From an immersive Van Gogh installation to Linder’s punk photomontage: five upcoming art shows worthy of the hype

The fug of January is over, the days are lengthening, and exciting new art openings are springing up like lush varietals shooting through soil. Whether you prefer Nigerian-American painter Kehinde Wiley’s hotly coloured portraiture or Harold Feinstein’s photographs of Coney Island beaches, here are five ways to steal away the grey skies with art from around the world this month.

Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography

20 February – 17 May 2020, From £15.
The Barbican Centre, Silk St, Barbican, London EC2Y 8DS

With fourth wave feminism alive and kicking, and stories of toxic masculinity continuing to fill the headlines, this exhibition at Barbican feels not only timely but necessary. The 300 works on display, sourced from an array of international artists, range from the 1960s to the present day.

Exploring how masculinity is experienced, expressed and constructed through photography and film, the exhibition touches on themes like queer identity, the black body, power and patriarchy, and fatherhood. From Karen Knorr’s monochrome images of men-only members’ clubs to Thomas Dworzak’s acclaimed portraiture series Taliban, which depicts Taliban fighters in front of painted backdrops, a richly complex and contradictory picture emerges.

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts at Barbican, said: “In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the resurgence of feminist and men’s rights activism, traditional notions of masculinity has become a subject of fierce debate. This exhibition could not be more relevant and will certainly spark conversations surrounding our understanding of masculinity.”

The exhibition forms part of Barbican’s 2020 season, Inside Out, which examines the relationship between our inner lives and creativity.

Kehinde Wiley: The Yellow Wallpaper

22 February – 25 May 2020, Free.
William Morris Gallery, Forest Road, London E17 4PP

Nigerian-American artist Kehinde Wiley (born 1977, Los Angeles) rocketed to global fame when he painted Barack Obama’s official portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Here, he brings his vibrant and naturalistic style of portraiture to the William Morris Gallery, showcasing works which draw inspiration from American novelist Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s acclaimed feminist text, The Yellow Wallpaper (1892).

Using his signature juxtaposition of the human body and the decorative, Wiley depicts women he met on the streets of Dalston, East London, set against fields reimagined in the William Morris aesthetic. Emboldening and textural, the works explore blackness, gender and what it means to reconcile with the past.

This is a landmark show for Wiley, being his first solo public exhibition of new work in the UK and the first to feature all-female portraits. There’s a beautiful synchronicity to the event in that Wiley has sourced prints from the William Morris Gallery for 15 years. In turn, the gallery has a strong connection to The Yellow Wallpaper. William Morris’ daughter, May Morris, was friends with Gilman. The pair met at an International Socialist Conference in London in 1896.

Gilman’s original text sees a woman diagnosed with hysteria confined to her bedroom, presenting a startling metaphor for the consequences of denying women their freedom and independence. Wiley describes the work as an exploration of “the contours of femininity and insanity”.

Meet Vincent van Gogh experience

Until 21 May 2020, Adult tickets £20.
London’s South Bank, 99 Upper Ground, SE1 9PP

If you adored 2017’s Loving Vincent – the part-real, part-imagined story of Vincent van Gogh told through the world’s first fully painted feature film – then a new immersive exhibition in London’s Southbank could be right up your (cobbled, starlit and café-lined) street.

Inspired by a collection of the Van Gogh’s personal letters and devised by the Van Gogh Museum, the multisensory experience brings the artist’s world to life. With the help of projections, installations and set-work, all accompanied by an imaginative audio-guide, visitors can journey through the Van Gogh’s life. Starting with his childhood in the Netherlands, the narrative moves through the streets and studios of Paris, to the golden-hued countryside of Arles. Then, latterly, the asylum in St. Rémy, and the wheat field where van Gogh fatally wounded himself.

The exhibition, which has already toured locations like Seoul and Barcelona, has captivated visitors with its interactivity and storytelling. Van Gogh’s original works are so fragile that they cannot be transported; this compelling experience succeeds in bringing the artist’s life to a global audience in a fresh and creative way. 


15 February – 26 April 2020, Free.
Kettle’s Yard, Castle St, Cambridge CB3 0AQ

She designed artwork for bands like Buzzcocks and Magazine, and wore a dress made of meat 30 years before Lady Gaga. Now art-punk visionary Linder Sterling is getting her first UK survey exhibition, which will chronicle five decades of her career. 

Born in Liverpool in 1954, Linder exploded onto the Manchester punk scene in the 1970s and became known for her anarchic, feminist photomontage. Splicing images from pornography, pin-up magazines and fashion titles with cuttings from consumer culture, her creations dismantled print media’s obsession with glamour. The image of a woman slathered in oil with an iron for a head, commissioned by the Buzzcocks for their 1977 single Orgasm Addict, remains one of her best-known works.

Kettle’s Yard’s exhibition will showcase ‘Linderism’ as its own art historical movement. A series of new commissions will engage all five senses, and on 14 March Linder will stage new iteration of her Bower of Bliss performances, with a soundtrack by musician Maxwell Sterling, at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge.

Boardwalks, Beaches and Boulevards

28 February – 26 April 2020, Free.
David Hill Gallery, 345 Ladbroke Grove, North Kensington, London W10 6HA

Be transported to the beaches of 1940s Coney Island with this exhibition of black and white imagery by the late American street photographer Harold Feinstein. For anyone who loved Diane Arbus: In The Beginning at Southbank Centre in February 2019, Boardwalks, Beaches and Boulevards is not to be missed. Feinstein was one of Arbus’ contemporaries, though much of his work remains unknown.

Physical closeness defines Feinstein’s work. Where many street photographers would observe from a distance, the Coney Island native preferred to connect with his subjects. Whether documenting bustling coffee shops, Harlem side streets, subways or city stoops, Feinstein’s images are consistently intimate, and underpinned by a palpable sense of empathy. In his 2015 New York Times obituary, Feinstein was praised as “one of the most accomplished recorders of the American experience”. Essential viewing for any lover of street photography.