Free Art Exhibitions To See Over Christmas

Christmas is the perfect time to see what Art London has to offer – and all the better if it’s free! Here’s our pick of the must-see free shows for the holiday season

The Big Ones:

Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn @ V&A

Featuring a selection of Ai Weiwei’s ceramic works and photographs made from 1993 to the present day this exhibition offers a rare opportunity to view some of the most iconic works in the field of Chinese contemporary art. It will include examples of Ai’s use of Neolithic and Han dynasty ceramic vessels as ‘ready-mades’, which the artist transforms and reinterprets using a variety of procedures, some of which are captured and presented in a short film. It will also feature an installation of Ai Weiwei’s intriguing and deceptive ceramic sunflower seeds, which represent one of the artist’s most recent projects.

Anselm Kiefer: Il Mistero delle Cattedrali @ White Cube Bermondsey

'Il Mistero delle Cattedrali', White Cube Bermondsey, London - Anselm Kiefer - - 44251

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 a treat indeed.

Lygia Pape: Magnetized Space @ Serpentine

Lygia Pape: Magnetized Space - ArtLyst Event

Magnetized Space is the first major exhibition of Lygia Pape’s work to be presented in the UK. As the central founder of Neo Concretism – the movement considered by many to have been the origin of contemporary art in Brazil –, such a retrospective of Pape’s work is somewhat overdue. This exhibition presents us with the great scope of Pape’s work – from her early Concretist drawings and woodcut prints in the 1950s, through groovy video works of the 1960s, and her Neo Concretist Livros (Book) series, to her late venture into installation. Not only is this a valuable history lesson, it is also a remarkably affecting show, in which the fundamental playfulness of Pape’s work comes to the surface like never before.

The Mystery of Appearance: British Painting 1955-1985 @ Haunch of Venison

The Mystery of Appearance British Painting 1955-1985 - ArtLyst Event

This exhibition presents ten of Britain’s most important post-war painters, revealing the story behind their art. The Mystery of Appearance is a fresh appraisal of ten artists – Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Patrick Caulfield, William Coldstream, Lucian Freud, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Leon Kossoff and Euan Uglow – with a display of over forty paintings and drawings including works that haven’t been on public display for decades.


Paul McCarthy @ Hauser & Wirth

Paul McCarthy The King, The Island, The Dwarves, The Train... - ArtLyst Event

Paul McCarthy’s 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 – although probably not one to take the kids to!

Tacita Dean: FILM @ Tate Modern

Tacita Dean Unilever Commission 2011 Unveiled At Tate - ArtLyst Article image

For the twelfth commission in the Tate Modern Unilever Series, and the first to be devoted to the moving image, Tacita Dean has created ‘FILM’ – an homage to analogue film-making and to what is unique in this dying art. With the Tate Modern’s monolithic Turbine Hall becoming a darkened cinema space, Dean’s new piece deploys the panoramic cinemascope format of Westerns, turned 90 degrees to portrait so that the projection bathes nearly the full-height of back wall in a churning sea of film grain.


And now for some lesser-known ones:

Helen Carmel Benigson: The Future Queen of the Sceen @ Rollo Contemporary

Helen Carmel Benigson: The Future Queen of The Screen - ArtLyst Event

Benigson’s art is a collision of all things sexy, cool and current, layering colour, print and sound, to create dreamlike and hyper sensual installations, within which lives a world of geopolitical, religious and global interests. In her most recent works, Benigson investigates the projection of the self within today’s technologically driven, cyber active society, exploring the extension of identity and individual experience through new media, social networking sites and cyber worlds. Taking key websites such as Twitter, PKR online Poker and YouPorn, as reference, Benigson creates her own virtual world that explores the issues of sexuality, violence and politics.

Alex Hartley: The World is Still Big @ Victoria Miro

Alex Hartley Thinks Big - ArtLyst Article image

This is an innovative collection of works that proves Hartley’s credentials for representing the UK in the major Cultural Olympiad project, Nowhere Island. Hartley’s practice (when he’s not sailing lumps of ice down the English coast, that is) sees him insert precisely engineered models of man-made constructions into wild landscapes, implanting them seamlessly within environments apparently devoid of human intervention. These implants range from physically placing sculpture into the environment, to post-production manipulation of the photographic images, Hartley expertly digging crevices, dips and caves into the flat surface  (see ‘The Future is Certain’). Hartley’s work is both clever and fresh, enticing you inwards to peer closely at the work, and also to step back, admiring the magnificently foreign vistas on display.

Daniel Buren: One Thing To Another @ The Lisson Gallery

Daniel Buren Earns His Stripes At Lisson Gallery - ArtLyst Article image

This exhibition of new site specific and situated works by Daniel Buren, France’s most influential living artist, transforms the interior rooms of the Lisson gallery into what feels like a series of exterior spaces. His first UK exhibition since 2009, this is a welcome return from the French artist and his trademark vertical stripes. These 8.7cm-wide stripes, alternating between white and coloured, are Buren’s ‘visual tools’ that ‘permit you to behold something else’ i.e. to see something beyond the stripe itself, in much the same way that an outline primarily functions to suggest internal space.


Time and Memory: Cecilia Edefalk & Gunnel Wåhlstrand – Parasol Unit

Edefalk and Wahlstrand Reminisce At Parasol Unit - ArtLyst Article image

This exhibition is dedicated to two contemporary Swedish artists, Cecilia Edefalk and Gunnel Wåhlstrand. Since the late 1980s, Cecilia Edefalk has been one of Sweden’s leading and most sought-after artists both at home in Sweden and abroad, while Gunnel Wåhlstrand, following her acclaimed 2003 graduation exhibition at the Royal University College of Fine Arts, Stockholm, has featured in numerous exhibitions in Europe and overseas. What unites these artists’ work is a profound sense of loss, melancholy, and a play between presence and absence.

Natalie Djurberg: A World of Glass @ Camden Arts Centre

Nathalie Djurberg with Music by Hans Berg: A World of Glass - ArtLyst Event

Entering the world of Nathalie Djurberg is like stepping into a fairytale. The exhibition comprises both her delicate, glistening glass sculptures and a projection of four films made using the technique known as ‘claymation’. At first glance these films appear naïve and childlike, however the scenarios enacted are disturbing and sinister, unveiling darker sides to the human condition. Music by Hans Berg provides the soundtrack for these films and fills the entire gallery with deep throbbing sounds as accompanied with the tinkle of glass.


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