From A Flying Porsche To Impressionism: What Are London's Best Exhibitions On Right Now?

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 66 months ago

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From A Flying Porsche To Impressionism: What Are London's Best Exhibitions On Right Now?

Looking for a dose of culture? Want to know what's hot on London's exhibition scene? To make it easier to navigate, we've roughly split this article into areas of London. Read on.


A look at the beautiful temple. Photo Francis Ware.

A WITTY TEMPLE: Oscar Wilde is once noted to have said "this wallpaper will be the death of me — one of us will have to go". That explains this lavishly decorated temple to Wilde by artist duo McDermott and McGough. It's a stunning transformation for Clapham's Studio Voltaire — complete with wallpaper, pews, stained glass windows and an altar to the man himself. It's designed as a secular place of worship for use by anyone and the works on the walls celebrate Wilde's life. The walls also highlight all the names the artists involved have been called — from 'fairy' to 'faggot'. This show is both political and functional, and the strongest show we've seen in this space.

McDermott & McGough, The Oscar Wilde Temple at Studio Voltaire. Until 31 March ★★★★★

Ugo Rondinone's clown sleeps in the gallery. Photo: Andy Stagg

KNOCK KNOCK, ART'S THERE: A saw blade is cutting through the floor, and if this was a cartoon the floor would fall out beneath us. It's a playful work by Ceal Floyer in an exhibition all about humorous art. It's the exhibition chosen by South London Gallery to inaugurate their new building across the road and this show spans both spaces. It contains a fish bowl of knock knock jokes with no punchline, a sleeping clown and an exploding oversized ice cream. Just like all comedy not all the jokes land, but when they do it's great fun.

Knock Knock: Humour in Contemporary Art at South London Gallery. Until 18 November, free ★★★☆☆

Copyright Mika Rottenberg

SNEEZING OUT NOODLE DISHES: A film focuses on all female production lines where false nails become little sweets, and a woman sneezes out noodle dishes while watering a pair of feet that belong to a lady sorting pearls. That's just one of the works, while in the other room water drips from the ceiling on to hot pans that sizzle. Yes this exhibition is as bonkers as it sounds, but it's buckets of fun and a great way to inaugurate a new contemporary art gallery.

Mika Rottenberg at Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art. Until 4 November, free ★★★

Photo: Thierry Bal.

KAZAKH HISTORY: A massive necklace made from cauldrons (Kazan) used in traditional Kazakh cooking hangs outside of the old Wapping power station. Inside is a selection of Kazakh art that tells the history of the nation. A plinth has been photographed with all its inhabitants marking both Soviet rule, and a statue of Tamerlane when Independence was achieved. A particularly haunting work is a typewriter with dozens of strings leading to copies of arrest warrants from the Great Purge in USSR. This show is a microcosm of Kazakh history told through art and being housed in the fantastic Industrial setting of old power station is an added bonus.

Focus Kazakhstan: Postnomadic Mind at Wapping Hydraulic Power Station. Until 16 October, free ★★★☆☆

TEARS FOR REFUGEES: We've seen artworks about refugees but never seen one that actually weeps out their names. In this exhibition water seeps out of the ground to spell out names of dead migrants and refugees before drying out and disappearing, symbolising how the news cycle often treats the deaths of migrants. It's the work of Doris Salcedo, who famously put a crack in Tate modern's turbine hall, and it's remarkably powerful. In an adjacent room tables have been smashed apart and reassembled showing their scars, in tribute to rape victims who have to carry their scars for a lifetime. Brace yourselves for this hard hitting exhibition.

Doris Salcedo at White Cube, Bermondsey. Until 11 November, free ★★★

Apollo calmly flays the satyr Marsyas. Photograph: Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte

THE ART OF VIOLENCE: Beheading, flaying, hanging, death by firing squad and the strappado — a nasty torture device where a victim is suspended from his arms tied behind his back, often resulting in defecation. This exhibition is filled with graphic violence and Spanish painter Ribera was a master of conveying that anguish and horror. There are delicate drawings and a sublime painting where St. Bartholomew is shown in the light while the men who will flay him are concealed in darkness. This is a gutsy exhibition, which isn't for the faint hearted.

Ribera: Art of Violence at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Until 27 January, £16.50 ★★★

A still from John Akomfrah's film. Copyright the artist.

WAR'S AFTERMATH: Four fantastic free exhibitions combine to look at life after the First World War. The largest exhibition looks at how war veterans survived including the struggle finding homes and employment — a poster reads, "Don't pity a disabled man, find him a job". Nearby the silence of remembrance days is recreated in a pitch black room and a separate room projects the voices and memories of those who remember the armistice. The final work is a beautifully shot film by John Akomfrah that mixes contemporary and archival war footage looking at the role of non-white soldiers during the war.

