The Top 5 Shows to See in the UK This November

From Yinka Shonibare's bizarre and dreamlike manifestations to a broad retrospective of Hiroshi Sugimoto, spanning decades of conceptually diverse projects on the uncanny 


BY frieze in Critic's Guides , UK Reviews | 03 NOV 23

Yinka Shonibare

Stephen Friedman Gallery, London 

6 October – 11 November

Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, Sun Dance Kids (Boy and Girl), 2023
Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, Sun Dance Kids (Boy and Girl), 2023. Courtesy: the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery; photograph: Stephen White & Co.

The mood at Stephen Friedman Gallery’s new location on Cork Street is one of celebration. Walking along the pavement from Burlington Gardens, the first thing I see is a masked figure tottering on wooden stilts, torso twisted towards the window, head tossed back, arms in the air. I notice a curly tail and hooved feet, which, like the rest of the body, have been painted in a Dutch wax batik pattern – the vibrant fabric that has become Yinka Shonibare’s trademark. I tear myself away and pass through the entrance, suddenly feeling that I’m late to the party. – Chloë Ashby

Nicole Eisenman

Whitechapel Gallery, London

11 October – 14 January 2024

Nicole Eisenman, Bambi Gregor, 1993
Nicole Eisenman, Bambi Gregor, 1993, india ink on paper, 93 × 133 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Hauser & Wirth; photograph: Robert Wedemeyer

The US painter and sculptor Nicole Eisenman – whose first major UK survey show, ‘What Happened’, opens this month at Whitechapel Gallery – called this drawing Bambi Gregor (1993). The title is an allusion to Gregor Samsa, protagonist of Franz Kafka’s short story ‘The Metamorphosis’ (1915), who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into an ungeheueres Ungeziefer – a monstrous vermin, gigantic insect or cockroach, depending on translation. Bambi Gregor is an early-ish and, in the context of Eisenman’s hugely impressive catalogue, arguably minor work. However, its recent appearance on the cover of Honey Mine: Collected Stories (2021), a compilation of new and out-of-print fictions by lesbian New Narrative-affiliate writer Camille Roy, published by New York-based Nightboat Books, brought it into the present for many – especially readers of innovative fiction. During that same summer, as I was writing Corey Fah Does Social Mobility (2023), I kept a copy of Honey Mine on my desk, and its cover star became a jumping-off point for me to write my own Kafkaesque, Eisenman-esque protagonist – more of that later. – Isabel Waidner

Sahjan Kooner

Eastside Projects, Birmingham

7 October – 16 December

Sahjan Kooner with Sophie Chapman, HONEY + Chatbot, 2023
Sahjan Kooner with Sophie Chapman, HONEY + Chatbot, 2023installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Eastside Projects, Birmingham; photograph: Stuart Whipps

Concerned with elaborate worldbuilding, ‘dankEconogy1_ALIENVillage’ is a complex sci-fi installation developed by Sahjan Kooner during their residency at Eastside Projects. In the gallery, Kooner reimagines their ancestral land in northern India as a nomadic common, containing knowledge of the migrations that have occurred there, where visitors encounter both the villagers and the economic and environmental forces to which they are subject. 

Kooner has demarcated zones with internal metal walls that lead gallery-goers through an interwoven timeline of events. In the film The Villagers (all works 2023), a group of children in orange spacesuits gathers against a green-screen backdrop, considering whether they will ‘return to Earth’ again. They don’t seem keen, appearing instead immersed in interplanetary travel, conjuring giant pizzas and dealing with a scientist who has just fired a rocket into the sun. There is irrepressible joy in the hive mind created by these children: we learn they want to be bakers, live in Paris, develop vaccines and pay their bills. – Cathy Wade

Benoît Piéron

Chisenhale Gallery, London

15 September – 12 November

Benoît Piéron, Slumber Party, 2023
Benoît Piéron, Slumber Party, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: Chisenhale Gallery, London; photo: Andy Keate

In his UK solo debut, Benoît Piéron invites visitors to take shelter underneath a low, tent-like ceiling of patched-together hospital sheets. Dotting the gallery floor are egg-shaped emergency response lights, which the artist has programmed to spin rhythmically, choreographing faint discordant shadows against their surroundings. The overall impact of the installation – measured, repetitive – is calming until you notice the sheets are streaked with what appears to be blood, and possibly other fluids, betraying the histories of ill or decaying bodies in other times and other places. The lights emit a high-pitched drone that quivers between silence and screaming; their wiring, shaded in chromatic pastels, is hypervisible, ensuring we tread cautiously. – Dylan Huw

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Hayward Gallery

11 October – 7 January 2024

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Kenosha Theater, Kenosha, 2015
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Kenosha Theater, Kenosha, 2015. Courtesy: © Hiroshi Sugimoto

The Hayward Gallery’s retrospective of Japanese photographer and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto is extraordinarily broad, taking in decades of conceptually diverse projects. These range from portrait-style photographs of models from Madame Tussauds, including Diana, Princess of Wales (1999), that effectively capture the uncanniness of waxworks, to a set of images of architectural landmarks, such as Brooklyn Bridge (2001), which retain their brilliance, despite being completely out-of-focus, thanks to Sugimoto’s use of an old, large-format camera. The series ‘Lightning Fields’ (2009), which captures bursts of electrical current from a Van de Graaff generator directly onto unexposed film to mesmerising effect, also nods to his love of historical technology and techniques. Particularly vivid on the huge walls of the Hayward is Sugimoto’s ‘Theaters’ series (1978–ongoing) – long exposures of films being screened in various cinemas allowed him to portray differing approaches to theatre design, and the eeriness of such spaces after they have been abandoned. – Juliet Jacques

Main image: Nicole Eisenman, The Triumph of Poverty, 2009, oil on canvas, 165 × 208 cm. Courtesy: Leo Koenig Inc., New York

Contemporary Art and Culture