Located in the Southbank Centre, the UK’s largest arts centre which also includes the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the National Poetry Library and the Purcell Rooms, the Hayward Gallery opened in 1968 with a Matisse retrospective. Since then it has presented major shows by some of the world’s leading contemporary artists such as Bridget Riley, Antony Gormley, Tracey Emin, Ed Ruscha and Anish Kapoor.
The gallery has reopened with Among the Trees (until Oct 31), the first exhibition in the UK to show how trees and forests have been represented in contemporary art. Spanning 50 years (and timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day), it features work by over three dozen artists from five continents and includes video installations, life-size sculptures, large scale paintings, drawings and photography.
Locations range from Colombian rainforests and Japanese jungles to Scandinavian woods and olive groves in Israel. Highlights include: Eva Jospin’s remarkable Foret Palatine, a wall-size, fairy tale-like installation made entirely from textured cardboard; film director Steve McQueen’s photograph of an innocent-looking tree near New Orleans which was used to lynch black Americans; and Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s Horizontal – Vaakasuora, a mesmerising, 16-metre long video portrait of a Finnish spruce. www.haywardgallery.org.uk
In their spacious rooms opposite St James’s Park, the Mall Galleries are England’s national focal point for contemporary figurative art. Operated by the Federation of British Artists, they host a series of exhibitions and offer educational activities to diverse age groups and communities.
Currently underway is the Festival of Figurative Art (until Dec 6), a series of annual exhibitions by leading art societies focusing on representational painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture. The exhibitors are the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the Royal Society of Marine Artists, the New English Art Club, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and the Hesketh Hubbard Art Society. Together they feature thousands of works by hundreds of artists. www.mallgalleries.org.uk
Many of its works would make it into a list of the most recognisable images in art, including Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait, Johannes Vermeer’s Lady Standing at a Virginal, John Constable’s The Hay Wain, Georges Seurat’s Bathers at Asnieres, Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers and many more.
Inspired by the 2018 acquisition of Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (c.1615–17), the first painting by the artist to enter a UK public collection, the National Gallery is about to present the first major UK exhibition of her work in Artemisia (Oct 3-Jan 24, 2021), a selective survey of the artist’s career comprising around 30 works, most of them being shown in the UK for the first time.
At a time when women artists were not readily accepted, Artemisia Gentileschi was exceptional. The first woman to gain membership to the artists’ academy in Florence, she gained fame across Europe and counted leading rulers among her patrons. Although greatly admired during a 40-year career, she was essentially rediscovered in the 20th century and today is recognised as one of the most gifted painters of the Italian Baroque period.
A particular highlight of the exhibition will be the display of the two versions of her most famous and iconic composition, Judith beheading Holofernes (c.1612-13). Her ability to paint female figures of strength and passion as well as vulnerability, often featuring herself as the model, was a frequent feature of her work. www.nationalgallery.org.uk
Occupying the former royal stables alongside Buckingham Palace, The Queen’s Gallery stages a series of themed exhibitions featuring works from the Royal Collection. Owned by HM Elizabeth II, it is the largest private art collection in the world. Spread over several royal residences, it is made up of over one million objects, including 7,000 paintings, over 150,000 works on paper and about 450,000 photographs as well as sculptures, tapestries, furniture, ceramics, textiles, carriages, weapons, armour, jewellery, clocks, musical instruments, tableware, manuscripts and books.
Currently showing in sumptuous surroundings is George IV: Art & Spectacle (until Oct 11). George IV amassed an unrivalled art collection of paintings, metalwork, textiles, furniture, watercolours, books and ceramics, many by the finest artists and craftmakers of the day and including Dutch and Flemish masterpieces, portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence and Sir Joshua Reynolds, delicate French porcelain, intricate goldsmiths’ work, elegant books and drawings. www.rct.uk
The Royal Academy of Arts has championed art for over 250 years. Established in 1768 as an independent, artist-run institution to host exhibitions and operate an art school to pass on skills and knowledge, it counts innumerable distinguished artists among its Royal Academicians, or RAs. It marked its 250th anniversary in 2018 by commissioning the architect David Chipperfield to link its Burlington Gardens and Piccadilly buildings to create the “new” RA.
The academy continues a long history of major exhibitions with Gauguin and the Impressionists (until Oct 18), featuring 60 works from Denmark’s Ordrupgaard Collection by painters such as Manet, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Morisot, Degas, Courbet, Corot and Gauguin, many being seen in the UK for the first time. www.royalacademy.org.uk
Situated five minutes apart in Kensington Gardens are two sister galleries named after the nearby lake in as bucolic a setting as you’ll find in London.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020, the Serpentine Gallery occupies a former 1930s tea pavilion. Every year since 2000 it has commissioned a temporary summer pavilion by a leading architect situated on the gallery’s lawn for three months for the public to explore. Over the years structures have appeared by the likes of Daniel Liebeskind, Oscar Niemeyer, Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry.
Nearby the Serpentine Sackler Gallery is housed in The Magazine, a Grade II-listed former gunpowder store from 1805 to which the late “starchitect” Zaha Hadid added an extraordinarily flowing extension in a glass-fibre textile which seems to grow organically from the original brickwork.
This year the Serpentine is showing the first institutional solo exhibition in Europe by the New York-based painter Jennifer Packer (from Nov 18), known for intimate portraits of her friends and family as well as floral studies. At the Serpentine Sackler, Formafantasma: Cambio (Sep 29-Nov 15) is an examination of the timber industry by the Italian design duo Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin. www.serpentinegalleries.org
Part of the Tate network of galleries which also includes Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives, Tate Britain is the oldest of them, having opened in 1897. One of the largest art museums in the country, it houses a substantial collection of British art from 1500 to the present day.
Works which may be on display at any one time are by a roll-call of British greats, such as William Blake, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, John Constable and John Singer Sargent, while more recent names include David Hockney, Peter Blake and Francis Bacon.
The gallery also organises career retrospectives of British artists. With a particularly large body of work by J.M.W. Turner, who bequeathed his own collection to the nation, it will soon open Turner’s Modern World (Oct 28-Mar 7, 2021), a landmark exhibition showing how Britain’s greatest landscape painter captured the momentous events of his day, from wars and independence struggles to the impact of the industrial revolution on the natural world and the effects of modernisation on society.
Over 160 key works will show how Turner addressed these subjects with works such as The Battle of Trafalgar (1806-8), The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1835), The Fighting ‘Téméraire’ (1839) and Rain, Steam and Speed (1844). www.tate.org.uk
This year celebrating its 20th anniversary (it was the most popular museum in the world in its first year, drawing over five million visitors), the Tate Modern occupies the former Bankside Power Station on the south side of the River Thames, where the vast Turbine Hall forms an exhibition space unrivalled for sheer scale. Home to the national collection of modern art from 1900 to the present day, it was extended in 2016 with the opening of the 10-floor Blavatnik Building, with a viewing platform offering a panorama of London, and the conversion of oil tanks into spaces for performance art and film.
Currently showing is Andy Warhol (until Nov 15). A major retrospective of the Pop Art superstar famous for his iconic multiple images of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s soup cans, it includes works never seen before in the UK.
Coming up is Bruce Nauman (Oct 7-Feb 21, 2021), the first London exhibition in over 20 years to show the full breadth of the artist’s work. Over 40 works produced over a 50-year career encompass a range of media, including sculpture, sound, film, video and neon, for which Nauman (b.1941) is particularly known. www.tate.org.uk
This article appears in Artmag’s digital edition, 4th September.