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Arts + Lifestyle

Europe's Most Exciting Exhibitions To Visit This May

Pioneering fashion photography, art as revolution, and modernist paintings; these are just some of the themes of Europe’s most exciting exhibitions to visit this May.

Take a peek inside the private art collection of Sir Elton John and David Furnish, and that of Yvon Lambert which includes the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Louise Lawler; muse over fashion photography by Ellen von Unwerth, Peter Lindberg and Viviane Sassen; and explore the work of Jacob Lawrence, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and 118 other artists from Africa and its diaspora. These are some of the best exhibitions in Europe this month.

Yelena Yemchuk, Tokyo, 2017 © Yelena Yemchuk

Beyond Fashion, Saatchi Gallery, London

Fashion photography is not just about the clothes; static shots of garments on mannequins and rigidly-poised studio sets remain from a time of grainy-printed women’s publications for commercial use only. Instead, for the last seventy or so years, cultural moments, moods, creative signatures – and more – have been woven into the photographs, elevating them to both ephemera from, and markers of, the wider zeitgeist. Beyond Fashion at Saatchi Gallery spotlights the photographers behind some of fashion’s most celebrated images, including Ellen von Unwerth, Peter Lindberg, Viviane Sassen, Juergen Teller and Miles Aldridge. With over 100 photographs on display, the exhibition is divided into four sections – Allure, Fantasy, Realism, Surrealism – which capture how fashion photography has become a visual language. From the tongue-in-cheek shot of Victoria Beckham’s legs hanging out of a Marc Jacobs’ bag to Yelena Yemchuk’s image of Tokyo’s famously busy crossroads, these photographs are dynamic and transformative. A section of the exhibition spotlights moving images by SHOWstudio from iconic British photographer Nick Knight; one of the first to pioneer 3D graphics and video. The exhibition concludes with an installation by students from ÉCAL/University of Art and Design.

Affiche pour la défense des salons 1976. Courtesy: Claude Lazar

Past Disquiet, Palais De Tokyo, Paris

Palais de Tokyo highlights a history of activism and solidarity in Past Disquiet, which archives global anti-imperialist movements from the 1960s through to the 1980s. The exhibition was born in 2008 when researchers and curators, Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti, embarked on a journey to collate forgotten narratives and to showcase artistic solidarity and support of global causes. The pair were met with a lack of institutional archives and resources and so, instead turned to private collections, oral histories, and filmed interviews with artists, travelling through Sweden, Jordan, Japan, South Africa, Syria, Morocco, Egypt, Italy and beyond, to do so. The result is a transcontinental collective of revolutionary work; from demonstrations, posters, previous exhibitions, and more – proving that art captures seismic shifts in culture that political legislations and historical documents are not able to.

Andres Serrano America (Cowboy Randy), 2002 © Andres Serrano / Cnap, photo : Andres Serrano FNAC 2015-0130 Dotation Yvon Lambert en 2012 Collection du Centre national des arts plastiques en dépôt à la Collection Lambert, Avignon

Shared Passions: From Basquiat to Edith Piaf, Mucem, Marseille

The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations in Marseille spotlights the influence of Mediterranean culture on the arts – and the artists who have helped shape it. This spring, the museum is showcasing art dealer Yvon Lambert’s collection of almost 60 years of canonical art history. Linked to and inspired by Yvon Lambert’s life in Provence where the influence of Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne helped inform his own creative tastes, the art in this collection muses on the beauty of the everyday, poetry, literature, intimacy, and what it means to be human. There are few places, if any, you’ll be able to see works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nan Goldin, Louise Lawler, Andres Serrano and others exhibited alongside one another. This is your chance.

Herb Ritts, Versace Dress (Back View), El Mirage, 1990 © Herb Ritts Foundation. Courtesy of Fahey Klein Gallery, Los Angeles

Fragile Beauty, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The private collection of Sir Elton John and David Furnish comes into public view at the V&A this spring; thirty years of collecting in the making, the exhibition collates some of the most poignant and powerful portraits of masculinity. Including portrayals of celebrities, cinema, music, AIDS activism and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the exhibition contains more than 300 rare prints from 140 photographers – some of which have never been shown before. Contemporary work from photographers such as An-My Lê, Trevor Pagan and Tyler Mitchell hang alongside photographs by Irving Penn, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin. Carefully selected from an archive of over 7,000 images, these key cultural snapshots also offer a unique insight into the collectors’ own tastes and interests.

Vanessa Bell, A Conversation, 1913-1916. The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust) © Estate of Vanessa Bell. All rights reserved, DACS 2024

Vanessa Bell: A Pioneer of Modernism, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London

A key member of the Bloomsbury Group, Vanessa Bell was at the centre of conversations and inspirations that informed author (and her sister) Virginia Woolf’s work, as well as the work of Roger Fry during the pivotal modernist era. Recognised as a pioneering artist in her own right, The Courtauld is placing Vanessa Bell’s art centre stage with paintings – including her masterpiece A Conversation (1913-1961) – woodcuts, and works on paper. Her paintings unify the decorative and frivolous with the peace of everyday life, dipping between elements of cubism, post-impressionism, abstraction, and fauvism along the way.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye; A Culmination; 2016. Kunstmuseum Basel, Ankauf. © Jonas Hänggi

When We See Us: A Century Of Black Figuration In Painting, Kunstmuseum, Basel

Over 150 paintings by 120 different artists come together in Basel for the summer, reconfiguring Black self-image in order to re-author personal and collective histories. When We See Us was first collated in Cape Town following extensive research by Koyo Kouoh, chief curator of the world’s largest museum for African contemporary art, Zeitz MOCAA. The exhibition’s title stems from the 2019 Netflix series, When They See Us, by African-American director, Ava Du Vernay. However, here, the curator switches ‘They’ to ‘We’ to highlight the perspective the art is told from. The exhibition is split into six chapters titled The Everyday, Joy and Revelry, Repose, Sensuality, Spirituality, Triumph and Emancipation – rather than arranged chronologically or by country of origin and residence – a choice made to unify the way these dynamic artworks narrate stories.

Ethel Walker, Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa, N03885

Now You See Us: Women Artists In Britain 1520-1920, Tate Britain, London

Traversing an incredible 400 years, including those of women’s suffrage, the First World War and the Society of Female Artists, more than 200 artworks by over 100 artists are displayed here, spanning Victorian realism, sculpture and oil painting. The exhibition takes you straight to the Tudor court of the 1520s with French Renaissance miniaturist Esther Inglis, whose miniatures (small, decorative paintings) and manuscripts form the earliest known self-portraits by a woman artist in Britain. The exhibition continues to some of the first female gallery owners (in the 18th century), to the admittance of women to art schools (in the Victorian era), and finally to 20th-century modernism by the likes of Gwen John, Vanessa Bell, and Helen Saunders.

Lead image credit: Peter Lindbergh, Estelle Lefébure, Karen Alexander, Rachel Williams, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz & Christy Turlington, Santa Monica, 1988.

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