Making a New World at IWM London. Until 31 March, free ★★★


SURREAL SCIENCE: Why would a ceramic rod be suspended between a cod skull on one end and a papier mache snake at the other? The curiosities don't stop here, there's an exploded human skull, botanical models under swirling lights and a taxidermy two faced kitten. This one room show at Whitechapel Gallery brings together some of the quirky artefacts from the 19th century Loudon collection and couples them with contemporary art works by Salvatore Arancio, to create a cabinet of curiosities.

Surreal Science: Loudon Collection with Salvatore Arancio at Whitechapel Gallery. Until 6 January, free ★★★


Image courtesy Victoria Miro.

ANGULAR ASCENSION: Beautiful towers stretch towards the ceiling changing in width as they rise, reflecting light at all angels. These exploded sculptures by Conrad Shawcross resemble his massive installation outside The Crick Institute. They are accompanied by two moving works, a flexing mirror that changes the viewer's perception of the gallery and two overlapping discs with holes that change our view with how they capture the light. We've seen similar works by Shawcross before so these don't add much, but they are so subtly beautiful they encourage repeat viewing.

Conrad Shawcross: After the explosion, before the collapse at Victoria Miro, Mayfair. Until 27 October, free ★★★☆☆

Pisarro's electric Boulevard Montmarte at night. © The National Gallery, London

IMPRESSIVE IMPRESSIONISM: With the Courtauld Gallery closed for two years it's a rare chance to see London's two strongest Impressionist collections side by side, as some of its permanent collection is temporarily down the Strand at The National Gallery. Manet's barmaid is reunited with his outdoor scenes of a fashionable crowd listening to musicians, Degas' dancers spy on the nude Spartan men exercising. Add a host of works by Seurat, Gauguin and Cezanne and we're being spoiled. Sure we've seen all these works before, but seeing them side by side is a rare treat.

Courtauld Impressionists: From Manet to Cézanne at The National Gallery. Until 20 January, £7.50 ★★★

Christ descends into limbo. Photo: Sotheby’s New York

BROTHERLY LOVE: Mantegna and Bellini were two 15th century Italian painters who happened to be brothers in law. This exhibition at The National Gallery charts their careers and their influence on one another. This era of painting is well represented in the gallery's permanent collection and while not every painting is a knockout, there are some real gems in this show. Christ enters the dark door into limbo with demons flying overhead — Mantegna captures Christ's understandable hesitation perfectly and Bellini's paintings designed to resemble marble reliefs are skilfully executed.

Mantegna and Bellini at The National Gallery. Until 27 January, £12-16 ★★★☆☆

Copyright the trustees of The British Museum.

A NEW SUN RISES: The British Museum has completed the refurbishment of it's Japan galleries and it's a beaut.  A 1500 year old figure of a woman from a tomb greets visitors, alongside a Buddhist deity, an ornate flame pot and full suit of samurai armour. It's a quick history of Japan told through objects right through to modern design trends. One of standout items is a pair fire dogs to ward off evil spirits. This is yet another superb addition to the museum's permanent collection.

The Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries at The British Museum. Free ★★★☆☆

Anne Bernard, Baroness Trevor. One of the ladies of quality and distinction.

FEMININE QUALITY: Women were instrumental to the creation and running of the Foundling Hospital, but history has largely ignored their contributions. Not so any more as in the main picture gallery of the Foundling Museum the portraits of the make governors have been replaced with women. Downstairs we get the documentation that gives us some background to these important women. It's been 300 years, but now these women are getting the praise they deserve.

Ladies of Quality & Distinction at The Foundling Museum. Until 20 January, £10 ★★★☆☆

MESMERISING MUONS: Metallic fluids flow through a glass cylinder creating beautiful patterns while lights flicker through the darkness. These works look great on their own but upon closer inspection we discover they are all being triggered by magnetic fields and subatomic particle detection, in delectable blend of art and science. It's a wonderfully geeky set of works and we love it.

Yunchul Kim: Dawns, Mine, Crystal at Korean Cultural Centre. Until 3 November, free ★★★

Copyright Melanie Machot.

BLACK & WHITE: Upstairs in the sunlit gallery it's all white light, white paint and works that relate to the colour white, including a video of a person and horse leaving footprints in the snow. While downstairs in the dark black paint, black tyre tracks and a starlit landscape make for a jarring contrast. Subtle details may be found on each floor both within the works and outside it, including paint sample frames on the walls for shades of white that use snow in the title. It's a poetic photography exhibition.

Melanie Manchot: White Light Black Snow at Parafin. Until 17 November, free ★★★

Image courtesy Waddington Custot.

DRIPPING COLOUR: Ian Davenport's paintings don't just confine themselves to the wall as they drip and create a puddle on the floor. It's as if his works are bleeding and the canvas can't contain them. It's a brightly coloured dreamland and it's hard not to love the stripes, spots and explosions of colour in this show.

Ian Davenport: Colourscapes at Waddington Custot. Until 8 November, free ★★★☆☆

Image courtesy Olivier Malingue.

