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10 art exhibitions to see in June

Published 1 June 2019

The old confronting the new is a major theme in our recommended picks of exhibitions this month – along with a string of firsts, from the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International to Cindy Sherman’s first UK retrospective.

  • Michael Rakowitz

    Whitechapel Gallery, London, 4 June – 25 August 2019
    Commuters passing through Trafalgar Square will already be familiar with the works of Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz, as incumbent artist of the Fourth Plinth. Coinciding with the work’s last summer on the plinth, Whitechapel Gallery is staging a survey of Rakowitz’s career spanning two decades of investigations into architecture, ancient civilisations and geopolitics. The recreation of lost historical monuments through a lens of everyday culture is a mainstay of Rakowitz’s work, most notably in his ongoing series The invisible enemy should not exist, of which the Fourth Plinth is a part. Here Rakowitz recreates ancient Mesopotamian monuments lost or destroyed in Iraq, through the Iraq War and subsequent rise of ISIS, opting for colourfully patterned date syrup cans as his material of choice. Before the war, date syrup was one of Iraq’s biggest exports after oil, and the fusion of these two references brings attention to both the historical and contemporary losses caused by conflict in the region. Other highlights from the show include What dust will rise?, a series of carved stone books made from the ruins of the Bamiyan Buddhas, the giant 6th-century statues infamously destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Made in collaboration with artisans from Afghanistan, Rakowitz has quite literally created a new monument from the ruins of another, but rather than restore what was lost he makes a more troubling observation on the role of destruction in shaping our collective historical memory.

  • Michael Rakowitz, The invisible enemy should not exist (Northwest palace of Nimrud, Room N) (detail)

    Michael Rakowitz , The invisible enemy should not exist (Northwest palace of Nimrud, Room N) (detail) , 2018 .

    Middle Eastern Packaging and Newspaper. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Robert Chase Heishman.

  • Francis Bacon: Couplings

    Gagosian Grosvenor Hill, 6 June – 3 August 2019
    Francis Bacon wanted to eschew the intuitive desire that arises when more than one figure is present in a painting; namely, to tell a story about those figures. This desire to erase narrative may have something to do with the subjects Bacon chose as his sitters – such as his lovers Peter Lacy and, famously, George Dyer – and the tumtulous, emotive relationships he had with them. Now, at its Grosvenor Hill outpost,Gagosian presents some of Bacon’s most uninhibited and flinching works featuring two figures (or ‘couplings’, as Bacon referred to them), some of which have not been seen together since the 1970s. Bacon would often paint his figures from memory and photographic references – notably Eadweard Muybridge’s studies of people in motion – lending them a spectral, half-formed appearance with only the suggestion of a particular person. When painting two people, the abstraction is enhanced as his subjects merge seamlessly from one to the other, from male to female, until the point where one figure ends and another begins is obscured completely; even Bacon’s own preference for the term ‘couplings’ suggests something inexplicably linked, but ambiguously vague.

  • Francis Bacon, Two Figures with a Monkey (detail)

    Francis Bacon , Two Figures with a Monkey (detail) , 1973 .

    Oil on canvas. 198 x 147.5 cm. © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2019. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd / Courtesy Gagosian.

  • Faith Ringgold

    Serpentine Gallery, 6 June – 8 September 2019
    Growing up during the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Faith Ringgold was exposed to questions of identity and civil rights from a young age. Now five decades later, the Serpentine Gallery presents the first major exhibition of the American artist in a European institution, introducing her ideas and work to a new audience. For Ringgold – a lifelong activist – all forms of art are an opportunity for political engagement and to expose social inequality, including not only painting or sculpture but children’s books, posters and quilts. But no matter how scathing Ringgold’s attacks on injustice and racism, throughout all her work there is an even stronger sense of hope. In one painting from her American People series, Hide Little Children (below), the faces of smiling children emerge from a leafy bush; a new generation emerging that is more diverse, tolerant, and united together in harmony.

  • Faith Ringgold, American People #15: Hide Little Children

    Faith Ringgold , American People #15: Hide Little Children , 1966 .

