There is a smorgasbord of art to see as the capital heralds in the long-awaited spring. Culture-vultures can survey Francis Bacon’s perturbing animal-human hybrids at the Royal Academy, trace the evolution of Van Gogh’s portraiture through an intimate exhibition at the Courtauld, have behind-the-scenes access to the world of the artist’s studio at the Whitechapel Gallery, or even dive into the mythical world and history of Stonehenge at the British Museum.
Here are our top art exhibitions to see this spring.
Francis Bacon: Man and Beast
Where: The Royal Academy
When: Until the 17th of April, book here.
“Francis Bacon: Man and Beast” is an exhibition not for the faint-hearted. The queasily-irresistible exhibition on the Irish-born artist spans his 50-year career, where the collection of works focuses on Bacon’s fascination with animals. Brought up as the son of a racehorse trainer in Ireland, Bacon, regarded as “Britain’s most important post-war painter”, has always had a life-long fascination with the animal/human dichotomy, now laid bare in all its nausea-inducing beauty.
Throughout his colourful life, Bacon observed the uninhibited behaviour of animals to better understand human nature and capture “the unvarnished reality of our human condition.” The exhibition is the first to explore the theme of how Bacon’s interest in animals at once shaped and warped his approach to painting the human body. The show strings together 40 works carefully curated throughout his career, from his early haunting works like Crucifix (1933) to human-like works of animals like Study for Chimpanzee (1957) right through to his final work Study of a Bull (1991), an eerie depiction of a bull evaporating into the canvas, produced just a year before his death.
The highlight of “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast” is a triptych of bullfight paintings Study for Bullfight (1969), which uses a visual allegory of a bullfight to portray the unalterable condition of human struggle. It is the first time all three have been exhibited in tandem, and it truly is a remarkable sight to behold.
Van Gogh: Self-Portraits
Where: The Courtauld Gallery
When: Until the 8th of May, book here.
Instantly recognisable with his green-tinged face and flame-orange hair, there are 16 self-portraits where you can stare into the soul of the legendary painter Van Gogh at this intimate exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery. The exhibition, which reunites works that haven’t been together since they occupied his studio, traces the artist’s evolutionary style. From Self-Portrait with a Dark Felt Hat (1886), Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear (1889) right up until Self-Portrait with a Palette (1889), painted at the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a year before he took his life.
Used as a form of self-expression, as an avenue for exploring new techniques and as a method of introspection, Van Gogh’s portraits offer us insight into his creative process and troubled mind. The exhibition’s curator, Karen Serres, was keen to disrupt the notion that Van Gogh’s self-portraits are displays of raw emotion. Instead, she believes, they are demonstrations of techniques as much as they are of mood.
A Century of the Artists’s Studio: 1920-2020
Where: Whitechapel Gallery
When: Until the 5th of June, book here.
From Frida Kahlo’s sickbed to Cindy Sherman’s Manhattan loft, the Whitechapel Gallery presents a 100-year survey of the studio through the work of artists and image-makers worldwide. In this multi-media exhibition, visitors step through a portal and into the mind of artists like Francis Bacon, Louise Bourgeois, Egon Schiele to modern figures like Walead Beshty and Lisa Brice.
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The exhibition unfolds corresponding to two themes: The Public Studio — Artists Together, examines how artists have embraced the studio as a factory, exhibition space, arena, a collective space or classroom; and The Private Studio — Artists Alone, explores how the studio can be a place of refuge, comfort, or site of political resistance.
“A Century of the Artist’s Studio” braids together more than 100 works by over 80 artists and collectives from Africa, South Asia, China, Europe, Japan, the Middle East and North and South America. Expect spellbinding reconstructions of actual studios such as Matisse’s bedroom in the south of France and Kurt Schwitters’s Dada studio.
The World of Stonehenge
Where: British Museum
When: Until 17th of July, book here.
