Artlyst Reveals The Top Ten London Art Exhibitions For 2013

With Christmas dinner just a pile of dishes in the kitchen sink, the effects of far too much Prosecco giving me just enough of a headache to down a couple of Nurofen plus and M&S ‘Marc’ truffles making my teeth sting, only slightly, I have slipped away to write up my top 10 exhibitions for 2013. For a few weeks now, I’ve had a good idea of what I was going to choose and hopefully I haven’t left some of them off.

This has been a great year for exhibitions both in the public and commercial sectors. There were also quite a few important exhibitions which never made it to London including,  Carl Andre at the  Turner Contemporary, Malcolm Morley, Francis Bacon Henry Moore at the Ashmolean Oxford, William Scott Tate St Ives and Chagall at Tate Liverpool.

London saw ‘David Bowie Is’ become the V&A’s largest drawing exhibition in its history,  Roy Lichtenstein take Tate Modern by storm, Vienna 1900 at National Gallery, Patrick Caulfield, Tate Britain, Juergen Teller ICA, Serena Korda Camden Arts Centre, Van Gogh In Paris, Eykyn Maclean gallery,  Christian Vogt, at the now closed Margaret Street Gallery, Tino Sehgal at Tate, Conrad Shawcross, the Roundhouse and David Nash, Kew Gardens.  All were contenders for the top 10, but not quite in there, all worthy of a mention, just the same. So with out further delay here is the Artlyst top 10 list for 2013.
Dieter Roth: ‘Diaries’ – Camden Arts Centre

Intimate books served as agendas, ‘to do’ lists, journals to recording past events, as well as more meditative reflections and the working through of his artistic ideas via drawings, photographs and poems, all teaming with graphic exuberance. The diaries demonstrate the indivisibility of his art and life, and his concern with authorship, self-portraiture and autobiography. The exhibition also includes three major installations and other series of works that act as portraits of the artist, as Roth’s shorthand for the passage of time and his journey through it. (See Top Photo)

Jimmy de Sana:  ‘Suburban Color Sex Pictures’ – Wilkinson Gallery

De Sana made images rather than taking photographs. In the darkroom he enhanced colours and used solarisation to create his own particular photographic language. He played with the idea of the body as sculpture and the sometimes extreme sexual imagery was informed by the punk scene of downtown New York. The figures in the photographs were his friends. He also used his own body in some of the images, all of which were staged in his home and studio.  His photographs begin within a suburban setting, but one slowly infiltrated with the sexuality and absurdity that could only be found in a decaying lower Manhattan.

Margaret Harrison: – Payne Shurvell / Barbara Nessim – V&A

This joint tie is a good fit from both sides of the pond. Harrison, the winner of the Northern Art Prize 2013 has had a reappraisal. Her work and its strong Feminist message received applauds from the public and critics alike. It has taken her from near obscurity to a sell out exhibition in the last year. Barbara Nessim expounds a similar Feminist message. Her uncompromising style crosses over from illustrative to painterly, defining narrative strength with an effortless lyrical flow.

Margaret Harrison has been at the forefront of feminist activism and feminist art practice, since the late 1960s . In 1970 she founded the London Women’s Liberation Art Group. In 1971 she had an exhibition that effectively constituted the first overtly feminist solo show in London. It was probably also the shortest being closed by the police after one day on grounds of indecency. Interestingly, it seems what the authorities objected to was not so much the cheeky tits and arse irony of the female characters, but the transgendering of the male image.

Barbara Nessim is a Bronx-born artist and an influential educator at New York’s School of Visual Arts and at Parsons, The New School for Design. Nessim’s distinctive line and style have graced the cover of nearly every major American magazine, including Time, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. A display of the artist’s work,’ An Artful Life’,  shown at the V&A was the artist’s first solo show in London and presented around 80 works spanning her output from the 1960s to the 2000s.

Elmgreen & Dragset ‘Tomorrow’  – V&A

In 2013 the V&A commissioned a major site-specific installation over five galleries by leading contemporary artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. ‘Tomorrow’ transformed the V&A’s former textile galleries into an apartment belonging to a fictional, elderly and disillusioned architect.

The installation featured over 100 objects from the V&A’s collections, which sat alongside works by the artists, as well as items sourced from antique markets. The juxtaposition of objects, which were arranged as a grand domestic interior, created ambiguity and raised questions about cultural heritage. Currently on view over the holiday period.

Paul Klee: – Tate Modern

Small is beautiful! Paul Klee is an artist’s artist.  One thinks of him as a free artist with his fluid lines, blocks of colour and naïve child-like images of cartoonish people, fish and plants but there is so much more to him.  Klee was a meticulous artist, superb draughtsman with a deliberate, scientific approach to his work.  Hugely influential in terms of both the art he produced and the writings and teachings on art he left behind. Phrases like: ‘A line is a dot that went for a walk’, “Colour possesses me. It will always possess me’, ‘The more horrifying this world becomes (as it is these days) the more art becomes abstract; while a world at peace produces realistic art.’ and the quote that gives the exhibition its title: ‘Art does not reproduce the visible, rather it makes visible’ have guided artists and art students through the 20th century and beyond. After his first exhibition in Bern received bad reviews, Klee began to keep a handwritten catalogue, assigning a year and number to each work, which he maintained until his death in 1940.  This exhibition follows Klee’s own classification and is organised chronologically enabling the viewer to dip into a particular period and get a feel for how he was working and what intrigued him at any given point whether it be colour, architecture, fish motifs, plants, faces, abstraction or lines. This exhibition is a gem don’t miss it! Currently on view over the holiday period.

