London Gallery Weekend: Art Exhibitions to See in the City

Harriet Lloyd-Smith, Wallpaper, June 1, 2021

Ahead of London Gallery Weekend (4 - 6 June 2021) we round-up the in-person London art exhibitions to squeeze into your post lockdown diary, and those around the UK.


Summer is beckoning, and with it, the sun is rising on London's long fallow art scene. 


Though many countries are still in the throes of lockdown restrictions, England's art galleries and museums can now open their doors to physical visitors, just in time for London Gallery Weekend 2021. 


For many, these will be the first in-person art experiences in more than a year. For others, it will be months of show postponements and uncertainty coming to an end. Ultimately, this will provide an alternative to viewing art via pixels, which - recent NFT dramas aside - just hasn't quite offered the same thrills. 


As our diaries begin to rapidly fill ahead of London Gallery Weekend, these are the shows, in the city and around the UK, worth pencilling in. 


Exhibition: Tom Sachs: 'Ritual'
Location: Thaddaeus Ropac
Dates: 3 June - 31 July

Harbouring potent commentaries on consumerism, branding, and the fetishisation of products, Tom Sachs' work is never quite what it seems. At Thaddaeus Ropac, Sachs draws on the subcultures of the urban metropolis, specifically the phenomenon of corner shops and their role in the diverse civic demands of modern urban life. Displayed on bespoke pedestals channelling modernist forms, these pieces replicate a clean-lined consumer culture in humble materials like plywood, cardboard, tape and paint. They also bear traces of the hands that made them, a nod to the value of human labour. Sachs illustrates how, when quotidian objects such as laundry baskets, milk crates, surveillance cameras or leaf blowers, are placed on Brancusian pedestals, they can be reframed as high art. This layered show merges sociopolitics, the genius of Constantin Brancusi and the rhythmic rituals of everyday life. As Sachs says of the show: 'Everything has form, but the objects are selected and presented so that their shapes along with their pedestals engage the viewer in the tradition of modernist sculpture, at eye level on a plateau.'
Exhibition: Leilah Babirye: 'Ebika Bya ba Kuchu mu Buganda (Kuchu Clans of Buganda) II'
Location: Stephen Friedman Gallery
Dates: 4 June - 31 July 2021
Leilah Babirye's work examines the legacies of British colonialism in Uganda - where the artist was born - and the traditional clan systems of the kingdom of Buganda. Through an innovative approach to found objects, the artist delves into progressive ideas regarding alternative forms of kinship, community and LGBTQI activism. Babirye's biography is deeply entwined with her work: the artist fled Uganda in 2015 after being publicly outed in a local newspaper. In 2018, she was granted asylum in the United States with support from the African Services Committee and the New York City Anti-Violence Project. Since then, Babirye's work has rapidly gained acclaim, most notably following her 2020 show at Gordon Robichaux, New York. Babirye's Stephen Friedman show centres on a new series of figurative ceramic works. Describing her practice, Babirye explains: 'Through the act of burning, nailing and assembling, I aim to address the realities of being gay in the context of Uganda and Africa in general.' 
Exhibition: Bronwyn Katz: 'I turn myself into a star and visit my loved ones in the sky'
Location: White Cube, Bermondsey
Dates: Until 27 June 2021
For her first show in London, South African artist Bronwyn Katz has staged a deep-dive into materiality and social history, and how the two are woven together. 'I turn myself into a star and visit my loved ones in the sky' at White Cube Bermondsey includes ten new wall-based sculptural works made from deconstructed metal bed frames, bedsprings and other salvaged household materials in vibrant hues. For Katz, the bed is a metaphor for issues around land, ownership, homelessness, belonging, identity, and a sense of place. 'There are places that have previously felt important to me because they are the places where most of my known ancestors lived and were buried', she says. 'But now understanding that I have ancestors as old as time, no specific place holds more importance than another.'
