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10 art shows to see this May

Published 1 May 2021

Art is back. Celebrate the return of galleries and fill your diaries with some of the best exhibitions from across the country.

  • Please note that while dates are correct at the time of publication, the Covid-19 pandemic may affect exhibition schedules.

    • 1. Ayo Akingbade with Duchamp & Sons: A Glittering City

      Whitechapel Gallery, London, 19 May – 15 August 2021
      Ayo Akingbade is one of London’s most exciting young artists, and this May she’ll be presenting two new films at Whitechapel Gallery.

      Fire In My Belly (2021) is a portrait of London through the voices of young people, as Akingbade collaborates with the youth art collective she was once part of to create a film about community and the city. Join Akingbade and the young artists in a journey through London’s streets, graveyards and history to discover the city’s hidden migrant legacies. In another gallery you can view Dear Babylon (2019), a film essay on a community’s response to harmful legislation which threatens their social housing and way of life.

      Akingbade is also an RA Schools graduate, and you’ll be able to see her work in our upcoming RA Schools show in June!

      Ayo Akingbade , Fire in My Belly

      Ayo Akingbade, Fire in My Belly, 2021.

      Commissioned by Whitechapel Gallery.

      Image still. Courtesy the artist/ Daragh Soden.

    • 2. Mohamed Bourouissa: HARa!!!!!!hAaaRAAAAA!!!!!hHAaA!!!

      Goldsmiths CCA, London, 21 May – 01 Aug 2021
      This is the first solo show in a UK public art gallery for Mohamed Bourouissa, and it promises to be an immersive, powerful experience.

      The Paris-based artist’s multimedia work probes the legacies of colonialism, and the contemporary realities of racial and socioeconomic inequality. Known for his intense immersion with his subjects, Bourouissa once spent eight months living in North Philadelphia with a low-income community who rescue horses. The resulting film, Horse Day (2014-15), was called a “contemporary American cowboy movie” by the artist, and is a joyful celebration of art, animals and community. You’ll be able to see the film at the Goldsmiths show, along with works from 2003 to present.

      From portraits of shoplifters with the items they tried to steal, to a glimpse of life in a modern prison via footage from a smartphone smuggled into a French jail, Bourouissa’s boundary-pushing work is a must-see.

      Mohamed Bourouissa, Horse Day (still)

      Mohamed Bourouissa, Horse Day (still), 2014-2015.

      © ADAGP, Paris 2018. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris/London..

    • 3. Portable Sculpture

      The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, 18 May – 29 Aug 2021
      ‘Portable’ isn’t usually the word that comes to mind when you think of sculpture, but this show at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds could change all that.

      This group exhibition brings together 20th-century works that are literally portable or have been created while on the move. Featuring sculptures by Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder and Marcel Duchamp, the exhibition explores questions about home and identity, migration and travel, and stability and impermanence.

      Look out for the work of Do Ho Suh, who creates mind-bogglingly exact replicas of apartments in net textile that you can wander through in awe, and presumably makes moving house far easier when you can just fold up your old one.

      Do Ho Suh, Hub, Wielandstr. 18, 12159 Berlin, 2015

      Do Ho Suh, Hub, Wielandstr. 18, 12159 Berlin, 2015.

      polyester fabric, stainless steel. © Do Ho Suh. Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin and Victoria Miro.

    • 4. Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life

      Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield, 21 May 2021 – 27 Feb 2022
      Hepworth Wakefield is celebrating its tenth anniversary with the largest exhibition of Barbara Hepworth’s work since the artist’s death in 1975.

      Always thrilling to behold, Hepworth’s large-scale sculptures will be on show alongside rarely seen drawings, paintings and fabric designs. Following new research from the Hepworth Research Network, this exhibition in Hepworth’s hometown also promises to give fresh insight into the technical aspects of the artist’s creative process, shedding light on her work with bronze, aluminium and lead crystal.

      And for the cherry on the Hepworth cake, watch out for newly commissioned work by Tacita Dean RA and Veronica Ryan.

      Barbara Hepworth at work on the plaster for Oval Form (Trezion) 1963.

      Barbara Hepworth at work on the plaster for Oval Form (Trezion) 1963.

      Photo: Val Wilmer © Bowness, Hepworth Estate

    • 5. Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy

      Whitechapel Gallery, London, 19 May – 29 August 2021
      Eileen Agar RA is finally getting the attention she deserves with this huge retrospective at Whitechapel Gallery.

      The only British artist to have work included in the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries in 1936, Agar was a trailblazer who used her admiration of beautiful natural forms (particularly sea life) to create strange and wonderful art.

      This show will paint a full and vivid picture of the artist’s varied career with 100 paintings, collages, photographs, assemblages and archive material on display which have rarely been exhibited before.

