The Best Exhibitions In London Right Now, Including Chernobyl Paintings And 1930s Fashion

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 68 months ago

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Last Updated 07 November 2018

The Best Exhibitions In London Right Now, Including Chernobyl Paintings And 1930s Fashion

Looking for a dose of culture? Want to know what's hot on London's exhibition scene? Read on. We've roughly split the list by London regions to make it easier to navigate.

Exhibitions in east London

Not making eye contact is key. Copyright David Stewart.

OFFICE SPACE:  If you work in a corporate office, some of David Stewart's scenes will be painfully familiar; for example, a bunch of office workers stand in a lift with various purchases from Pret a Manger in hand, desperately trying to avoid eye contact. Photographer Stewart's work recreates office culture, showing with meetings where everyone looks like they'd rather be anywhere else. This playful show will bring a smile to anyone who has sat through a meeting about a meeting.
David Stewart: Paid Content at Wren London. Until 17 November, free. ★★★★☆ (Thursday-Sunday)

Photo: Angus Mill.

THE VASES HAVE EYES: The Barbican's quirky Curve Gallery space just got a whole lot quirkier. Francis Upritchard has filled it with strange creations, including vases with eyes, centaurs and a whole load of hats — all crudely designed, with each object an exploration of the human figures. It's bright and its quirky but ultimately can't escape the fact that it all looks far too slapdash and amateur.
Francis Upritchard: Wetwang Slack at Barbican, The Curve. Until 6 January, free. ★★☆☆☆

Image courtesy Parasol Unit.

SKINNING BUILDINGS: If buildings had peelable skins, what would they look like? It's a gruesome thought but that's what Heidi Bucher's fantastic casts, suspended from the ceiling, put us in mind of. The use of latex makes them tempting to touch, and gives them a false sense of being centuries old. There's a greater variety to her work on show too, including an elaborate dragonfly costume and a surreal, apparently floating, sculpture of a jug spilling liquid on the outside terrace. Swiss artist Bucher died 25 years ago and this diverse exhibition is a reminder of how talented she was.
Heidi Bucher at Parasol Unit. Until 9 December, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)

Photo: Alexander Christie.

LONDON'S DETRITUS: Two Japanese artists combine traditional Japanese geometry and embroidery styles with items found in London, including around the Thames. The abstract works, featuring sweet wrappers and a tube map, are a great example of artists taking inspiration from the local environment and incorporating it into their own work.
Ryoko Aoki & Zon Ito at Yamamoto Keiko Rochaix. Until 6 December, free. ★★★☆☆ (Wednesday-Saturday)

Exhibitions in south London

Even looks creepy in the photo. Photo courtesy David Westwood/National Maritime Museum/Blain Southern

UNCANNY VALLEY: Two heads of Queen Elizabeth I look at each other. One is in the Armada portrait where she's been depicted as porcelain and beautiful. The second is a creepy animatronic head based on her death mask, which blinks as we approach it, making for a very unsettling experience. Artist Mat Collishaw's work exposes all the mechanics that make this bizarre robot face come to life. It's clear that portrait painting was the Photoshop of its day and Collishaw reminds us that reality can be harsh and ugly — a message that transcends all eras.
Mat Collishaw: The Mask of Youth at Queen's House, Greenwich. Until 3 February. ★★★★☆

Image courtesy Tate.

DRAB TEXTILES: By placing a loom at the front of this exhibition, Tate Modern is stating that textile is an important part of art, as it continues to trumpet female artists who have been passed over by art history — a cause we support. For those who aren't a fan of textile art, this dull affair of Anni Albers' art isn't going to change any minds. We get room after room of rectangular textiles and this massive show is a chore to get through. It's dull and only the most hardcore textile art fan could draw any inspiration from it.
Anni Albers at Tate Modern. Until 13 January, £16. ★★☆☆☆

It's all glitz and glamour. Image courtesy Fashion & Textile Museum.

