Best London Art Exhibitions Of The Year

2011 has been a spectacular year for art exhibitions: here are ArtLyst’s Top 11 (top 10’s are so passé) in alphabetical order:

1) Tracey Emin: Love is What You Want @ Hayward Gallery

This major survey of the work of one of the Britains best known names in Contemporary art was bold, well executed and daring. Using her own life experiences as source material, Tracey Emin’s unapologetically personal films, drawings, textiles, sculptures and large-scale installations, respond to more general issues of social, cultural and sexual indentity. The exhibition also featured live performances and an interactive, message board displaying correspondence with Emin throughout the run of the show. The highlight, however, was, without a doubt, her drawings, employing an economy of line with the sensitivity of a great artist – surprising, perhaps, given that media focus interminably focuses on the shock quality of works such as My Bed, and Everyone I have Ever Slept With.


2) Ryan Gander: Locked Door Scenario @ Artangel 

This piece was immediately unnerving, consisting of dark corridors and dead ends that encase a forbidden central space, the contents of which can only be glimpsed through slatted blinds or boarded up windows – with fragmentary glances granted of what appears to be an exhibition mid-installation,  unready, unwilling to be seen. Most overwhelming, was that constant nagging feeling that you shouldn’t be there: the sensation that you have simply come to the wrong place was meticulously created via a vast number of devices – the timed entry system which forces the viewer to go it alone; the unseen radios eerily left blaring, or the dripping of taps in pitch black toilets which suggest that you are not alone; and even a shadowy figure silently in action behind a frosted door, completely unresponsive to your knock. Gander for Turner Prize 2012!

Ryan Gander Forcing The Door - ArtLyst Article image



3) Anselm Kiefer: Il Mistero delle Cattedrali @ White Cube Bermondsey

Almost three years after his last show at White Cube, and the legendary sculpture/painter Anselm Kiefer is back – and back with a vengeance. Sprawling across 11,000 sq ft of crisp white gallery space, ‘Il Mistero delle Cattedrali’ is the largest ever exhibition of Anselm Kiefer’s work to take place in London. With 20 works by the German artist on display, 14 of which date from the last five years – and including examples of his imposing sculptural work alongside those monolithic, heavy canvases – this is exciting stuff. But it is also, in equal measure, sombre, revisiting those ever-enduring themes of his career, History and Reconciliation – or, more specifically, the process of coming to terms with the hard truths of Germany’s recent past. But Kiefer’s genius lies in his ability not to get bogged down in this detail, relating specific historical reference points to the grand scope of human experience.

Anselm Kiefer Does His Magic at White Cube - ArtLyst Article image



4) Paul McCarthy @ Hauser & Wirth

This major new exhibition at Hauser & Wirth is a joyous sprawl of pop cultural reference, creaky robotics, and splayed legs. Straddling both the Savile Row and Piccadilly galleries, as well as an outdoor location at St. James’s Square, this show reflects the hysterical diversity of McCarthy’s lunatic practice, and is, without a doubt, a ‘must-see’ for 2011. While the Piccadilly gallery has become a quasi-temple (with lines of reverent church pews dwarfed by a monumental alter/stage/hangman’s platform, upon which McCarthy’s nude and hideous silicone doppelganger is enthroned), the centre piece of Savile Row is the massive and utterly transfixing ‘Train, Mechanical’ (a robotic sculpture in which monstrous caricatures of George W. Bush sodomise pigs with orgasmic intensity, their hips thrusting, their buttocks clenching, their heads spinning). For art/spectacle lovers, Christmas has well and truly come early. Go see.

Hail King Paul McCarthy - ArtLyst Article image


5) Museum of Everything: Exhibition #4 @ Selfridges

An art world sensation since 2009, The Museum of Everything is one of Europe’s most dynamic new museums, introducing critics and the public alike to untrained, unintentional and unexhibited artists from around the globe. This year, The Museum of Everything’s Exhibition #4 displayed over 200 never-before-seen artworks in the world-famous Department store Selfridges, occupying both its Orchard and Oxford Street windows, and Ultralounge. Playful, personal, colourful and complex, Exhibition #4 was The Museum of Everything’s most radical show yet, revealing the astonishing visual language those without a voice, and asked the audience to consider why these artists remain invisible – not only to museums and galleries, but to society as a whole.

