Ten Brilliant Exhibitions to See as London Reopens

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Arcadia Missa_Penny Goring_No Escape from Blood Ca
Installation view of Penny Goring, Doom Doll, 2019 and War Doll, 2019Courtesy of Arcadia Missa

As restrictions ease, a selection of exhibitions for your art-starved eyes

This spring, the multitude of exhibitions that have just opened in London are, frankly, a tonic for our art-starved eyes. Showcasing a rich array of both emerging and established artists, as well as a diverse mix of perspectives and mediums, gallery programmes right now are so vast, it can feel overwhelming. As such, we’ve done our own bit of curating, selecting ten key exhibitions to see now.

Penny Goring: No Escape from Blood Castle at Arcadia Missa, 35 Duke Street, London: Until May 27, 2021

In this Penny Goring exhibition, the artist’s elegantly ominous doll forms hold their shapes while pinned to the walls, accompanied by square tiled paintings, which were created at the same time and feature the same characters. Sewing, along with her use of fabrics and shapes, subvert expectations of doll-making as a passive craft. Penny’s figures are active – upside down, back to front, in action through their missing limbs or exposed hearts. Based on her own life experiences, each tells its own story.

Ryan Driscoll: Holst at Soft Opening, 6 Minerva Street, London: Until May 22, 2021

Ryan Driscoll presents seven large oil on wood paintings at Soft Opening’s Bethnal Green space. The artist uses mythical imagery – see the two-headed horse, the lightning pierced clouds – to represent his interpretation of English composer Gustav Holst’s The Planets. The muscular curve of a youthful back in front of a luscious blue curtain in Venus (2020) is indicative of the artist’s non-binary revision of the classical nude or traditional landscape.

Rhea Dillon: Janus at Soft Opening, Piccadilly Circus Underground Station, London: Until May 16, 2021

Curator Antonia Marsh’s second space within Piccadilly Station holds an installation by Rhea Dillon in the form of a Sapele Mahogany cross. A visionary contemporary thinker, Dillon’s “cursed, abstract brain” (the artist’s words, not mine) uses mixed media to materialise her ideas. “During lockdown, I’ve been questioning the Black woman’s access to amorphicity,” she says. “Thinking through the ideas of the crucifixion and Jesus’ shapeshifting; Christianity and colonisation’s link.” A piece of this kind in such a public space is at once urgent and important.

Sam McKinniss: Country Western at Broadbent House, Grosvenor Hill, London: Until May 22, 2021

Sam McKinniss’s paint strokes are gratuitously naïve, masking the skill of his hand in gorgeously gaudy pop culture depictions. While Dolly Parton, Lil Nas X, Mariah Carey and Elvira are all included in this reverential cast of Country Western icons, Dolly is the real highlight. The painting of her blacked-out eyes beaming as she clutches a kitten is rivalled only by the rendering of her perma-permed mane highlighted with a Day-Glo halo. 

Ed Fornieles: Associations at Carlos / Ishikawa, Unit 4, 88 Mile End Road, London: Until May 22, 2021

Following English artist Ed Fornieles’ new works feels like falling down a Reddit rabbit hole. Known for his social media, film and performance pieces to express the interaction of social relationships, memes, language and subcultures in the 21st century, the artist’s series at Carlos / Ishikawa looks at algorithms determining our engagement with images. The exhibition consists of four groups of thumbnails and a film installation which make up a visual snake trail of frames that refer to one another until the first has nothing whatsoever to do with the last – much like getting lost in the internet’s algorithms.

Damien Hirst: Fact Paintings and Fact Sculptures at Gagosian, 6–24 Britannia Street, London: From April 12, 2021

Damien Hirst’s oil-on-canvas painting Self-Portrait as Surgeon (2007) hits different, post-pandemic. Nonetheless, his works never fail to spark conversation and the show currently on view at Gagosian will undoubtedly serve you with crisper anecdotes than the one I’m currently re-telling about my neighbour’s leaking loo. Snob, (2006-2020), is particularly relatable (and social-media friendly) – a mixed media piece of a jewellery cabinet, bookended by black bin bags.

Daiga Grantina: Temples at Emalin, 1 Holywell Lane, London: Until May 22, 2021

Emalin’s beautiful new space opens with Latvian artist Daiga Grantina’s inaugural exhibition. These sculptures are all perfectly imperfect triangles that are pleasing in their geometric tension. Crafted from fabric, wood, paint and plastic, the pieces in Temples look like they could be based on things we find in our natural world – but blink twice and you’ve lost the association, they’re imagined forms once again.

Thomas Demand at Sprüth Magers, 7A Grafton St, London: Until May 15, 2021

German artist Thomas Demand has taken up the front, back and upper gallery at Monika Sprüth and Philomena Magers’ Mayfair space with new large format photographic works. The latest iteration of his Model Studies series shows images from the atelier of Azzedine Alaïa. Blown-up shots of hanging paper patterns show instructions and traces of tape and glue – visual markers of the visionary that worked to create them. The glossy shots are sleek and sharp, well worth the pilgrimage.

An Infinity of Traces at Lisson Gallery, 27-37 Bell St, London: Until June 5, 2021 (lead image)

Curated by Ekow Eshun, this group exhibition features established and emerging UK-based Black artists whose work explores notions of race, history, being, and belonging. The likes of Liz Johnson Artur, Jade Montserrat, Rhea Storr and Sola Olulode address these themes through moving image, sculpture and installation. This show asks the questions: what does resistance to the anti-Black present day look like? What might a decolonial or anti-racist future look like? Can an exhibition be a site of liberation?

Sandra Mujinga: Spectral Keepers at The Approach, 1st Floor, Approach Road, London: Until May 1, 2021

Missing nightclubs? Inspired by video games, science-fiction novels and Afrofuturism, Berlin- and Olso-based artist Sandra Mujinga has flooded the space at The Approach in a hauntingly ethereal green glow. Her ‘Keepers’ are four hooded sculptures layered in tulle – dystopian incarnations of bouncers, dancers or something altogether more alien. Heightening the apparently hedonistic feel, this show continues the evolution of Mujinga’s practice and thoughts about Blackness and the ‘(in)visibility’ of skin tone. The green screen hue exists as camouflage, an augmented reality and a window into the unnatural natural world.