Exhibition of the week
Damien Hirst: End of a Century
This is a hugely entertaining and memorable epic trip to the 1990s when Hirst captured the dark mood of a fin de siècle. His personal collection of his own work is big enough to make a museum, his obsession with death once again urgent.
• Newport Street Gallery, London, until 7 March.
It Was Just a Kiss, insists a pink neon message by Tracey Emin in this survey of one of art’s great themes. In Christian imagery it’s never just a kiss. Cranach’s Adam and Eve depicts the first people at the moment they savour sin’s apple. Yet Bronzino’s magnificently perverse An Allegory With Venus and Cupid shows how art has taken endless delight in the apples of pleasure.
• The National Gallery, London, until 3 January.
Abstract art was arguably invented in Britain in the 1840s, when JMW Turner left pictorialism behind in mists of ethereal light. But it has rarely been a national strength since. The art of early-20th-century abstractionist Ben Nicholson has an uptight prissy rationalism that can’t quite dive into the spiritual ecstasy of Piet Mondrian or the romantic sublime of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. But that’s my view: take a look for yourself.
• Piano Nobile, London, from 15 October until 29 January.
“White dominance … has been the norm and the ideal in European art,” says this gallery. “Here, as part of our work to shift this unconscious bias, we focus our gaze on the aesthetics of white supremacy.” The oppression they claim to expose is the ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche, as represented in art. What’s striking is that the mottled complexity of skin tones in old paintings is anything but monotonously white.
• The Whitworth, Manchester, until January.
Kai Althoff Goes With Bernard Leach
Who are the really important British artists? Presumably those who excite and influence people beyond these shores rather than just being a topic of national pride. Twentieth-century ceramicist Bernard Leach is a lifelong hero to the German artist Althoff. In his first British show, he chooses to “go with” Leach, meditating on how painting can be as useful as a pot.
• Whitechapel Gallery, London, until 10 January.
For many people, the pandemic year has been a time to reconnect with nature and find solace in landscape. This show explores ways of doing that in works by Helen Chadwick, Tacita Dean, Nii Obodai and more, while paintings by Gainsborough and Turner show how the modern love of nature was shaped by the Romantic age.
• Leeds Art Gallery, until 20 February.
Image of the week
Little Amal, a giant puppet of a nine-year-old refugee girl, will travel 4,971 miles (8,000km) from the Turkey-Syria border through Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and France to the UK in one of the most ambitious public artworks ever attempted. The trek, lasting from April to July next year, aims to dramatise the stories of refugee children.
What we learned
Masterpiece of the week
Portrait of a Man Holding a Letter (L’Avvocato), c1570, by Giovanni Battista Moroni
It’s easy to see how this unknown man got his traditional title, The Lawyer. He holds back his head and looks quizzically at you as if scrutinising your evidence in court. His sharp intelligence and confrontational stance hold you rooted to the spot in the National Gallery’s remarkable room of portraits from Renaissance northern Italy, where Moroni, Lorenzo Lotto and others perfected the art of portraiture. This intensely self-aware character ensnares us in his own reality as he points to a letter in his hand, a piece of business we’d love to understand but don’t. Perhaps he is a politician or simply, as tradition has it, an advocate. Whatever the truth he’s a singularity to be reckoned with.
• National Gallery, London.
To follow us on Twitter: @GdnArtandDesign.
Sign up to the Art Weekly newsletter
If you don’t already receive our regular roundup of art and design news via email, please sign up here.