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10 art exhibitions to see in December

Published 1 December 2019

Come in from the cold this December with our recommended picks of exhibitions to see across the UK.

    • 1. Jockum Nordström: The Anchor Hits the Sand

      David Zwirner, London, 22 November – 20 December

      There’s a sinister naïvety to Swedish artist Jockum Nordström’s work. His recurring motifs of crude, cut-out human figures, animals and trees suggest faded childhood memories, resembling yellowed drawings unearthed from some corner of a dusty attic. In his newest multimedia installation Farväl/ Farewell (2019), on view at David Zwirner, these trademark cut-outs appear from behind a veil of semi-transparent paper, bobbing on mobiles, while a soundtrack of found noises composed by his son Rudolf plays in the background – the perfect setting to remember the aspects of childhood you would much rather forget.

      Jockum Nordström, Farväl/ Farewell

      Jockum Nordström, Farväl/ Farewell, 2019.

      © Jockum Nordström. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner.

    • Hamish Fulton, World Within A World, Duncansby Head to Lands End, Scotland Wales England, 1973

      Hamish Fulton, World Within A World, Duncansby Head to Lands End, Scotland Wales England, 1973, 1973.

      Wall work. © Hamish Fulton 2019. Courtesy Parafin, London.

      2. Hamish Fulton: A Decision to Choose Only Walking

      Parafin, London, 22 November – 8 February 2020

      Hamish Fulton describes himself as a “walking artist,” with the act of traversing long distances alone his chosen medium. As he walks without witnesses, however, our curiosity must be satisfied by the ways in which Fulton documents these extensive journeys, forms of evidence he creates that typically take the form of simple, large-scale graphic images or photographs. Perhaps most striking of his evidence is Fulton’s bold use of typography, announcing with the matter-of-factness of a road sign that walking can be a powerful act in and of itself. A key journey examined in a new show at Parafin is one Fulton undertook in 1973, from Duncansby Head to Land’s End, lasting 47 days, which the artist has summed up in the enigmatic phrase: World within a world.

    • 3. Donna Huddleston: The Exhausted Student

      Drawing Room, London, 28 November – 1 March 2020

      For her first solo show in a public gallery in the UK, Belfast-born and Sydney-raised Donna Huddleston brings together a selection of new works in pencil and silverpoint. Informed by her background in stage design, Huddleston uses a theatrical sensibility to create meticulously crafted scenes, in which every aspect suggests an ominous subtext. In one section of the The Exhausted Student, a key work which gives its title to the show, three figures emerge from a white background as though caught in a bright spotlight. A woman rests within the arms of a man, as wind sweeps through his hair and unravels his cravat, while a third woman has her face obscured by the edge of the paper. The overall impression is the crescendo of some surreal final act, but whether or not the drama continues offstage remains to be seen.

      Donna Huddleston, The Exhausted Student (detail)

      Donna Huddleston, The Exhausted Student (detail), 2019.

      Colour pencil on paper. 226 x 145 cm. Courtesy the artist. Photograph by Angus Mill.

    • Maria Helena Vieira da Silva Hon RA, Sans Titre

      Maria Helena Vieira da Silva Hon RA, Sans Titre, 1955.

      Oil on canvas. 60 x 73 cm. Courtesy Waddington Custot.

      4. Maria Helena Vieira da Silva

      Waddington Custot, London, 30 November – 15 February 2020

      The art and life of Portuguese artist Maria Helena Vieira da Silva Hon RA is the subject of a new show at Waddington Custot. Born in Lisbon, but spending much of her life embedded within the art world of Paris, Vieira da Silva’s chief talent is in her ability to imbue perspective and depth of field within wholly abstract images, creating a sense of place without pointing to any real place at all. Up close, Untitled (1955) might be reminiscent of a wintry cityscape seen amid a snowstorm, with a blue streak sweeping through like a long cloud between the rooftops; but step back, and the whole picture returns to abstraction.

    • 5. Congo the Chimpanzee: The Birth of Art

      The Mayor Gallery, London, 3 December – 19 December 2019

      Sometimes, hearing an artist’s intent behind their work rubs away some of the magic of the subjective experience. Fortunately there’s no risk of that happening at this new show of some 55 works by Congo, the virtuoso chimpanzee known for his “lyrical abstract expressionism.” If his prolific output doesn’t astound – he made 400 paintings by the age of four – then what Congo may have intended behind works like 8th Painting Session 17 June 1957 might still prove perplexing. How did he come to develop the fan-like shape that became his trademark? Was his combination of certain colours, like green and blue, a reflection of the natural setting of his enclosure? We could pose these questions to Desmond Morris, the zoologist and surrealist artist who encouraged and nurtured Congo’s talents. But what Congo himself might have had to say about his work is anyone’s guess, and maybe part of the intrigue.

      Congo, 8th Painting Session 17 June 1957

      Congo, 8th Painting Session 17 June 1957, 1957.

      Paint on paper. 32 x 52cm. © The Mayor Gallery.

    • Ian Caleb Molina Zoller, New Bodies IV

      Ian Caleb Molina Zoller, New Bodies IV, 2019.

