Louisa Buck: The Buck stopped here—New Year’s must-see shows

“Egon Schiele: the Radical Nude”, Courtauld Institute, until 18 January
Astonishingly the first UK museum exhibition devoted to Schiele for nearly a quarter of a century, this tightly-selected and highly charged survey of just 38 drawings and watercolours of the male and female nude—including some excruciatingly raw images of pregnant women and a particularly scary new-born baby—made between the artist’s breakthrough year of 1910 and his untimely death from Spanish flu in 1918 when he was only 28, confirms what a bold, audacious but ultimately humane artist he was. Even when Schiele’s bodies are at their most stretched, splayed and explicitly erotic, his intense scrutiny is always charged with such acute psychological complexity that while his subjects are baring all, they are never demeaned or objectified.

Egon Schiele, Crouching Woman with Green Kerchief, 1914. © The Leopold Museum, Vienna

“Peter Blake: Side Show”, Paul Stolper, until 10 January
Just a few days left to see this terrific show that provides a privileged insight into the creative processes of one of our greatest—and also most modest—living artists. The central focus is a portfolio of five virtuoso wood engravings made by Blake in the 1970s taken from vintage photographs of circus “freaks”—Tattooed Man, Bearded Lady, Midget, Fat Boy and Giant—which in turn were drawn from his own extensive collection of circus imagery and ephemera. Curated by the artist himself and consisting of drawings, photographs, a number of different proofs and pulls, as well as the actual wooden blocks themselves, we see how these vivid images came into being and are treated to Sir P’s most recent returns to wood engraving: a tricky medium over which he has near-unequalled mastery.

Peter Blake, Bearded Lady, 1974-78 from the Side-Show Portfolio © Paul Stolper Gallery London. Courtesy the artist and Paul Stolper Gallery

“Grayson Perry: Who Are You?”, National Portrait Gallery, until 15 March
Excellent as Perry’s four-part TV exploration of our multi-faceted national psyche was, the telly format didn’t provide nearly enough airplay to the actual works of art created during the series to portray the deliberately motley crew under scrutiny, whether they were Irish Loyalist marchers, a deaf family or a single mother who recently converted to Islam. With Perry God (and the devil) is in the detail and now these 14 multi-media, multi-layered portraits can be thoroughly examined as they are given a new—and arguably even more provocative—life of their own, slyly inserted among the permanent occupants of the National Portrait Gallery’s 19th-century rooms. Here, among the overwhelmingly white, male, moustachioed generals and grandees, prances Alex, the young black transsexual, blowing his horn as a Benin bronze Peter Pan; three “large and proud” modern ladies appear as updated Willendorf Venuses while TV reality star Rylan Clarke shines out from a cabinet of miniatures immortalised as a dandified, Hilliard-style Earl of Essex. Among the many other excellent placings are the disgraced politician Chris Huhne, sitting amongst the ranks of our leaders, remade as an exquisitely shattered pot.

The Ashford Hijab, 2014. Photo: courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London. © Grayson Perry

“Fiona Banner selects from the V-A-C Collection: Stamp Out Photographie”, Whitechapel Gallery, until 8 March
Artists often make the best curators and it is a smart move of the Whitechapel Gallery to involve practitioners in their ongoing programme of opening up rarely seen collections, public and private, from around the world. Fiona Banner is the second of four artists to be let loose in the extensive holdings of the V-A-C collection, a private, not-for-profit institution founded in Moscow in 2009. But whereas her predecessor Mike Nelson created a quasi-studio environment using Class A sculptures from Brancusi to Althamer, Banner prods at the boundaries between various forms of representation and photographic veracity with an impressive and eclectic wall-based hang ranging from Gerhard Richter’s elegiac single candle to Warhol’s Jackie, a giant work by Gursky and a terrific early piece by Bridget Riley. To make us further question how, why and what we see, conventional gallery lighting is substituted for an ever-changing sequence of coloured light flowing through the cyan, magenta, yellow and black spectrum used for conventional printing, which often dramatically distorts the work on show. More strangeness comes from a soundtrack provided by an Olga Chernysheva film installed just outside, in which a young man mutely holds out a binbag in which departing cinema-goers dump their trash as the credits roll.

A blue hue at “Fiona Banner selects from the V-A-C Collection: Stamp Out Photographie”, Whitechapel Gallery. Photo: Stephen White

Published Tue, 06 Jan 2015 21:30:00 GMT

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Louisa Buck

Louisa Buck is The Art Newspaper’s contemporary art correspondent and the co-author of Owning Art: The Contemporary Art Collector's Handbook and Commissioning Contemporary Art. A Handbook for Curators, Collectors and Artists.