The Biggest Exhibitions In London To See (And Avoid) Right Now

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 88 months ago

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Last Updated 06 March 2017

The Biggest Exhibitions In London To See (And Avoid) Right Now

Looking for a dose of culture? Want to know what's hot on London's exhibition scene? Read on.

Post-Depression America

Edward Hopper is just one of the brilliant painters in this exhibition. Photo (c) 2016. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

The 1930s were a tumultuous time for America, coming out of the Great Depression. The era resulted in some fantastic paintings and a collection of 45 of them are on display at the Royal Academy of Arts. There is the mysterious and always brilliant work of Edward Hopper, and the domestic snapshots by Grant Wood. Covering landscapes, abstract art and surrealism, this is a brilliant collection of paintings.

America after the Fall: Painting from the 1930s at Royal Academy of Arts. Until 4 June, £13.50. ★★★★★

Abstract photography

Wolfgang Tillmans' abstract photography feels far too loosely bound. Copyright the artist.

Photographer Wolfgang Tillmans is often more interested in the the technique of taking a photo than the end result. He purposefully takes small shots, such as an arm or a car headlight, leaving the audience to figure out the wider context. Even when dealing with big issues such as Brexit and ‘fake news’, he can be very abstract. The fact that he’s hard to pin down has made him an art world darling, but in truth he’s often elusive and ineffective. Read this review for a different viewpoint.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern. Until 11 June. ★★☆☆☆

Reject sin

A stunning painting by Cagnacci. Copyright Norton Simon Art Foundation

Mary Magdalene lies prone and barely clothed as her sister implores her to turn her back on sin, while in the background Virtue expels Vice from the scene. It’s a powerful scene by the relatively unknown Italian painter Cagnacci. It’s back in the UK for the first time in 30 years and has a great history to it.

Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene at Room 1, The National Gallery. Until 21 May, free. ★★★★☆

War and refugees

The thermographic camera makes it more real and surreal at the same time. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and carlier|gebauer, Berlin.

Richard Mosse has created a hard-hitting installation in the Barbican’s Curve gallery. Three screens show footage from military grade thermographic imaging technology. We see refugees being rescued from boats and footage from refugee camps, where a lone man prays. Seeing fighter jets taking off and strafing targets with a deafening roar of a soundtrack is shocking and brings home the reality of the world we’re often insulated from. Another brilliant exhibition from Mosse.

Richard Mosse: Incoming at The Curve, Barbican. Until 23 April, free. ★★★★★

Rude sculptures

These naked sculptures lack substance and thought.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster are known for creating seemingly random sculptures that create fantastic shadows. But their latest project is to create wire sculptures with exaggerated genitalia, and make them large. It’s puerile and pointless, possibly a sign that their creative juices have dried up.

Tim Noble & Sue Webster: Sticks with dicks and slits at Blain|Southern, 4 Hanover Square, W1s 1BP. Until 25 March, free. ★☆☆☆☆ (Monday-Saturday)

Beautiful landscapes

One of many sumptuous watercolours at The British Museum. George Price Boyce (1826-1897), View on the River Teme, Ludlow, Shropshire. © The Trustees of the British Museum

This large collection of watercolours begins with the rolling green countryside of England, with paintings by the likes of Nash, Turner and Constable. Then it shows the change after the first world war as the images become more gritty with ruins and desert scenes. The paintings are spectacular throughout.

Places of the Mind: British watercolour landscapes 1850-1950 at The British Museum, Room 90. Until 27 August, free. ★★★★☆

An electrifying exhibition

History is electrifying. Nikola Tesla, 1901. Courtesy Wellcome Library, London

The Wellcome Collection takes on the vital energy source we all rely on. Charting humanity’s history of believing God created lightning to the futuristic Masdar city in Abu Dhabi, via experiments with twitching frogs legs and the construction of the National Grid. This show is fascinating throughout and yet another success for the always brilliant Wellcome Collection.

Electricity: The Spark of Life at Wellcome Collection. Until 25 June, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)

Conceptual claptrap

Burned out books are aptly hard to read as artworks. Copyright Luke Hayes.

The Serpentine Galleries are split into the works of John Latham in one, and artists inspired by his work in the other. Latham’s conceptual art is hard to grasp at the best of times, and this exhibition doesn’t make even the slightest attempt to make the work digestible. To those steeped in art history, there may be something here, but anyone else will just be left baffled. It’s lazy to expect so much from visitors, and we expect better from the Serpentine.

A World View: John Latham & Speak at Serpentine Galleries. Until 21 May, free. ★☆☆☆☆ (Tuesday - Sunday)

Captivating photography

Sophie Callen deals with grief and must be the front runner of the finalists. © Sophie Calle/courtesy of Galerie Perrotin

We look forward to the Deutsche Prize for its diversity and artistry every year. This year is no different as Sophie Calle takes us on a personal and surreal journey through the grief of losing her mother, father and cat. Calle should win this year, though we also liked the minimal black and white landscapes by Awoiska van der Molen.

Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize at The Photographers’ Gallery. Until 11 June, £4, free before midday. ★★★☆☆

Mirrors and stained glass

Visitors will be dwarfed by Ibrahim Maham's wall made from shoemaker boxes.© the artist. Photo © White Cube (George Darrell)

Josiah McElheny has created visually stunning mirror sculptures and a stained glass theatre for showcasing a rather dry film, but the exhibition can stand on visuals alone. In the other galleries, Ibrahim Mahama has created starker but equally overwhelming works — we’re dwarfed by stacks of shoemaker boxes and sacks from markets. Mundane items given new life and power.

Josiah McElheny: The Crystal Land & Ibrahim Mahama: Fragments at White Cube, 144-152 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3TQ. Until 13 April, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)