The Biggest Exhibitions In London Right Now - Reviewed

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 17 months ago

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The Biggest Exhibitions In London Right Now - Reviewed

Welcome to our pick of the best London exhibitions to see right now — get your Spring dose of culture. We've roughly split the list by London regions to make it easier to navigate.

Exhibitions in South London

The artist in front of his installation. Copyright Yinka Shonibare. Photo: Oliver Cowling, Tate.

BEAUTIFUL BOOKS: This is the most colourful library in London, filled with Books covered in the jazzy dutch wax print that has become artist Yinka Shonibare's trademark. The important message is in the names on the spines, all of first or second generation immigrants who have contributed significantly to British society. It's a bold statement that's particularly prescient given the uncertainty around Brexit and the closure of many libraries. It's a fantastic acquisition by Tate Modern and a powerful addition to the permanent collection.

The British Library by Yinka Shonibare is now part of the permanent collection at Tate Modern, Level 2 Natalie Bell building. Until 17 November, free. ★★★★★

Exhibitions in Central London

The Kenwood House Rembrandt has been loaned for this show. Photo: © Historic England Photo Library

PORTRAIT ROYALTY: Which artist created the strongest self-portraits? Was it Rembrandt, Jenny Savile or Andy Warhol? Thankfully we don't have to limit ourselves to any one of them as they are all under one roof in this superstar line-up of an exhibition. Basquiat, check. Picasso, check. Jeff Koons, check. Two of the show's best works are a close up contorted face by Savile and a superb Rembrandt showing him in his weary later years.

Visions of the self: Rembrandt and Now is at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill — in partnership with English Heritage. Until 18 May, free. ★★★★☆

Masterful capturing of light. © Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

GOLDEN LIGHT: Sorolla — a Spanish Impressionist — was the master of capturing light, whether it be glinting off naked bodies in the sunshine or filtering through to a sorry looking woman handcuffed after having killed her child. His society portraits are a lot less impressive, so keep your eyes peeled for the reflections and dappled light that Sorolla painted beautifully.

Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light at The National Gallery. Until 7 July, £14-18. ★★★☆☆

© Sean Scully. Photo: courtesy the artist

BRIGHT STRIPES: Bold stripes of colour are slathered across these large abstract works. Sean Scully is one of the world's most successful abstract artists but we've never understood why, gleaming very little from his work. This show presents his work in a new light by showing Turner as a source of inspiration for Scully, but it shan't bring us around on his dull works.

Sea Star: Sean Scully at The National Gallery. Until 11 August, free. ★★☆☆☆

One of the winners is this beautiful underwater scene. Copyright: © Christy Lee Rogers

POLITICS & BEAUTY: A Palestinian youth cocks his slingshot, his eyes filled with passion. While nearby birds hover around the helmet of a flight suit. From the political to the surreal, the annual Sony World Photography awards exhibition is back at Somerset House filled with beautiful images and political narratives. Whether what you want to see in photography is abstract architecture or images documenting the lives of sex workers in Cuba, this sprawling show has it all. It's as diverse as ever and a must see for all photography fans.

Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition at Somerset House. Until 6 May, £10-14. ★★★★☆

Exhibitions in West London

Photo: Jeremie Souteyrat.

MEDITATIVE COLOUR: Step into a forest of colour at this beautiful and meditative exhibition at Japan House London. Using pigments harvested from the natural world, it's all about traditional techniques for dyeing fabrics. Add in a soundtrack of running water and birdsong, and it makes you want to sit cross legged in the middle of the gallery and soak it all in.

Living Colours: Kasane – the Language of Japanese Colour Combinations at Japan House London. Until 19 May, free. ★★★★☆

One of the more distressing posters from the show. Image courtesy National Army Museum.

WAR GAMES: A child in a coffin rams home the message of not playing with live ordnance. An idly chit-chatting soldier results in his colleagues death as he's revealed military secrets. These are just two hard hitting designs by Abram Games who worked in the War Office designing dozens of posters, including those for recruiting men and women to join the British armed forces during the second world war. There are over 100 of his designs in this exhibition showcasing Games as a fantastic designer. While there are some misfires, when they do make an impact they stop visitors in their tracks with their powerful messages.

