London art exhibitions 2021: a guide
Read our guide to the best London art exhibitions in the city and around the UK
If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that nothing beats an in-person art encounter. The Covid-19-induced backlog of show postponements has settled, and uncertainty is becoming less of a certainty. We finally have an alternative to viewing art via pixels, which – bar recent NFT dramas – never quite offered the same thrills.
These are the shows, in London and around the UK, worth visiting in Autumn 2021
Exhibition: Jacob Hashimoto: ‘In this time and space’
Location: Ronchini Gallery
Dates: until 23 December
New York-based artist Jacob Hashimoto began a fascination with kite-making two decades ago. Since then, he has transformed field painting into three-dimensional field sculpture with installations comprising hundreds of bamboo and paper kites-like forms, which, when viewed from a distance, resemble an abstract landscape. His new series of wall-based pieces at Ronchini Gallery was created during the Covid-19 lockdown. Within these intricate geometric collages are references to microscopic patterns of cells infected with viral diseases, drawings of plague architecture and the cellular structure of ancient trees. The artist also draws inspiration from Anne Friedberg’s book The Virtual Window (2006), which explores the symbolism of windows from the Renaissance to the digital era. Staged as a series of layered windows which simultaneously resemble organic landscapes or digital media. Hashimoto’s ‘tapestries’ offer much to decipher: fusions of ancient traditions and technology; two-dimensional and three-dimensional; personal and global; natural and artificial.
Elizabeth Neel: ‘Limb after Limb’
Location: Pilar Corrias
Dates: until 23 October 2021
Suffering, transformation, the rawness of pandemic isolation: it’s all bound up in Elizabeth Neel’s new large-scale paintings, created on her family’s farm in rural Vermont. Originally conceived for the nave, apse and transept of a deconsecrated church, the series offers angst and redemption in equal measure. Neel’s distinctive, emotive mode of abstraction requires a broad armoury of mark-making tools including fingers, rags, brushes, mono-printing techniques and rollers. Viewers become absorbed in spatters, drips, smears and planes of visceral colour trapping the vastness of the natural environment and the fragility of the human condition – ‘Limb after Limb’ is both a bodily, and out of body experience.
Exhibition: ‘The Gaze’
Location: TJ Boulting
Dates: until 20 November
Inspired by the nuances of eye contact, writer and editor Louis Wise has curated The Gaze at TJ Boulting. The group show of historical and contemporary artists explores the complex, sometimes even disquieting relationship between artist and sitter. A gaze can be awkward, curious, arousing, threatening or all of these at once. Moroni’s portrait of The Tailor that hangs in the National Gallery was the initial spark for Wise, with the subject’s direct yet mysterious look. As Wise describes: ‘...the act of looking at men, often by men (but not exclusively), is a surprising and fragile thing. It is very often political, but thank God, it’s also fun.’
Exhibition: ‘Social Works II’
Location: Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill
Dates: Until 18 December
In the much-anticipated sequel to its recent New York chapter, ‘Social Works II’ celebrates art as social practice. Like its predecessor, the show foregrounds intergenerational artists from the African diaspora and their insights into the relationship between personal, public, institutional, and psychic space. Curated by Antwaun Sargent, the interdisciplinary show considers geography and its role in informing identity. Featured creatives include Sumayya Vally of Johannesburg/London-based studio Counterspace and architect of the 2021 Serpentine Pavilion; Lubaina Himid, Rick Lowe, Tyler Mitchell, Isaac Julien and Grace Wales Bonner.
Exhibition: Bosco Sodi ‘Totality’
Dates: until 13 November
Mexican artist Bosco Sodi has a deep-rooted affinity with the material world. In a new series of works for ‘Totality’ at König, he fuses multiple colours in the same composition for the first time; merging pure pigments in black, gold, white, grey and blue with glue and natural fibres. The cracks, fissures and layered protrusions capture the physicality of the work’s creation and the environment in which they were produced. Alongside these Cosmic paintings are nine clay spheres cut from the ground at Sodi’s studio in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the artist also runs the art centre Fundación Casa Wabi.