HANG TIME: There's nothing on the walls but shadows in this gallery. That's because all the works are suspended from the ceiling in a show dedicated to hanging sculpture. Delicate ethereal works play with the light, while one work once activated deafens and breaks the silence of this Mayfair gallery.

Suspension — A history of hanging sculpture: 1918-2018 at Olivier Malingue. Until 15 December, free ★★★


© Justin Piperger, 2018 Image courtesy of Saatchi Gallery

BLACK MIRROR: It may have no relation to the popular programme, but Saatchi Gallery is cashing in on the name to present a selection of surreal artworks. A goat melds into a vase like something out or Terminator 2 and a head pokes out of a knitted ball. This show is filled with works designed to disturb, and while there's a fair amount of kitschy works in the show, there are several quality artists that shine through — including the collages of John Stezaker that merge faces with landscapes.

Black Mirror: Art as Social Satire at Saatchi Gallery. Until 13 January, free ★★★☆☆

A family photo from happier times for them. Copyright Science Museum group.

THE LAST TSAR: This Science Museum exhibition uses evidence to piece together the story of the last Tsar and his family. The political situation in the country and the brutal execution of the royal family, including their children. The haemophilia that affected the Tsar's son came from our Queen Victoria's bloodline and when the remains of the Tsar and his family were found Prince Phillip's blood was used to confirm it was them. It's a fascinating investigation that sheds a light on a slice of Russian history that many are not aware of.  

The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution at Science Museum. Until 24 March, free but ticketed ★★★☆☆


Copyright Quentin Blake.

DARK ILLUSTRATIONS: We all know Quentin Blake as the illustrator for Roald Dahl books, but here's a chance to see a different side to him. Nudes and watercolours sit next to dark abstract figures. It's clear the style is still Blake's but these works drift towards fine art rather than illustration. It shows a superb side to Blake that we had no idea existed.

100 Figures: The Unseen Art of Quentin Blake at House of Illustration. Until 27 January, £8.25 ★★★☆☆

A photograph of Paris' largest apartment block. Copyright Andreas Gursky.

LIVING ON THE INSIDE: This Wellcome Collection show examines how health and wellbeing are linked to architecture. Historical maps show how poor drainage and sanitation caused of one third of diseases in Victorian times. Next comes the rise and fall of council estates in post-war Britain and the establishment of garden cities for improving health. A section on hospitals looks at how light and fresh air were key to design, and includes a superb model hospital. The final section assessing life and death Grenfell still feels very raw, while upstairs they are building a portable clinic that will then travel the world to where it's needed. It's yet another fantastically researched exhibition from the museum.

Living with Buildings at Wellcome Collection. Until 3 March, free ★★★☆☆

Copyright the artist / ARS. Photo: Lucy Dawes.

A FLYING PORSCHE: A Porsche hangs suspended in the air, balanced by a meteorite at the other end of the scale. You mustn't touch, but the balance looks so delicate that it's like it could spin gently if we gave it a little nudge. We love this idea of the natural world and man-made objects hanging together in a precarious balance. In the adjacent room a Ford F350 pickup truck hangs on to a one ton weight in this polished and eye-catching two work show.

Chris Burden: Measured at Gagosian, Britannia Street. Until 26 January, free ★★★

Didn't make the cut

Here are the exhibitions we weren't fans of but have included in case they take our readers' fancy:

Copyright Martin Eder.

KITTENS & BUTTERFLIES: What's the most kitsch artwork you've seen? Picture it and then multiply the kitsch by ten and then you'll come close to Martin Eder's work. Trashy nudes being seduced by animals with galaxies behind them is more tasteless teenager's bedroom poster than major exhibition. Throw in some kittens and the artist can try and convince us it's satire but it really isn't. This is one of the worst shows we've seen this year.

Martin Eder: Parasites at Newport Street Gallery. Until 13 January, free ★☆☆☆☆

Copyright Ola Rindal. Courtesy of the artist and Serpentine Galleries

FLIES, FLIES, FLIES: Abstract images derived from brain scans flicker around a darkened gallery. To add to this bizarre science fiction set hundreds of eggs have been placed in the dome so bluebottles hatch and fly around the gallery. They are the friendly kind that like to land on our heads and hands. There are some interesting concepts here that don't really come through, plus we were distracted by constantly swatting away flies. Entomophobes (those scared of insects) should steer clear of this one.

Pierre Huyghe: UUmwelt at Serpentine Gallery. Until 10 February, free ★★☆☆☆

SHARDS OF CLASS: Renzo Piano, the architect behind The Shard gets his own showcase at the Royal Academy. The show is very dry and overly technical filled with architectural details and drawings that are hard for non-architects to engage with. The nice touch is at the centre with an imagined model city populated with all of Piano's buildings. The failing of the show is it never manages to capture the wow factor associated with seeing Piano's buildings in life.

Renzo Piano: The Art of Making Buildings at Royal Academy of Arts. Until 20 January, £14 ★★☆☆☆

Last Updated 09 October 2018