10 art exhibitions to see in May

Published 1 May 2019

From abstract art by pioneering women artists to explorations of the natural world, here are 10 exhibitions to catch this May.

  • Cy Twombly: Natural History

    BASTIAN, London, 26 April – 15 June 2019
    In this first solo show of Cy Twombly’s work to appear in London since 2015, BASTIAN has brought together two of the American artist’s most intriguing portfolios inspired by nature. Taking their name and a dose of inspiration from Pliny the Elder’s encyclopaedic text, Naturalis Historia, Twombly’s portfolios are a display of the messy thought processes behind the desire to neatly classify and categorise the natural world. Accurate botanical drawings of mushrooms and trees are incorporated into wild collages of lines, sketches and numbers, suggesting something being ‘figured out’ by Twombly – though exactly what remains unclear. In his text Pliny the Elder sought to show that everything pointed back to nature, including art – an idea that clearly chimes with Twombly’s own beliefs.

  • Cy Twombly, Natural History Part I No. IV (detail)

    Cy Twombly , Natural History Part I No. IV (detail) , 1974 .

    Lithograph and mixed media on paper. © Cy Twombly Foundation. Courtesy BASTIAN, London.

  • I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker

    ICA, London, 1 May – 4 August 2019
    The past few years has seen something of a renaissance for the writer Kathy Acker, thanks in part to a recent biography by Chris Kraus and reprinted editions of her work released under Penguin’s Modern Classics imprint. Now the ICA (where Acker herself was once interviewed in the 1980s) is hosting the first ever UK exhibition dedicated to examining the lasting intrigue and influence of one of the most experimental and controversial authors of the late 20th century. During her lifetime Acker penned a number of experimental works that blurred the lines between pastiche, biography and fiction, and often self-published under the pseudonym ‘The Black Tarantula’. Using fragments of Acker’s writing as a catalyst, as well as her belief that language “makes webs”, the exhibition pulls together the work of a huge range of contemporary artists – such as Ghislaine Leung, Sophie Lewis, Candice Lin and a dozen others – that have in some way responded, resisted or been inspired by either Acker or her work. Planned alongside a programme of readings, lectures and talks, this summer will see the ICA tackling all of Acker’s chief concerns including identity, sexual desire, mythology, piracy and the body.

  • Kathy Brew, Portraits of Kathy Acker, San Francisco

    Kathy Brew , Portraits of Kathy Acker, San Francisco , 1991 .

    Photograph. Courtesy Kathy Brew.

  • Alix Marie: Shredded

    Roman Road, London, 11 May – 2 June 2019
    Have you ever seen a photograph sweat? Now you can at Alix Marie’s second exhibition of new work at Roman Road. Human skin, with all its potential to unsettle, has proven a popular choice of subject for Marie, and this time she has cast her critical eye on the skin of male bodybuilders. On show will be select pieces from three recent portfolios Marie has made about the topic, blending sculpture, photography and installation, including The more he starts to bring that water out the better he has a tendency to appear (2019). In this particular work, Marie prints images of muscular torsos on the lids of perspex boxes containing water. With the aid of spotlights, the torsos appear to literally perspire in front of us. Throughout all her explorations of the ways in which bodybuilders sculpt, present and perform with their bodies, a question is posed as to what this quest for the ‘perfect’ masculine form might say about our notion of masculinity as a whole.

  • Alix Marie, Flex Study (detail)

    Alix Marie , Flex Study (detail) , 2019 .

    Courtesy the artist and Roman Road.

  • László Moholy-Nagy

    Hauser & Wirth, London 23 May – 27 July 2019
    To coincide with the 100th year since the foundation of the Bauhaus, Hauser & Wirth is staging an exhibition of work by one of the school’s best-known teachers, László Moholy-Nagy, spanning his photography, painting, print, film, graphic design and sculpture. Born in Hungary in 1895, Moholy-Nagy served in the First World War before settling in Berlin in 1920, where he quickly gained a reputation as a prolific artist and astute theorist. He would go on to be personally invited by Walter Gropius to teach at the Bauhaus, which he did in Weimar and Dessau from 1923 to 1928. His utopian thinking – coupled with an unwavering belief that design and art should be applied for the benefit of all – would go on to become a guiding ethos within the Bauhaus as a whole, and latterly in Moholy-Nagy’s own School of Design in Chicago in 1939. As well as showing an artist well-versed in printmaking, typography and painting, the exhibition notably features a replica of his Light Space Modulator (below), one of the world’s earliest kinetic sculptures. Its metal components twist and turn, casting unusual shadows on the gallery walls when hit by a spotlight, bringing together Moholy-Nagy’s dual fascinations with the power of light and the role of new mechanical technologies in art.

  • László Moholy-Nagy, Light Space Modulator

    László Moholy-Nagy , Light Space Modulator , 1930 .

    Metal, plastics, glass, paint, and wood, with electric motor (exhibition replica). 151 x 70 x 70 cm. Courtesy of the Estate of László Moholy-Nagy. © the Estate of László Moholy-Nagy.

  • The Citi Exhibition: Manga マンガ

    British Museum, London, 23 May – 26 August 2019
    Later this month the British Museum kicks off its celebration of the craft and history of manga, the biggest of its kind to take place outside of Japan. Originally translated as ‘pictures run riot’, manga can trace its earliest roots back to Katsushika Hokusai, whose miscellaneous woodcuts of people, animals and nature were published as Hokusai Manga. Since then, the term has evolved to mean a form of graphic narrative storytelling, entirely distinct from its European and American comic book counterparts, and encompassing a multi-billion-pound global industry. Starting from its earliest innovators Hokusai and Kawanabe Kyōsai and taking us right up to modern day with the likes of Dragon Ball and Astro Boy, this exhibition explores manga’s enduring appeal, as well as its cross-cultural impact across Japan and the wider world.

