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Three to see: London

Cheer yourself up after Kiefer's Walhalla with Turk's delights in Vauxhall

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The works of Anselm Kiefer—created within a 200-acre studio complex in southern France and a 35,000 sq. m warehouse outside Paris—are unmistakable for their large scale and weighty themes. The German artist’s new paintings, sculptures and installations on show at White Cube Bermondsey are no exception. Many share the title of the exhibition, Walhalla (until 12 February 2017), which refers to the hall of slain warriors in Norse mythology—a place of eternal conflict whose inhabitants fight every day and regenerate every night. An ominous lead-lined corridor of rumpled beds forms the central spine of the show, while the more conventional white-cube galleries house landscapes of outright destruction in a series of densely textured canvases. Do not miss the dark side room stacked with recurring Kiefer motifs: dead sunflowers, ashen film reels and unreadable lead books.

On paper, Gavin Turk is the third artist to get a solo show in Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery. But being Gavin Turk, visitors to Who What When Where How & Why (until 19 March 2017) find galleries filled with works that could at first sight be by many artists. Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Robert Morris, Giorgio de Chirico and Jacques-Louis David among others are given an inimitable Turk twist. The British artist’s precocious blue heritage plaque, created as a Masters student, which declares: “Gavin Turk, sculptor, worked here 1989-1991” gets a gallery of its own. Hirst has done Turk proud: this is the mid-career retrospective that the artist who puts absurdism into appropriation has long deserved.

In general, portraits need some biographical background information to enhance the viewer’s understanding of the picture. Many of those in the exhibition Portrait of the Artist at The Queen’s Gallery (until 17 April 2017) will, however, need no such introduction—Rembrandt, Rubens, Artemisia Gentileschi, Lucian Freud and David Hockney—and even those artists now little known need no life-story prop here. The thematic organisation of the show is the animating force behind the faces as the pictures are presented not so much as “real” likenesses, as to illustrate such phenomena as the rising social status of artists over the centuries, self-portraits as self-promotion, the cult of celebrity portraitist and the collecting of artists’ portraits.