The Top 7 Shows to See in the UK and Ireland

The best shows to see this winter – from the George Michael-inspired TULCA Festival in Galway to an archive exhibition of Phyllis Christopher’s photographs in Birmingham

BY frieze in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews , UK Reviews | 17 NOV 21

Phyllis Christopher 

Grand Union, Birmingham 

September 2021 – March 2022 

Phyllis Christopher’s work bears witness to the community that preserved her. Each image inhabits time in different ways, simultaneously contributing to the immediate subculture that encouraged her peers to gloriously persist while also documenting those around her for future observers. In Skin (1988–90), a second Super-8 projection, the artist peels away waxy, restrictive materials from her nude stomach, exposing defenceless queer skin and denoting a sexual emergence that is vulnerable yet victorious thanks to those around her. 

– Emily Scarrott 

Phyllis Christopher Grand Union
Phyllis Christopher, ‘Heads and Tails’, 2021, installation view, Grand Union, Birmingham. Courtesy: the artist, Grand Union and MJM Bespoke, Birmingham; photography: Patrick Dandy

Pablo Bronstein 

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London 

6 October 2021 – 2 January 2022

Pablo Bronstein draws Hell as an infernal city of vast horizontal and vertical scale, a surreal panorama of embellishment and excess. We gaze on pâtisseries as tall as cathedrals; a monstrous lobster on a silver plate; a civic hall of ludicrous size, crowned with a statue of Lucifer. Industrialisation and consumerism (or so the show contends) have led to injustice and decadence, objectified here in a grab-bag of fascistic and colonial styles. In one picture is the Volkshalle that Albert Speer never built; in another is a cinema with the faded pomp of Buenos Aires, where the artist was born in the 1970s.

– Cal Revely-Calder 

Pablo Bronstein
Pablo Bronstein, Central Bank and Administrative Office, 2020-21. Courtesy: the artist and Sir John Soane's Museum, London

TULCA Festival of Visual Arts

Various venues, Galway 

5 – 21 November 2021 

The title of the festival’s 19th edition – ‘there’s nothing here but flesh and bone, there’s nothing more’ – quotes from George Michael’s 1996 hit ‘Outside’, while Eoin Dara’s curatorial statement frames the citywide event in a list of familiar yet poetic fragments such as ‘wet caresses, soft affection, immortal loves, necessary resistance, quiet rest, careful togetherness, boundless longing, abiding loss’. Love and longing are a thread throughout the programme, with a particular emphasis on trans subjectivities and queer intimacy, touch and sensuality.

– Iarlaith Ni Fheorais

Stanya Kahn
Stanya Kahn, No Go Backs, 2020, film still. Courtesy: the artist and TULCA Festival of Visual Arts

Helen Levitt

The Photographers’ Gallery, London 

5 October 2021 – 13 February 2022

Poverty is the silent actor in Helen Levitt’s theatre of the street, where figures contort not just in play, but perhaps also out of hunger or insanity. In an inversion of her mentor Walker Evans’s detached yet socially motivated Farm Security Administration photographs (1935–38), Levitt’s images lack specificity: her captions are minimal, her subjects remain anonymous and yet, through her alignment with them, are instilled with agency and rendered her equals. Levitt is fully invested in her community and its every odd, searingly human pose and exchange.

– Julie Hrischeva 

Helen Levitt
Helen Levitt, New York, 1971. Courtesy: © Film Documents LLC, Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne and The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Adam Farah

Camden Art Centre, London

10 September – 23 December

Farah’s installation is populated with just such sensory experiences: specific enough to have come from the artist’s own life yet abstracted to the point where they can trigger any viewer’s own memories. The show is centred around T1M£ (The Endz Portorbital Alchemical Mix), a low fountain that bubbles with purple grape soda, surrounded by a cream carpet covered in clear PVC. For Farah: the drink of choice in their school. For me: an aunt who could never unwrap her new furniture. (For someone else: a living room prepared for a sex party?) The title Farah gives to two changing-room benches flanking the fountain – Sorry Mate (TRIGGERED & CHILL) – underlines the exhibition’s intention to explore the provocation of memories and feelings by charged objects. 

– Kevin Brazil 

Adam Farah
Adam Farah, ‘WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM YOU AND MYSELF: (PEAK MOMENTATIONS / INSIDE MY VELVET ROPE MIX)’, 2021, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Camden Arts Centre; photograph: Rob Harris

Pamela Rosenkranz 

Sprüth Magers, London 

8 October – 22 December 2021 

If ‘Healer’ is a show about convergence and divergence – of beings, of signals, of ways of seeing – it is also about entropy and, perhaps, the possibility of renewal. Displayed on a clear Perspex plinth, Healer Skins (Sunset Lodge) is a tubular length of PVC hide, shed by Pamela Rosenkranz’s serpent. Snakes have lived on Earth for some hundred million years, modern humans for a mere 300,000. How much longer will the two species cohabit, and which will survive the other?

– Tom Morton 

Pamela Rosenkranz
Main image: Pamela Rosenkranz, 'Healer', 2021, exhibition view, Sprüth Magers, London

Theaster Gates 

Whitechapel Gallery, London 

29 September 2021 – 9 January 2022

‘A Clay Sermon’ explores such multiplicities within craft through the inclusion of objects by other makers. Gates selected these pieces from the ceramics collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, during his fellowship at the V&A Research Institute in 2019, and will present a pair of new sculptures in the museum’s ceramics galleries this winter. While Gates’s counterparts in the Whitechapel Gallery show are an attempt to acknowledge his ceramic influences – from Michael Cardew and Shōji Hamada to Magdalene Odundo and Lucie Rie – they also explicitly reveal the dynamics of clay within the context of colonialism.

– Allie Biswas 

Theaster Gates
Interior photograph of the studio of Theaster Gates, Chicago, US. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Chris Strong

Main image: Phyllis Christopher, ‘Heads and Tails’, 2021, exhibition view, Grand Union, Birmingham. Courtesy: the artist, Grand Union and MJM Bespoke, Birmingham; photography: Patrick Dandy 

Contemporary Art and Culture