Brilliant Things To Do in December

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Ryan McGinley
Dakota (Hair), 2004© Ryan McGinley, Courtesy of Team Gallery

As 2016 draws to a close, we present a curated selection of the best art, film, theatre and food to enjoy in its final weeks

Give Me Yesterday at Osservatorio, Fondazione Prada, Milan: December 21, 2016 – March 12, 2017
If ever one was in need of an excuse to visit Italy over Christmas, Fondazione Prada is providing the perfect December escape with the launch of Osservatorio, their new space in Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The focus will be on contemporary photography and its role in today’s diverse world of visual languages. The inaugural exhibition, Give Me Yesterday, takes a highly individual approach: 14 artists have considered how the medium of photography can be used to form a personal diary of people and their unique lives. The show will push together the private and the exhibited, the individual and the collective. Indeed, these exciting contrasts are characteristic of Fondazione Prada’s ethos, and ostensibly indicative of the multifaceted programme of events that will follow at Osservatorio.

Ken Price: A Survey of Sculpture and Drawings, 1959-2006 at Hauser & Wirth, London: December 9, 2016 – February 4, 2017
He is most known perhaps for his extraordinary work in ceramics – cups were a favourite form – but Ken Price’s drawings prove just as vibrant and striking as his ceramic sculptures. The two practices are inevitably intertwined, and Hauser & Wirth’s exhibition brings together over 180 of his works to look at the development of his exuberant oeuvre over 40 years; everything from cups in the 60s and 70s to the ‘gold period’ of the early 2000s. A monograph accompanies the exhibition, with a foreword by the curator, Paul Schimmel, and an essay by Sam Thorne of Nottingham Contemporary that will offer a scholarly insight into the eclectic realm of Ken Price.

Harley Weir: Boundaries at Foam Museum, Amsterdam: December 2, 2016 – February 19, 2017
Harley Weir’s is a name to remember. The photographer that the fashion and photography worlds cannot stop talking about is exhibiting for the first time at Amsterdam’s Foam Museum, in a show named Boundaries – the irony being that Weir’s photographs boast a distinctive lack of them. Her pictures are sharp and mesmeric no matter the subject or context, and constantly intriguing in their apparent simplicity and accessibility. Foam Museum states that Weir’s work “finds beauty in the mundane”; it does not look likely that her inaugural exhibition will be mundane in the slightest, instead falling closer to extraordinary.

Art Basel in America, Miami Beach: December 1 – 4, 2016
Art Basel returns to Miami Beach, and with it its ever-impressive roster of leading and up-and-coming modern and contemporary artists from across the globe. Across large indoor and dynamic outdoor exhibiting spaces, and in conjunction with cultural events at galleries and museums across the city, Art Basel is consistently enthralling. Consider it a cornucopia of engaging offerings and events that art aficionados and first-timers alike can take pleasure in.

Jonathan Reiner: Femme Fatale at Hang Up Gallery, London: December 2, 2016 – January 27, 2017
The fact that Tel Aviv-based artist Jonathan Reiner is currently training as a neurologist is by no means conventional, but that certainly should not discourage a trip to his exhibition at East London’s Hang-Up Gallery, entitled Femme Fatale. Reiner’s screen prints look at our culture’s representations of female beauty, and goes beyond his art to look at how these concepts of beauty are constructs of society. The work is comprised of found materials (including but not limited to tribal motifs and early 20th-century pornography) and takes on a tropical aesthetic while looking to challenge Western beauty ideals.

The Best of Film
The ideal reason to prise yourself from the sofa this holiday season: December’s new film releases offer something for everyone. First up: Chi-Raq, Spike Lee’s brilliant contemporary take on the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, which sees rising star Teyonah Parris shine as the girlfriend of a Chicago gang leader who encourages her fellow females to abstain from sex until the men promise peace (“no peace, no pussy.”) Belgian auteurs Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne return with their latest feature, The Unknown Girl, a compelling drama that follows young doctor and aspiring detective Jenny as she tries to unearth the identity of the murdered girl who knocked on her surgery door shortly before her death.

