I used to go and see some art every week. Sometimes for work, but mainly just cos being in a space with some good art that someone has made is one of the most rewarding things you can do with your life. It doesn’t matter if that person graduated last month or died 2,000 years ago. It’s a great way of reconciling yourself to death, and in London it’s usually free. Many of the city’s galleries have reopened and most of the rest will do so next month. These are five shows that caught my eye and I’m sorting out visiting as we speak.
First up is John Akomfrah’s ‘The Unintended Beauty of Disaster’ at the Lisson Gallery (pictured above). Great title, under the circs. Akomfrah is a super-sophisticated parlayer of ideas into emotive, thought-provoking works. He is not afraid of big topics. This show draws on sources as challenging as ecological catastrophe, post-colonial identity and the BLM protests. Standout works are ‘Triptych’ (2020) and three-screen film ‘Four Nocturnes’ (2019) in its UK premiere. Okay, you might not necessarily want to think about these things right now, but you should see this show. Until Jun 5.
There’s probably not a show in town with as much buzz around it as Matthew Barney’s ‘Redoubt’ at the Hayward. Barney’s is a global superstar, with an equally famous ex (Björk), who would be extremely annoying like Sting or someone if his work wasn’t so flipping amazing (unlike Sting). His ‘Cremaster’ cycle of films is possibly the closest that twenty-first-century art has come to Wagner in its sheer scale and ambition. ‘Redoubt’ isn’t quite so epic, but in Barney’s world, epic is relative. It’s still a two-and-a-quarter-hour-long film about wolf hunters in a wintry Idaho, takes in themes of ecology and the self, involves etching made on location and some giant casts of trees. You know, pretty casual, really. Go and wonder, puny human (but book it asap). May 19-Jul 25.
The British Museum has an interesting-looking single-room display called ‘Reflections: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa’. It’s all works on paper (including photography) and documents war, cultural and gender identity, and the refugee crisis among other things. We’re kind of used to these being plum subjects for outside journalists and artists, so seeing them from within these countries should be fascinating. May 17-Aug 15.
Markus Lüpertz is a venerable German painter and sculptor who shares some arty traits with his compatriots Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer: classical-ly motifs, blasted landscapes, a nod to pervasive myths of the Germanic psyche – that sort of thing. His show of recent paintings at Michael Werner looks to be a dour delight, with plenty of opportunity for heavy introspection. Nice one, Markus! Until May 15.
Last up is a bit of welcome light relief in the shape of Welsh wizard (almost literally, he once did a druidic be-in under Somerset House) Bedwyr Williams. Williams’s work spans drawings, video, performance and objects but his 2020 was all about Instagram, specifically an almost daily drawing skewering some aspect of the artworld: androgynous art couples, taking-themselves-too-seriously curators, lame residencies, wankers wankers wankers. ‘Milquetoast’ at Southwark Park Gallery is a protracted in-joke that is actually funny. Williams can also draw really, really well. Almost like a proper artist. May 19-Jul 11.
The ten absolutely best museums in London (you may disagree).