Ai Weiwei – The Liberty of Doubt

Back in 2020, the internationally acclaimed Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei bought a number of Chinese antiquities at an auction in Cambridge, a city in which he retains a base having lived here for a few years, and where his son still goes to school. Some of the pieces are more than a thousand years old, dating from the Northern Wei and Tang dynasties. In his new solo show at Cambridge’s Kettle’s Yard, he is showing them alongside his own new and existing work.

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Jim Shaw – Hope Against Hope

If you weren’t familiar with the work of the American artist Jim Shaw, it wouldn’t take you long to figure out who he won’t be voting for in next week’s Presidential election. His monochrome silkscreen print, above, is entitled Donald and Melania Trump descending the escalator into the 9th circle of hell reserved for traitors frozen in a sea of ice. It’s what it says on the tin, typical of the biting wit that Shaw unleashes in this marvellous exhibition of new works at London’s Simon Lee Gallery, his first here for four years.

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Nick Smith – Pioneers

British artist Nick Smith has a unique process. A former interior designer of 11 years, he was used to working with swatches, those thousands of colour variations each with their own name that you find in expensive design books or even as paint charts in your local DIY store.  Back in 2011, a friend challenged him to make an artwork from them. He accepted and hasn’t looked back since and that’s only half the story.

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Leila Alaoui – Rite of Passage

In 2016, celebrated French-Moroccan photographer Leila Alaoui was on assignment in Burkina Faso investigating women’s rights in the country on behalf of Amnesty International and UN Women. She had the misfortune to be sitting in a parked car outside the Cappuccino café in the capital Ouagadougou when the café was attacked by Al-Qaeda gunmen. She was seriously wounded and died three days later. She was 33.

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The Grand Tour – Claire Partington, Emily Allchurch, James B Webster, Matt Smith

In the 18th and 19th centuries, it became something of a rite of passage for upper class Europeans, mostly from Britain, to embark on the Grand Tour taking in cities such as Paris, Rome, Venice and Florence in order to learn about Classical and Renaissance art and architecture. They’d accumulate works and souvenirs as they did so. Four artists have given a contemporary spin on this phenomenon in Grand Tour at London’s James Freeman Galley.

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Mervyn Peake – British Library acquires his Visual Archive

Mervyn Peake will be best remembered as the author of the Gormenghast trilogy, those wonderful novels full of eccentric characters populating a bizarre fantasy world. What’s less known is that Peake was an acclaimed artist, regarded as one of the best children’s illustrators of his day. The British Library has just announced that it has acquired his visual archive of more than 300 original illustrations, that will now join the library’s collection of his papers.

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Kovet.Art – Delineating Dreams

One of the effects of this current pandemic is that many of us are wondering what changes the virus will have wrought upon our society after it goes away (if it ever does go away!). 

In a broader sense, this zeitgeist has been taken up by Kovet.Art, a new arts organisation designed to help collectors discover the best emerging talent in the UK and to harness and mentor that talent. Its inaugural online exhibition, Delineating Dreams, invites eight of its artists to delve into a dream world expressing visually both the conscious and the subconscious. It’s a surrealism-heavy show just as our current plight has many such characteristics. 

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David Downes – Responses to Covid-19

Every major world crisis, be it war, financial meltdown or as now, global pandemic, is interpreted through the lens of artists of all genres. It can be graphic depiction, symbolic, allegoric or whatever but all capturing in some way the zeitgeist. Among the first painters out of the blocks to give expression to their immediate feelings about the current Coronavirus crisis is David Downes who has just released a series dedicated to it.

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