JAZZ & FLAPPERS: Depictions of the 'roaring twenties' in the US are all glamorous dresses and party lifestyles. Compare that to the 1930s' return to conservatism and the transition is obvious in this exhibition which charts the changes of fashion over these years. Women were establishing themselves in the workplace but the depression led to their return to being home makers, which is clear to see as women switched to more austere clothing. It's an important historical period re-told through fashion. Throw in a swinging soundtrack and it completes the time capsule effect.
Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photogaphs at Fashion & Textile Museum. Until 20 January, £9.90. ★★★☆☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)

A breathtaking galaxy. Copyright Steven Mohr.

SPACE, THE FINAL FRONTIER: Nothing makes us feel quite so small as pictures of brightly coloured nebulae light years away. Every year, The Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition reminds visitors that we are but humble specks in the grand scheme of the universe. It's a special 10 year anniversary show so it's moved inside the National Maritime Museum, and includes some of the great images from previous years including our favourite of the International Space Station transiting across the sun. There's now an admission charge but we remain in awe of all of these beautiful images, from star trails to comets blazing across the sky.
Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year Exhibition at National Maritime Museum. Until 5 May, £10. ★★★★☆

Copyright KV Duong.

MIGRATION & IDENTITY: These abstract works are filled with references to migration, identity and sexuality with plenty of artist KV Duong's personal story packed into the paintings. One giant work was created by the artist being soaked in paint and dragged across a canvas in a powerful performance. As an added bonus, this Streatham gallery space is part of a brand new theatre complex so visitors can see a show and some art together.
KV Duong: Identity at Streatham Space Project. Until 27 November, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday).

The Bru-tiful game. Copyright Mark Neville.

HOSPITAL INSIDER: What's it like inside a psychiatric treatment facility? Photographer Mark Neville steps inside Bethlem Hospital to document life, from the proud gardener to the canteen cook. Our favourite shot in this subtle show is of a 'Brutalist' hulking concrete table football. Plus we're up for any excuse to visit the fantastic Museum of the Mind — it's tricky to get to but well worth the journey.
House of Bread: Inside Bethlem Hospital at Bethlem Museum of Mind. Until 5 January, free. ★★★☆(Wednesday-Friday, plus first & last Saturday of the month).

An impressive immersive installation. Copyright Migration Museum / Poppy Williams.

TALES OF TRAVEL: What better way to hear the stories of those who have settled in London than in rooms recreated for that purpose? Lean back in an armchair and learn how a Polish woman discovered London's food scene, or open up a wardrobe to see a homemade birthday dress. Best of all, sit in a barber's chair and watch conversations about identity in a screen where the mirror should be. This is an ambitious immersive exhibition and it's truly fantastic.
Room to Breathe at Migration Museum. Until 28 July, free. ★★★★★

Exhibitions in central London

Drum majorettes' uniforms contrast with their backgrounds. Copyright Alice Mann.

POWERFUL PORTRAITS: Brightly costumed drum majorettes contrast with their rundown backgrounds near their homes in South Africa, a man is transformed into Michael Jackson using make up, and a moustachioed mask worn by artist Joan Jonas confuses our eyes as the two faces merge together. There are fewer celebrity portraits — we only counted two — and more creative approaches to photography making this the most impressive incarnation of this prize for several years.
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at National Portrait Gallery. Until 27 January, £6. ★★★★☆

Image courtesy of The British Museum.

BEAUTY OF ISLAM: A tiled mihrab (prayer niche), a marble panel inscribed with Bismillah and a ceremonial axe. The beautiful objects just keep coming in The British Museum's new Islamic galleries. Each object has a fantastic story behind it such as the unbound West African Qu'ran designed so each page can be shared with pupils to help them learn it. Contemporary art features too, with Issam Kourbaj's matchsticks in mudguards resembling the refugees fleeing Syria in boats, and Idris Khan's poetry with words expanding from the centre, just as the Islamic world revolves around Mecca. It's another fantastic addition to the British Museum's permanent galleries.
The Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic world at The British Museum. Free. ★★★★☆

Men and dogs dwarfed by the plastic around them. Copyright Edward Burtynsky.

