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Autumn Art: The Best Shows Around the UK

By Catriona Miller

September is change-over month in galleries across the country. Here is the pick of autumn's up-coming exhibitions.

National Gallery: Frans Hals

This autumn in London it’s a choice between Old Masters and The Shock of the New(ish). The irony is that the seventeenth-century might just prove to be the more exciting. The National Gallery is giving us Frans Hals, a name which probably isn’t selling out tickets. Hals is often seen as an also-ran behind Rembrandt, and if you know him at all, it may well be for the sort of comic character pieces which were wildly popular at the time but now seem both crude and cruel. But Hals will surprise you. A one-room exhibition of his male portraits just two years ago at the Wallace Collection proved him to be a master of understated observation and flamboyantly free brushwork. He just does people – and so the curators will have to work hard to avoid monotony – but he covers the infinite variety of humanity.

Dulwich Picture Gallery: Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens, on the other hand, could turn his hand to anything. Dulwich Picture Gallery have chosen to focus on ‘Rubens and Women’, arguably a controversial choice for a painter known for his fleshy nudes and his marriage, at the age of fifty-three, to the sixteen-year-old Helena Fourment. Dulwich’s own permanent collection features his Venus, Mars and Cupid which shows the goddess expertly lactating into her son’s mouth. However, there is a lot more to an artist who painted portraits, landscape and religious subjects as well as mythical nudes; and for whom women were powerful patrons as well as models.

RA: Marina Abramović

If Old Master painting really isn’t your thing, then the Royal Academy has Marina Abramović, doyenne of performance art. This is a greatest hits retrospective reviewing her career through a combination of video, installation and re-enactment, and as such inevitably loses something of the unpredictability and edgy excitement of the original shows. However, fifty years of ground-breaking art is not to be missed, and, for the real enthusiast, there are more Abramović events at the Southbank in October.

Tate Britain: Sarah Lucas and 'Women in Revolt'

If Abramović as all about intensity and seriousness, the Tate Britain’s Sarah Lucas show should inject a bit of humour. Lucas was one of the infamous YBA, art’s equivalent of Britpop, during the early 1990s. She might have quite literally softened with age – her recent work has included sculptures made from old tights – but the show will also cover installations and photography from her early career. Delay visiting until November, and there is a double whammy of ‘Women in Revolt’ with Tate Britain’s second offering of the season, Women, Art and Activism 1970-90. Maybe this will be a case of everything, everywhere, all at once; hopefully the two exhibitions will feed off each other.

Tate Modern: Philip Guston

Meanwhile, the Tate Modern prepare for trigger-warnings as Philip Guston finally rolls into town. Much delayed by both controversy and Covid, London is now the last venue after shows in New York, Boston and Houston. The irony is that Guston’s cartoonish works (the source of the problem with their alleged use of Ku Klux Klan imagery) are only a small part of a career which includes surrealism, realist murals and abstract expressionist work. It’s a must for anyone interested in post-War American art, as well as those who like their painting to be political.

Eastbourne and Cambridge

Outside London, the Turner Prize short-list-ers are at Eastbourne’s Towner. After a few difficult years, the award seems to be back on track and the 2023 artists – Jesse Darling, Ghislaine Leung, Rory Pilgrim, Barbara Walker – provide a varied combination of sculpture, installation, performance and drawn portraiture. The winner will be announced on December 5th. Barbara Walker also features at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge which is tackling the legacy of slavery head-on, in Black Atlantic: Power, People and Resistance. With a time-span ranging from a 1525 Mostaert portrait (possibly the first in Western art) to the present day, and a remit which covers oppression and resilience, and the role of enslavement in funding and shaping Cambridge itself, the curators might be taking on a laudable, but impossible, task.

Bath, Edinburgh, Leeds, Wolverhampton, Plymouth, Oxford

It’s worth remembering some good, on-going exhibitions. Gwen John, currently at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, moves to Holburne Museum in Bath in October. The excellent survey exhibition of Scottish Women Artists continues at the Dovecot in Edinburgh. In Leeds, The Henry Moore Institute is bringing sculpture and poetry together in ‘The Weight of Words’. Whilst, Wolverhampton continues its celebration of the largest Pop Art collection outside London. Finally, for anyone looking for a burst of colour and a bit of escapism, The Box at Plymouth is extending summer with Dutch Flowers, and Oxford’s Ashmolean is aiming to brighten autumn with ‘Colour Revolution: Victorian Art, Fashion and Design’. It looks to have a bit everything from fine art to high fashion, and it certainly shouldn’t be dull.


About the Writer:

Catriona Miller is an independent art historian and writer on art based in the UK. She has taught and lectured on all aspects of art history and is currently researching women artists in British collections and issues of nationalism and identity in nineteenth-century landscape painting.

Twitter: @cmillerartlife


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