London’s 10 Best Winter Art Shows

Francis Bacon Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion circa 1944 (Download high resolution image 2.12 MB)

Francis Bacon – Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c/o Tate Britain

London is one of the world’s greatest cultural capitals so it’s no surprise that the winter season is jam-packed with blockbuster art shows.

I’ve been checking out what London has to offer culture vultures during the winter months so here’s my guide to the top 10 exhibitions in the capital.

1. A Walk Through British Art @ the Tate Britain

David Bomberg The Mud Bath 1914

David Bomberg – The Mud Bath 1914 c/o Tate Britain

The Tate Britain’s latest curatorial makeover is complete and I have to admit that the newly-painted and revamped galleries look awesome.

The Walk through British Art offers a circuit of Tate Britain’s collection of paintings and sculptures from 1545 to the present day.

The gallery layout has been reconfigured to create a circuit around its outer edge, designed so the visitor experiences a cross-section of British art. As a result you can stumble upon less-familiar as well as well-known works from the collection.

The journey takes us from painters like William Hogarth, J.M.W. Turner and John Constable through to Stanley Spencer, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.

There’s also a hefty nod to modern innovators like Chris Ofili and those naughty, subversive and witty Chapman Brothers.

In between there’s much to admire including a depth of sculptural works that showcases the true greats of British sculpture from Henry Moore and Jacob Epstein to Barbara Hepworth.

It’s well worth a walk around this impressive exhibition featuring the very best of British art and sculpture. A triumph!

Dame Barbara Hepworth

Dame Barbara Hepworth – Pelagos  © Hepworth Estate & Tate Britain

Where to see: A Walk Through British Art is at the Tate Britain. Free admission. The nearest Tube station is Pimlico.

Tammy tourist rating: *****

2. Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Come and See @ The Serpentine Galleries

Chapman Brothers

The Chapman Brothers show @ The Serpentine Sackler

The Chapman Brothers are the enfants terribles of the British art scene who burst on the world with their infamous installations at London’s Sensation exhibition in 1997.

Since then they’ve continued to push boundaries with their confrontational and compelling works which provide a cutting commentary on consumer-driven culture and human nature.

This fabulous show is full of wit, wisdom, shock and awe with a mind-boggling mixture of installations, sculptures, model figures, print making, video and paintings.

Stimulating and shocking, there’s a hefty dose of sensory overload delivered throughout the show. I laughed loudly at the challenging exhibits and felt enlivened by the whole crazy experience.

For me a highlight was the Chapmans’ Kino Klub video which showed a woman giving birth to the adult-sized Chapman Brothers, a surreal and nightmarish scene. There’s also actor Rhys Ifans doing some unmentionable things with body parts!

But it’s the Chapman Brothers’ large ‘Hell’ landscapes – ‘Hell’ (from 2000) and ‘The Sum of All Evil’ (2012-13) which impress the most.

They’re monumental and grotesque with their exquisite, miniature figures and portrayal of excessive brutality.  Mass slaughter, dinosaurs, fascism and war are just some of the subjects to receive the Chapman treatment.

The exhibits are overseen by hippy versions of Klu Klux Klansman wearing white gowns, woolly socks, sandals and smiley badges – subversive or outrageous depending on your viewpoint.

This is not a show for the faint-hearted or traditionalists but it’s highly entertaining, even if the art is not radically new from the terrible two. There’s much in this show that we’ve seen before.

It’s sited in the wonderful Zaha Hadid-designed Sackler Gallery with its clever spaces and smart restaurant next door (if the artworks haven’t put you off eating!).

Surreal and sensational – go and see!

Where to see: Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Come and See is showing at the Sackler wing of the Serpentine Galleries in Regent’s Park until 9 February 2014. Free admission. Closed Mondays. The nearest Tube stations are Lancaster Gate and South Kensington.

Tammy tourist rating: ****

Chapman Brothers

The Chapman Brothers mash-up media

3. Bill Woodrow @ the Royal Academy

Bill Woodrow

Bill Woodrow  – Beekeeper and Four Hives, 1997

Sculptor Bill Woodrow has made a career out of playing with everyday domestic and urban objects, from TVs to photocopying machines.

His art is in deconstructing them and reassembling the pieces in strange patterns to create a fresh view of their function and aesthetics.

This exhibition spans his career from early works to more recent installations and comprises around 50 pieces.