Laure Prouvost: ‘Wantee’  – Tate Britain

Laure Prouvost created a dark muddy room which forms the setting for a new video work presented as part of the exhibition at Tate Britain. The room is conceived as the living room of Prouvost’s fictional grandfather. This invented relative is described as a conceptual artist and one of Schwitters’s close friends. Prouvost’s work draws upon the dual aspect of Schwitter’s work – his celebrated Merz works, as well as his conventional portraits and landscapes. The room also shares the features of a tea room, inspired by Schwitter’s companion’s nickname, Wantee, due to her habit of asking, ‘want tea?’ This exhibition won Laure the Turner Prize 2013 and no doubt we’ll be hearing a lot more about her work as she is currently showing at the New Museum in NY until April 2014.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: ‘Come and See’ –  Serpentine Sackler Gallery

A new exhibition of Jake and Dinos Chapman at the Serpentine Gallery explores Morality, the history of art and consumer culture. These are subjects that loom large in their new show “Come and See” at the Zaha Hadid-designed Sackler Gallery. Come and See demonstrates the range of the artists’ output – from painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture, to film, music and literature – exploring their provocative and deliberately confrontational work, which approaches controversial subjects with irreverence and dark humour.  Currently on view over the holiday period. Watch for our full review in January 2014.

‘Keep Your Timber Limber’: Works On Paper – ICA London

Keep Your Timber Limber was a challenging exhibition exploring a wide array of sexual politics. If works on paper is a phrase you usually associate with genteel riverscapes, with irises in vases painted by silver haired septuagenarians in twin sets on tranquil Sunday afternoons, then this is a major misconception. Curator Sarah McCrory has wrestled the phrase from the grasping hands of the middle aged, middle class Bond Street art dealers and she’s given it back its va-va-voom.

The first thing you saw when you enter the lower galleries is a twelve foot phallus. Funny as that may seem to the British and the easily amused, it is in fact no joke. Recreated specifically for this show after a work originally made in 1967 in defiance of America’s role in Vietnam, Fucked by Numbers is a comment, by New Yorker Judith Bernstein, on war and masculinity. Emblazoned down the shaft of the enormous graffiti-style monochrome cock the words Moral Injury are spelled out in red. Out of the urethral orifice the stars and stripes unfurls, not standing proud but rather dragged down by gravity, as though toppled by the heavy psychic burden of shame and denial. Bernstein’s voice screams out from the walls: 231,000 deaths, 6 trillion US dollars spent by 2050, fucked by numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was little subtlety here. But then there is little subtlety in war.

Andy Holden: TOWARDS A UNIFIED THEORY OF MI!M – Zabludowicz Collection  

Taking over the entirety of the Zabludowicz Collection’s London exhibition space, Towards a Unified Theory of MI!MS  featured a single vast three-storey sculpture, containing life-size replicas of environments that were important in the formation of the movement. These rooms were filled with hundreds of works in different media, including original artworks made by the MI!MS members, new works based on unrealised ideas of the group, a series of films and sound works produced via interviews with those involved in the movement, and dramatic reconstructions of key moments of the movement’s history played by teenagers from Bedford. The exhibition’s soundtrack was composed from the original music of MI!MS re-arranged for and performed by a children’s orchestra and choir.
The challenge of representing collective memory was a central concern of the project, alongside questions surrounding the influence of history and nostalgia on our understanding of the past, as well as the way it structures the present. The show  attempted to construct an idiosyncratic archeology of MI!MS through a systematic exploration of the group’s adolescent debate about the relationship between irony and sincerity in art production and the grand gesture of writing and signing a manifesto. The work attempted to be both about MI!MS as well as a new work of MI!MS as prescribed by the manifesto.

Sarah Lucas: ‘Situation’ – Whitechapel Gallery

Since the late 1980s, Lucas has created sculptures and installations that focus on the body. Drawing upon everyday materials such as cigarettes, tights, furniture and vegetables, she probes representations of gender, sexuality and national identity. Her work alludes to historic movements such as Pop Art and Arte Povera while addressing the universal concerns of nature and mortality. In recent years Lucas’s work combines fragments of the body with forms and materials found in nature. The exhibition includes new works called NUDS (2009 – present); stuffed tights are moulded into sculptures suggestive of embracing bodies, their intertwined forms offset by plinths of concrete breeze blocks. Her Loungers (2011) series will also be shown featuring suspended plastic garden chairs, combined with material limbs and buckets.

Responding to the architecture of the Whitechapel Gallery, Sarah Lucas created an installation which reconsidered the affinities and dialogues between earlier works and new sculptures created for the exhibition. The show expanded on Lucas’ year-long project SITUATION in which she constructed a series of sculptural installations in a former office building.

Paul Carter Robinson Artlyst 2013

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