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Arts + Lifestyle

Eight Exciting Exhibitions To Visit This April

From London to Paris, Stockholm to Ethiopia, photography takes on new forms and cinema comes to life in these eight exhibitions to visit this April.

April affords another exciting month for the art scene with the Venice Biennale on the cusp of starting its season, and spring exhibitions opening their doors in cities across the world. From Yves Saint Laurent’s lustrous archives to the best of Ethiopia’s fine art, these are the eight exhibitions you need to know about this April.

Smoking worn by Danielle Luquet de Saint Germain, spring-summer haute couture collection 1968 Photograph by Peter Caine © Yves Saint Laurent © Peter Caine (Sydney)

Sheer: The Diaphanous Creations Of Yves Saint Laurent, YSL Museum, Paris

Seductive, audacious and elegant are words to define the YSL woman, and these modern, powerful feelings undercut Paris’s new fashion exhibition. Following its success at the Museum of Lace and Fashion in Calais, the glamorous Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Paris’s 16th arrondissement is welcoming Sheer: The Diaphanous Creations of Yves Saint Laurent. The exhibition looks at – as well as through – the power of transparent materials, which appear throughout the brand’s history, from Yves Saint Laurent’s 1960s designs up to Anthony Vaccarello’s “invisible” AW24 collection debuted this season. For the brand, diaphanous fabrics such as tulle, chiffon and lace liberate the wearer and also draw attention to the power of clothes by moving between their presence and absence. To emphasise the sensual toying between space, clothes, perception, and the body, architect Pauline Marchetti designed the exhibition around five thematic sections moving from the fabrics themselves, to women’s bodies, to fluid movement, and the process of dressmaking. The forty garments, curated by Anne Dressen, trace the evolution of sheer materials from YSL’s first topless blouse from spring-summer 1968 as they are presented next to sketches, photographs, patterns on tracing paper and accessories – a rare display of these original materials.

Zineb Sedira: Dreams Have No Titles, 15 February - 12 May 2024, installation view: Whitechapel Gallery, London. Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery. Photo: Damian Griffiths.

Zineb Sedira: Dreams Have No Titles, Whitechapel Gallery, London

Dreams Have No Titles marks the UK debut of French Algerian artist Zineb Sedira who explores avant-garde filmmaking during the 1960s and 70s across France, Italy, and Algeria, experimenting with revolutionary and defining moments in history and culture. The result is a hazy, trance-like navigation of memory and fiction, both personal and political. The exhibition, first curated for the French Pavillion at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022, is an interactive journey through cinematic classics, each referencing wider ideas and moments from time, fused with Zineb Sedira’s own stories, ideas and histories. A detailed reconstruction of a set from Ettore Scola’s 1983 film Le Bal (a fifty-year comedy of French society without dialogue) opens the visit, punctuated intermittently with live tango dancers. The exhibition ends in an exact copy of Sedira’s living room in Brixton, with ephemera on the walls and shelves nodding to the media the artist is inspired by. Alongside the exhibition, tickets are available for an evening talk on 11 April with the artist, accompanied by London DJs and film screenings, and on 18 April there will be an audio description tour of the exhibition.

Irving Penn, Lisa Fonssagrives, « La coiffure Hamlet », Vogue US, 1er mars 1949 Tirage gélatino-argentique Prêt de l’Archive Tom Penn © Condé Nast

Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn: Fashion Icon, MEP, Paris

At once an artist as well as a muse, Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn is the image of fashion photography’s golden era. Photographed hanging from the Eiffel Tower by Erwin Blumenfeld and on the cover of American Vogue by Irving Penn, the Swedish model defines many of the widely-recognised images that artistically frame Europe’s pivotal interbellum years. Starting her career as a Swedish dancer and sculptor, the model married photographer Fernand Fonssagrives and then later photographer Irving Penn, and entered into the fashion industry, bringing with her an artistic eye that gave unique poses, angles and creative direction to her photographs. This spring, Paris’s MEP Gallery, located between the Seine and the fashionable Marais quarter, documents Lisa Fonssagrives -Penn as a key muse, both of the period as well as for the supermodels of the 90s who would arrive four decades later. This exhibition was pitched and curated by Tom Penn, the son of Lisa Fonssagrives -Penn and Irving Penn, and so has a personal touch; much of Tom Penn’s personal collection of images, behind the scenes, iconic photoshoots, and family archives alike, have been donated to MEP for a one-of-a-kind insight into the fashion icon’s impression on the industry.

These People Live in That Door, 1976-77. Courtesy Woodman Family Foundation © Woodman Family Foundation / DACS, London.

Portraits To Dream In, National Portrait Gallery, London

“I feel that photographs can either document or record reality or they can offer images as an alternative to everyday life: places for the viewer to dream in.” – Francesca Woodman, 1980.