Exhibition: Sarah Sze
Location: Victoria Miro
Dates: until 6 November
American artist Sarah Sze is well known for intricate, dazzling multimedia installations, such as her physical and digital takeover of Fondation Cartier in 2020. But recent years have seen the artist return to painting, the medium in which she first trained. Scaled to Victoria Miro’s Gallery II space, these new paintings demonstrate Sze’s proficiency in two dimensions. Through paint and collage, the works highlight a decades-long exploration into how images – printed in magazines and newspapers, mined from the Internet and television, intercepted from outer space – are ultimately imprinted on our conscious and unconscious selves.
Exhibition: Ron Mueck
Location: Thaddaeus Ropac
Dates: until 13 November
There’s an addictive discomfort to be found in the work of Ron Mueck. His bodies are outlandishly oversized, hyperreal to the point of surreal, and so visceral they could be raw flesh. His first show at Thaddaeus Ropac spans 25 years of groundbreaking sculpture, charting the artist’s unparalleled ability to convey physical and emotional potency. Here, the full spectrum of the human condition is present – from birth to death, and all the vulnerability, drama and grit in between – rendered with an uncanny attention to detail.
Exhibition: Hervé Télémaque, ‘A Hopscotch of the Mind’
Location: Serpentine South Gallery
Dates: until 30 January 2022
Since the late 1950s, Haitian-French artist Hervé Télémaque has merged mixed-media abstraction with cartoon-like imagery to form a distinctive visual vocabulary across paintings, drawings, collages, objects and assemblages. At the Serpentine, Télémaque’s first UK institutional show surveys subversive fusion of archival and contemporary pop cultural references, alongside narratives on the impact of racism, imperialism and colonialism. His vast, vibrant and often playful pieces ranging from the 1950s to the present day offer insight into the artist’s blend of internal consciousness and social experiences.
Exhibition: Marina Abramović: ‘Seven Deaths’
Location: Lisson Gallery
Dates: until 30 October 2021 (Lisson Street)
Autumn 2021 marks something of citywide domination for Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović; the artist is not just present, but omnipresent. Her headline show ‘Seven Deaths’ is taking place at Lisson Gallery (across its Cork Street and Lisson Street spaces), a multifaceted ode to iconic soprano Maria Callas through film and installation. ‘I am secure in my skin as a performance artist, so I was interested in doing something new, to go into a world that I had never been to before,’ Abramović told us in a recent interview. ‘The opera world has such strict rules – so it’s a good thing to break them.’ The artist also stars in ‘Humble Works’ at Colnaghi gallery alongside collaborators Fyodor Pavlov-Andreevich and Nico Vascellari where her work is in dialogue with a series of masterworks.
Exhibition: Sarah Lucas: ‘Sex Life’
Location: The Perimeter
Dates: Until 18 December 2021
Spanning more than 25 years of Sarah Lucas’ career, and drawn principally from the collection of The Perimeter founder Alexander V. Petalas, ‘Sex Life’ looks at the work of this cultural subverter, an original member of the Young British Artists, with an entirely new gaze. Through amorphous sitters with exaggerated limbs and globular breasts, Lucas has captured the human body in its many erotic, repressed, and enigmatic guises. The show spans her playful musings with the self-portrait in the early 1990s to nylon-clad sculptural bodies (or body parts) that engage with furniture and other undefinable apparatus, and bulbous bronzes that trap the surrounding show on their hyper-polished surfaces. As novelist Deborah Levy writes in the exhibition publication: ‘The title of this exhibition, “Sex Life”, allows the inner life of the viewer full freedom to roam. Lucas’ gaze on the human body does not please itself with one critique, nor does it hit the side of the face so much as smash into its guts.’
Exhibition: Frieze Sculpture
Location: Regent’s Park
Dates: Until 31 October 2021
With recent restrictions increasing the appetite for outdoor art consumption, Frieze Sculpture 2021 has turned Regent’s Park into an art hotspot. On view until 17 October 2021, the exhibition will overlap with Frieze London, as the fair marks a momentous IRL return to the capital. This year’s offerings explore displacement, geopolitical power structures, environmental concerns and endangered futures. Participants are international and intergenerational, including Rasheed Araeen, Daniel Arsham, Anthony Caro, Gisela Colón, José Pedro Croft, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Stoyan Dechev, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Annie Morris, Isamu Noguchi, Vanessa da Silva, and Serpentine Galleries’ presentation of Sumayya Vally’s (Counterspace) Fragment of Serpentine Pavilion.
