Although a vast array of media is inevitably on view across London right now, it is difficult to escape the abundance of painting in this year’s London Gallery Weekend (2-4 June) shows.
Sceptics will point to the market downturn and note that painting is a safe bet in uncertain economic times. But even if that is true, the breadth of work highlighted here attests to the continuing power of the ancient medium, whether it is in the hands of painting greats like Mary Heilmann, in Gagosian’s group show, has its genesis in performance, as with Florence Peake at Richard Saltoun, or is a new medium for artists better versed in other disciplines, like Gary Simmons at Hauser & Wirth.
We have rounded up some of the best shows in central, south, east and west London—for painting fans and others.
Central and west
To Bend the Ear of the Outer World: Conversations on contemporary abstract painting
Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill and Davies Street, 1 June-25 August
Gagosian’s pool of guest curators grows with Gary Garrels, who recently left the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art following a staff dispute over discrimination in the collection. To Bend the Ear of the Outer World focuses on abstraction and is a “conceptual successor” to Garrels’s Hammer Museum show from 2008, Oranges and Sardines (with which it shares a Frank O’Hara-inspired title). In that show, Garrels invited Mark Grotjahn, Wade Guyton, Mary Heilmann, Amy Sillman, Charline von Heyl and Christopher Wool to select their own work and that of influential artists. All six are among 40 artists across the two Gagosian sites, along with cross-generational others, from veterans like David Hammons to youngsters including Jadé Fadojutimi.
Galerie Max Hetzler, 2 June-29 July
Thomas Struth’s first show with Max Hetzler in London, and the first UK outing of his remarkable photographs taken at Cern, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva. The works are part of a long, loose series called Nature & Politics in which the Düsseldorf School linchpin looks at the spaces where the research is conducted that is stretching the human imagination, and at the machines that inform it. Two types of photographs feature: extraordinary panoramic images, close to four metres across, of the 330-metre-long Experimental Hall North 1, an industrial cathedral of mysterious combinations of concrete and metal; and clusters of humdrum detritus found in recycling containers, like crude found-object assemblages.
One that includes myth
Goodman Gallery, 2-28 June
Another group show with a literary-inspired title, this time a quote by Alice Walker, that “a crazy quilt story is one that can jump back and forth in time and work on many different levels, and one that can include myth”. And variations on quilts, textiles and forms that allude to them dominate the exhibition, which features 12 artists, mostly from the Global South. Among them are Vibha Galhotra, whose Chronotope (2022) features a map of the world constructed from Ghungroos, the musical anklets of her native India, and Kipwani Kiwanga whose work from her Flowers for Africa series, Union of South Africa (2017), is a festoon of flowers that will wilt across the length of the exhibition.
Gary Simmons: This Must Be the Place
Hauser & Wirth, until 29 July
Gary Simmons’s first show in London with Hauser & Wirth reflects a shift in his practice to painting and also includes new sculptures. Here, the LA-based New Yorker mines elements of iconography that have informed his practice over many years, including cartoon imagery; in this case, shooting stars and the racist stereotypes from historic cartoons that dominated the chalkboard drawings that are among his best-known works. The equivocation of erasure, haunting and memory with blurred chalk drawings in those works finds new expression in Simmons's thickly layered paint surfaces. Bronze sculptures relate to his drawings of crows from Disney’s film Dumbo, now recognised as crudely stereotypical of Black people.
Florence Peake: Enactment
Richard Saltoun Gallery, until 15 July
Among the highlights of the National Gallery’s Dance to the Music of Time contemporary programme in 2021—with Nicolas Poussin as a loose guide—was Factual Actual, a performance in which Florence Peake and her collaborators reflected on the historic canon of painting with bodily exuberance. Enactment was born of that work, and features paintings, sculpture and installations. They are “by-products” of the performance, but also build on its forms and themes. Paintings suggest bodies in turbulent movement, both frankly subversive of classical decorum and celebratory of physical beauty, while the sculptural installations of folded, painted canvases evoke the draped spaces of historic pictures.
Caragh Thuring: The Foothills of Pleasure
Thomas Dane Gallery, until 15 July
Caragh Thuring here takes one of her own works, the titular The Foothills of Pleasure (2022), featuring a noticeboard-like array of forms and shapes, including a phallic cactus, and then riffs on it in a series of paintings with relentless wit and imagination. The foothills in question relate to volcanoes, both literally and as a metaphor. Another form common to the paintings evokes the mouth of an erupting crater or, perhaps, a human orifice. In keeping with the theme are Thuring’s first portraits of famous volcano lovers, from William and Emma Hamilton (and her squeeze, Lord Nelson) to the tragic French volcanologists Maurice and Katia Krafft.