      Colour pencil on paper. 42 × 29cm. Courtesy Eve Leibe Gallery.

      6. I Hope This Finds You Well

      Eve Leibe Gallery at Gallery 46, London, 4 December – 18 December 2019

      The “nomadic gallery” Eve Leibe hosts a new group show using the ubiquitous email platitude in its title as a jumping-off point, from which explore the detachment of technology from sexuality and politics. Present within an eclectic mix are works by Argentinian artist Ian Caleb Molina Zoller, who displays works from his New Bodies series. Made with coloured pencil on paper, here parts of the human body appear decontextualised, enmeshed in each other as fleshy lumpen masses reminiscent of fungus or alien flora. Within each image, the title of the series looms in the background; where elsewhere the phrase might imply positive reinvention, here it denotes a creepy mutation. Other contemporary artists in the show include Christopher Hartmann, Eleni Odysseos and Jaime Welsh, among others.

    • 7. John Walker: New Paintings

      Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 4 December – 23 February 2020

      At a glance John Walker’s Passage (2015) might suggest an aerial view of fields. Lines follow a rigid logic, while at the same time resembling something more naturalistic and sprawling. Here the formulaic power of straight, parallel shapes cannot overcome the rough-hewn texture of the paintbrush that makes them. Looking at nature as both feral and logical is perhaps the chief concern of the self-proclaimed “anti-scenic” artist, who takes the coasts of Maine as inspiration for his “truthful” (as opposed to abstract) representations of landscape. This exhibition of new paintings at the Ikon Gallery marks a particularly special homecoming for the Birmingham born-and-raised artist, who left the city fifty years ago, but was one of the first to exhibit at the Ikon’s former New Street premises in 1972.

      John Walker, Passage

      John Walker, Passage, 2015.

      Oil on canvas. Courtesy the artist.

    • Vivian Suter, Nisyros (Vivian’s bed)

      Vivian Suter, Nisyros (Vivian’s bed), 2016–17.

      Oil, pigment, and fish glue on canvas and paper, and volcanics, earth, botanical matter, microorganisms, and wood. 175 x 228 cm. © Courtesy of the artist and Karma International, Zurich and Los Angeles; Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels; House of Gaga, Mexico City; and Proyectos Ultravioleta, Guatemala City.

      8. Vivian Suter

      Tate Liverpool, 13 December – 15 March 2020

      Vivian Suter’s tropical artworks at Tate Liverpool are the perfect antidote for the wintry weather this December. Hung from the ceiling like flags or banners, Suter’s vibrant pastel images take their cues from her adopted home of Panajachel, Guatemala, conveying within just a few simple strokes the warmth of the Latin American coast or, as in Nisyros (Vivian’s bed) (2016-17), its wildlife. But Suter’s “hanging paintings” are steeped in the environment in more ways than one. After “finishing” each painting, Suter leaves the work outside to let natural elements – from fallen plants to volcanic sediment – be absorbed into it, adding a textural element to complement the gestural. It also means she’ll be quite literally bringing a little bit of the Guatemalan landscape with her to this first solo display of her work in the UK.

    • 9. Refuge and Renewal: Migration and British Art

      Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, 14 December – 1 March 2020

      This month the RWA presents a new show looking at how migrant artists have impacted British art from the early 20th century to the present day. One poignant aspect of the show is the reminder of all that migrant artists have had to leave behind, seen in works such as My Family and I (1941), painted by Josef Herman RA after learning of the death of his entire family in Poland during the Second World War. Here, Herman has painted his father, mother, siblings and himself, each absorbed in their individual tasks – looking after a child, reading, fixing a table, painting – while remaining a coherent whole under the blue tinge of evening; it’s a quietly tragic image of a family scene newly confined to the artist’s memory. Other highlights to look out for in the show will be works by Martin Bloch, Mona Hatoum and Claude Monet.

      Josef Herman RA, My Family and I

      Josef Herman RA, My Family and I, 1941.

      Gouache on board. 54 x 74 cm. Collection of Sir Jeremy and Lady Isaacs © estate of Josef Herman. All rights reserved, DACS 2019.

    • Anselm Kiefer Hon RA, Der Gordische Knoten

      Anselm Kiefer Hon RA, Der Gordische Knoten, 2019.

      Oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, wood and metal on canvas. 280 x 380 cm. © Anselm Kiefer. Photo © Georges Poncet, Courtesy White Cube.

      10. Anselm Kiefer: Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot

      White Cube Bermondsey, London, until 26 January 2020

      It would be easy to describe Anselm Kiefer Hon RA’s new work, on show at White Cube, as the scenes of some end-of-the-line extinction event – but for the artist, who believes “the apocalypse is always”, there is something else at play. Here, Kiefer has drawn on all strands of the cosmic, both fantastical and scientific, from string theory to mythology, to create a series of landscapes and installations that point to something imminent but unknown, just out of view yet somehow still palpable. Meanwhile, in the foreground of Der Gordische Knoten (2019) an axe lies in front of a thick layer of branches like an ominous warning – to cut away and get beyond the unknown may well reveal something far less certain than ‘the end’.