      Eileen Agar, Erotic Landscape

      Eileen Agar, Erotic Landscape, 1942.

      Collage on paper. 25.5 x 30.5 cm. Private collection © Estate of Eileen Agar/Bridgeman. Photograph courtesy Pallant House Gallery, Chichester © Doug Atfield.

    • 6. Aliza Nisenbaum

      Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, open until 5 Sep 2021
      Aliza Nisenbaum is known for big, bright portraits of community groups, and in a new series of paintings she has turned her attention to the heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic.

      These new portraits are of NHS staff from Merseyside who have been working throughout the pandemic. The sitters for portraits include a professor of Outbreak Medicine, a respiratory doctor who became a father during the first wave and a student nurse who comes from a family of nurses, all of whom chose to return to frontline work.

      Painted from life via video chat, Nisenbaum’s intimate portraits capture the stories of these frontline NHS workers and reveal the impact that Covid-19 has had on their work and home lives.

      Aliza Nisenbaum, Ryan, Respiratory Doctor in Training, 2020

      Aliza Nisenbaum, Ryan, Respiratory Doctor in Training, 2020.

      © Aliza Nisenbaum. Photography by Jeff McLane, courtesy the artist and Anton Kern Gallery, New York.

    • 7. John Nash: The Landscape of Love and Solace

      Towner Eastbourne, Eastbourne, open until 5 Sep 2021
      It’s been 50 years since the last major John Nash exhibition, and now Towner Eastbourne are stepping in to right this wrong.

      A versatile artist often overshadowed by his more famous brother Paul, John Nash RA worked in mediums from oil paint to wood engraving. Nash was an Official War Artist for both the First and Second World Wars, producing iconic and poignant works such as Over the Top, 1918 and The Corn Field, 1918. These will be on show along with other wartime works, as well as botanical painting (Nash also moonlighted as a judge for the Chelsea Flower Show). The exhibition also delves into the artist’s biography with previously unseen photographs and diaries.

      Nash’s big, beautiful British landscapes will leave you wondering why it took 50 years for a show like this to happen.

      John Nash RA, Over the Top

      John Nash RA, Over the Top, 1918.

      Oil on canvas. 79.8 × 108 cm. © IWM Art.

    • 8. Frank Bowling: London / New York

      Hauser & Wirth, London and New York, 5 May – 30 Jul 2021
      On show in London and New York simultaneously, this exhibition will have works spanning Frank Bowling RA’s career from 1967 to the present day.

      Bowling spent his early career between London, where he trained as a painter and found early acclaim, and New York, where he became involved in discussions of Black Art during the civil rights movement. This exhibition mirrors that transatlanticism both in its dual showing and with works inspired by both locations.

      Bowling’s huge, colourful canvases and inventive approach to paint and texture make his work a whole lot of fun.

      , Piano to Guyana

      Piano to Guyana, 2004.

      © Frank Bowling. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2021. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Thomas Barratt.

      Acrylic, acrylic gel and found objects on canvas with marouflage. 223 x 213 cm.

    • 9. Jo Spence: From Fairy Tales to Phototherapy

      Arnolfini, Bristol, 18 May – 21 June 2021
      Arnolfini are staging a major retrospective of pioneering feminist photographer Jo Spence, who challenged the presentation of women in the media with her frank and powerful self-portraits.

      The exhibition covers the past 50 years of Spence’s work, and includes her pivotal thesis Fairy Tales and Photography… or, another look at Cinderella in its entirety for the first time. Also on display will be The Picture of Health (1982), Spence’s remarkable photo record of her battle with cancer. After her diagnosis, Spence used the practice of photography alongside alternative therapies to practice ‘phototherapy’ — and created a remarkable visual journal of illness.

      The resulting body of work is an intimate, sometimes hilarious and sometimes haunting testament to the power of art to heal.

      Jo Spence, in collaboration with Rosy Martin, Only When I Got to Fifty Did I Realise I was Cinderella, (03)

      Jo Spence, in collaboration with Rosy Martin, Only When I Got to Fifty Did I Realise I was Cinderella, (03).

      Photograph. All images by Jo Spence © The Jo Spence Memorial Archive, Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto, Canada.

    • 10. Rana Begum

      Kate MacGarry, London, open until 6 June 2021
      In Rana Begum RA’s solo show at Kate McGarry gallery you’ll be able to see many new works, including a suspended piece made from galvanised mesh as well as a large-scale wall installation in copper, brass and aluminium.

      At once mesmerising and dizzying, Rana Begum’s bright artworks often seem to use light itself as a medium. In works in this show, Begum experiments with different media including fishing nets, spray paintings and a new series of acrylic on aluminium panel paintings.

      Rana Begum