Exhibition: Liza Lou: ‘Desire Lines’
Location: Lehmann Maupin, Cromwell Place
Dates: Until 6 November
In ‘Desire Lines’ at Lehmann Maupin in Cromwell Place, American artist Liza Lou presents ten works spanning 30 years. The show will capture Lou’s deep engagement with the natural environment, abstraction, and labour-intensive processes. Kitchen, Lou’s first major work, is a room-sized sculpture made entirely of glass beads that she began in her mother’s home in 1991 in the suburbs of Southern California and finished five years later. A new work, Here Comes the Sun (2021), features grids of white beads upon which painted beaded strips hang in inverted arches. ‘Desire Lines’ sees Lou’s most recent innovations sit alongside iconic historical works that highlight her staggering and tireless commitment to her craft and materials.
Exhibition: Anish Kapoor
Location: Lisson Gallery, Bell Street
Dates: Until 30 October 2021
Anish Kapoor’s show at Lisson Gallery is not easy on the eye, but it is hard to stop looking at. Paintings and sculptures resemble bodies with their skins off - a sea of red: the colour of interiority. Kapoor drapes these visceral innards on three-dimensional structures: a metal frame and another which resembles a stairway to hell, with gleaming resin offering an illusion of liquid blood. If the Renaissance was about using paint to capture reality, Kapoor’s work uses paint to warp it, exaggerate it, and bring it a little too close to home. Alongside this show, a major exhibition of Kapoor’s paintings will run at Modern Art Oxford from 2 October 2021 - 13 February 2022, with both shows preceding Kapoor’s major retrospective at Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia, opening April 2022 to coincide with the Venice Biennale.
Exhibition: Kudzanai-Violet Hwami: ‘When You Need Letters for Your Skin’
Location: Victoria Miro
Dates: Until 6 November 2021
‘When You Need Letters for Your Skin’ marks Zimbabwean-born Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s first show at Victoria Miro since joining its roster in 2020. Marking a departure from her previous work, the artist introduces a series of powerful nudes combining fragmented source material and mining from archival images, vintage pornographic extracts and personal photographs. These potent collage portraits are imbued with a rich variety of sexual, spiritual and political identities, and explore how these can translate in both the physical and digital spaces.
Exhibition: ‘Mend Piece for London’, by Yoko Ono
Location: Whitechapel Gallery
Dates: Until 2 January 2022
50 years after originally staging the work at Indica Gallery – a hub for countercultural art in the 1960s – iconic artist, musician and activist Yoko Ono has brought her interactive work Mend Piece back to London. Whitechapel Gallery visitors are invited to engage directly with the installation by repairing broken fragments of pottery with glue, twine, scissors and tape. On entering the space, participants are offered simple instructions provided by the artist: ‘Mend carefully. / Think of mending the world at the same time.’ Once finished, the ‘mended’ objects are displayed on adjacent shelves. Mend Piece for London channels the Japanese tradition of kintsugi, the art of repairing broken pottery using lacquer mixed with precious metals such as gold and silver. The process embraces breakage as part of an object’s history, rather than seeking to hide it. The physical act of repairing is also a timely metaphor for another kind of mending: healing through community, and through the mind.
On the post-lockdown London art scene, there seems to be a recurring theme: immersion. These include Ryoji Ikeda’s sensory ambush at 180 The Strand, and Es Devlin’s recent Forest for Change at Somerset House for London Design Biennale. But Tate Modern is hosting the piece of work that arguably redefined the role of immersion in contemporary art: Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Infinity Mirror Rooms’. The year-long show will comprise two of the artist’s acclaimed mirror room installations in a dizzying marriage of mirrors, light and water, which offers the illusion of limitless space. Also on view is The Universe as Seen from the Stairway to Heaven, 2021, Kusama’s brand new ’peep in’ sculpture, which has been created specifically for the show. At 92, Kusama remains a prolific force: the artist currently has a simultaneous shows at Victoria Miro, London, the New York Botanical Garden, and a major retrospective at Gropius Bau in Berlin. She has also recently collaborated with brands such as Veuve Clicquot, which involved a striking sculptural intervention on the French Champagne house’s premium cuvée, La Grande Dame.