Phoebe Unwin: the Pointed Finger
Amanda Wilkinson Gallery, 2 June-8 July
The paintings of Phoebe Unwin pack a tremendous punch, but subtly. Memories of bodies, faces and objects, they render their humdrum subjects distinctively and unexpectedly. Unwin’s colour is key; it never ceases to surprise. She has a knack for making hues that should not work click. She also achieves a density in her compositions that, however intentionally or not, evokes the psychological intensity of Edouard Vuillard’s 1890s intimist period. Although they may share some forms—the blooms and stems of flowers, for instance—each painting seems an event in itself, and one that hooks you in. It is a world of paint, but also of poetic reflection, however oblique.
Minh Lan Tran: Heat Generation
Harlesden High Street, 1 June-14 July
Hong Kong-born Minh Lan Tran graduates this month from the Royal College of Art in London but has already been showing widely, including in No Place Like Home, an exhibition of Vietnamese Diasporic at London’s Museum of the Home (until 11 July). Her project for Harlesden High Street characteristically fuses painting and text—she describes her process as iterative, building dense surfaces of letters and calligraphic marks alongside clouds, bursts and drips of pigment. Her subject here is self-immolation as protest, with particular reference to Vietnamese Buddhists’ historic forms of activism. Minh Lan Tran will also stage three performances on the theme of violence and resistance over the weekend.
GRIMM, until 8 July
It is nearly 20 years since Charles Avery began his series of works about a fictional island. Across those two decades, his narrative and cast of characters and animals—captured in drawings, posters, sculptures and much more—has deepened, becoming more complex, stranger, and endlessly enthralling. Avery’s twisted fantasy hints at reflections on the real world, and the overall feel, for all the quirkiness and eccentricity, is ominous (are the ribs of the hungry dogs that have consistently punctuated his images more protrusive than ever?). One senses Avery has much more to tell us, and it might get ugly.
Lawrence Lek: Black Cloud Highway
Sadie Coles HQ, until 24 June
Lek’s exploration of post-human identity and concepts and social implications of artificial intelligence is growing steadily into one of the most fully realised speculative fictions in contemporary art. Driverless cars and AI surveillance have long been among Lek’s preoccupations, and Black Cloud continues his description of the eerily abandoned smart city of SimBeijing (modelled on the Chinese capital) through what he calls “site-specific simulation”, involving film and gaming technologies alongside architectural structures. As with his previous films, the driverless car acts as a metaphor for AI’s power and emptiness in a post-apocalyptic world that Lek evokes with a curious mixture of rapture and foreboding.
Larry Achiampong: And I saw a new heaven
Copperfield, until 17 June
Instead of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, Larry Achiampong’s show bases itself on an alternative trinity of HBO TV, video games and Christianity. It is surprisingly rare to see computer games in art galleries, but Achiampong has long acknowledged their influence while at the same time aiming to tackle their all-white bias—a fact especially shocking given that at least half of game players in the US are people of colour. Here, some of the few games which attempt to challenge religious traditions and white patriarchy are shown alongside a new series of painted-over religious posters from Ghana which scathingly underline the enduring incongruity of the Christian church’s perpetually White Christ, Mary and disciples by transforming the heavenly crew into Golly-style avatars.
Lisa Marie Harris: Responses (to things I’ve been told about my body)
Cooke Latham, 2-30 June
In this show, metal and leather-bound wall reliefs and sculptures, as well as a film, respond to the rebuffs and slurs experienced by Lisa Marie Harris both during her childhood in Trinidad and more recently when living as an artist and a mother in London. On Saturday 3 June, the artist will interact with these sculptural works in Cover Yourself, a live performance set to calypso, Soca and audio narrative that stands as a provocative rebuttal of sexual objectification, body shaming and body policing that women of all ages and in all parts of the world experience on a daily basis.
Kateřina Šedá: I Would Name My House the Swallows Nest
Bosse & Baum, 2 June-22 July
The first Czech artist to have a solo show at Tate Modern (in 2011), Kateřina Šedá is known for focusing on socially conceived events and often works involving communities outside the art world. For this installation of pole-mounted wooden houses she originally collaborated with the senior citizens in an Austrian care home to make miniature replicas of their former homes, which were recreated using photographs, conversations and memories. In an earlier version of the piece these poignant structures were then installed as bird houses in the care home garden, to offer comfort and enjoyment for both humans and avians alike.
