London's Art Scene: A Resilient Haven of Creativity
Resilience is the word that comes to my mind when I think about London. As an expat living in the city for a decade now, I brought my collection from Italy, but it’s here where it’s grown.
London Art Scene: Thriving Amid Chaos
In the face of the challenges posed by Brexit, the global pandemic, the NFT hype, and a softening economy, London is currently experiencing an artistic renaissance that is arguably the most captivating I've witnessed in the past ten years. In a rare collision of time and place, museums and galleries have brought to the city an elevated curation of contemporary art. From retrospectives and new productions to mesmerising installations and intimate paintings, the city offers a real journey across images and sounds, where the experience of art feels more relevant than ever.
Tate Modern: Guston, Kusama, Anatsui
Over the last 25 years, Tate Modern has been the institutional lighthouse of post-war and contemporary art in London. Currently, it’s hosting 3 exhibitions and each of them offers an unforgettable emotional experience.
The most recent of Tate exhibitions features Philip Guston (1913-1980) whose visions of a nightmarish world challenge narratives of power and, most importantly, the political system’s complicity in racism and oppression of minorities. Given their bold political overtone, Guston’s figurative paintings were rejected by the art world when first shown in 1970 and his later body of work was misunderstood until after his death in 1980. The exhibition room ‘Solidarity and Struggle’ takes us from the end to the beginning of Guston’s career and features one of his earliest paintings, “Mother and Child” (1930), inspired by highly stylized forms of Giorgio de Chirico and created by Guston when he was only seventeen.
Another room presents us with the wealth of media involved in Guston’s transition ‘from the wall to easel’ and the blossoming of his career as a muralist. One of my favourite parts of the exhibition is footage of a Mexican mural “The Struggle Against Terrorism” Guston contributed to with muralists David Siqueiros and Diego Rivera. Portraying the Spanish Inquisition, Ku Klux Klan and vivid scenes of suffering, this early work is a moving example of how murals provided artists with a medium to articulate revolutionary political messages. References to the suffering inflicted on African Americans by Ku Klux Klansmen are ever-present throughout the exhibition, represented by a series of ghostly hooded figures that continued to populate the artist’s paintings until the end of his career. Much like Guston’s work itself, the exhibition bridges the realms of the abstract and the figurative, the personal and the political, capturing how Guston’s work spanned across diverse, often distant media and legacies.
Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms opened around a year ago, and if you’re looking for an immersive and visually captivating experience, it’s worth a visit. The reflective surfaces within infinity mirror rooms create a sense of boundless repetition and transcendence. Entering Kusama’s infinity room feels like stepping into an otherworldly dimension, surrounded by vibrant colours and an endless realm of reflections. As suggested by the specialist in modern and contemporary art Jo Applin “the room produces phenomenological and psychological uncertainty in participants, who are equipped with neither script nor strategy. The work is at once an invitation and a series of unanswered questions'1. By stepping into this space, you not only experience the artwork spatially but see yourself in the endlessly multiplied reflections and, to an extent, become the subject of the work.
While at Tate, you also can’t – and I’m quite sure you won’t – miss the installation of El Anatsui, a Ghanaian sculptor, whose monumental new artwork features now in the Turbine Hall. Titled “Behind the Red Moon,” this sculptural installation is made of thousands of metal bottle tops and fragments. Crumpling, crushing, and stitching them into different compositions, the artist created large panels that form massive fields of colours, shapes and lines. The work has been commissioned by HYUNDAI and builds on Anatsui’s interest in the migration of goods and people during the transatlantic slave trade. Sourced in Nigeria, the liquor bottle tops used in this commission form part of a present-day industry built on colonial trade routes. Laura Cumming aptly calls it a transformation of the Turbine Hall a ‘ship in full sail, carrying such a burden of history so lightly in its glimmering fabric'2.
Marina Abramović at Royal Academy
Marina Abramović’s exhibition at the Royal Academy is an unmissable experience this fall whether you’re familiar with the work of this iconic Serbian artist or not. Marina Abramović revolutionised performance art from ‘70s onwards, putting herself at the forefront of performances and inviting audiences to interact with her in ways of their own choosing. In her early work “Rhythm 0” (1974), Abramović pushed her own body to the limits, exposing herself to the audience for six hours to test what sort of interactions emerge between humans when bodies become reduced to objects. The performance resulted in a loaded gun being held to the artist’s head, an incident positioning the work in the context of crowd mentality and its dangers. A later work, “The House with the Ocean View” (2002), created in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, saw the artist live in a house constructed in a gallery for 12 days. The performance famously invited audiences to participate in the basic act of living.
The current exhibition at RA brings together sculpture, video, installation and performance to highlight key moments from over 50 years of Abramović’s career. The show provides an intimate experience of performances reproduced live at different times and by different groups of young people.