    Oil on canvas. 66 x 121.9 cm. Private collection, courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London © 2018 Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

  • Natalia Goncharova

    Tate Modern, London, 6 June – 8 September 2019
    This month the Tate Modern hosts the first ever major exhibition of work by leading Russian avant-garde artist Natalia Goncharova. Little known in the UK, Goncharova was a prodigious artist who could turn her hand to just about everything, including painting, printmaking, theatre costume, book design and illustration. Constantly inspired by the folk culture of her native Central Russia, Goncharova’s early paintings were marked for their depiction of traditional pastoral scenes with a modernist inflection, such as in Peasants Picking Apples (below). Her approach was so successful, and her output so immense, she was given her first major retrospective in Moscow aged just 32. A year later in 1914 she moved permanently to Paris, where she was soon invited by Sergei Diaghilev to create set and costume designs for the Ballet Russes – the work she became best known for during her lifetime. A display of endless invention, this show sees an artist at her most subversive and forward-looking when toying with the traditions and images of old.

  • Natalia Goncharova, Peasants Picking Apples (detail)

    Natalia Goncharova , Peasants Picking Apples (detail) , 1911 .

    Oil on canvas. 1045 x 980 mm. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Received from the Museum of Artistic Culture 1929 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019.

  • Bartolomé Bermejo: Master of the Spanish Renaissance

    The National Gallery, London, 12 June – 29 September 2019
    Even by 15th-century standards, Bartolomé Bermejo is an enigmatic figure. His real name was Bartolomé de Cárdenas, but he was more commonly known as ‘Bermejo’, meaning ‘red’, possibly owing to a ruddy face or ginger hair. His paintings have more than a passing Netherlandish influence, but there is no evidence Bermejo ever left his native Spain nor is there any information at all about his early training. He may have been a Jewish convert to Christianity, with his nomadic lifestyle driven by an attempt to avoid persecution at the hands of the Inquisition. Most of what we do know about Bermejo is through his paintings and triptychs, mostly funded by religious patrons, which have since become symbols of the Spanish Renaissance as a whole. Now as part of its Spanish season, the National Gallery has staged a new (and free) exhibition of works by Bermejo, including six never seen previously outside of Spain, alongside the National Gallery’s own Saint Michael Triumphs over the Devil (detail below) after a year-long conservation effort. Uniting all of Bermejo’s works is a deft use of texture, his realistic figures and an immense attention to detail: exemplified in the breastplate of Saint Michael’s gold armour, which in its reflection contains a miniature landscape of Jerusalem.

  • Bartolomé Bermejo, Saint Michael triumphant over the Devil with the Donor Antoni Joan (detail)

    Bartolomé Bermejo , Saint Michael triumphant over the Devil with the Donor Antoni Joan (detail) , 1468 .

    Oil and gold on panel. 179.7 x 81.9 cm. © The National Gallery, London.

  • Cutting Edge: Modernist British Printmaking

    Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 19 June – 8 September 2019
    This month the Dulwich Picture Gallery hosts an exhibition of 120 words by the pioneering Grosvenor School. Founded by Scottish printmaker Iain Macnab in Pimlico in 1925, the school became renowned for their innovative linocut prints, then an emerging medium that pushed the boundaries set by the traditional woodblock. The school displayed more than just a technical prowess, however; pooling together an array of modernist influences from Futurism, Vorticism and Cubism to depict scenes from the everyday, they created some of the most enduring images of life shaped by modernity, such as Cyril Power’s The Tube Station (below). Here a train curves its way into a station while the station itself curves with it, as though everything is being pulled by motion. Public transport seems fluid, fast-paced and even exciting, a symbol of the modern world in ways we scarce consider today. As well as showcasing key members of the school like Power, Sybil Andrews and William Greengrass, the exhibition also shows work by other artists working at the time like Paul Nash and David Bomberg, showing the far-reaching impact the school had on the work of other artists in their day.

  • Cyril Power, The Tube Station (detail)

    Cyril Power , The Tube Station (detail) , c. 1932 .

    Photo Osborne Samuel Gallery, London / © The Estate of Cyril Power. All Rights Reserved, [2019] / Bridgeman Images.

