10 art exhibitions to see in May

Published 1 May 2017

From work inspired by life inside a Syrian prison to the colourful, geometric work of Rana Begum, here are some of the most unmissable exhibitions open this month.

  • Lawrence Abu Hamdan

    Maureen Paley, London, until 28 May

    This exhibition focuses on two new, topical works by the Jordanian artist, Lawrence Abu Hamdan. The mixed media artist created the film, This whole time there were no land mines (2017), using mobile phone footage and audio recordings taken in the Golan Heights, an area along the border between Israel and Syria. Here, in this “shouting valley”, separated families often gather to shout across to each other. Abu Hamdan’s film recalls the occasion in 2011 when 150 Palestinians illegally crossed the area to enter Israeli territory. Four of the protestors died in the incident. Abu Hamdan also presents a series of architectural diagrams showing the unseen architecture of a notorious Syrian prison. Saydnaya (ray traces) (2017) invites gallery visitors to imagine what former inmates went through while being held in the prison, blindfolded; the experience caused them to develop acute sensitivity to sound.

  • Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Saydnaya (ray traces) (detail)

    Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Saydnaya (ray traces) (detail), 2017.

    © Lawrence Abu Hamdan, courtesy Maureen Paley, London.

  • Joseph Beuys: Sculpture and Early Drawings

    Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, until 29 July

    Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac has just opened its new London gallery, and this show of early drawings and a sculpture by the German artist Joseph Beuys (1921–1986) is one of its three inaugural exhibitions. Beuys is famous for using organic substances in his works on paper – including fat, beeswax, margarine and a substance he invented himself, which was created by mixing industrial paint and hare’s blood. In addition to the drawings, one of Beuys’ most iconic sculptures, Backrest of a fine-limbed person (hare-type) of the 20th Century AD (1972-1982), an iron form that resembles a human torso, is on display. Through these works, Beuys explores the role of art as a means of healing by encouraging us to connect with our primitive and animalistic nature.

  • Joseph Beuys, Backrest of a fine-limbed person (hare-type) of the 20th Century AD

    Joseph Beuys, Backrest of a fine-limbed person (hare-type) of the 20th Century AD, 1972-1982.

    Backrest Iron Cast, 94 x 45 x 5 cm , Vitrine 183,5 x 155 x 64,5 cm. © JOSEPH BEUYS ESTATE / DACS, LONDON 2017. PHOTO:ULRICH GHEZZI COURTESY GALERIE THADDAEUS ROPAC LONDON · PARIS · SALZBURG.

  • The London Original Print Fair

    Royal Academy of Arts, London, 4 May – 7 May

    The UK’s longest running sale of original prints returns to the Main Galleries at the RA. This year, there are 50 stands representing international dealers, galleries and print publishers, with a wide range of prints – everything from rare old masters to editions by leading and emerging contemporary artists – to browse and buy. Look out for prints from a number of Royal Academicians, including Gary Hume RA, Anish Kapoor RA, Cornelia Parker RA, as well as works from historical heavyweights such as Rembrandt, Matisse and Picasso.

  • Anish Kapoor, Blue Shadow 1, From the complete set of four aquatint

    Anish Kapoor, Blue Shadow 1, From the complete set of four aquatint, 2013.

    72.4 x 96.4cm. Published by the Paragon Press Courtesy Lyndsey Ingram.

  • Mahtab Hussain: You Get Me?

    Autograph ABP, London, 5 May – 1 July

    Race, representation, respect and cultural difference are just some of the themes addressed in this solo photography exhibition. British artist Mahtab Hussain is interested in exploring ideas of multiculturalism and cultural diversity, as shown in this compelling portrait series. Photographed over a nine year period in Birmingham, London and Nottingham, the 24 portraits on display investigate critical questions of identity among young, working-class, British Asian men.

  • Mahtab Hussain, Boy with BMW toy car from the series You Get Me?

    Mahtab Hussain, Boy with BMW toy car from the series You Get Me?, 2009.

    Courtesy the artist.