More amateur sleuthing comes courtesy of I Am Not A Serial Killer, the wonderfully Donnie Darko-esque offering from Irish director Billy O’Brien, and its teenage protagonist John Wayne Cleaver, a self-professed sociopath who sets out to destroy the supernatural serial killer shaking up his sleepy Midwest town. Don’t miss Krisha, the exceptionally accomplished and searing debut from Trey Edward Shults about a troubled woman’s attempt to reunite with the family she abandoned years earlier. And finally there’s The Eagle Huntress, Otto Bell’s exquisitely shot and deeply moving documentary about a young girl in Mongolia determined become the country’s first female eagle hunter.

Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison: until December 4, 2016
For the first time since its closure in 2013, Reading Prison is not only open to the public but also hosting an exhibition inspired by one of its most remarkable and tortured of inmates – Oscar Wilde. Incarcerated there for two years, with much of that time spent in solitary confinement during which he wrote De Profundis, Wilde’s time in prison was nothing short of horrific. Reading Prison has invited artists to respond to this well-documented period of Wilde’s life and the results form an astounding exhibition: Wolfgang Tillmans has produced a film capturing the prisoner’s perspective, Nan Goldin photographs and installations appear, and letters by Ai Weiwei feature in one cell. Such examples are but a scattering amongst the plethora of contributing artists that make up this profound and unmissable exhibit.

Impasse Ronsin at Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York: until January 24, 2017
To form an entire exhibition around a Parisian alley sounds perhaps like a potentially banal project, but the Impasse Ronsin in the city’s 15th arrondissement was nothing short of extraordinary in the 50s and 60s. Constantin Brancusi held his studio there from 1916 until his death in 1957, in what became a hub of creativity for many other prolific artists: Max Ernst, Yves Klein, William N. Copley and Niki de Saint Phalle among others held studios there. Brancusi was at the heart of the Impasse and he holds the same place at the exhibition in New York, with a bronze edition of Princess X on show alongside vintage photographs of his studio. The show will feature work from the myriad other artists who frequented the Impasse Ronsin, aiming to capture the spirit of collaboration that the complex nurtured.

Great Performances
This month sees celebrated Belgian theatre director Ivo van Hove make his National Theatre debut with what promises to be an unmissable production of Henrik Ibsen’s tragedy Hedda Gabler. Ruth Wilson will star as the titular character, a bored and jealous newlywed who longs for freedom. Meanwhile, award-winning writer Michael Frayn’s excellent comedy of errors Wild Honey arrives at Hampstead Theatre this month. Based on an untitled and posthumously released early play by Chekhov, it is a giddy story of 19th-century Russian life “replete with classic misunderstandings, irrepressible desires and nostalgia for a vanishing world.”

For ballet lovers, there’s the world premiere of Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes at Sadler’s Wells, an intoxicating production based on Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s iconic 1948 film. The fateful story of Victoria Page, a ballerina whose heart is set on becoming the world’s greatest dancer, will be set to a live score employing the tantalising music of golden-age Hollywood composer and Hitchcock collaborator, Bernard Herrmann.

Claude Lalanne Bijoux at Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York: until December 23, 2016
Paul Kasmin Gallery is host to yet another winning show this month. In her largest solo exhibition that spans her 40-year career, Claude Lalanne’s hand-crafted jewellery will be on display at the gallery’s space at 297 Tenth Avenue in New York. Featuring pieces cast in bronze, silver and gold that are inspired by the organic whimsy of nature, such as the above necklace that reflects the erratic beauty of the berries and twigs that Lalanne has chosen as her subject. Expect to be thoroughly taken with her creations: they will surely provide some fanciful Christmas shopping and accessorising inspiration this December.

Making Nature: How We See Animals at Wellcome Collection, London: December 1, 2016 – May 21, 2017
Living up to their label of the place “for the incurably curious”, the Wellcome Collection has brought together over 100 objects from a wide variety of mediums and practices to explore how humans and animals interact and are connected for their latest exhibition. Issues of this nature have fascinated the worlds of science, art and philosophy for centuries and continues to do so, and the exhibit will chart this history by engaging with literature, contemporary art, film, scientific models and taxidermy. Going one step further, too, the exhibition looks at the developments of exhibiting itself by looking at our human fascination with museums and zoos that put nature on display.

