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Culture to binge on when London lockdown lifts (hopefully): art exhibitions

The young Susi Korihana thëri swimming, infrared film, Catrimani, Roraima, 1972 – 74.

Top image: The young Susi Korihana thëri swimming, infrared film, Catrimani, Roraima, 1972 – 74.

As the restrictions enforced during UK lockdown gradually lift, we’re all gagging to see things – anything! – again. Luckily, galleries have also been counting down the days until they’re allowed to open their doors again (17th May according to current Government plans) with exhibitions set up and raring to be seen.

With plenty to chew on, we’ve selected some of the artistic gems on show in England’s capital come 17th May. From David Hockney’s isolation iPad imagery to Ryoji Ikeda’s strobe light wormhole, prepare to set your senses free once again.

Jean Dubuffet at Barbican

Barbican is reopening with a bang: the first major UK exhibition of French artist Jean Dubuffet in over 50 years. Spanning four defining decades of Dubuffet’s experimental and disruptive work, the exhibition explores how he broke tradition by mixing paint with found objects and natural materials – shards of glass, coal, pebbles and string – to create vivid images that reflected the grit and movement of everyday life.

With over 150 works on show – spanning early portraits, lithographs, statues, butterfly assemblages and giant canvases – there are also two rooms dedicated to Dubuffet’s collection of Art Brut: a phrase he coined, which translates literally as ‘raw art’ to describe outsider works that eschewed convention, including graffiti and the work of the insane, prisoners, children and primitive artists.

“Art should always make you laugh a little and fear a little. Anything but bore.” – Jean Dubuffet

Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty runs at Barbican 17th May – 22nd August

Jean Dubuffet, Skedaddle (L’Escampette) 31 October 1964, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London

Ryoji Ikeda at 180 The Strand 

For those unfamiliar with Japanese electronic composer and visual artist Ryoji Ikeda, consider his forthcoming exhibition at 180 Strand a baptism of fire. Not only is it Ikeda’s largest solo exhibition in Europe to date, it will feature world premieres of several never before seen works that promise to lure viewers into Ikeda’s strobe-lit wormhole and keep them there. If that doesn’t sound like fun take it from us, it is. Plus, it’s an excellent opportunity to make up for the loss of audiovisual overload in the past twelve months. Ikeda’s art is like an entire industrial techno night squeezed into fifteen minutes.

Ryoji Ikeda at 180 Studios, 180 The Strand runs from 20th May to 1st August 2021. 

Ryoji Ikeda, test pattern [N°12], 2017, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

James Barnor at Serpentine

A new exhibition opening mid-May celebrates the life and legacy of British Ghanaian photographer James Barnor. Having already established himself as a leading photographer in his home country where he documented anti-colonial protests during the 50s, Barnor’s move to the UK in 1959 signalled the start of a second chapter that saw him shift his lens from the oppressed to the oppressors.

Then again, Barnor’s photographs from that time demonstrate how things were in fact a little more complicated, and he himself was surprised by the state of the country that was at the heart of the British empire. All this and more is laid out in Serpentine’s major retrospective, while also featuring nuggets of wisdom from some of the most exciting photographers working today, including Liz Johnson Artur, Samuel Fosso, Dayanita Singh, Juergen Teller and Tourmaline.

James Barnor opens at the Serpentine Gallery on 19th May

Drum Cover Girl, Erlin Ibreck, at Trafalgar Square, London, 1966. Courtesy Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

David Hockney at the Royal Academy

During lockdown, David Hockney turned to his iPad for inspiration. Working from his house in Normandy, the renowned artist ‘painted’ the unfolding of spring, translating his aesthetic to this new art medium – and they say the older generation can’t work technology! Now, these works are being displayed at the Royal Academy – a colourful and optimistic showcase to bring us into a positive summer.

David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring runs at the Royal Academy from 23rd May to 26th September.

