yobs’, one for ‘Stabbed To Death’, and so on.

So we are subjected to an onslaught of real-life horror stories – ‘Newborn Baby’s Body Dumped’, ‘Banker’s S+M Death Riddle’, ‘Woman Cut in Ritual Mutilation Horror’. Soap-like in their melodrama, shocking in their truth, the works play on this vibration between tabloid theatre and vile authenticity: these posters ‘exist on two levels’, the artists explain. First, ‘to sell newspapers (and it would a silly newspaper who didn’t try to sell)’. And second in ‘the reality’ – that ‘that person was killed on that tube that day …, that that person was raped in that park that afternoon’.

Weighted Words @ Zabludowicz Collection 

Weighted Words – the new exhibition at the ever-surprising, ever-exciting Zabludowicz Collection – presents a set of artists interested in what words can do in their own right, rather than as incidental signposts to artistic meaning.

On the whole these artworks appropriate the practices of artistico-linguistic activity – literature, theatre etc – but pair them down to their basic elemental humour, melodrama, and evocative ambiguity. Mary Reid Kelley’s puniliscious black and white film, for example, ‘You Make Me Iliad’ masterfully traverses the epic literary tradition, presenting a cast of archetypical characters – the soldier, the whore etc (with their facial features exaggerated via heavy black make-up/markings, and their eyes obscured with boggling patches) – that linguistically spar in a mixture of poetic styles, from rhyming couplets to iambic pentameter. Free

Crisis Commision @ Somerset House 

In an effort to make a difference for Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, some of the world’s most celebrated artists – including Antony Gormley, Tracey Emin, Sir Anthony Caro, Yinka Shonibare, and Gillian Wearing –  have come together to fill the grand space of one of London’s most prestigious venues; Somerset House.

They have all presented new works (with the forgivable exception of Caro), responding to themes and issues relating to homelessness, such as isolation, property, security, and space. Bob and Roberta Smith’s Kite, for example, hangs desolately alone in one of the rooms, the tail lying limp across the gallery floor. Written on the face of the kite is the word ‘Help’, the piece expressing the rootlessness of homelessness, and the desperate need for aid. Free

David Shrigley: Brain Activity @ Hayward

Brain Activity is the first major survey exhibition in the UK of Shrigley’s work, bringing together those much-loved faux naive ink drawings, with examples of his sculpture, painting, film, and installation. We are confronted throughout with the one-liner format but, in this context, the genre gains gravitas – as, in the words of the artist, a principled ‘economy of narrative, very much like Samuel Beckett’, telling people ‘far less than they need to know’, and forcing the viewer to creatively construe from fragment.

No longer can Shrigley be dismissed as the pseudo-artist cartoonist – appealing to those mildly middle-aged men, young at heart, that cling onto 90s sulky ‘cool’ in beer-drinking ladulthood –, his work barely distinguishable from the Bunny Suicides. Yes, Brain Activity at the Hayward puts a stop to that, revealing, as it does, the full breadth of his practice and, in the process, staking Shrigley’s claim to the title of ‘artist’ – one that is capable of generating work genuinely ‘artistic’ in character, transcending the one-liner.

Mondrian//Nicholson: In Parallel @ Courtauld Gallery

The two modernist painters Piet Mondrian – one of world’s most celebrated 20th century artists –, and our very own Ben Nicholson – a key figure in British art history – are an obvious pairing. Both artists (during the 1930s and 40s, at least) were leading exponents of geometric abstraction, engaged in a love affair with the grid, testing its formal properties and spiritual potentiality through a series a compositional scenarios and colour relationships.

As good friends – exhibiting together, and even, for a two-year period, living as Hampstead neighbours –, the similarities in their work could be understandably attributed to that inadvertent collaboration of mutual influence. But, suggests the new Coutauld exhibition bringing their work together once again, such an understanding would be wrong, with the two artist’s working – as the title sums up – in parallel, not (as might be superficially presumed) in tandem.

Picasso & Modern British Art @ Tate Britain

It pays to be a little wary of the ‘[artist] and [category].’ exhibition format, whereby the name of a superstar artist (Rothko, Van Gogh, Warhol etc) is followed by a general category (‘Britain’, ‘the Modern Age’, ‘Modern Art’, etc). Too often it points to the gallery/curator’s failure to amass sufficient artworks by the desired artist, and a subsequent effort to compensate via inclusion of contextual items –sketchbooks, photographs, and, worst of all, works by other, lesser artists.

But the Tate Britain’s Picasso and Modern British Art is different. Yes, it deploys all the above contextual material, including plethora of works most definitely not by Picasso. But it does so in support of a substantial collection of paintings by Picasso (that Shakespeare of Modern Art); and what a support (!), with the exhibition presenting the work of seven other major artists – including Francis Bacon, Henry Moore, and David Hockney – whose stature as canonical figures of Art History is surpassed by none but Picasso himself.

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