What is Power?
Arcade at Flat time House, 3 June-9 July
Flat Time House was the Peckham studio home of the pioneering British conceptual artist John Latham who declared the house a living sculpture and named it FTHo after his arcane cosmic theory of an interconnected Flat Time. Two years after Latham’s death in 2008, FTHo opened as a gallery and archive and is now partnering with Arcade to present new work by the Berlin-based American artist Jeremiah Day. Using photography, performance, text and installation, Day grounds political thinking in personal experience to re-examine political conflicts and resistances and investigate art’s capacity for intervening in civic life. John Latham would certainly have approved.
Hannah Barry, 3 June-9 September
Ten new large-scale paintings by George Rouy across both floors of the gallery focus on the relationship between interior, psychological landscapes and the external physical body which is depicted in motion, transformation and flux. As in Rouy’s earlier work, these solitary and small groupings of anonymous individuals play with notions of concealing and revealing, but now Rouy’s application of paint has become increasingly blurred and slippery, thus deliberately defying any fixed single reading of his fluid febrile figures and offering an appropriate body of work for our uncertain, tenuous times.
Avis Newman: Watching the Map
Maureen Paley, until 30 July
Reverend Joyce McDonald
+Maureen P project space, until 30 July
For more than four decades Newman has been renowned for her large, richly associative minimalist paintings and drawings onto unstretched canvases which are pinned directly to the gallery walls. The works at Maureen Paley comprise part of a longstanding ongoing series which meditates on notions of conflict and draws on the writings of both the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu and the 20th century poet Paul Celan. The liquid painterly works in the main gallery space allude to emblems, banners or scrolls, while the installation in the second gallery invites a meditation on the ancient Chinese notion of ‘the ground as square and the sky as a dome’.
In the gallery’s second studio M project space in the Rochelle School is a solo show of the intimate handmade ceramic works of the Reverend Joyce McDonald, a New York artist, activist and longstanding Visual AIDS artist member.
Narumi Nekpenekpen: where you fit in my palm
Soft Opening, 2 June-29 July
Japanese-born, Los Angeles based Narumi Nekpenekpen regards her vividly-coloured ceramic figures and creatures as a form a psychological self portrait. Built up in layers of porcelain, these multi-dimensional beings with their suggestive protuberances and gash-like tears can be viewed from any angle, with the emotional ante further upped by a use of frenzied glazing techniques that reference tattoos, dress patterns and graffiti tags. Here they occupy glossy heart shaped plinths alongside more recognisable creatures—swans, horses, dogs and a rabbit—but while their forms may be simplified, in these new additions to Nekpenekpen’s bestiary, the messages remain mixed.
Victoria Cantons: What Birds Plunge Through is Not The Intimate Space Guts, until 4 June
This show takes its title from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke and combines the power of both word and paint by emblazoning a plethora of scrawled quotes ranging from Ovid, Eliot and Shakespeare to Leonard Cohen across the surfaces of juicily painted canvases. This eclectic range of handwritten inscriptions functions as a form of dynamic and expressive mark-making but can also be read as powerful life affirmations and a reminder to respect oneself and others. Equally central to these works are the large areas left empty but for swathes of off-white wash, which Victoria Cantons sees as a crucial spatial element within her celebration of interpersonal relationships and the ways we navigate the world around us.
Modern Art, until 22 July
Over the past four decades New York-based Jacqueline Humphries has been exploring what it means to make contemporary abstract paintings in our screen-based, mechanical world. Using various materials, her rich visual language fuses myriad forms and gestures from the history of painting with codes and registers taken from the scrolled data that beams out from our cold, flat, screens. At Modern Art both her canvases appear to have been vandalised with paint flung across their surfaces. But these disruptive marks are an intentional reference to the recent tactics of eco activists with which she aims to “bring abstraction into deliberate confrontation with the real world.”
Lisa Milroy: Correspondence
Kate MacGarry, until 15 July
Milroy has long been preoccupied with the parameters of still life and the power of the painted object. Her first solo show at Kate MacGarry spans from early works made in the 1980s up to paintings made this year and charts the many and various ways in which Milroy continues to explore how depictions of objects can spark different associations, connections and memories. A playful underlying theme of this exhibition is the childhood game of ‘rock, paper, scissors’, with Milroy regarding pigment as rock, canvas as paper and the paintbrush as a substitute for scissors. The interaction of these three elements sparks imaginative transformations and ignites connections between seemingly unrelated things.
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