The terrific accidental wheeze which means that, as ‘non-essential retail’ (argue that one, philosophers) commercial art galleries are able to open on-slash-not-before April 12 is a boon to those of us who have sorely missed strolling round white spaces looking at things we don’t quite understand and are mildly terrified to find out the price of. In all seriousness, there’s a fantastic crop of exhibitions coming up at London’s stellar for-profit art spaces, and they’re absolutely free to wander into. From Damien Hirst (inevitably) to John Akomfrah, Sandra Mujinga to Thomas Demand, these are the shows you should be seeing come the first week of the spring awakening.
Damien Hirst: Fact Paintings and Fact Sculptures
The idea of representing reality is behind Hirst’s long-running series of ‘fact’ works, which range from photorealistic paintings to a life-size tea cart (a reference to the snooker tournaments he attends with his pal Ronnie O’Sullivan). This show, which kicks off a solid year of Hirst exhibitions at the Britannia Street space (crikey), will feature some older but mostly unseen works created in his studio over the last 15 years.
Gagosian Britannia Street, from April 12
Rachel Whiteread: Internal Objects
After a 40-year career based on the casting and revealing of the insides of things, from the underside of chairs to the space within an entire house, Rachel Whiteread has done a handbreak turn and switched to the skin and bone of an object. This show of new sculptures is centred on two new works, hand-built by the artist and resembling the skeletons of dilapidated sheds. It’s a bold move, and a rather beautiful one.
Gagosian Grosvenor Hill, from April 12
The Australian artist Jessica Rankin appropriates methods traditionally associated with women’s work (embroidery and needlework) and incorporates them into her painting practice, creating ‘mental maps’ that explore notions of memory, intuition and interpretation. Previously her gorgeous, gestural work has evoked landscape - this new body of work represents a shift towards abstraction.
White Cube Bermondsey, from April 13
A highly influential contemporary Korean artist and educator, Park Seo-Bo is considered the father of the Dansaekhwa (“monochrome painting”) movement, which evolved in South Korea in the late 1970s. Despite its aesthetic similarity to Western minimalism, it’s actually much more about a return to nature and materiality, and Park’s own practice is rooted in the spiritual philosophies of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Just what we need to recalibrate.
White Cube Bermondsey, from April 13
Gilbert and George: New Normal Pictures
Possibly the antithesis to the restful work of Park Seo-Bo is this cheerfully loud series of 26 new paintings by London’s favourite living sculpture, Gilbert and George. This new series follows the pair on a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress on foot through the streets of London, charting its changes, gentrification and redevelopment as they head to the city’s eastern edges.
White Cube Mason’s Yard, from April 13
Lindsey Mendick: Hairy on the Inside
A fast-rising star, Lindsey Mendick uses ceramic and textiles to create witty, lavish installations that explore the pleasures and anxieties of contemporary life and womanhood through an engagement with popular culture. This new show conjures the strange but mundane scene of a fertility clinic for werewolves to delve into Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, from which Mendick suffers, and which can cause excessive hair growth and often makes women feel ashamed of and imprisoned by their bodies.
Cooke Latham Gallery, April 15 to May 21
Allez la France!
Only the second show at this ballsy young gallery that opened mid-pandemic in October last year on London’s iconic Cork Street. Run by Phoebe Saatchi Yates (whose art pedigree is right there in her name) and her husband Arthur Yates, it aims to give high level representation to artists not taken from the usual pools. This show of four French artists, a collective who normally make their impressive work on walls which get painted over the next day, speaks well of their eye and the gallery’s future.
Saatchi Yates, April 12 to May 15
Sabine Moritz: Mercy
New paintings, works on paper and, for the first time, photographs, reflect on the political, economic and environmental shifts of the past year through the lens of series, sequence and abstraction (don’t we wish we could all do that, it feels like it might be more palatable somehow). As a whole, they explore the dynamics of memory - but they’re also genuinely beautiful.
Pilar Corrias, from April 12
Charles Gaines: Multiples of Nature, Trees and Faces
The American conceptual artist Charles Gaines’ first ever solo show at the gallery comprises two new series of plexiglass grid works that reflect his fascination with structures and rules-based systems. His Numbers and Trees series continues a long-standing body of work that methodically plots images of trees to examine their structural form, while his new Faces series maps faces of people who identify as multi-racial over each other to explore political and cultural notions of representation. It’s a lot to get your head around but it’s also gorgeous to look at.
Hauser & Wirth, from April 12
Ugo Rondinone: a sky. a sea, distant mountains. horses. spring.
The New York-based Swiss sculptor Ugo Rondinone’s work never fails to cheer me up. This new exhibition of sculptures and paintings continue several themes in his practice - time, nature, renewal and the psyche - which meditates with wit and good cheer (day-glo colours are a frequent characteristic; this show includes 15 sculptures of horses cast in blue glass) on everyday life and the world.
Sadie Coles HQ, from April 12
Sue Williamson: Testimony
This is the first solo exhibition in the UK for the British-South African artist Sue Williamson and presents a sort of mini-retrospective of work from the 1990s to today. One of a pioneering generation of artists who stood up against the apartheid regime, Williamson uses many media, from video to sculpture and installation, to powerfully explore South Africa’s history and ideas of trauma, memory and identity. A must-see.