Francesca Woodman (1958 to 1981) and Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) are two of the most pioneering photographers in the history of their art form, yet it’s likely you won’t have come across many of their iconic photographs exhibited, let alone together. For the first time ever, the National Portrait Gallery is hanging the work of these two photographers in parallel, despite them working a century apart. Ethereal, often bordering on the gothic, Woodman and Cameron’s black and white portraits toy between fleeting celestial moments and a harsher realism presented in largely female subjects. Through the 160+ rare vintage prints, a discerning spirit of both photographer’s subjects becomes almost visceral in each of their portraits for enthralling final images. Moving away from biographical examination, the National Portrait Gallery instead focusses on the art works, from the subjects, to the use of space, props, angles, lighting, and printing techniques to unveil the skill and artistic eye behind each photograph, setting industry and artistic standards for years to come. The exhibition is accompanied by a dedicated gift shop with an excellent exhibition book by Magdalene Keaney as well as a digital photography workshop on 13 April and Women’s Representation and The Female Gaze daytime talks on the 25 April.

Image credit: Anselm Kiefer. Fallen Angels, Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze, 2024 © Anselm Kiefer. Photo Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio. Courtesy Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi

Anselm Kiefer, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

Neo-Expressionism is taking centre stage at the Renaissance built and designed Palazzo Strozzi in Florence this spring with Anslem Kiefer’s large-scale painting. The German artist’s work signifies (both in physical size and in detail) the immensity of human history and culture, and so the aristocratic Palazzo Strozzi with its own rich history seems the perfect match to house the paintings. Centre stage, is the painting Fallen Angels (pictured above) which has been moved from Montpellier in the South of France to Florence for the exhibition, and brings opulence with its rich gold tones, alongside an eerie decadence. The exhibition is worth visiting both for the vivid, often mythological-feeling paintings, as well as for the building itself, with its sweeping arches, tall, glass windows, and light-drenched courtyards.

Addis Gezehagn, Untitled , Acrylic and Collage on Canvas, 122cm x 122cm , 2024

Addis Gezehagn: Floating City, Addis Fine Art, Addis Ababa

With locations in London and Ethiopia, Addis Fine Art is a leading contemporary art gallery, exhibiting work by artists from Africa’s diasporas through local and international programmes. In their light-filled gallery space in Ethiopia this spring, Addis Gezehagn returns with his painting series Floating City. Gezehagn is a long-standing artist at the gallery, known for his intricate, multi-medium paintings that take months to complete. In this exhibition, the artist looks at Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, from a panoptic perspective to examine how the city has metamorphosed over his lifespan. Layers upon layers of paint and colour depict a frantic and frenetic urban life, and the panic of expansion that comes with this, as businesses and corporations overwrite human ritual and life. Gezehagn looks at what has been lost as a result of this excess.

Cindy Sherman Untitled, 2021 Polyester, cotton, wool and acrylic woven together 285 × 214 cm 112 1/8 × 84 1/4 inches Edition 1 of 10 MSPM CSH 38231

Cindy Sherman: Tapestries, Fotografiska, Stockholm

Marking a rare occasion, Stockholm’s cool and contemporary photography gallery paradoxically looks at photographs through another medium – tapestry. Cindy Sherman, a canonical name in the contemporary art and photography world, is yet again aligning high-quality craft with modern day imagery, the selfie, but this time, by moving away from her five decade-long use of photography. Each tapestry explores the transient and distorting nature of taking selfie images, all while returning to the characteristically long and arduous traditional craft of tapestry making. The results are humorous and captivating snapshots of characterful faces that feel tapped in time rather than fleeting.

Fondation Carmignac. Photo by Laurent Lecat

The Infinite Woman, Foundation Carmignac, Porquerolles Island

The nature reserve island, Porquerolles, just off France’s vibrant Côte d’Azur is home to Villa Carmignac, where four permanent indoor installations and nineteen outdoor meet sleek architecture and incredible views.  The Carmignac Collection also impressively boasts over 300 works (including Roy Lichenstein, Andy Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat) solidifying the company’s presence in the art investment world. This spring the foundation, only accessible by boat, welcomes, in the words of the exhibition curator Alona Pardo, “strong, lustful, temptresses, femme fatales, caregivers, demonic or mythic.”  These female figures are represented through multimedia artworks from sculpture to stain glass in a public display of the seductive female form. You’ll be hit with a wide range of rebellious art works by household names, from Louise Bourgeois to Tracey Emin, through which the category of ‘woman’ is expanded and classic art forms are rebelled against. The exhibition runs until November and is a short boat ride away from Hyères on the French Riviera, one to add to the summer trip agenda.

Lead image: Untitled, 1979 by Francesca Woodman. Courtesy Woodman Family Foundation. © Woodman Family Foundation/ DACS London.

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