The weather is getting colder but London’s art scene is red-hot with a selection of fantastic shows guaranteed to provide winter cheer.
Here’s my pick of the best exhibitions currently showing in the capital which are destined to warm your senses with 100% visual overload.
1. Post Pop: East meets West – Saatchi Gallery
Fun, fabulous and controversial, Post Pop: East Meets West is a great show whether you’re looking for light relief or artistic stimulation over the holidays.
This is an exhibition with something for everyone with its ‘over-the-top’ art works providing great talking points.
Where else could you see a cow’s rear end with a video of Lenin playing inside its belly? Gaze inside and marvel!
Another favourite is a life-sized female tennis player encased in a glass cabinet. On the opposite wall hangs a tribute to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson whilst nearby there’s a colourful styrofoam representation of the Queen of Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe.
‘Post Pop: East Meets West’ brings together 250 striking works by artists from China, Russia, Taiwan, the UK and the USA based around six themes.
The ‘Habitat’ gallery boasts strange interiors, bold ‘pop’ furniture and unfinished spaces. There’s even a bizarre kitchen full of flying pans and implements suspended in mid-air.
The ‘Advertising and Consumerism’ gallery is one of the most entertaining, taking its cue from American Pop Art imagery from the 1960s. Look out for re-imagined everyday objects including Duchamp-style gold urinals and Warholesque cardboard boxes.
The show is hugely playful and teases us with its use of humour and subversive imagery drawn from popular culture.
Post Pop is an unusual show because it’s the first I’ve seen which explores the relationship between western and eastern Pop Art.
It’s fantastic to see this east-west cross-over of Pop Art in the post-Warhol world… so total credit to the Saatchi Gallery for its bold and brash show.
Upstairs in the ‘Sex and Body’ gallery, the challenging art works aren’t for prudes, but if you’re prepared to look, there’s everything from sex-mad skeletons to decorative genitalia.
The neighbouring gallery is more conventional, focusing on ‘Celebrity and Mass Media’ with an explosion of images from our status and celebrity-obsessed world.
Mickey Mouse joins Lenin and Jesus in a mind-blowing, scarlet red sculpture by Alexander Kosolapov called ‘Hero, Leader, God’. Other exhibits draw heavily on imagery from commercial advertising and propaganda posters.
The ‘Ideology’ gallery displays provocative works with patriotic motifs. There are impressive Russian ‘pop’ pieces which tackle tough themes such as state control, conformity, ceremony, pomp and unanimity.
My favourite is a work of three silver-chrome figures carrying Soviet symbols, created in the kitsch style of American pop artist, Jeff Koons.
Chinese art is too rarely seen in London’s galleries but here’s a chance to discover the country’s contemporary artists. They provide a commentary on the social dislocation created by this new superpower’s fascination with wealth and luxury following a period of austerity.
The western artists are represented by big guns like David Mach, Julian Opie, Gavin Turk, Rachel Whiteread, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer and Jeff Koons whilst the eastern perspective is provided by the likes of Ai Weiwei, the Blue Noses Group, Boris Orlov, Leonid Sokov and Alexander Vinogradov.
Post Pop: East Meets West is fresh and exhilarating and unlike anything else currently showing in London. It’s provocative and mind-blowing. Best of all, admission is free.
Visit the virtual gallery by clicking on the images shown below.
Post Pop @ The Saatchi Gallery runs until 23 February, 2015.
2. Egon Schiele – Courtauld Gallery
Egon Schiele – The Radical Nude is a show that ‘s well worth a trip if you’re in the vicinity of the Courtauld Gallery on The Strand.
Egon Schiele was one of the most important artists of the early 20th Century. A central figure of Austrian Expressionism, he was renowned for his nudes, and many of his best works are assembled together for the first time in this exhibition.
Not always easy on the eye, Schiele can be an acquired taste with his expressionistic figures but this display of his nudes is unmissable.
His unflinching depictions of the naked figure are laid bare in this exhibition which showcases more than 30 radical works from international collections.
The only downside on my visit was the huge number of school kids blocking every art work as they sketched away. My advice is to go during a quiet spell to make the most of these revealing works.
Schiele’s The Radical Nude runs until 18 January, 2015 at the Courtauld Gallery.
3. Allen Jones – Royal Academy
Controversy isn’t far away wherever you look at the Allen Jones retrospective at the Royal Academy. This is a great exhibition if you’re looking to have a festive family feud over feminism!
Allen Jones’ early mannequins – scantily clad women as furniture – greet you as you walk into the show.
These iconic Pop Art works were attacked by feminists hurling acid in the 1960s – and they haven’t lost any of their power to shock today.
They set the scene for what’s to follow in a show which covers 50 years of the artist’s works from the 1960s to the present day.
Allen Jones’ paintings, fibreglass models and erotic installations have one thing in common – the female figure is presented as if feminism never happened.
Although the show oozes creativity and bursts with colour, it’s hard to love because the women featured in the artist’s works are always submissive, subjugated or purely ornamental.
Some would argue that the works are satirical but it’s a claim I find hard to defend. The best pieces are admirable for their vibrant colours and dynamic subjects drawn from advertising and urban life.
