Physical art exhibitions to see in London and beyond, from April 2021
As England’s physical art scene gradually regains its pulse, these are the in-person art exhibitions to squeeze into your post-lockdown diary, in London and further afield around the UK
Spring is in full swing, and with it, new life will soon emerge on London’s long-fallow art scene.
Though many countries are still in the throes of lockdown restrictions, England will see curbs on non-essential retail lift as part of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. From 12 April 2021, commercial galleries will have the chance to open their doors to physical visitors, while public museums and galleries in England are permitted to reopen from 17 May 2021.
For many, it will mean the first in-person art experience of 2021. For others, it will be months of show postponements and uncertainty coming to a tentative end. Ultimately, this will provide an alternative to viewing art via pixels, which – recent NFT dramas aside – just hasn’t quite offered the same thrills.
As our diaries begin to cautiously fill, these are the shows, in London and beyond, worth pencilling in.
London art exhibitions
Exhibition: Alice Anderson: ‘Hyperlinks’
Dates: 13 April - 22 May 2021
At the core of Anglo-French artist Alice Anderson’s work is ritual. It rises in different guises, from sculptures, installations and paintings to drawings generated through dance performances. For her London show, things get altogether more transcendent. Anderson has created works through rapid breathing (the technique of hyperventilation), which allow her to access a state of modified consciousness. For these repetitive, performative works, the artist’s influences are wide-ranging: the ancestral culture of the Kogi people from Sierra Nevada in Colombia, the collision of technology and humanity, and the dissolution of the material world.
Exhibition: John Akomfrah: ‘The Unintended Beauty of Disaster’
Gallery: Lisson (67 Lisson Street)
Dates: 13 April - 5 June 2021
John Akomfrah’s latest body of work is a direct response to the events of 2020. In ‘The Unintended Beauty of Disaster,’ the celebrated artist, filmmaker, lecturer and writer reflects on the Black Lives Matter protests, demonstrations against imperialist monuments and the rethinking of historical narratives. New works include a three-screen video installation, Triptych (2020), an homage to a track on the radical album, ‘We Insist!’ (1960) by jazz musician Max Roach. Elsewhere, Akomfrah will present a series of new photo-texts exploring colour, race and following on from Our Skin Is a Monument I (2020), an edition created in support of the Frieze Emerging Curators Fellowship for UK-based Black and POC emerging curators.
Exhibition: Idris Khan: ‘The Seasons Turn’
Gallery: Victoria Miro
Dates: 13 April - 15 May 2021
For Khan, music has long been a muse, in its aural and written forms. The British artist has previously reimagined Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert and Bach in two- and three-dimensional works and film. This time, he turns his attention to Vivaldi’s revered Four Seasons, extracting fragments from the violin concerti’s scores for his own visual interpretation of the calendar year. Expect riotous colour in watercolour and collage, varied visual dynamics – from buoyant staccato to contemplative legato – and potent reflections on the turbulence of the previous four seasons.
Exhibition: Rachel Whiteread: ‘Internal Objects’
Gallery: Gagosian (20 Grosvenor Hill)
Dates: 12 April - 6 June 2021
A hotchpotch of whitewashed wood, the formality of minimalism fused with human irregularity: Rachel Whiteread’s ‘Internal Objects’ is a lesson in hidden narratives. Her work is known to harness existing artefacts and spaces – including chairs, interiors of rooms, and most famously, an entire terraced house – to explore corporeal presence and negative space to ghostly effect. In her London show, this eeriness arrives in a different form: instead of casting existing objects, she’s built new ones. Instead of closed, opaque forms, for which she is well known, Poltergeist and Döppelganger have been blasted wide open, suggesting catastrophe and mayhem.
Exhibition: Teresa Kutala Firmino: ‘Manifestation Oku Yongola’
Gallery: Everard Read
Dates: 28 April - 25 May 2021
For Johannesburg-based multidisciplinary artist Firmino, the act of creating art is cathartic. Her vivid paintings delve into complex issues of war, colonialism and cultural heritage, alongside identity and gender violence. In her debut London show, Firmino presents paintings in which female forms, often with faces resembling or hidden behind African masks, are cast as characters on a stage. Firmino imagines alternative realities for her female protagonists, beyond the trauma endured by many in her native Pomfret during colonial rule, beyond the objectification of Black female bodies, and beyond the male gaze.