A new generation of performance artists, trained in Marina Abramović’s method, is actively involved in the exhibition, reperforming some of the artist’s iconic works, including “Imponderabilia”, “Nude with Skeleton”, “Luminosity” and “The House with the Ocean View”. This is a great example of the resilience of the London art scene: it shows how iconic pieces of art gain second life in the heart of the city thanks to the endless possibilities of collaboration that blossom even in the challenging times.
If you haven’t seen the exhibition and are yet to discover the work of Marina Abramowić, the 2012 documentary film “Marina Abramowić: The Artist Is Present” may provide an inspiring context. It follows the artist in her preparation for a retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, featuring poignant moments, such as the unexpected reunion with her ex-partner Ulay after 20 years during the performance.
Liu Ye: Naive and Sentimental Painting at David Zwirner
Liu Ye’s second solo exhibition at David Zwirner sets a new tone for the art world in London moving forward. The Chinese artist’s paintings are characterised by a deeply contemplative nature, creating a unique universe rooted in cultural sources: the work of Vladimir Nabokov, twentieth-century Chinese cultural icons, and modernist painters, architects, and designers. The exhibition is not just an exploration of self-portraiture but also its various historical legacies, noticeable in both Ye’s choice of references and the sophisticated paint handling evocative of European old masters.
The exhibition is a journey across legacies, personal memories and visual language that pushes the boundaries of a specific time and place. Spanning Liu’s diverse interests, the showcased paintings encompass a range of inspirations, as well as depictions of family and pets. Enthusiasts of Wong Kar-wai will be pleased to find portraits of Maggie Cheung as Su Li-zhen, the iconic heroine of “In the Mood for Love” (2000). Portraits of Vladimir Nabokov and William Shakespeare pay tribute to the literary sources that shaped Liu Ye’s creative vision. Those familiar with the work of Jorge Luis Borges, whose portrait is also part of the exhibition, are likely to appreciate subtle parallels between the labyrinthine worlds of the Argentine writer and the imaginative qualities of Liu Ye’s paintings.
Anna Uddenberg’s HOME WRECKERS at Perimeter Gallery
HOME WRECKERS is the first solo exhibition of the Berlin-based Swedish artist Anna Udenberg in the UK. If you haven’t seen the bold and boundary-pushing work of this artist yet, the unsettling universe she has created is now finally open for the UK public.
Uddenberg is known for questioning the over-sexualisation of women in popular media, particularly in advertisements promoting household items like sofas, prams, and even laundry detergents. A collection of sculptures featuring ten faceless female figures stretched into hypersexualised poses appears at Perimeter, exposing the absurdity of images and ideas ingrained in our culture. These sculptures (three originally produced for Balenciaga’s advertising campaign in 2021) were crafted over the last seven years and to situate them in a generic interior setting, Uddenberg transformed The Perimeter with plush furnishings like sofas and carpets, challenging the associations of femininity and domesticity. While this exhibition is less interactive than the iconic “Fake-Estate” (2022) at Berlin’s Schinkel Pavillon, where a group of baby-esque performers posed in and around ergonomic sculptures to activate them, it still confronts the viewer with moments of discomfort, which makes it an important addition to the current art scene.
Masaomi Yasunaga: Clouds in the Distance at Lisson Gallery
“Clouds in the Distance” at Lisson Gallery introduces UK audiences to Masaomi Yasunaga's innovative practice, showcasing a body of work that blends ancient ceramic techniques with contemporary questions. Masaomi Yasunaga is an avant-garde Japanese sculptor, a former student of the Japanese artist, Satoru Hoshino who trained under Kazuo Yagi, a founder of the post-war art movement, Sodeisha. The Sodeisha group prioritised form over function to reject the idea of crafting artworks for a practical purpose.
Crafted in the artist's Iga-shi studio in Mie Prefecture, Japan, the exhibition features over 80 pieces, ranging from expansive biomorphic sculptures to miniature vessels. It takes us on a journey through abstractly shaped objects and unique materials ranging from copper, granite and brass to kaolin, silica silver leaf and gold leaf.
A unique feature of the exhibition is the motive of fire. Yasunaga’s sculptures push the viewer to imagine how objects evolve into something unexpected under the intense heat of the kiln. The exhibition offers an intimate encounter with the raw materials of our surroundings and the powerful, transformative influences of nature.
Collections That Stand the Test of Time
The London art scene invites us into a world of images and narratives that help us feel more connected to the surrounding world. The unique characteristic of many of the artworks across current London exhibitions is their relevance, meaning and cultural value that continue to grow over time. Art, being one of the most substantial luxury collectables, derives its value from cultural significance – a quality that takes time to develop and become evident. Curated collections are like an equity fund, except here at Artscapy, instead of acquiring a set of shares, you’re building and owning your personal art collection – either displayed in the comfort of your home or securely stored with us.
1) Jo Applion, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field, p. 3.
2) Laura Cumming, Nicole Eisenman: What Happened; Re/Sisters; El Anatsui: Behind the Red Moon – Review