Zaha Hadid: Early Paintings and Drawings at Serpentine Sackler Gallery: December 8, 2016 – February 12, 2017
This December, the Serpentine’s Sackler Gallery – one of her architecture firm’s first permanent London buildings – will host an exhibition of Dame Zaha Hadid’s early work in painting and drawing, many of which pieces have little been shown in public. The concept was arranged with Hadid herself before her unexpected death in March, and will hone in on her painting, drawing and calligraphy from the 1970s to the 90s in order to reveal the importance she saw in them as a basis for architecture. Hadid’s paintings and drawings are just as wildly innovative and impressive as her architecture, and this show is bound to be a fascinating insight into the Queen of the Curve’s visionary practice.

The Best in Food and Drink
If there’s one month in the year that readily invites an indulgence in culinary treats, it must be December. Luckily there is opportunity aplenty to do so, starting with Yamagoya’s six month residency at Shuang Shuang, Shaftesbury Avenue opening on December 5. Established in 1969 and largely unchanged since, the Japanese restaurant’s traditional ramen is notoriously delicious so don’t miss the limited London pop-up. In an unexpected take on fusion cuisine, Sumosan Twiga in Knightsbridge spreads across three floors and serves up Japanese dishes coupled with favourites from Italy; the drinks list follows suit, offering both famed Japanese whiskies and much-loved Italian aperitivi.

Also taking on Italian cuisine is Martello Hall in Hackney, opening today. Coffee in the day, cocktails (featuring gin distilled on site) and live music heralding in the evenings and Italian feasts on the weekends, Martello Hall styles itself as a mecca of entertainment for all to enjoy. For a more discerning and nostalgic take on a cocktail bar, look to Soho’s new members bar, Disrepute, which claims “old Soho” as its muse, and will provide delectable cocktails in an exclusive and intimate setting. Lastly, over in New York, The Soho Grand has teamed up with Kitsuné to bring its Afterwork event series to the states. The idea is to see Thursday as the new Saturday: take yourself from your desk to the Club Room at The Soho Grand on December 9 to dance the night away to an extensive lineup of DJs and music.

Anselm Kiefer: Wahalla at White Cube, Bermondsey: until February 12, 2017
German artist Anselm Kiefer is known for injecting his work with clear political and historical references, and his latest exhibition at White Cube, Bermondsey is no exception. The title of the central installation, Walhalla, is taken from both architectural history (Bavaria’s 1842 neo-classical monument to honour German heroism) and Norse mythology (Walhalla is heaven for those who have died in combat), and the piece forms the core beginning of the rest of the display. Kiefer’s Walhalla is a corridor of grey lead beds, seemingly abandoned, that guides us then to a series of equally desolate landscapes, followed by glass and lead vitrines housing quotidian objects that have been made to resemble fossils. While it may not be one for the faint-hearted, Walhalla seems timely amidst the political charge of 2016.

Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Modern, London: December 1, 2016 – April 2, 2017
London’s Tate Modern is hosting an much-anticipated exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg, the first retrospective of the American artist’s work since his death in 2008. Working mainly in painting and sculpture, and even famously putting the two together in his “Combines” of the 1950s, Rauschenberg saw no limits as to what could or could not create art and was relentless in his ingenuity. From pop art screen prints produced alongside Andy Warhol to a painting with a taxidermy goat perched atop of the canvas, his art knew no bounds, and the Tate’s exhibition is sure to reflect this varied and intriguing career.

David Bailey NW1 at HENI Gallery, Soho: December 1, 2016 – January 31, 2017
First published in 1982, NW1 was David Bailey’s response to the changes to the Primrose Hill and Camden areas of London that had long been his home. These parts of London have undoubtedly continued to change in the 34 years since the book’s release, thus guaranteeing that today’s reprint and accompanying exhibition of the photographs at HENI Gallery will be a poignant reminder of the developing face of the city. It is also a chance to see another facet of the lauded fashion and portrait photographer’s career, as well as a previously unseen photograph from the series.