Exhibition: Antony Cairns: ‘CTY_TYO3 TYO4’
Dates: 22 April - 6 June 2021
As parts of the world tentatively contemplate a return to city life, British artist Antony Cairns’ exploration of the global metropolis in ‘CTY_TYO3 TYO4’ is a must-see. Working with outmoded forms of technology such as electronic ink, COBOL coding forms and IBM decision tables, Cairns engages with the history of photography and highlights how the medium is inextricable from the evolution of digital processes. Perfection isn’t what Cairns is after, but rather an evidential work that embraces errors and imperfections. For those unable to attend the physical show, the exhibition is accompanied by Cairns’ latest book Selected Computer Punch card artworks: Computer listing paper edition, published by Morel.
Exhibition: Ugo Rondinone: ‘a sky . a sea . distant mountains . horses . spring .’
Gallery: Sadie Coles HQ
Dates: 12 April - 14 May 2021
Spanning both of Sadie Coles’ London spaces, Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone’s new body of work explores timely themes in the wake of lockdown: time, nature, renewal and the psyche. In the Kingly Street space, Rondinone presents 15 new phantasmal horse sculptures cast in blue glass. Slightly shy of life-size, each sculpture becomes a hollow vessel for a seascape or landscape and projects a ‘lightscape’ of shifting blues across the gallery space. Elsewhere at Davies Street, Rondinone has translated his long-running Mountain sculptures into two-dimensional paintings culminating in monolithic hunks of dizzyingly bright hues. The artist explains of the works, ‘As in dreams, they are visible signs for something invisible. Taken together, they define the intersection of symbolism and spirituality.’
Exhibition: Sue Williamson: ‘Testimony’
Dates: 13 - 24 April 2021
British-South African artist and activist Sue Williamson is part of a pioneering wave of artists who challenged the South African apartheid government in the 1970s. Marking her first solo exhibition in the UK, ‘Testimony’ at Goodman Gallery spans the artist’s seminal 1990s series to recent work. The poignant show includes the interactive Truth Games, a series examining a court cases brought before South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The pieces comprise courtroom photographs and newspaper imagery and text printed on Perspex slats, which viewers can slide across to reveal what is beneath. Elsewhere, Williamson’s dual-channel video work It’s a pleasure to meet you sees two young people, Candice Mama and Siyah Ndawela Mgoduka, whose fathers had been killed by the apartheid police, brought into conversation for the first time.
Shows from around the UK
Exhibition: ‘Pioneering Women’
Gallery: Oxford Ceramics Gallery
Dates: 14 April - 1 May 2021
As its name suggests, ‘Pioneering Women’ is an exhibition dedicated to female artists who have made a significant mark on the evolution of international contemporary ceramics. From leading figures such as Lucie Rie and Ladi Kwali to Bodil Manz, Magdalene Odundo and Jennifer Lee, the show will encompass wide-ranging interpretations of formal ceramic traditions. Focusing on ceramic vessels, the exhibition showcases the versatility and potential of the medium in its many forms. Works on view range from Japanese clay and the domestic pottery of Denmark, Korea and Nigeria, to vessels that draw on European movements including Bauhaus and postmodernism.
Exhibition: Henry Taylor
Gallery: Hauser & Wirth Somerset
Dates: 13 April - 6 June 2021
During recent winter months, and the UK’s second national lockdown, American artist Henry Taylor spent his days in Hauser & Wirth’s Somerset outpost in a residency ahead of his inaugural show with the gallery. In a vast body of new and historical work, Taylor makes deft use of everyday objects, including loo rolls, milk bottles, and cigarette, cracker, and cereal boxes. The exhibition, which takes over all five gallery spaces, is wide-ranging, deeply personal, and resonates with broader socio-cultural references. On view in the show are two new self-portraits. One sees Taylor assume the role of Henry V, a play on how the artist – the youngest of eight children – was nicknamed Henry VIII as a child. The second sees Taylor clad in pinstripe pyjamas and flanked by sheep, placing him firmly in his new rural surroundings. Through a process he describes as ‘hunting and gathering’, Taylor transports viewers into imagined realities that delve into the human condition, social movements and political structures. Over in Hauser & Wirth’s London spaces, Charles Gaines will open the long-awaited ‘Multiples of Nature, Trees and Faces’.