Can you believe we are almost out of lockdown? Until the museums open on 15th May I’ve been making the most of the smaller exhibitions currently on in the West End private galleries and in this blog post I share my recommendations for 4 art shows to see in May. A word of warning though: the first two end this week (7 and 8 May) so there are only a few days left to catch them as I write this! Of course after that, there’s always the online version to ‘visit’ from your sofa.
The New Normal Pictures, White Cube Mason’s Yard
until 8 May
The New Normal Pictures by Gilbert & George brings together 26 large works from a new series they have been working on for over two years. Very different in feel from all previous exhibitions I had seen by the duo, the photomontages on display were created at their home studio during the 2020 lockdown using photos taken before the pandemic. In this new series, we see Gilbert & George collapsed, dazed and thrown all over the place, surrounded by litter, railings, drug bags, shovels, spades and old trinkets: the stuff they’ve found during their journeys on foot around the city. There are no ambiguous shades here, and no subtlety to soften their bleak urban ‘day-glo’, pandemic vision of the world. Worth seeing in person if you can, and experiencing these works in their real, extra-large dimension.
Memento Mori, Messums Cork Street until 7 May
I was delighted to discover Antony Williams’ paintings at Messum’s, as he is one of Britain’s leading figurative artists and I’d never come across his work before. Memento Mori is a body of work that was created entirely during the pandemic, while the artist was more or less confined to his studio. These small still lives, painted using the slow and exacting medium of egg tempera, focus on the objects that surround Williams in his studio: pine cones and a seed pods, a Dolls House bought at Kempton Antiques Market, a bird skeleton discovered in a boarded-up fireplace. Their composition is carefully orchestrated, the details exquisite and the perspective intriguing. This is a captivating collection of intimate paintings that made me feel as if I was being drawn into a different and very private world.
Us Now, Halcyon Bond Street
until 31 May
According to the gallery, Us Now looks at how artists appropriate national and political figures, imagery, and iconography in order to address this subject in their work. In my opinion it’s a bit of a mixed bag, with Dominic Harris’ digital works at its centre: the only thing I can say about these animated pieces is that they remind me of those moving waterfall pictures that used to be popular in Chinese restaurants in the 1990s. However, tucked away on a side wall there’s a stunning series of Andy Warhol screenprints from 1979 featuring a hammer and sickle, and it’s worth visiting the gallery just to see these.
Down in the basement there’s another interesting and larger collection by Warhol: the ‘Cowboys and Indians’ series from 1986, which celebrates the American West by paying homage to heroes and icons from both sides.
Also in the basement, a selection of paintings by Bob Dylan, inspired by New York. I was aware that he painted, but has never seen his work and I must confess that I liked it: the one below was my favourite.
Internal Objects, Gagosian Grosvenor Hill
until 6 JUne
With Internal Objects, Whiteread has moved away from her usual technique of casting the negative space of existing objects and instead built original ones: two apocalyptic sheds called Poltergeist and Doppelgänger, made of found wood and metal overpainted in white household paint. These were created during the pandemic, and their ghostly, haunting presence suggests that something catastrophic has occurred. Perhaps they were inhabited once, but if so we can be sure that nobody survived: the implication of a catastrophic global disaster is clear. This is the stuff of bad dreams, a deathly mirror reflecting our broken world. An alarming and unmissable installation.
Bourdon Place Sculptures
On a more cheerful note, round the corner from the White Cube on Bourdon Place, I discovered a group of bronze sculptures I had never seen before: they are by Neal French and celebrate photographer Terence Donovan, whose studio was a few yards from the sculptures, as well as the fashion and photographic history of the area. The figures represent Donovan and Twiggy on an alfresco fashion shoot in 1966, and you can find out more about them here.