I was struck by the humour and inventiveness in his sculptures and installations.

My favourite piece is the ‘Beekeeper with Four Hives’ (opposite) which shows a puppet-like figure attending to strange machine-like hives.

The impressive ‘TV Blind’ from Woodrow’s famous Breakdown series in the late 1970s has been specially recreated by the artist for this exhibition.

There’s a great range of works from discarded household objects encased in plaster and concrete to pieces in welded steel and bronze.

Woodrow’s works are playful and fun with many genuinely surprising moments like the spin dryer melded with a bicycle frame.

Bill Woodrow proves that this his work is ever bit as entertaining and powerful as his contemporaries – Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley and Tony Cragg.

Where to see: Bill Woodrow is at the Royal Academy until 16 February 2014. The nearest Tube stations are Green Park and Piccadilly Circus.

Tammy tourist rating: ***

Bill Woodrow

Bill Woodrow  – TV Blind, 1979 c/o Royal Academy

4. Paul Klee @  Tate Modern

This is an impressive exhibition which traces Paul Klee’s career from his early Expressionist work with the influential Blaue Reiter group through to his involvement with the Bauhaus and his final years in Switzerland.

There’s much to admire in this comprehensive show featuring paintings that shows off Klee’s inventiveness and individualism.

Paul Klee, Fire at Full Moon, 1933

Paul Klee, Fire at Full Moon c/o Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

Paul Klee was a radical figure in European Modernism, characterised by his intense and intricate work, but for me it’s his use of colour and shapes that really stand out.

This show at the Tate Modern  is the UK’s first large-scale Klee exhibition for over a decade, bringing together over 130 colourful drawings, watercolours and paintings from collections around the world.

The abstract works bear out Klee’s famous description of himself as an artist “taking a line for a walk” with his rhythmic style and adventures in colour theory.

Paintings like his ‘Red Green and Violet-Yellow’ (pictured below) blaze from the gallery walls in a triumph of abstract expression and experimentation.

Paul Klee Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms 1920

Paul Klee’s Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Source: Art Resource/Scala Photo Archives

Since my visit to Klee’s Bauhaus-style house in Germany, I’ve wanted to get inside the skin of this artist – and this exhibition helped me to do just that.

If you love abstract art, this is definitely a ‘must-see’ show this winter.

The exhibition is so extensive that it becomes almost too much after walking through the 17 rooms, but there’s no doubt that this is art of the highest order, even if it’s sometimes harder to love the later works as much as his earlier canvases.

Where to see: Paul Klee: Making Visible is at the Tate Modern until 9 March 2014. Admission fee. The nearest Tube station is London Bridge or catch the RV1 bus from Covent Garden to the Tate Modern.

Tammy tourist rating: ****

5. Body Language @ the Saatchi Gallery

c/o Saatchi Gallery

Tammy at Body Language c/o Tony van Diesel

What I love about the Saatchi Gallery is its ability to pinpoint a group of artists making interesting new work and display them boldly and imaginatively.

The exhibitions at the Saatchi are often variable in quality but there’s always enough pieces guaranteed to thrill and stimulate the senses – and the Body Language show is no exception.

Body Language explores aspects of figurative art with depictions of men and women in paintings, photography, sculpture and multi-media.

Walk around the gallery’s wide, open spaces and you’ll get a sense of the erratic quality of the works, many of which will divide opinion. In fact they’re guaranteed to cause a family argument or two!

But a few words of warning. Art critic Brian Sewell trashed this show in his bile-filled review, calling many of the works childish, simplistic and rubbish.

I wouldn’t disagree that it’s a mixed bag and the technical quality of some of the paintings is poor but there are enough pieces of interest to make the trip worthwhile.

Russian artist, Denis Tarasov’s life-size images of male and female figures on gravestones and memorials of a cemetery are fascinating.

c/o Saatchi Gallery

Denis Tarasov’s gravestones and memorials

Also impressive is Romanian sculptor Andra Ursuta’s ‘Crush’ which shows a sprawled figure, lying contorted on the ground, begging us to ponder what has gone on prior to arriving at this distressing and brutal scene.

This disturbing vision is one of the best works in the whole Body Language show and left me thinking about the work for a long time after I’d exited the gallery.

