22 October 2023

The Biggest Museum Shows To See Around London During Frieze Week

Marina Abramović

Royal Academy of Arts, until 1 January 2024


It is hard to overstate Marina Abramović’s influence on contemporary art. Since establishing her reputation in the 1970s, the starry Serbian artist has redefined the nature of performance art and propelled it onto the world stage. Spanning her 50-year career, this much-anticipated retrospective charts her practice through photographs, videos, objects and installations, as well as four of her ground-breaking performance pieces. Visitors can experience reruns of Imponderabilia (1977), which saw Abramović and her former partner and collaborator, the late German performance artist Ulay, stand naked in a narrow entrance, forcing visitors to squeeze between them and choose who to face.

Hyundai Commission: El Anatsui

Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, until 14 April 2024


El Anatsui’s Hyundai Commission for Tate Modern's Turbine Hall uses his trademark bottle caps to explore the relationship between the sugar industry, the Tate and the slave trade. "I grew up in the Colonial Gold Coast and the sugar that we used was Tate & Lyle," he tells us.

Frans Hals

National Gallery, until 21 January 2024


The painting The Laughing Cavalier (1624) is perhaps better known in the UK than its creator, the Dutch Golden Age painter Frans Hals. It has resided at the Wallace Collection in London for the past 120 years but has now been lent out for the first time to the National Gallery for its Hals survey. The exhibition is the first major exhibition of the artist’s work in more than three decades and includes around 50 paintings. The curators of the travelling show are hoping to reveal the beauty and breadth of Hals’s work to a whole new generation. As the curator Bart Cornelis notes: “No one under the age of 40 has been able to acquaint themselves… with the genius of one of the greatest portrait painters of all time.”

Philip Guston Now

Tate Modern, until 25 February 2024


A vast survey of Philip Guston’s work has finally opened at Tate Modern after it was postponed in 2020 in a row over the late artist’s Ku Klux Klan imagery. The show was originally due to open in June 2020 at Washington, DC’s National Gallery of Art, before travelling to Houston, London and Boston. The participating museums said that they were postponing the exhibition “until a time we think that the powerful message of social and racial justice that is at the centre of Philip Guston’s work can be more clearly interpreted”. The Tate exhibition addresses the issue of the Ku Klux Klan at the start, with panels outlining how “Guston depicted racial injustice in his art from early on.” In a later section called Hoods, a wall text adds: “Guston raises questions about who is behind the hood and how their violent ideologies are masked in society.”

Sarah Lucas: Happy Gas

Tate Britain, until 14 January 2024


Sarah Lucas was one of the key Young British Artists (YBAs) of the 1990s, exuding the punk attitude of the time with her playful and provocative works. This Tate retrospective includes more than 75 pieces spanning Lucas’s four-decade career, from early works like Fat, Forty and Fabulous (1990) and her quirky self-portraits such as Got A Salmon On #1 (1997), to ten recent sculptures being exhibited for the first time. The artist has worked closely on putting the exhibition together, saying of her decision to present works in a characteristically low-fi manner: “I decided to hang the exhibition mainly on chairs. Much in the same way that I hang sculptures onto chairs.”

Rubens and Women

Dulwich Picture Gallery, until 28 January 2024


At some point in the 19th century, the women depicted by Pieter Paul Rubens became typecast and described in English as “Rubenesque”. The term became shorthand for a voluptuous female body, alluding to the Flemish Baroque master’s penchant for nudes. It is a perception that the curators of the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s autumn exhibition, Rubens and Women, hope to dispel—or at least complicate. The show is billed as the first to examine the “varied and important place occupied by women, both real and imagined, in [Rubens’s] world”. The theme was inspired by the proliferation of female figures in the gallery’s own Rubens holdings and by the artist’s biography. “The more we looked at Rubens the man, the more we realised how essential women were in the story of his life,” says the art historian Amy Orrock, the exhibition’s co-curator.

Re/sisters: A Lens of Gender and Ecology

Barbican Art Gallery, until 14 January 2024


This show explores the “systemic links” between the oppression of women and the exploitation of the planet, says its curator Alona Pardo. Offering a refreshing counter to the way in which Western male artists across history have positioned nature as something to be imposed upon, it brings together a group of around 250 works by women and gender non-conforming artists—a large portion from indigenous communities and the Global South—that focus on care and connection. Among the highlights is Chicana LGBTQ artist Laura Aguilar’s series Nature Self-Portrait, in which she depicts her plus-sized body intertwined with objects such as a boulder and tree branches. These are works that “defy Western standards of beauty”, Pardo says, and question “how nature has been represented and who owns that space”.

Daidō Moriyama: A Retrospective

The Photographers’ Gallery, until 11 February 2024


The incandescent images of Daidō Moriyama—the punk king of Japanese photography—fill the main exhibition spaces at the Photographers’ Gallery for a major retrospective spanning his 60-year career. Visitors should pay special attention to Moriyama’s 1972 publication Shashin yo Sayonara (known as Farewell Photography), an almost complete eschewal of traditional ideas of ‘good’ composition and aesthetics. Some of the photographs were burnt and peeling, abstracted by chemical spills in the dark room—a conscious act of destruction. Writing of the series, the art critic Minoru Shimizu called Farewell Photography “a method of annihilation: no meaning, no expression, no sense of the photographer”.

Nicole Eisenman: What Happened

Whitechapel Gallery, 11 October-14 January 2024


Nicole Eisenman became successful as a painter, but the vast range of media and materials she employs is an aspect of her work that the curators of her show at the Whitechapel Gallery are seeking to emphasise. There are sculptures, prints, drawings, murals, paintings and a complex new installation, Maker’s Muck (2022), among the more than 100 works in the show.

Georg Baselitz: Sculptures 2011-2015

Serpentine South Gallery, until 7 January 2024


Whether by turning his paintings upside down or with his widely reported comments that women are not good painters, Georg Baselitz, one of the most influential artists of his generation, has never been afraid to provoke. Now 85, this exhibition is comprised of pieces from the German artist’s studio that were never intended to be exhibited. Instead, the chiselled tree trunks were created as maquettes for casting bronze sculptures. The show also includes drawings that the artist made of the sculptures.

Claudette Johnson: Presence

Courtauld Gallery, until 14 January 2024


Claudette Johnson has created some of the most powerful figurative art of recent decades in the UK. Since the early 1980s, she has used drawing and painting together in works that are bold yet sensitive, imposing in scale and intimate in their handling. They confront the historic invisibility, distortion and denial of Black subjects—and particularly Black women—in art. This is her first major museum presentation in London, featuring works ranging from her 1980s “semi-abstract” pieces to new paintings.

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine

Hayward Gallery, until 7 January 2024


“The camera is a time machine capable of representing the sense of time,” says the Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. The largest monographic exhibition of Sugimoto’s work includes all his major photographic series, which often explore photographic methods and play with the concept of time. The show spans Sugimoto’s 50-year career, from his black and white Theaters (1976-ongoing), where a long exposure captures an entire feature film, to his recent richly coloured Opticks (2018-ongoing) works. And if you want to get into the artist’s state of mind, why not play The Beatles’ Let It Be through your headphones?