London's Must-See Gallery Exhibitions, Autumn 2023
Exhibition view: Cui Jie, Thermal Landscapes, Pilar Corrias, London (22 September–4 November 2023). Courtesy Pilar Corrias. Photo: Mark Blower.
Beyond excellent institutional retrospectives of Marina Abramović at the Royal Academy, Daido Moriyama at The Photographers' Gallery, and Sarah Lucas at Tate Britain, here we share four exhibitions to see in London galleries during Frieze and well into autumn.
Expect: expressive paintings on love, sex, and death that respond to media coverage of the AIDS crisis in the U.K.
Artist and gay rights activist Derek Jarman was well-known in the queer punk scene of 1970s London. Diagnosed with HIV in 1986, he dedicated a significant part of his life to using art to express sexuality and counter stigma around the AIDS epidemic.
The artist, aware of his queerness as a youth and disillusioned with the British education system, released his frustrations through painting, which he described as a self-defense.
Jarman later shot experimental shorts on Super 8, inspired by Andy Warhol. He made dozens of feature-length and short films over his career. His first feature, Sebastiane (1976), portrayed the life and martyrdom of Saint Sebastian homoeroticised, told through a Latin dialogue.
The artist's paintings at Amanda Wilkinson conceal tabloid news headlines concerning the AIDS epidemic that Jarman collected in notebooks over his life. Scrawled into coats of paint, their surfaces incised as if under knife point, they embody despair and protest in equal measure within their thick layers. The artist perhaps put it best, noting in 1992: 'I painted these pictures with no hope and wild laughter.'
Expect: abstract compositions wide-ranging in their references, from Persian miniatures to Ancient Egyptian iconography and Mesopotamian terracotta reliefs.
Ali Banisadr once described his childhood memories of the Islamic revolution and Iran-Iraq War as 'a mix of images, half abstract and half recognisable forms'.
Today, the artist's paintings mirror the tumultuous and multifaceted metamorphoses that have cut through the contemporary social fabric. Informed by global art histories as well as narratives around conspiracy and colonialism, Banisadr quietly integrates chaos into the human experience, evidenced in oil paintings such as Underworld (2021), where soft lavenders frame an abstract hellscape packed with ghostly apparitions in vivid dress.
Mostly abstract, Banisadr's works are notable for the presiding harmony between scattered, layered, and imploding elements. This could be attributed to his experience of synaesthesia, where sounds impact his visual perception.
Expect: discerning and humorous paintings, videos, and texts that portray contemporary intellectualism as a plague.
Li Ran's latest works present a view of contemporary intellectualism as an ideological illness, where dialogue and lamentation of worldly wrongs can stand in for action—resulting in perpetual waiting.
At Lisson Gallery, Li unfolds psychological portraits of a group of semi-fictional intellectuals—inspired by friends—in China, articulating the tensions faced by many artists today which only finds emphasis within China's authoritarian politics.
Across Li's paintings, collapsing bodies of starving artists take on dramatic postures, leaning upon one another against a purple ground. Dressed in white shirts, purple vests, and traditional garments historically ascribed to intellectuals, their faces show annoyance, theatrical despair, and an eagerness to be noticed in their anguish.
Referring to China specifically, Li's narrative painting presents self-referential scenes that add another layer of absurdity to the performance, such as 'confronting a form of writer's block that avoids publishing anything meaningful in a bid to avoid censorship'.
Expect: distorted compositions that offer a dystopian glimpse into the future of cities and skylines.
Connecting cities of the past and future, Cui Jie's practice is concerned with contemporary architecture and its relationship to cultural memory. Her latest works present a graphic representation of the environmental impact of skyscrapers on cities around the world.
Modernist high-rise buildings such as the Central Bank of West African States in Senegal and Bab Al Qasr Hotel in Abu Dhabi appear as lone islands, wrapped in atmospheric backdrops with the bodies of enlarged, contorted animals with cracked surfaces integrated into the pixelated compositions.
Representing the objects that were mass-produced in China for Western export in the 1980s and 90s, Cui's disconcerting ceramic bodies—which include a rooster, deer, and geese—appear more robotic than living. They nod to China's post-liberation cultural commodification, foregrounding its later dominance over global economies.
In one work featuring two deer against Dakar's Central Bank, the subjects hover within an abstract wash of cobalt, indigo, and peach. Both animals appear to be made of the same stone and merge with the dystopian structure, fossilised and fractured after being fired in the kiln. —[O]