David Hockney, No. 241, 23 April 2020

Park Seo-Bo at White Cube

Park Seo-Bo is a certified legend of Korean art. The octogenarian abstract painter, who is only weeks away from 90, was present at the birth of modern art in Korea and has been among its most accomplished flagbearers ever since. For his most comprehensive exhibition to date in the UK, White Cube are presenting a lifetime of work, from early figurative paintings to his vibrant ‘Colour Ecriture’ canvasses, produced since the early 2000s, that present autumn foliage as textured, kaleidoscopic visions.

Also on show are Park’s most recent ‘Ecriture’ abstractions, featuring horizontal blocks of pencil lines inscribed over a single colour of light pink, sky blue or acid green. If you detect a hint of abstract expressionism in these works you’d be right – Bo is widely credited with bridging West/East visual traditions, and having experimented with abstraction in his early career increasingly gravitated towards a style influenced by Taoist and Buddhist philosophy as well as the Korean tradition of calligraphy. This is one to say, “I was there.”

Park Seo-Bo is on at White Cube Online from 17th March – 1st May 2021 and at White Cube Bermondsey from 13th April – 1st May 2021 subject to UK government guidelines. 

Park Seo-Bo Ecriture No 161207, 2016

Claudia Andujar at Barbican

For over five decades beginning in the 1970s, Brazilian artist and activist Claudia Andujar has devoted her life to photographing and defending the Yanomami, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous peoples. A new exhibition at Barbican presents Andujar’s extraordinary archive of images, over 200, which have bolstered the artist’s long-running campaign to secure the Yanomami basic rights.

In the last twelve months especially, Covid-19 has been added to an already extensive list of threats that includes the destruction of the Amazon basin through extensive logging and mining activities. Andujar’s intimate images allow viewers to enter the world of the Yanomami for ourselves and feel their anguish.

Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle at Barbican runs from 17th June to 29th August 2021. 

Journey by pirogue, Catrimani, Roraima, 1974.

Es Devlin at Somerset House

London Design Biennale kicks off on the 1st June at Somerset House. Marking the occasion, the building’s iconic courtyard will be transformed into an incredible forest designed by Es Devlin for The Global Goals Pavilion. Comprising of 23 varieties of tree native to the UK and northern Europe, the installation – Forest for Change – voices a message of urgent action, highlighting the role of design in addressing global sustainability challenges.

Devlin said of the work: “When I was first shown around Somerset House many years ago, I discovered that the Enlightenment principles on which the building was conceived, specifically forbade the introduction of trees into the courtyard. Of course, the first thing we wanted to do when considering this year’s Biennale was to counter this attitude of human dominance over nature, by allowing a forest to overtake the entire courtyard. In literature, forests are often places of transformation: the forest of Arden in Shakespeare, the enchanted forests of the Brothers Grimm. The UN Global Goals offer us clear ways to engage and alter our behaviour and it is our hope that an interaction with the Goals in the forest will be transformative.”


Es Devlin, Forest for Change, Somerset House

Phantoms of Surrealism at Whitechapel Gallery

Held at the Burlington Galleries in London in 1936, the London International Surrealist Exhibition shook up the art world. As the world’s most renowned surrealist artists gathered to show their work, perhaps the most enduring image from that day is one of performance artist Sheila Legge in Trafalgar Square wearing a costume inspired by a Salvador Dalí painting with a mask of roses obscuring her head: Legge transformed into a ‘Surrealist Phantom’ as part of David Gascoyne’s exhibit of the same name.

A new exhibition starting at Whitechapel Gallery in mid-May celebrates the pivotal role of women as both artists and behind-the-scenes organiser within the Surrealist movement in Britain in the 30s. Using the Exhibition as a springboard, Legge’s influence is celebrated alongside the likes of Claude Cahun, Diana Brinton Lee and Margaret Nash. Drawing lines between art and politics, the exhibition will also touch on the left-wing Artists International Association, formed by a group of artists associated with the Communist Party of Great Britain during the 30s.

Phantoms of Surrealism runs at Whitechapel Gallery from 19th May 2021 – 12th Dec 2021

Sheila Legge as Surrealist ‘Phantom’, TrafalgarSquare, London, 11 June 1936. Photograph attributed to Claude Cahun. Courtesy Jersey Heritage Collections

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