Five Shows to See in the UK in May

From Marguerite Humeau’s post-apocalyptic world of insects to Michael E. Smith’s unsettling assemblages 


BY frieze in Critic's Guides , UK Reviews | 28 APR 23

Michael E. Smith

Henry Moore Institute, Leeds

24 March – 18 June 

Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2023, tables, milk jug, LEDs. Courtesy: the artist, Modern Art, London and Henry Moore Institute, Leeds

At once slapstick yet threatening, Michael E. Smith’s eponymous exhibition of new works at Henry Moore Institute comprises one video and seven sculptures that incorporate elements of everyday and unusual found materials. The artist’s mannered compositions prompt a strange empathy between viewer and object, while their considered placement both responds to and activates the gallery’s architecture. – Lisette May Monroe 

Marguerite Humeau

White Cube, Bermondsey, London 

05 April – 14 May 

Marguerite Humeau
Marguerite Humeau, ‘meys’, 2023, exhibition view. Courtesy: © the artist and White Cube; photograph: Ollie Hammick / White Cube. 

Marguerite Humeau’s latest show, ‘meys’ – a collection of sound, moving image and sculpture works – imagines a post-apocalyptic world of eusocial insects, such as ants, termites and bees. Humeau’s show is informed by naturalist Eugène Marais’s germinal text The Soul of the White Ant (1925), in which he set out his thesis that termite mounds are living organisms whose inhabitants work together to create and sustain an entity like a body. – Reuben Esien 

Isaac Julien

Tate Britain, London 

26 April – 20 August

Isaac Julien, Mise en Scene No 2 (Looking for Langston Vintage Series), 1989/2016, Ilford classic silver gelatin fine art paper, mounted on aluminium and framed, 58 × 75 cm. Courtesy: © Isaac Julien and Victoria Miro, London

My investigation into the ways in which there were so many absences and erasures in archives led me to view them as a springboard for reinvention. When I started to look at works from the 1920s and ’30s, it was a revelation to discover that I had never been taught about the Harlem Renaissance as a Black arts movement in any of my art history classes. – Isaac Julien  

Steve McQueen

Serpentine Galleries, London 

07 April – 10 May 

Steve McQueen, Grenfell
Steve McQueen, Grenfell, 2019, film still. Courtesy: the artist

Steve McQueen’s new film is a document rather than a documentary. Grenfell (2019) – which plays in a continual loop in a sparse, soundproofed theatre in Serpentine South Gallery – opens to reveal a bright London skyscape. From the vantage point of a helicopter, gossamer clouds float by, the green edges of the city in view; the viewer soars above it all, like a bird, towards the city. – Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff 

Alice Neel 

Barbican, London 

16 February – 21 May 

Alice Neel
Alice Neel, Andy Warhol, 1970, oil on canvas, 1.5 × 1 m. Courtesy: © The Estate of Alice Neel, David Zwirner and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

There is something about the way that Neel depicts bodies – often fat, flaccid and wrinkled, circumscribed with heavy black contours and modelled with undulating impasto brushstrokes – which almost seems to caress their flickering forms into being. Her fearless and loving approach to rendering the human figure in all of its beauty, ugliness and diversity speaks to Neel’s warmth, love and openness towards others. – Wilson Tarbox  

Main image: Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2023, basketballs, stairs. Courtesy: the artist, Modern Art, London and Henry Moore Institute, Leeds

Contemporary Art and Culture