At the elegant Serpentine Gallery, the late Chicago-born painter Leon Golub is inviting you to emphatically not Bite Your Tongue. The first major UK retrospective of the controversial, vehemently anti-war and political activist artist combines his furious social commentary with mythological figures, depicting acts of violence, oppression, torture and miscarriages of justice perpetrated principally by successive US governments. His figurative paintings are strewn across gigantic canvasses, tinted with red rage and no small amount of condemnation – go and be enraged (until 17th of May 2015).
Frustration and fury in large-scale depictions is also on disruptive display at the Early Works exhibit of artist and social activist Barbara Kruger at the Skarstedt Gallery. Kruger pairs violent imagery with tame copy, all lifted from advertisements, blown up, edited, rendered in black and white and cropped to fit imposing red frames. Her main antagonists are those who would push consumerism and the power of mass media on an unsuspecting public – advertisers, for whom she initially worked after graduating from Parson’s Design School in New York in the 60s, when manipulation as an art form was at its height. Subverting the messengers’ message, she here delivers piqued critiques on gender inequality, challenges the presumed status quo of the worlds of graphic art and marketing and meanwhile delights those who were intended as their very targets (until 11th of April 2015).
With a General Election coming up, talk across the UK inevitably turns to the political, the social, and yes, the cultural: two shows in particular are very worth seeing for anyone who has a passing interest in the Democratic system and the role of citizens in society: All Of This Belongs To You at the grand Victoria and Albert museum, and History Is Now at the Hayward Gallery in the Southbank Centre. The former is an examination of the obligations, opportunities and limitations of public institutions in modern-day Great Britain. Artists, architects and designers have set up installations on the museum as public space as the realm of its civic responsibility. The V&A itself will be showing its usual collection of treasures, but now you have additions dotted around the space, commenting on topics such as security, technology and democracy itself. An important, timely initiative, in other words (until 19th of July, with special late-night opening for the Election on the 7th of May).
History Is Now, on the other hand, offers a retrospective on how we got to our place in society and the wider world today. Artists John Akomfrah, Simon Fujiwara, Roger Hiorns, Hannah Starkey, Richard Wentworth and Jane and Louise Wilson have all curated their own specific takes on periods of cultural history, exploring events such as the Cold War, Thatcher’s government and legacy, Mad Cow Disease, celebrity culture and various forms of protest. Over 250 objects are on display from private and public collections, which together provide a wide-ranging visual debate of sorts on our present day politics and power.
A little lighter relief can be found in the form of our very own Circus Festival London at the famous Roundhouse in Camden. The social aspect is still strong, with the multi-talented acrobats mixing more traditional big-tent (albeit a pop-up one, this is London after all) theatrics with some out-of-the-box storytelling. This is clowning around that makes you think, smile wryly, and yet still gasp in awe at the sheer flexibility and daring of these international artists. The studio will be showcasing special theatre pieces, there will be street dance performances, a cabaret act and workshops allowing you to discover just how unfathomably difficult these aerial feats actually are in comparison to the grace and ease with which the troupe deliver them – stand and applaud!
Finally, if you can crawl out of that super comfy bed early enough in the morning and dash down to the Victoria and Albert Museum before 10am, you might just be lucky enough to snag tickets to the retrospective of the late Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty. This is your chance to be among the first to catch the largest exhibition of his work ever to be shown in Europe: showcasing McQueen’s visionary genius, it spans his 1992 MA graduate work (bought immediately in its entirety by Vogue stylist Isabella Blow) to his unfinished Autumn/Winter 2010 collection and promises to deliver a spectacle synonymous with his runway shows. The original version was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2011 and became one of the Museum’s top 10 most visited exhibitions. This one will include an entirely new section devoted, fittingly, to his time in London.