  • Hagio Moto, The Poe Clan (detail)

    Hagio Moto , The Poe Clan (detail) , 1972-1976 .

    © Moto Hagio / Shogakuka Inc..

  • Frank Bowling

    Tate Britain, London, 31 May – 26 August 2019
    Frank Bowling RA has a major retrospective at the Tate Britain at the end of this month, preceded by an exhibition at Hales Gallery. Bowling appears to be an artist with boundless energy, having spent much of his life travelling back and forth between London and New York, simultaneously involved in both the Civil Rights movement in America and pioneering abstract art in Britain. At the age of 85, Bowling still paints every day, and this show promises to display not only his impressive productivity but also his insatiable appetite for experimentation. Included are some of his early works undertaken at the Royal College of Art, where he was a contemporary of RB Kitaj and David Hockney, his iconic ‘map paintings’, where the outlines of continents emerge from a vista of colours and geometry, and his textural studies of river beds (below). Uniting this diverse output is a constant exploration of what abstract art can be, as well as a personal exploration of the places and memories he holds close.

  • Frank Bowling RA, Great Thames IV

    Frank Bowling RA , Great Thames IV , 1988-9 .

    Acrylic paint on canvas. 1810 x 3210 mm. © Frank Bowling. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019.

  • Lee Krasner: Living Colour

    Barbican Art Gallery, London, 30 May – 1 September
    For decades, the work and life of Abstract Expressionist artist Lee Krasner has been unfairly eclipsed by that of her husband, Jackson Pollock. Now, aiming to set things straight is a new show at the Barbican featuring over 100 of Krasner’s works, many of which have never previously been seen in the UK, spanning everything from early self-portraits to collage. As an artist Krasner was a key member of the American abstract art scene in New York, where she befriended the likes Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning and Ray Eames. After her marriage to Pollock in 1945 she moved to Long Island, where she and Pollock bought a dilapidated clapboard house which would go on to serve as her main studio and residence for the rest of her life. Krasner’s art was always a provocation to the environment around her, whether a vibrant mosaic for an otherwise innocuous table, or her well-known ‘Little Images’ series of paintings made with the express purpose of moving away from a standard easel. Complementing her work is a selection of rare photographs and film from the 1940s, helping to contextualise the time and place Krasner lived, as well as elegant exhibition design by David Chipperfield Architects. For more on Lee Krasner’s development as an artist, look out for the Summer issue of RA Magazine, featuring an essay by the artist’s biographer Gail Levin.

  • Lee Krasner, Siren

    Lee Krasner , Siren , 1966 .

    © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation. Photograph by Cathy Carver, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

  • David Nash: Sculpture Through the Seasons

    National Museum, Cardiff, 3 May – 1 September 2019
    It’s been 50 years since David Nash RA moved to Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales and converted an old methodist chapel into an artist’s studio. Since then he has found a constant source of inspiration in the wilderness of the Welsh landscape, and now to mark his prodigious output a major exhibition is to be held at the National Museum in Cardiff. If wood is the exclusive material of choice for Nash’s sculpture, time and the environment are the frames he puts them in. Often leaving his sculptures out in the wild at the mercy of the seasons, it is impossible to say when Nash’s sculptures are truly ‘complete’. Others are difficult to separate from the natural world, for instance his Ash Dome, a series of 22 ash trees planted in an intertwining circle that evolves as the trees grow. As well as documentation of these time and site-specific works, the exhibition will also display key works from across his career, such as the eerie Torso, (2006; below).

  • David Nash RA, Torso, 2006 in Capel Rhiw (detail)

    David Nash RA , Torso, 2006 in Capel Rhiw (detail) , 2018 .

    Photograph. © the Artist, photograph: Jonty Wilde.

  • Emilia Beatriz: declarations on soil and honey

    Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), Glasgow, 4 May – Sun 30 June 2019
    Vieques is an island off the coast of Puerto Rico, once the location of a large testing range for the US navy. When the range was closed after a decades-long struggle by locals, three US ships stationed there sailed to Cape Wrath in the far north of Scotland to carry on their exercises, in what is now Western Europe’s largest bombing range. It is the global implications that link these two unassuming places that Emilia Beatriz explores in their newest exhibition, at the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Glasgow. Weaving the oral histories of Puerto Rican beekeepers together with Scottish crofters, Beatriz has created a speculative narrative in the form of a film installation, raising questions as to how communities can survive through environmental and military occupation, inspired in part by the ‘healing narratives’ of Latin American curanderas, or spiritual healers.

  • Emilia Beatriz, Declarations on Soil and Honey

    Emilia Beatriz , Declarations on Soil and Honey .

    Film still. Courtesy the artist and CCA Glasgow.

  • Huguette Caland

    Tate St Ives, St Ives, 24 May – 1 September
    Lebanese artist Huguette Caland has her first UK museum solo show opening this month at Tate St Ives, highlighting Caland’s unique contribution to abstract art between the 1960s–80s. Throughout, her work achieves a balancing act between the suggestive and the explicit, particularly in relation to the human body. The converging shapes and texture of Caland’s paintings, such as in Bribes de corps (below), cannot help but suggest a naked female form, the lines between the forms taking on the appearance of folds of brightly-coloured skin. In her line drawings, cartoonish kissing figures stretch out into a horizon line, turning their faces into something more akin to a landscape. Across all types of media, from painting to textiles, Caland challenges us look at the body in a way that defies our conventional notions of how beauty and femininity ought be depicted in art.

  • Huguette Caland, Bribes de corps (detail)

    Huguette Caland , Bribes de corps (detail) , 1973 .

    Oil paint on linen. 48.2 x 34.9 cm. Courtesy of the artist.