  • Giacometti

    Tate Modern, London, 10 May – 10 September

    Tate Modern delivers a large-scale retrospective of the Italian artist, Alberto Giacometti’s sculptures. The exhibition will include all six of the artist’s Women of Venice works that were originally created in 1956 for the Venice Biennale, which took place in the same year. The model for almost all the sculptures here was Giacometti’s wife, Annette. This exhibition aims to show Giacometti’s wider interest in materials and textures beyond bronze, such as plaster and clay.

  • Alberto Giacometti , Head of Woman [Flora Mayo]

    Alberto Giacometti, Head of Woman [Flora Mayo], 1926.

    Painted plaster. 31.2 x 23.2 x 8.4cm. Collection Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris © Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017.

  • Rana Begum: Space Light Colour

    Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, 12 May – 1 October

    Inspired by Islamic art and urban architecture, Rana Begum produces colourful abstract and geometric works which blur the boundaries between sculpture, painting and architecture. This exhibition in particular provides an insight into Begum’s engagement with ideas pertaining to community and place, as evidenced by the various models Begum has produced for public commissions. A highlight is Begum’s immersive powder-coated, sculptural environment, No. 670 Mesh Installation (2016). A range of relief “fold” works and the artist’s series of models accompanies this piece.

  • Rana Begum, No. 670, Mesh installation

    Rana Begum, No. 670, Mesh installation, 2016.

    Powder-coated mesh. Courtesy of the artist and Parasol Unit Photographs by Calvin Winner.

  • Isaac Julien: “I dream a world” Looking for Langston

    Victoria Miro, London, 18 May – 29 July

    British moving image artist Isaac Julien made the film Looking for Langston in 1989. Using both digital and analogue techniques to create an immersive cinematic experience, he now presents the work alongside large scale, silver gelatine photographic pieces, as well as archival material. Looking for Langston is an expressive film about gay black men living in Harlem in the 1920s. While some works in the exhibition focus on scenes from the film itself, others document its making – focusing on its staging, lighting, iconography and choreography. In addition to this exhibition at Victoria Miro, a special presentation of photographs and a film installation of “I dream a world” Looking for Langston will take place at Photo London (18 – 21 May 2017).

  • Isaac Julien, Pas de Deux No. 2 (Looking for Langston Vintage Series)

    Isaac Julien, Pas de Deux No. 2 (Looking for Langston Vintage Series), 1989/2016.

    Kodak Premier print, Diasec mounted on aluminium. 180 x 260 cm. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Isaac Julien.

  • Ghisha Koenig: Machines Restrict their Movement

    Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, 25 May – 13 August

    Ghisha Koenig was a British sculptor, who was interested in the everyday experiences of those living in the industrial communities of south east England. As well as sculptures, this exhibition features a series of drawings, which Koenig produced while spending time in various factories. Here she observed the routines of the workers and noticed how they were forced to adapt their bodies around the workings of the machines: a phenomenon she depicted in her art.

  • Ghisha Koenig, Calendar Shop I

    Ghisha Koenig, Calendar Shop I, 1970.

    Courtesy Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Art Gallery).

  • Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave

    The British Museum, London, 25 May – 13 August

    Through major paintings, drawings, woodblock prints and illustrated books, Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave sheds light on the great Japanese artist’s spiritual and artistic quest during the last 30 years (1820-1849) of his life. Although its title is “Beyond the Great Wave”, a highlight of the exhibition is undoubtedly the artist’s most iconic and recognisable print, which has been kept from public view since 2011. The Great Wave is part of a series known as Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji (published around 1831-33), which reflects Hokusai’s interest in experimenting with European artistic styles.

  • Katsushika Hokusai, Under the wave off Kanagawa (The Great Wave) from Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji

    Katsushika Hokusai, Under the wave off Kanagawa (The Great Wave) from Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji, 1831.

    Colour woodblock. Acquisition supported by the Art Fund. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

  • Mamma Andersson

    Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, until 27 May

    The Swedish artist Mamma Andersson is best known for her paintings – evocative images of mysterious worlds – but this show is dedicated to woodcut prints, her first solo exhibition in the medium. In addition to the prints, three larger paintings expand upon Andersson’s distinctive, emotionally charged narratives.

  • Mamma Andersson, Cave

    Mamma Andersson, Cave, 2016.

    Handprinted colour woodcut on rice paper, monotype. Copyright: Mamma Andersson Courtesy: Mamma Andersson and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.