In a memorable photograph, Kate Moss becomes the artist’s modern muse, wearing a skin-tight cat suit which looks like it’s been sprayed on with a can of paint. A bit like an old-fashioned Pirelli ‘glamour’ calendar.
Easy on the eye but morally troubling… there’s a big question hovering over this show. Is it boldly inventive or misogynistic? Go along and make up your own mind whether it’s a thriller or chiller.
Allen Jones is at the Royal Academy in London until 25 January, 2015.
4. Rembrandt – National Gallery
‘Rembrandt – The Late Works’ at the National Gallery is a must-see show for anyone who loves the Old Masters.
Stuffed with fabulous paintings, this show packs a ‘wow’ factor for the crowds, focusing on the painter’s later works from the 1650s until his death in 1669.
It’s hard to believe that these works were created in the mid 17th Century because of their daring content and exceptional experimentation.
The paintings burst with the painter’s individuality and passion for people. He chooses mundane and sometimes ugly subjects but gives them a sense of humanity which makes them fascinating. Every picture tells a human story.
The paintings from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are the stars of the show. The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild is one of Rembrandt’s finest with its echoes of The Night Watch. You can study the characters for hours!
Rembrandt: The Late Works runs at the National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing until 18 January, 2015.
5. Late Turner – Tate Britain
Turner is often considered to be the father of modern art. His works were so far ahead of their time that many look Impressionistic, even though the French painters didn’t appear on the art scene for another 30 years.
This fabulous ‘tour de force’ show celebrates Turner’s creative flowering in his later years when he produced many of his finest pictures.
J.M.W. Turner was a genius at portraying landscapes. The show boasts my favourite Turner ‘blockbuster’ paintings including Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway and The Fighting Temeraire.
Turner’s use of light is sensational – the way he captures luminosity and weather conditions is pure genius.
Late Turner runs at the Tate Britain until 25, January 2015. Also check out the main Turner collection in the Clore Gallery.
6. Moroni – Royal Academy
If Renaissance masters and geniuses are your passion, the Moroni exhibition at the Royal Academy could be the tonic you need this winter.
Morini was a leading light of the Lombard School in Italy and one of the greatest portraitists of the 16th Century. Moroni’s naturalistic style was decades, perhaps centuries, ahead of its time, anticipating later painters like Caravaggio and Courbet.
If you’re looking for exquisite portraits, this is the place to come.
Moroni didn’t just paint rich aristocratic folk. His works show a surprisingly diverse cross-section of society. One of my favourite works – The Tailor – was revolutionary in depicting a manual worker as a gentleman, something rarely seen in portraiture of the time.
While his contemporaries were being commissioned by popes, wealthy families and emperors, Moroni was painting the middle and lower classes and lending an individuality to his subjects.
His expressive and characterful works lay largely forgotten for many years so it’s great to see his paintings presented to such good effect in a big gallery show.
Giovanni Battista Moroni is at the Royal Academy until 25 January, 2015.
7. Taylor Wessing Prize – National Portrait Gallery
If you have a passion for photography, you’ll enjoy a stroll around the outstanding entries in this year’s Taylor Wessing photographic competition.
This is a great opportunity to study 60 new portraits by some of the most exciting contemporary photographers from around the world.
What I like most about this show is the variety of portraits which range from intimate images of friends and families alongside portraits of famous faces including actors and celebrities.
There’s much to admire in this small but well-curated exhibition.
After seeing the show why not drop into the National Gallery’s Rembrandt exhibition and take a coffee break at the atmospheric cafe next door?
The Taylor Wessing exhibition runs at the National Portrait Gallery until 22 February, 2015.
8. Mirrorcity – Southbank
Mirrorcity at the Southbank’s Hayward Gallery is intriguing but frustrating. It’s great to walk through this multi-faceted exhibition but the quality of the works is patchy, ranging from the marvellous to the mediocre.
Digital arts, collage, the written word and performance art are all featured in this show which holds a glass up to London and reflects contemporary images of the capital created by established and emerging artists working in the city.
The big question thrown up is – how do we experience the reality of the city? There’s some challenging art ranging from painting, film and video to sculpture, sound works and performance pieces.
For me, the star exhibit is Lindsay Seers’ ‘Nowhere Less Now’ – a film shown on two screens as you sit inside a weird submarine structure. One screen is flat and round, the other is spherical.
The storytelling and bold visual imagery are complex and compelling, mysterious and mind-boggling. Hypnotic is the best way to describe this fabulous work.
Other works which stand out are the subversive and satirical graphic posters of London life which made me think about how we represent our cities on posters and the media.
Go inside Mirrorcity at the Hayward Gallery – but be quick to arrange a trip as it’s due to end on 4 January, 2015.
Tammy’s top gallery picks
So what’s my top pick of the London art exhibitions this winter?
For fun and exuberance, it has to be the Saatchi’s ‘Post-Pop’ extravaganza- plus it’s the only major exhibition on my list which is free.
For traditional art, it has to be Rembrandt or Turner, both of which are sensational shows.
Enjoy your festive feast of art. Whatever your artistic tastes, the choice of red-hot art shows this winter couldn’t be better!