HUMAN DESTRUCTION: Gold and green pools look pretty but are in fact lithium extraction pools in the Atacama Desert, extracting that same Lithium that's in our phone batteries. Log booms near a saw mill in Nigeria create fantastic patterns on the water. The beauty is misleading as Edward Burtnysky's images show the impact of man on the environment, including the quarrying of the fancy Carrara marble. We're destroying our planet and Burtynsky is creating a documentation of how we're doing it. There are only a few of his works on show, yet it's still an eye-opening experience.  
Edward Burtynsky: The Human Signature at Flowers, Cork St. Until 24 November, free. ★★★☆☆ (Monday-Saturday)

Copyright Nina Murdoch.

SUBLIME LIGHT: Nina Murdoch is a master of painting light. Whether it shines from lights on the wall or an unseen source, it cuts through the gloom in these superb abstract paintings that need to be seen in the flesh to get truly appreciate their beauty.
Nina Murdoch: Collecting Colour at Marlborough London. Until 24 November, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Saturday)

Copyright Lucy Smallbone.

PAINTING CHERNOBYL: Forest scenes are presented in unnatural hues, but that's what we'd expect given Lucy Smallbone's inspiration was her residency in the area of the Chernobyl disaster. A collage wall offers great insight into the scenes that she used to base these enchanting visions of a land where nature has reclaimed it from humanity.
Lucy Smallbone: Edgelands at Fiumano Clase. Until 15 December, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday).

Photo Tim Bowditch. Image courtesy Delfina Foundation.

BEAUTY & THE BEAST: A beauty queen, a politician, a police offer and an assassin are in a car together. It's not some sort of joke but the start of a three part video series that covers patriarchy and Government corruption. It can be hard to follow at times but it's an arresting and ambitious trio of films.
Noor Afshan Mirza & Brad Butler: The Scar at Delfina Foundation. Until 1 December, free. ★★★☆(Monday-Saturday)

© Ufficio Diocesano per l’Arte Sacra e i Beni Culturali, Diocesi di Treviso

SACRED VISIONS: The National Gallery excels in bringing a Renaissance master — who we weren't familiar with — to light. It's done an excellent job with Lorenzo Lotto, including his paintings of a floating Virgin Mary and a portrait of a bishop where every hair in his wiry beard is distinguishable. He may not be on the grand scale of his rival Titian, but he created some beautiful paintings nonetheless.
Lorenzo Lotto Portraits at The National Gallery. Until 10 January, free. ★★★☆

Exhibitions in north London

Image Camilla Greenwell.

DANCE FOR A CURE: Can dance have a placebo effect? How do we view a dance if we know the dancer is enjoying it or causing themselves pain? This performance crosses the disciplines of art, science, theatre and dance. Dancers engage in a series of experiments read out by a disembodied voice including hurling a bouquet of flowers and setting their own experiments. Clod Ensemble always pushes the boundaries of what dance can be, and this is no exception.
Clod Ensemble: Placebo at The Place. Until 10 November, £20. ★★★★☆ (nightly performances).

Vishniac's daughter in front of a swastika. Photograph: Roman Vishniac/Mara Vishniac Kohn courtesy International Center of Photography

CAGES & NAZISM: A camera takes a picture of people looking at polar bears in Berlin Zoo, but from the vantage point it looks as if the people are caged. It's telling, given this was a time when Jewish members of the Zoo's board were being removed. Roman Vishniac is best known for capturing Germany during the rise of the Nazis, and includes unsettling images including his daughter next to a swastika poster. This fantastic show across the Jewish Museum and the Photographers' Gallery locations shows there was more to his portfolio, including photomicroscopy and capturing immigrant communities in New York in the 1940s and 1950s.
Roman Vishniac Rediscovered at The Jewish Museum & The Photographers' Gallery. Until 24 February, £8.50 & £5 respectively. ★★★★☆ (A ticket to the Jewish Museum gives entry to the entire collection and admission to The Photographers' Gallery is free before 12pm).

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