Art exhibitions around the UK
Exhibitions: Bill Woodrow and Richard Deacon; Mit Jai Inn
Location: Ikon, Birmingham
Dates: Until 21 November 2021
At Ikon, two major shows are highlighting two very different approaches to colour and material. Bill Woodrow and Richard Deacon have been making ‘shared sculptures’ together since 1990. But at Ikon, they are revealing their ‘shared drawings’ for the first time, resulting from a dialogue during 2019-20; sometimes working alone, sometimes sharing the same space. The authorship of individual works is deliberately under wraps. As Woodrow explains: ‘we agreed not to say which bits had been made by which person. People were very adamant that they knew, but, by and large, they were wrong.’ Elsewhere, Thai artist Mit Jai Inn presents ‘Dreamworld’, marking the artist’s first major exhibition in Europe. This captivating and all-consuming show transforms the gallery’s white-walled spaces into a kaleidoscopic, multi-material, multi-coloured wonderland.
Exhibition: ‘Masterpieces in Miniature: The 2021 Model Art Gallery’
Location: Pallant House, Chichester
Dates: Until spring 2022
The 2021 Model Art Gallery at Pallant House is a microcosm of contemporary British art featuring tiny new works created over the last year by 34 leading artists. The dolls house-esque gallery features new works sculptures by Julian Opie, ceramics by Grayson Perry, with a façade clad in Lothar Götz’s electric geometric mural, and pieces by Michael Armitage, Cecily Brown, Michael Craig-Martin, Gary Hume, Magdalene Odundo, and Rachel Whiteread. Ever thought you’d have to squint for a closer look at a Sean Scully or spot a porcelain pot by Edmund de Waal no bigger than a thimble? We didn’t either, but there’s a first time for everything.
Exhibition: ‘Karla Black: Sculptures (2001 – 2021)’
Location: Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh
Dates: Until 21 November 2021
For her latest show at the newly reopened Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, Turner Prize-nominated artist Karla Black is ‘reimagining a retrospective’. Armed with 30 existing sculptures and new commissions, she has staged a full-scale material ambush that responds directly to the gallery, which has just been rejuvenated and extended by Reiach and Hall Architects. Black’s show is a lesson in materiality, and these sculptures are constructed from her signatures: cardboard, sugar paper, polystyrene, polythene, Cellophane, Sellotape, glass, mirror, net, Vaseline, plaster powder, powder paint, medicines, cosmetics and thread. The works – large and small – sprawl across brick walls, appear in gallery windows and spill across floors. The pièce de résistance, Waiver For Shade, is a major site-specific commission Black has created within the gallery’s new warehouse space.
Exhibition: Eduardo Chillida
Location: Hauser & Wirth Somerset
Dates: Until 3 Jan 2022
Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida’s craftsman’s intimacy, philosopher’s sensibility and cosmic vision is currently being celebrated in a new show at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Last month, Wallpaper* contributing editor Nick Vinson offered us a first look. The show spans 51 years and includes 24 small- and large-scale sculptures, alongside works on paper, hung in three of the five original farm buildings and dotted on the landscape. The rural vernacular of Hauser & Wirth Somerset offers remarkable comparisons with Chillida Leku, the outdoor museum near San Sebastián, Spain, dedicated to the work of the pioneering artist. Among the Piet Oudolf-designed gardens, ancient farm buildings and expansive countryside surroundings, Chillida’s trailblazing work feels very much at home. Also at the gallery is show of work by Gustav Metzger, who, over a six-decade career, examined the intersection between human intervention, nature and man-made environments.
Online art exhibitions
Exhibition: ‘Shapeshifters: The Image in Flux’
Dates: Until 5 February 2022
‘Shapeshifters: The Image in Flux’ brings together ten contemporary artists pushing the boundaries of photographic transformation; images in their original form are simply raw ingredients for this cohort. Whether folding, scanning, cutting, ripping, sticking, stitching, merging or collaging, every destructive and constructive method is fair game as these curious artists generate new meanings. Through this breadth of approaches, what is presented by one artist, is questioned by another. Viewable on Open Doors Gallery until 5 February 2022, the ten artists include Ibrahim Azab, Cecilia Bonilla, Anthony Gerace, Ricardo Miguel Hernández, Kensuke Koike, Kíra Krász, Alexandra Lethbridge, Joseph Staples, Miriam Tölke and Constanza Valderrama.