The Best Shows to See at London Gallery Weekend

The selection includes an unmissable overview of Nil Yalter’s work and Laurence Sturla’s enigmatic topological sculptures 

BY Tom Jeffreys in Critic's Guides | 29 MAY 24

Laurence Sturla | Project Native Informant | 5 May – 29 June 

Laurence Sturla, 'Went to Country', 2024, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Project Native Informant, London

Rather like a triptych of oversized torsos, Laurence Sturla’s ‘Went to Country’ consists of three wall-mounted sculptures. They form a shared topography of digestion and exhaustion; they are at once bodies and earth. From quarry organization infographics to anatomical models, Sturla merges multiple source materials to produce forms that feel familiar but evade straightforward legibility. The exhibition title, a vernacular phrase derived from clay mining in St Austell, Cornwall, describes industrial run-off that stained the surrounding waterways. In their engagement with ceramic materiality and history, Sturla’s works also foreground their own making processes. Each is cut into sections, fired, dipped in ceramic slurry, then water, where it soaks with various bits of studio detritus, before being fired again at excessive temperatures, which cause the clay to warp. In the gallery, the works are bolted together and held in place by just-visible steel armatures – their crumbling, salty, rusting surfaces like something half-excavated from the ground, or from a dream.

Jade de Montserrat | Bosse & Baum | 31 May – 15 June

Jade de Montserrat, All, everything, representation, 2024, watercolour, pencil crayon, pencil, fountain pen and ballpoint pen on paper, 31 × 41 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Bosse & Baum

Suspended at body height, both confrontational and vulnerable, three large double-sided folio pages meet visitors to Jade de Montserrat’s second solo exhibition with Bosse & Baum. These works are from Cobalt Folio (2023 – ongoing), a book in progress that navigates connected resistance struggles, from the abolition of slavery to Palestinian liberation. Around the walls, smaller works tread this terrain in a contained and intimate fashion. In De Montserrat’s characteristic style, text occupies negative spaces amid lush areas of watercolour, gouache, graphite and ink. One highlight is All, everything, representation (2024), a tender depiction of the eyes of American activist Tarana Burke, framed at the sides by her hair and, at the top and bottom, by layers of dark curling handwriting, which you can just make out is text from Zoe Leonard’s poem ‘I Want a President’ (1992). During London Gallery Weekend, De Montserrat is in conversation with Erin Manning, who has contributed a brilliant accompanying text. The conversation begins on Friday evening at Richard Saltoun, where Manning has her first UK solo exhibition. From there, the pair lead a Saturday afternoon walk to Bosse & Baum where the conversation continues.

Brianna Leatherbury | Brunette Coleman | 31 May ­– 6 July 

Brianna Leatherbury, Burden (Compressed), 2023, copper platings of a borrowed object, 50 × 40 × 18 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Brunette Coleman, London.

Brianna Leatherbury’s first UK solo show explores the field of cryopolitics, especially in relation to the ‘cold chain’ in which temperature-sensitive goods are chilled for preservation and transported around the world. The result is a complex intervention into the still-domestic interior of Brunette Coleman. For the titular installation, ‘Survival Bias’, Leatherbury has transformed one part of the gallery into a walk-in cold room, while a cooling unit, presented as a sculptural object, occupies the adjacent room. The exhibition also includes two sculptures from the series ‘Insiders’ Grave’ (2023–ongoing) based on objects of personal value (from an old wardrobe to a pet funeral urn) that Leatherbury borrows from anonymous shareholders. Delicate layers of copper, friable as if ancient, are mounted on curving tubes of copper or steel, in a formal echo of the cooling unit’s radiator. ‘Survival Bias’ refers to a logical fallacy by which only successful or surviving outcomes of a process or endeavour are taken into account, with failures disregarded. Leatherbury explores the complex politics of preservation via work that is both materially alluring and conceptually charged.

Adam Rouhana | TJ Boulting | 1 – 22 June

Adam Rouhana, Before Freedom, 2022–ongoing, c-type print. Courtesy: the artist

Following May’s solo exhibition at Frieze No.9 Cork Street, June offers another opportunity to see the vitally important work of Palestinian-American photographer Adam Rouhana. Curated by Lobna Sana, ‘Before Freedom Pt. 2’ focuses on works made between 2022 and 2024. The exhibition includes many unseen photographs, as well as others familiar to people who follow Rouhana online. In one image (all works from the ‘Before Freedom’ series, 2022–ongoing) two girls in matching floral dresses stand beside the wall that separates Palestinian communities in the West Bank. Elsewhere, nicotine-stained fingers hold a pendant in the form of a pre-1948 outline of Palestine. Other works embody play, joy, rest and the celebratory energies of being alive amid lush landscapes or wide-open seas. In the context of what Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, an adviser to South Africa’s legal team, described before the ICJ as ‘the first genocide in history where its victims are broadcasting their own destruction in real time’, Rouhana’s photography charts the realities of occupation and resistance, but also offers imaginative realizations of the inevitable freedom to come. 

Yi To | Alice Amati | 31 May – 6 July

Yi To, Four legs good, two legs bad, 2023, TV aerial, silicone, epoxy clay, acrylic, aluminium wire, 100 × 35 × 30 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Alice Amati

Yi To’s painting evinces a persistent concern for the blinking, blurry-edged, mediated and instinctive way that perception operates in a world where so much will forever remain invisible. She describes waiting as an important part of her process: paintings take months to finish, even several years, during which time figurative elements slowly congeal, clarify or disappear as the painting progresses. Cloud chamber imaging ripples outwards into ears. Figures emerge from hazy plains of muted colour. Elaine ML Tam’s accompanying text perfectly describes To’s palette of ‘soft verdigris, greying mould, or healing bruise’. Meanwhile, her slender sculptural works emphasize both the becoming-body of objects – such as a found television aerial given an ear and legs, or a collection of door plates seen as portals or mouths – and the becoming-object of bodies: metal tubes enter these door plate mouths in an echo of gastro endoscopy, a technology that, in making the body visible anew, somehow makes it even less knowable.

Nil Yalter | Ab-Anbar | 30 May – 10 August

Nil Yalter, Lord Byron Meets the Shaman Woman, 2009, video still. Courtesy: the artist and Ab-Anbar

Nil Yalter’s installation Topak Ev (1973), evoking the tents of Bektik nomads, greets visitors to the main Giardini exhibition at this year’s Venice Biennale. At the same time, in London, Ab-Anbar is hosting a multi-layered and unmissable survey of work from across the artist’s career. Curated by Övül Ö. Durmuşoğlu, the exhibition focuses on the roles of language, storytelling, music and sound in Yalter’s work since the early 1970s. Across film, photography, mixed media assemblage and one particularly exquisite serpentine painting, Nesrine #1 (1982), the works navigate processes of transgression and translation, from the mythological to the political to the abstract and back around. Yalter, an autodidact, traces surprising connections, for example, between Byzantine iconography and Suprematism. Propelled by resistance against injustice, and informed by the nomadic Aşık poetry and music of Anatolia, she traces journeys that traverse policed borders, such as those of migrating peoples or political exiles. On the Sunday of London Gallery Weekend, a musical performance at the Halkevi Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre in Dalston celebrates these Aşık traditions.

Main image: Adam Rouhana, Before Freedom, 2022–ongoing, c-type print. Courtesy: the artist

Tom Jeffreys is a writer based in Edinburgh. He is the author of two books: The White Birch: A Russian Reflection (Little, Brown, 2021) and Signal Failure: London to Birmingham, HS2 on foot (Influx Press, 2017).