  • Cindy Sherman

    National Portrait Gallery, London, 27 June – 15 September 2019
    The National Portrait Gallery hosts the first UK retrospective of American artist Cindy Sherman Hon RA this month. There are few artists who have used their own appearance more exhaustively than Sherman, who has photographed herself as everything from old men, royalty, clowns, sales assistants and film stars, creating something of an uncanny familiarity across her body of work. A highlight of the show is Sherman’s formative Untitled Film Stills series, created in the 1970s at the very beginning of her career (below). Shot to mirror the style of old Hollywood films of the 1950s and 60s, each of the 69 black-and-white photographs has Sherman playing up to one of many female cinematic tropes, from the doting housewife to the tempting mistress. The meticulous staging of each image, combined with Sherman’s self-conscious gaze (she never looks at the camera) make us very aware that what we are looking at is totally artificial – just like the stereotypes they seek to depict.

  • Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #21

    Cindy Sherman , Untitled Film Still #21 , 1978 .

    Photograph. © Cindy Sherman, courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York..

  • Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance

    MK Gallery, Milton Keynes, 15 June – 22 September 2019
    The recently expanded MK Gallery is hosting the first major retrospective of works by Paula Rego RA in 20 years. At a glance Rego’s paintings appear fantastical, reminiscent of fairy tales or some other far off place, perhaps a distant memory from childhood. In reality her work is often deeply political, and in this new exhibition are works from across her career dealing with topics from the Iraq War to the 1997 referendum on legalising abortion in Portugal. Perhaps even more dramatic is that many of Rego’s compositions are in fact drawn from life, made from elaborate scenes with stuffed dummies and sculptures and friends and family as her sitters – such as in War (detail below). In this way Rego unsettles our clear distinctions between fantasy and reality, the personal and the political. If you can’t make it to the show at the MK Gallery, be sure to see it either later in the year at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh or at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, where it will mark Rego’s first ever retrospective of work in Scotland and Ireland, respectively.

  • Paula Rego RA, War (detail)

    Paula Rego RA , War (detail) , 2003 .

    © Paula Rego Tate: Presented by the artist (Building the Tate Collection) 2005 Photo: © Tate, London 2019.

    Pastel and paper mounted on aluminium. 160 x 120 cm.

  • Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage

    Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two), Edinburgh, 29 June – 27 October 2019
    At the end of the month the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art shows an exclusive and major survey of collage, the first of its kind ever to take place anywhere in the world. Far from a modern invention, the exhibition celebrates a rich history of the medium dating back 400 years, with displays of 16th-century ‘flap prints’ right up to modern day computer-based images. It seems the act of altering, cutting up and composing preexisting images has lost none of its subversive power throughout this long history, evidenced here by the rebellious collages of Jamie Reid, who designed the original artwork for the Sex Pistols, or the absurdist collage films of Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam. Other works on display include everything from the surrealist art of Joan Miró, the cubist compositions of Pablo Picasso, the costume designs of Natalia Goncharova (mentioned above), the album covers of Peter Blake and even a three-metre-long collaged screen purportedly made (in part) by Charles Dickens. Due to the fragile nature of the work the exhibition won’t tour, so don’t miss your chance to see it in Edinburgh this summer.

  • Eileen Agar, Fish Circus

    Eileen Agar , Fish Circus , 1939 .

    Mixed media collage. Photography by Antonia Reeve. © The Estate of Eileen Agar. All Rights Reserved 2016 / Bridgeman Images.

  • Yorkshire Sculpture International 2019

    Across Yorkshire, 22 June – 29 September 2019
    For sculpture enthusiasts all eyes will surely be on Yorkshire this summer, with the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International taking place in four galleries and other sites across Leeds and Wakefield, cementing the county’s place as the British home of sculpture. Works by 18 artists from over 13 countries will be on show, including Damien Hirst’s dissectional unicorns, Huma Bhabha’s towering verdigris totems, Tarek Atoui’s kinetic sound sculptures and many more, turning everything from streets to buildings into an exhibition space for art. One highlight of the festival has got to be a free exhibition of works by David Smith (below), the first American sculptor to work with welded metal. Rarely exhibited outside the US, Smith is considered the principal sculptor of the American Abstract Expressionists. Fusing the precision of geometry with the expressiveness of the handmade, his sculptures can be seen across Yorkshire Sculpture Park alongside some of his works on paper.

  • David Smith, Primo Piano III

    David Smith , Primo Piano III , 1962 .

    Courtesy Collection of Candida and Rebecca Smith..