Love it or loathe it, go and make your own mind up about this controversial body of work.

c/o Saatchi Gallery

Andra Ursuta’s Crush c/o Tony van Diesel

Where to see: Body Language is at the Saatchi Gallery until 23 March 2014. Admission is free. The nearest Tube station is Sloane Square. Don’t miss the impressive new Saatchi art shop on the first floor.

Tammy tourist rating: ***

6. Facing the Modern: Portraits of Vienna 1900

Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl, 1917-18

Klimt’s Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl. Photo – Belevdere, Vienna – donated by Vita and Gustav Kunstler

This exhibition of Viennese art charts the period at the turn of the 20th Century, an era full of anxiety, uncertainty and drama.

This was a turning point in history. There were dramatic changes blowing in the wind – Europe was about to implode with the First World War, modernism was stirring, and the old aristocratic order was being replaced by the new middle class.

I enjoyed the show with its intriguing exploration of portraits from this ‘golden age’ in Vienna’s history but I had  quite a few reservations about the choice of paintings.

There were too many traditional portraits of rich patrons in elegant cocktail dresses and furs painted by society portraitists such as Hans Makart – and not enough of iconoclasts like Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka.

Portrait of a Lady in Black, about 1894

Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady in Black c/o Private Collection

But it’s intriguing to learn more about this fascinating period of history which has lessons for all of us, not least with today’s Euro-zone crisis.

I had forgotten how huge the Austro-Hungarian empire had been in the early 1900s, taking in Croatia, Bosnia, part of Poland, the modern Czech Republic as well as Austria and Hungary.

This backdrop of history is crucial to understanding the paintings on display, many of which are portraits of the new middle class.

There’s some brilliant works by Egon Schiele with figures who’ve leapt up off Freud’s psychoanalysis couch, full of self-doubt, angst and introspection.

Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka also feature with a small number of their works that are better than most anything else in the show. What a shame there are so few of their paintings on display.

It’s chilling to gaze at Klimt’s beautiful portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl (pictured above) and then read that many years later she was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp in 1942.

A surprise were the works of the artist Richard Gerstl, which were full of passion and intensity. Sadly the artist took his own life after a doomed affair with the wife of composer Schoenberg.

Portrait of the Artists Brother Alois, about 1907

Portrait of the Artist’s Brother Alois by Gerstl – c/o National Gallery

This is an exhibition to send a shiver down your spine – and remind you that Europe was – and still is – a continent in flux and transformation.

Death and destruction lie heavily in the air so this may not be everybody’s favourite show but it’s a fascinating history lesson and journey of discovery.

Where to see:  Facing the Modern: Portraits of Vienna 1900 is at the National Gallery until 12 January 2014. Admission fee. The nearest Tube stations are Piccadilly Circus and Charing Cross.

Tammy tourist rating: ***

7. Daumier @ the Royal Academy

onoré Daumier <br />The Third Class Railway Carriage, 1862-64 <br />Oil on canvas <br />65.4 x 90.2 cm <br />The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <br />   Photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence <br />

Daumier’s The Third Class Railway Carriage c/o The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York/Art Resource/Scala, Florence

Daumier is one of those artists who seems to have slipped off the radar but this splendid exhibition should put him back where he deserves to be – at the heart of early 19th Century art and illustration.

This Republican free thinker and chronicler of everyday life lived during a pivotal time in France’s history.

Visions of Paris sets out to explore his legacy through 130 works, many of which have never been seen in the UK before, with paintings, drawings, watercolours and sculptures.

His illustrations and caricatures are simply brilliant and haven’t lost any of their wit and wisdom 200 years on.

As a snapshot of a city at an intriguing time in his history, Daumier’s visionary work is both insightful and amusing.

Honore Daumier <br />Lunch in the Country, c. 1867-1868 <br />Oil on panel <br />26 x 34 cm <br />National Museum of Wales, Cardiff <br />Photo (c)

Honore Daumier’s Lunch in the Country c/o National Museum of Wales, Cardiff

Where to see: Daumier‘s Visions of Paris is at the Royal Academy until 26 January, 2014. The nearest Tube station is Green Park. Admission fee.

Tammy tourist rating: ****

8. Pop Art Design @ The Barbican

Pop Art Design Installation image 22 October – 9 February © Gar Powell-Evans 2013 Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery

Pop Art Design © Gar Powell-Evans 2013 Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery

If you’re looking for a colourful, fun and entertaining show, then the Pop Art Design exhibition at the Barbican could be right up your street.