The art of persuasion: Wartime posters by Abram Games at National Army Museum. Until 24 September, £6. ★★★☆☆

Courtesy of the Artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery (New York) and Esther Schipper Gallery (Berlin) Photograph: © 2019

TECH FAIL: A Conceptual artist tries to use technology to land some messages about social inequality and neural nets. However, to get there visitors will have to navigate two very clunky apps they have to download to their phones and a bunch of tablets in the gallery where when they work, show a jumbled of hard to read augmented reality messages. We're big proponents of using technology in art but this exhibition is a confusing mess. Less artificial intelligence and more blue screen of death.

Hito Steyerl: Power Plants at Serpentine Sackler Gallery. Until 6 May, free. ★☆☆☆☆

© 2019

CONFUSING DRAWINGS: Emma Kunz was a healer who claimed to have telepathic powers, she also created lots of geometric drawings that are on display at Serpentine Gallery. However, she purposefully left no information about her work so most of the info in the gallery is pure speculation. As that just leaves us with her work it gets repetitive and dull pretty quickly. A shame that her art was nowhere near as interesting as her life appears to have been.

Emma Kunz: Visionary Drawings at Serpentine Gallery. Until 19 May, free. ☆☆☆

Exhibitions in North London

One of the many stereotype images in this show. © United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

JEWS & MONEY: Where does the racist stereotype of a Jewish obsession with money come from, and how does it continue to be pushed through popular media and online conspiracy theories? This challenging exhibition lays all the evidence at our feet from ancient texts to contemporary art, and bizarre souvenir items showing Jewish stereotypes holding coins that are used as lucky charms — plus terrifying conspiracy theory videos filled with lies. It's an important exhibition to happen at a time when anti-semitism and race hate crimes are on the rise.

Jews, Money, Myth at Jewish Museum. Until 7 July, £8.50. ★★★

This lovely Boccioni is part of the show. © Collezione Ramo, Milan

READY, SET, DRAW: It's time to elevate drawing to the same levels as painting and sculpture. Estorick Collection has unleashed the full variety of drawings from a detailed sketch of a woman perfectly catching the light coming through a window to abstract grids. The stronger works sit in the figurative side of the show where peasants march for their rights to land and a tender face stares out at us from a charcoal sketch.

Who’s Afraid of Drawing? Works on Paper from the Ramo Collection at Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art. Until 23 June, £7.50. ★★★☆☆

One of the quirkier works in the show.

PSYCHOREALISM: A baby sucks on the tail of a moustachioed tiger and a grotesque pig flies by in an exhibition on a pair of British Surrealists at Camden Arts Centre. In the adjacent exhibition contemporary Surrealist Jonathan Baldock keeps it equally playful with arms and lips jutting out of haphazardly constructed pillars. It's a double bill of quirky brilliance.

A Tale of Mother’s Bones: Grace Pailthorpe, Reuben Mednikoff and the Birth of Psychorealism & Jonathan Baldock — Facecrime at Camden Arts Centre. Until 23 June, free. ★★★

Exhibitions outside London

The refurbished MK gallery is impressive. Photo: Iwan Baan.

LEISURE TIME IN MK: The MK gallery in Milton Keynes has re-opened with a bold and colourful refurbishment keeping industrial elements intact and painting the pipes to give us a contemporary gallery with references to Milton Keynes architecture. Much as the gallery has evolved, the opening show also relates to evolution of our culture and leisure time. It has a great mix of old and modern masters including a Canaletto of a day at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a board game on the progression from feudalism to capitalism and Lawrence Lek's satirical virtual reality introduction to an Amazon-esque workplace.

The Lie of the Land at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes. Until 26 May, free. ★★★

Photo: Tom Bird.

ALL AT SEA: A flotilla of boats is suspended in a gallery and nature has reclaimed them with plants growing over them. It's a spectacular installation and part of Hew Locke's exhibition at Ikon Gallery on the themes of colonialism and naval history. Elsewhere a video sets out his previous project that decked out HMS Belfast's crew as if they had made a trip to the Caribbean for Carnival. It's a political and visually impressive exhibition.

Hew Locke: Here's the Thing at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham. Until 2 June, free. ★★★

Last Updated 23 April 2019