Exhibition: Kapwani Kiwanga: 'Cache'
Location: Goodman Gallery
Dates: Until 12 June
Canadian Kapwani Kiwanga is not an artist short of accolades. Beyond two BAFTA nominations for her film and video works, she was also named the inaugural winner of the Frieze Artist Award, and the 2020 recipient of the Prix Marcel Duchamp. Kiwanga's wide-ranging and compelling work often interrogates themes of history, power and resistance. At Goodman, she presents a new body of work for 'Cache', which exemplifies her research-based practice. Here, materials are deployed to entrench social, political and economic power structures and illustrate artefacts used by those who have circumnavigated these obstacles through history. These narratives are transported through Kiwanga's mixed-media works and wall-based reliefs, rendered in ceramic, metal, gold leaf, embroidery, textile and mirror. 
Exhibition: Sheila Hicks: 'Music to My Eyes'
Location: Alison Jacques Gallery
Dates: 4 June - 31 July
For American textile art trailblazer Sheila Hicks, art and music have long been entwined. The artist described that, in childhood, the routine of sewing clothes was 'as playing a musical instrument was for others'. Hicks' third solo exhibition at Alison Jacques anticipates her major survey at The Hepworth Wakefield scheduled for April 2022, which will mark the artist's first in a UK museum and will be curated by Andrew Bonacina. In London, Hicks' show invites a certain 'visual listening'. 'Usually, sound enters through your ears,' Hicks says of her new works, 'but I invite participation and perception through your eyes. One can detect subtle harmonies, discover intricate structures, complex sequences, and enjoy an infinite range of colours, as when you listen to music.'
Exhibition: John Akomfrah: 'The Unintended Beauty of Disaster'
Gallery: Lisson (67 Lisson Street)
Dates: 13 April - 5 June 2021
John Akomfrah's latest body of work is a direct response to the events of 2020. In 'The Unintended Beauty of Disaster,' the celebrated artist, filmmaker, lecturer and writer reflects on the Black Lives Matter protests, demonstrations against imperialist monuments and the rethinking of historical narratives. New works include a three-screen video installation, Triptych (2020), an homage to a track on the radical album, 'We Insist!' (1960) by jazz musician Max Roach. Elsewhere, Akomfrah will present a series of new photo-texts exploring colour, race and following on from Our Skin Is a Monument I (2020), an edition created in support of the Frieze Emerging Curators Fellowship for UK-based Black and POC emerging curators. 
Exhibition: Rachel Whiteread: 'Internal Objects'
Gallery: Gagosian (20 Grosvenor Hill)
Dates: 12 April - 6 June 2021
A hotchpotch of whitewashed wood, the formality of minimalism fused with human irregularity: Rachel Whiteread's 'Internal Objects' is a lesson in hidden narratives. Her work is known to harness existing artefacts and spaces - including chairs, interiors of rooms, and most famously, an entire terraced house - to explore corporeal presence and negative space to ghostly effect. In her London show, this eeriness arrives in a different form: instead of casting existing objects, she's built new ones. Instead of closed, opaque forms, for which she is well known, Poltergeist and Döppelganger have been blasted wide open, suggesting catastrophe and mayhem. 
Exhibition: Antony Cairns: 'CTY_TYO3 TYO4'
Gallery: Webber
Dates: 22 April - 6 June 2021
As parts of the world tentatively contemplate a return to city life, British artist Antony Cairns' exploration of the global metropolis in 'CTY_TYO3 TYO4' is a must-see. Working with outmoded forms of technology such as electronic ink, COBOL coding forms and IBM decision tables, Cairns engages with the history of photography and highlights how the medium is inextricable from the evolution of digital processes. Perfection isn't what Cairns is after, but rather an evidential work that embraces errors and imperfections. For those unable to attend the physical show, the exhibition is accompanied by Cairns' latest book Selected Computer Punch card artworks: Computer listing paper edition, published by Morel.