LONDON — Sunshine, that capricious and all together rare visitor to this sceptr’d isle, has made an unscheduled stop in London this month. Basked in spring heat, the capital’s young and old have flung aside their wintry trappings and embarked on the fleeting mass delusion that Great Britain is in the tropics and that for want of any palm-smattered beaches, Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, hell even the recovery lane of the Hammersmith flyover are all perfectly appropriate places to frolic like Cezannesque bathers.

Accordingly the London Art scene has rustled up a numberless array of high profile shows and perhaps intrepidly ushered in the age of the Spring Blockbuster; either way flavour of the month seems to be the epically vast solo show/retrospective featuring the nearest available superstar promethean art-hero. Now showing at an institution near you are a selection of “dead celebs” including Lucian Freud (National Portrait Gallery) and Picasso (Tate Britain), and “not quite dead celebs” David Hockney (Royal Academy) and Yayoi Kusama (Tate Modern) amongst others.

So if you’re looking for respite from the bacchanalian bustle of the Big Smoke at 20 degrees or just looking to punctuate those protracted bouts of sun-worshipping, don’t miss the following.

1. Louis Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed

Freud Museum (20 Maresfield Gardens) March 9–May 27

Louise Bourgeois, “Untitled” (2010). Fabric, thread, rubber, stainless steel, wood and glass. (image courtesy Hauser & Wirth and Cheim & Read Photo: Christopher Burke, © Louise Bourgeois Trust)

Freud’s North London home, to which he fled pre-war Germany in 1938, provides the appropriate setting for Philip Larratt-Smith’s examination of Louise Bourgeois’s engagement with psychoanalysis as interpreted through a collection of her sculptures, drawings and writings.

The influence of psychoanalysis on Bourgeois’s work is well-documented; the strength of this exhibition is its emphasis on psychoanalysis as a form of therapy rather than as a cultural or philosophical methodology. Bourgeois herself underwent psychoanalytic treatment between the 1950s and 80s and her newly discovered writings, comprising mostly diary entries and fragmentary reactions to treatment provide the curatorial crux of the show. The implication of their display alongside her sculptures is to foreground the Freudian association of creativity and artistic output, with the cathartic process and sublimation. It is difficult not to draw equivalences; Freud as analyst, Bourgeois as analysand? Bearing this in mind, the exhibition conjures a beguiling interplay between Bourgeois’s sculptural phantasmagoria, and the comfortable and bookish domesticity of Freud’s home. The relation between the works and the exhibition space; for example, the spider sculpture placed menacingly on the house’s back lawn or alternatively Bourgeois’s Janus Fleuri provocatively suspended above Freud’s famous couch, can be read as being emblematic of that antagonism indicative of neurosis and psychopathology.

This small but fascinating exhibition not only showcases a collection of high-quality works, but also provides a meticulously documented psychohistory played out in the homely and respectable rooms of a North London suburb.

2. Yayoi Kusama

Tate Modern (Bankside, Sumner Street) February 9–June 5

Yayoi Kusama, 1965 (image courtesy Victoria Miro Gallery, London and Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo. © Yayoi Kusama, courtesy Yayoi Kusama studio inc. Photo: Eikoh Hosoe)

Tate Modern presents the UK’s first major retrospective of the relentlessly enigmatic octogenarian. Unsurprisingly, the exhibition reflects the exhaustive variety of Kusama’s output featuring paintings, sculptures, installations, film and archive material from her myriad artistic output since the 1950s.

The exhibition is utterly immersive and visually enthralling across the various media. From the perhaps surprising technical subtlety of her early drawings and paintings, to the sinister organicism of her Accumulation sculptures, and the utterly mesmerising installation, “Infinity Mirrored Room,” commissioned specially for Tate, the exhibition is characterised by a hyper-sensory engagement with the artist’s obsessively repeated forms and colors. Having famously been a resident of a psychiatric home since 1977, it is of course tempting to read these works as symptomatic of a willing and sustained psychological neurosis. It is indicative of the quality of this exhibition that Kusama’s albeit intriguing personality does not interfere with or detract from, the power and wonder of her works.

3. Edward Burtynsky

Photographers’ Gallery (16-18 Ramillies Street) May 19–July 1

Edward Burtynsky, “#1, Intersection 105 & 110, Los Angeles, California, USA” (2003) (© Edward Burtynsky Courtesy Nicholas Metivier, Toronto/Flowers, London)

Founded in 1971 and having previously played host to such luminaries as Sebastião Salgado and Robert Capa, the Photographers’ Gallery will open with Edward Burtynsky’s series OIL: Extraction and Refinement, Transportation and Motor Culture and The End of Oil charting the Canadian photographer’s engagement with the processes of production and distribution. Rags Media Collective, the New Delhi-based multi-disciplinarians will, alongside Burtynsky, inaugurate the gallery’s reopening with a customarily subtle and sensitive video inquiry into the mechanics of imperial mapping. What better way to welcome back a much missed staple of the London Art scene?

4. David Hockney: A Bigger Picture

Royal Academy (Burlington House, Piccadilly) January 21–April 9

David Hockney, “Winter Timber” (2009), oil on 15 canvases. 274 x 609.6 cm. (image copyright David Hockney, photo by Jonathan Wilkinson)

In an interview accompanying this exhibition, the 74-year-old granddaddy of British Art assures us that, “It’s not a retrospective show.” Indeed, despite the venerability of both artist and setting, A Bigger Picture does, perhaps against expectations, break new ground in Hockney’s multifarious 50-year career.

Ostensibly an examination of the artist’s engagement with landscape, previous periods such as Hockney’s Grand Canyon series and his photocollages of the 1980s are represented but the focus of the exhibition lies on the artist’s recent monumental paintings of his native Yorkshire. Composed alternately of large scale oil paintings, en plein air iPad sketches and multi-still “fluid lens” photographs, Hockney’s most recent body of work is characterised by the will towards a kind of Fauve-like vibrancy and panoptical immersion in his painted environment. The grandeur of the RA’s hallowed rooms provides a suitable setting for this impressive painterly flourish; not that Hockney’s status as a living cultural monument was ever really in doubt.

5. Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset

Fourth Plinth (Trafalgar Square) February 23, 2012–2013

Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, “Powerless Structures, Fig. 101” (2012), Bronze. 4.11m

Late February saw the investiture of Elmgreen and Dragset’s “Powerless Structures. Fig. 101” atop Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth. The Scandinavian duo’s bronze boy and rocking horse is a typically sensitive response to the architectural pomp and 19th century zeal of this particular corner of Westminster.

The plinth itself, originally erected to host a sculpture of William IV to compliment three adjacent equestrian statues, remained empty for over 150 years until 2005 when it began to play host to a series of roughly annual rolling exhibits. The bronze rocking horse’s relationship with its surroundings is wonderfully evocative offering a resolute challenge and powerful inversion of the imperialist fantasia of Trafalgar Square; a commemoration of youth which punctures the grandiloquent national myth-making and popular historical narratives habitually framed by the set-piece stateliness of Nelson’s Column, the National Gallery, the smattering of foreign embassies and the remaining accumulated trinkets of power.

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2 replies on “Art in London: 5 Things to See Right Now”

  1. Peaches! Pleased as punch to see your (long, extended, multicultural) name on here, not to mention your wit! Drop me a line!

  2. I’ve actually just arrived in London from NYC for a two week visit, so this is perfect. I even happened to see the Elmgreen and Dragset rocking horse on my first day and it looks fantastic. I hope to see more of these while I’m in the city. 

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