Goodman Gallery, from April 12
Following the Iranian artist’s major show at the Kunstmuseum den Haag, among other cool things this exhibition features new pieces from one of my favourite of his bodies of work, The Tuners, for which Nuur appropriates, enlarges, and recolours anonymous doodles collected from scrap paper used to try out pens in stationery stores across the world - an unconscious, universal language that transcends time and place. Neat, huh?
Max Hetzler, from April 12
Complex stuff, but beautiful, conceptual artist Mika Tajima’s work (paintings, textile works, sculptures) explores the relationships between technology, physical and psychic energy, incorporating and referring to everything from yoga breathing techniques to the ambient sound of a high tech energy fusion facility. Densely layered but worth trying to work your way into.
Simon Lee, from April 12
John Akomfrah: The Unintended Beauty of Disaster
One of the most consistently interesting artists working in video today, John Akomfrah creates meditative reflections on our collective consciousness (his Stuart Hall Project is still one of my favourite artworks of all time which is a lot for a 96 minute film about a cultural theorist). This new body of work, featuring footage filmed over the last six months, responds directly to the events of 2020, most notably the Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations against imperialist monuments.
Lisson Gallery, April 13 to June 5
An Infinity of Traces
Sitting alongside Akomfrah’s exhibition will be this group show, curated by the writer and curator Ekow Eshun, featuring UK-based established and emerging Black artists whose work explores notions of race, history, being and belonging through a variety of media. With the likes of Alberta Whittle, Ayo Akingbade, Jade Montserrat and Ufuoma Essi, it promises to be fascinating.
Lisson Gallery, April 13 to June 5
This group show of new and historical works from Jonathan Baldock, Huguette Caland, Jeffrey Gibson and Tau Lewis explores and challenges questions of identity, gender, sexuality and race through the transformative and performative qualities associated with textiles via their connection with the body. Wit and playfulness provide a way into multi-layers of meaning and narrative.
Stephen Friedman Gallery, April 13 to May 15
Sandra Mujinga: Spectral Keepers
The eeriest show you’re likely to see this spring, Sandra Mujinga’s installation at the Approach gallery is inspired by the world-building practices in video games, science-fiction novels and Afrofuturism. It’s also very, very green, which sounds restful but isn’t, and works, as related to the green screen of movies, as a proxy for blackness - a non-colour; a camouflage; hypervisible but invisible at the same time.
Approach, April 13 to May 1
Melanie Smith: Leave it to the Amateurs
Surprisingly, this is only Melanie Smith’s second solo exhibition in the UK, though she has exhibited widely internationally. Working across painting, film and performance (and often combinations of those) she explores notions of modernity in relation to art history and contemporary society. Her remotely directed new film, Vortex, and associated works pulls apart the picture plane in the creation of a sort of tableau vivant based on William Blake’s The Circle of the Lustful (1824-27).
Parafin, April 13 to June 26
Not Vital; Robert Rauschenberg
Two shows at the gallery strip the world down in different ways. A series of portraits unseen in the UK by the Swiss artist Not Vital reduce their subjects (often well-known figures such as Nina Simone or Mahalia Jackson) to the interplay of light and dark using a limited greyscale palette. Alongside these sits a show of Robert Rauschenberg’s Night Shades and Phantoms, made as part of his decade-long experiments painting on metal, making them seem to flicker in and out of existence.
Thaddaeus Ropac, April 13 to May 26 (Vital) and July 31 (Rauschenberg)
Thomas Demand’s large-scale photographs are never quite what they seem - this body of work blends and blurs the natural and the artificial and considers the role of models in how we structure the world. Images of lily ponds and indoor plant nurseries are meticulously constructed out of paper, shot and then destroyed; the images themselves consider the crossover of technology and nature. Another series looks at the working paper models used in the atelier of the designer Azzedine Alaïa, known for his architectural forms.
Sprüth Magers, April 13 to May 15
Michael Landy Break Down: 20 Years
It was “like witnessing my own funeral” Michael Landy later said about his seminal work Breakdown, in which he publicly destroyed all his possessions (from a single tea bag to a Saab) in the old C&A building on Oxford Circus. To mark 20 years since, Thomas Dane Gallery is mounting a display of archive material alongside documentary photographs by Wolfgang Tillmans which are exhibited for the first time.
Thomas Dane, April 13 to June 6
Arturo Herrera: From This Day Forward
An homage to collage from the Venezuelan artist, continuing his examination of modernist legacies and visual culture with a group of new works created from images gleaned from popular culture, alongside immersive wall painting and bookmaking in his fourth exhibition at the gallery.
Thomas Dane, April 13 to June 6
The influential German painter presents a new body of work returning (as many painters have before him) to the theme of Arcadia. His gestural, expressionist works pull figures from Italian Renaissance and Dutch Golden Age paintings, give them identities as characters from Greek mythology and place them into idyllic landscapes, often inspired by the surroundings of his studio in Märkisch Wilmersdorf, Germany.
Michael Werner, April 13 to May 15
This is the first solo exhibition in London by the late Antiguan artist - Francis Archibald Wentworth Walter, self-styled 7th Prince of the West Indies, Lord of Follies and the Ding-a-Ding Nook, to give him his proper title. A remarkably talented painter, if deeply eccentric (not, of course, mutually exclusive) Walter created a vast body of work (in addition to writings and sound recordings) over six decades on materials from wood, to Masonite, and using oil paint, tempera, watercolour, crayon, pencil, shellac, and glitter. A real treat.
David Zwirner, from April 15