This interesting exhibition is a little bit different from recent Pop Art shows in that it explores the cross-over of ideas between Pop artists and designers.

There are works that almost everyone will recognise with iconic pieces by artists such as Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol.

There’s also the famous Studio 65’s ‘Leonardo’ stars and stripes sofa, rarely exhibited since it was produced in the late 1960s, and the controversial ‘Chair’ (1969) by Allen Jones featuring a woman’s sexualised body.

There’s a few surprises too with lesser-known objects by design kings like Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis group.

This is Pop Art as a way of life with interiors, architecture and furniture as well as photography and graphic design.

It made me wonder why we’re still so obsessed with pop artists and designers? Perhaps it’s our fascination with celebrity and popular culture?  Either way, it’s great fun.

Where to see: The Pop Art Design show is at The Barbican in London until 9 February 2014. Admission fee. Nearest Tube stations are Moorgate and Barbican.

9. Elmgreen & Dragset’s Tomorrow @ the V & A

Elmgreen and Dragset

Strange collisions c/o Elmgreen and Dragset

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it agin… this is one of London’s best and most surprising art shows.

The installation takes you through the keyhole of a reconstructed house laid out across six rooms of empty galleries in a far-flung corner of the V & A Museum.

This tour de force is as creepy as a Hitchcock thriller with as many psychological mind games as Vertigo or Spellbound.

Throughout the visit there are many intriguing questions raised about culture, class and cultural heritage using the personal story of an elderly architect called Norman Swann.

As we snoop around the house’s interior like detectives in search of clues, we are encouraged to piece together Norman’s life from choreographed details scattered throughout the grand but decaying apartment.

For all its clever trickery and story telling, this intriguing exhibition is entertaining as well as enlightening. Don’t miss this artistic journey.

Where to see: Tomorrow is at the V & A Museum until 24 January 2014. Free admission. The nearest Tube station is South Kensington.

Read Tammy’s blog post on the Elmgreen and Dragset exhibition.

Tammy tourist rating: *****

10. Stanley Spencer’s Heaven & Earth @ Somerset House

DUG-OUT (or STAND-TO) by Stanley Spencer (1891- 1959) at Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere, Hampshire. The sce

Dug-Out by Stanley Spencer

Stanley Spencer’s Heaven in a Hell of War at Somerset House is a remarkable exhibition which speaks volumes about war and conflict.

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the First World War, it’s appropriate that this exhibition should be showing in London.

Spencer’s paintings present a very different view of conflict from many other war artists. Rather than the horrors of battle, his presentation of war focuses on the daily lives of the soldiers away from the front line.

The powerful images captured in Spencer’s works are haunting and compelling because they provide a window into the world of the average soldier and his daily routines.

Where to see: Stanley Spencer’s Heaven in a Hell of War is at Somerset House until 26 January 2014. Free admission. The nearest Tube stations are Holborn and Charing Cross.

Read Tammy Tour Guide’s blog post about Stanley Spencer’s Heaven in a Hell of War.

Tammy tourist rating: ****

Also worth a detour – Whistler’s Thames @ the Dulwich Picture Gallery


Whistler – Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses c/o The Hunterian

‘An American in London’ is a very appropriate title for this exhibition – it’s almost like a love letter from the American painter Whistler to London and the Thames.

Whistler spent much of his life living and working in London so his paintings of Thames landscapes hit the mark especially if you enjoy his brand of American Impressionism and Aestheticism.

There are prints, drawings, watercolours, pastels and paintings including Whistler’s stunning ‘Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge (1872/1873)’.

Whistler’s scenes of the dockyards of Dickensian London and his mysterious depictions of the foggy Thames are fascinating,.. and take you back to the Victorian era.

But it’s hard to understand why Whistler’s work provoked such controversy in his day – the art critic John Ruskin accused him of “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”.

I would have liked more background to the controversial and ground-breaking Whistler, but still there’s much to admire about this exhibition.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery is a little gem of an art collection, if you have time to make the journey – catch this show whilst you can.

Where to see: Whistler’s Thames is at the Dulwich Picture Gallery until 12 January, 2014. Admission fee. Rail from Victoria Station to West Dulwich (train runs every 20 mins) – and takes around 12 minutes.

Tammy tourist rating: ***

Photo credits: Thanks to the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Dulwich Picture Gallery, National Gallery, The Barbican,  Somerset House, The V & A London, The Royal Academy and Tony van Diesel.

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