The prehistoric landmark of Stonehenge is perhaps the world’s most breathtaking stone circle. Shrouded in layers of speculation and folklore, the monument has charged myths and legends that persist today. In “The World of Stonehenge”, the British Museum reveals the secrets of the landmark, shedding light on its purpose, cultural power and the people that created it.
Tracing the story of Britain and Europe from 4000 to 1000 BC, the exhibit tells us of the restless and highly connected age of Stonehenge — as told through a variety of objects. Among these treasures are 430 objects from ancient Europe; stone axes from the North Italian Alps to examples of early metalwork including the Nebra Sky Disc — the world’s oldest surviving map of the stars. Together, these objects offer clues about the beliefs and rituals of the Neolithic people, helping us build a picture of what life was like for Europe’s earliest ancestors.
Surrealism Beyond Borders
Where: Tate Modern
When: Until 29th of August, book here.
While critics trace the origins of surrealism to Dalí, Miró and Picasso rubbing shoulders and exchanging ideas in 1920s Paris, it was a phenomenon that featured around the globe. “Surrealism Beyond Borders” looks beyond Europe to show how artists worldwide have been inspired by surrealism for over half a century.
Co-produced by Tate Modern and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the exhibition blows traditional understandings of surrealism out the water and showcases artists from Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, North Africa, Australia and Latin America who became inspired by the movement’s subversion of reality.
The exhibition at the Tate Modern plays host to everything from painting and sculpture to film, photography and radio broadcasts. Expect to see Salvador Dalí’s Lobster Telephone (1938), Harue Koga’s collage painting The Sea (1929), Leonora Carrington’s Self Portrait, Inn of the Dawn Horse (1938), and Hans Bellmer’s fetishistic The Doll (1936). The rooms at the Tate Modern sprawl with a cacophony of surrealists’ nightmares, fantasies and juxtapositions — prepare for a sensory overload.
Where: Tate Modern
When: Until the 2nd of October 2022, book here.
Born in Zanzibar in 1954, Lubaina Himid is known for dedicating her thirty-year-long career to unravelling marginalised and silenced histories, figures and cultural moments through paintings, prints, drawings and installations. Himid’s work addresses her heritage and is driven by two recurrent aspirations: to develop and sustain a conversation with an audience and to valorise, “the contribution black people have made to cultural life in Europe for the past several hundred years.”
This large-scale exhibition debuts the Turner Prize-winning artists’ recent work and includes selected highlights from her career. Taking inspiration from her interest in theatre, the exhibition unravels in a sequence of scenes designed to place onlookers centre-stage and backstage. From jelly moulds covered in African fabric patterns and Black faces, a wagon painted with fish, a wave represented by planks of wood: it’s Himid stage, and we, merely players.
Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature
Where: V&A Museum
When: Until 8th January 2023
Famed for her timeless tales and animal characters like Peter Rabbit and Jemina Puddle-Duck, “Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature” is an exhibition that explores the watercolour world of the beloved children’s author-illustrator. The V&A exhibition, co-curated with the National Trust, offers an intimate journey into the artist’s life from her childhood in Kensington, where she had private art lessons, to her travels in Scotland and settling down in the Lake District.
Always a keen observer of nature and animals, Potter harnessed her astuteness to develop her own natural world outside of the dreariness of the big smoke. Taking inspiration from holidays in Wales and Hertfordshire, Potter began to find her way toward financial independence as a middle-class Victorian single woman selling cards and short stories.
Expect to see original illustrations, personal diaries, letters and photographs which map Beatrix Potter’s life as not only a storyteller but also as a savvy businesswoman.
Where: Tate Modern
When: Extended to June 2023
Due to overwhelming public demand, the Tate Modern announced a one-year extension last week of “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms”. One of the most celebrated artists working today, the exhibition features two of Yayoi Kusama’s major installations: Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life is one of her largest installations to date and is shown alongside Chandelier of Grief, a room that creates the illusion of a boundless universe of rotating crystal chandeliers. As well as this, there is early documentation of Kusama’s experimental performances and a recently sculptural work continuing her limitless interest in infinite space.