Museum of Everything Kicks Off At Selfridges - ArtLyst Article image



6) Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman @ British Museum

While a universal meditation on ‘the Chinese whispers of culture over the centuries’ – an ever-warping interchange between peoples through their objects –, Perry approached the task through the concrete particulars of his own experience. On this journey into the ‘deep in the mountains of my mind’, we were given access to the imaginary civilisation that Perry created during his childhood, ruled over by the benign dictator Alan Measles, his Teddy Bear – now the ‘guru and living god in my personal cosmology’. Through juxtaposition of his work with objects selected from the British Museum’s collection, Perry reveals how, upon becoming an artist, his personal civilisation had ‘traded with the world and all its history’ so that, today, it is impossible to tell ‘where my imagination stops and the world starts’.

Grayson Perry A Pilgrim’s Progress - ArtLyst Article image


7) Pioneers of the Downtown Scene: New York in the 1970s @ Barbican

Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown and Gordon Matta-Clark led a vibrant Manhattan art community through a period of economic crisis. Their multi-disciplinary work, individual and collective, was brought together for the first time in Barbican Art Gallery. This major exploration combined sculpture, drawing, photography and dance, using the city as a backdrop, stage, and canvas, to address New York’s state of dereliction. The success of this exhibition lay in its ability to portray a complex historical snapshot whilst remaining highly engaging. This was primarily to the brilliant curation, inventively and energetically painting a picture that connected the artists to each other and the turbulent times in which they lived.

Pioneers of the Downtown Scene New York 1970s - ArtLyst Event

8) Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 @ V&A

Some 40 years on from when the first ideas of what we now know as Postmodernism began to emerge, this is the first time that an in-depth survey has been attempted. The V&A show how PoMo saw the overthrow of consistency, simplicity, and depth, in favour of eclecticism, vibrancy, and a fascination with surface – with ‘messy vitality’ supplanting ‘obvious unity’. In the place of those earnest, futuristic utopian visions characteristic of modernism, the postmodern world was to one of historical quotation, parody, and pastiche. But most importantly, this exhibition reveals that PoMo cannot simply be dismissed as another ‘style movement’ – as the new Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Surrealism, or even Modernism. Rather, its historical twin is the Enlightenment, representing an umbrella principle of creative freedom (countering the Enlightenment’s principles of reason and progress), capable of housing a multitude of ‘style movements’ of its own.

Postmodernism - Style and Subversion 1970–1990 - ArtLyst Event


9) Gerhard Richter: Panorama @ Tate Modern

Gerhard Richter: Panorama is one of the most exciting and significant exhibitions of recent years. It is a testament to the incredible versatility and scope of this key artist. The epiphany of this retrospective is that it debunks the myth of Richter as two artists – the abstract painter and the photo-realist. Despite the curatorial emphasis on difference (the delicate portrait of his daughter Betty, for instance, juxtaposed against its polar extreme – the monolithic ‘Yellow-green’), there is a constant engagement with the question of representation, so that there is not an opposition between the abstract and the real, but rather a dialogue. This dialectic is all-pervasive: what appears to be an enormous abstract painting, for example, is in fact a representation of a photograph depicting the close-up texture of paint pigment.
Gerhard Richter Explores The Product Of Pure Chance - ArtLyst Article image


10) Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan @ National Gallery

Visitors to the National Gallery hoping to find the Leonardo of Dan Brown novels and printed tea towels will leave this exhibition disappointed. With only 9 of Leonardo’s oil paintings on display, ‘The exhibition of the century’ provides a radically different encounter with the quintessential celebrity artist, in a much more intimate and engaging exploration of one of the most fruitful periods of his career. Bet of all, We were not standing in La Louvre, craning our necks to see a painting masked by 3 inches of glass and several security guards, and accordingly one was able to enjoy these works on a personal level. All too often it seems that works by Leonardo are considered in isolation, and they are given an entirely new significance and relevance when shown together. What a treat… for those lucky enough to obtain a ticket!

Da Vinci Masterpieces Reunited In London - ArtLyst Article image


11) Ai Weiwei @ Lisson Gallery

What a year activist artist Ai Weiwei has just had – from being the victim of trumped up tax charges, to being accused of peddling pornography.  And, back in May, despite under arbitrary house arrest, he was  still able launch the most important gallery exhibition of his career, simultaneous to is Unilever Commission for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Using a variety of formal languages with both traditional and innovative methods of production, Ai Weiwei linked the past with the present, exploring the geopolitical, economic and cultural realities affecting the world with humour and compassion. Described as ‘the best artist to have appeared since the Cultural Revolution in China’, this exhibition showed off his practice as a succession of gestures critiquing both commodity fetishism and the authoritarian society in which he lives. 


Ai Weiwei London Exhibitions Open - ArtLyst Article image


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