Counter Acts: Incomplete Histories 1984 – present

As the UK’s contemporary art scene gears up for the announcement of this year’s prestigious Turner Prize winner, University of the Arts London (UAL) has mounted a fascinating exhibition featuring the work of alumni, both teachers and students, who have either won or been nominated for the prize since its inception in 1984.

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Leo Villareal – Pace Gallery

A silver sun sends out waves in pulses that suddenly dissolve into a swirling mass of tadpole-like shapes. A molten core waxes and wanes while shooting stars erupt around it in seemingly endless and varied sequences. These white light installations, one nearly 40 foot wide, some as individual pieces, others as triptychs, are by American artist Leo Villareal in his first solo exhibition at London’s Pace Gallery.

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Paula Rego – Obedience and Defiance

There’s a scene in her son Nick Willing’s BBC documentary, timed to coincide with the opening of this exhibition, in which Paula Rego tells that the first thing her future husband said to her at a party in the 1950s was to ask her to take her knickers off. She complied. It seemed to encapsulate so much of the essence of this remarkable show at MK Gallery – explicit, sexually charged and compliant.

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Caught in the Net – Erub Arts

You will have to have been stranded on a remote desert island over the past couple of years not to be aware of the danger to our planet and to our wildlife of plastic pollution. TV programmes such as Blue Planet have regaled us with shocking images of how plastic is choking the life out of sea creatures, and the food industry is almost falling over itself now to reduce plastic bags and packaging to help reduce our dependence on the material.

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Esther Teichmann – On Sleeping and Drowning

Esther Teichmann’s world is a mystical one of caves, swamps and underground lakes that exist somewhere between the real and the imagined, between autobiography and fiction. They are fragments of memory informed by the landscape of the Rhine Valley and the valleys of the Black Forest where she grew up and reimagined as mysterious, womb-like spaces where women sometimes sleep and dream. 

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Bruce McLean – Five Decades of Sculpture, Part One 1967-1994

Sculptor, painter, ceramicist, performance artist, filmmaker, Bruce McLean’s career flits about in a variety of genres. He’s regarded as having led the development of British conceptual art in the 1960s. Not that he would necessarily have it that way. He regards himself solely as a sculptor. His work subtly and playfully makes fun of the pomposity and established forms of the art world.

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Sony World Photography Awards

The portrait above, haunting yet dignified, is of a farmer’s wife called Rasathi from Tamil Nadu, India’s southernmost state that is facing its worse drought in 140 years. It was taken by Italian photographer Federico Borella, winner of this year’s Photographer of the Year at the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards and featured in this year’s exhibition at London’s Somerset House. The woman’s husband committed suicide by hanging himself in his own field.

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Johan van Mullem – Reverence

When I look at Johan van Mullem’s paintings, I’m reminded of that Bob Dylan phrase “smoke rings of my mind”. For the Belgian artist’s instantly recognisable works are ethereal evocations of his subconscious, dreamily configured as abstracts within a barely recognisable face. The artist pours his emotions on to the canvas, almost peering inside his head, and using expressive brushstrokes to create something striking, haunting and mysterious.

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Andrew McIntosh – I Saw This Coming

This new exhibition by Scottish artist Andrew McIntosh features eight new oil paintings of largely run-down buildings, most of them in south-east London where he lives. It’s appropriate, therefore, that they should be on display at the Bo.Lee gallery in Peckham. 

They’re rendered in extraordinary detail and texture, almost like a photograph, with deft mark making rendering every fine detail of decay and decrepitude. The closer you look the more surreal and multi-themed the buildings become.

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