Top 5 Shows to See in the UK this July

From Kobby Adi's industrial mise en scène to Emma Talbot's exploration of collective mourning, here are our editor's picks

BY frieze in Exhibition Reviews , UK Reviews | 30 JUN 21

eileen agar angel of mercy
Eileen Agar, Angel of Mercy, 1934, collage and watercolour on plaster. Courtesy: © Estate of Eileen Agar/Bridgeman Images

Eileen Agar

Whitechapel Gallery, London

As Whitechapel Gallery’s ‘Angel of Anarchy’ retrospective makes clear, Eileen Agar never chose to be a surrealist. Rather, her work was chosen for the influential 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition at London’s New Burlington Galleries in 1936 by the artist Roland Penrose and critic Herbert Read, leading her into a lifelong association that has masked the complexities of her relationship with the movement. Spanning the artist’s 70-year career, ‘Angel of Anarchy’ situates Agar not just within British surrealism, which drew various talented female painters into its orbit, nor within French surrealism, with its notorious positioning of women as objects of fascination. Rather, it highlights her efforts to combine aspects of surrealism and cubism into a body of work that challenged the male dominance of both movements and was, above all, profoundly individualistic. – Juliet Jacques


kobby adi
Kobby Adi, for now, 2020, installation view, Goldsmiths CCA, London. Courtesy: the artist and Goldsmiths CCA, London

Kobby Adi

Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, London

The centrepiece to Kobby Adi's exhibition 'pending upending' is for now (2020), a three-part installation comprising a video and two school benches made from iroko wood. Secured by folding brackets to the gallery’s exposed-brick wall, these timber slabs serve the double function of seating area and readymade artwork. Their surfaces are marked and engraved with initials and abbreviations that evoke the restlessness of adolescent boredom. One of the exhibition’s more humorous, if unsettling, moments is the discovery of detritus on the underbellies of the benches, their surfaces dotted and decorated with hardened bits of chewing gum. A material described in the artist’s accompanying text as ‘sacred hardwood’ in West African mythology, iroko wood is widely imported to the UK as a durable and resilient timber. Yet, cutting the iroko tree down without permission is, Adi points out, ‘said to invoke a curse – an additional presence in the exhibition’. – Kareem Reid

emma talbot ghost calls
Emma Talbot, 'Ghost Calls', 2021, installation view at Dundee Contemporary Arts. Courtesy: the artist and Dundee Contemporary Arts; photograph: Ruth Clark

Emma Talbot

Dundee Contemporary Arts

‘It is not a first-person statement, not ego, but a moan of grief, gathered and gathering.’ This sentence, near the end of So Mayer’s ‘Listen to the State of Us’ – a sinuous, splintering, urgently beautiful text commissioned to accompany ‘Ghost Calls’, Emma Talbot’s first solo exhibition in Scotland – refers to the preceding line, a torrential cry of vowels: ‘Aiaiai’. Talbot’s work is often characterized by a focus on interior narratives and the memories and emotions of individuals. Informed by feminist theory and psychoanalysis, her multidisciplinary practice frequently intertwines text and image. In works such as Illusions Shattered (2013), melancholic women – mostly white, often faceless – struggle to navigate oppressive, enigmatic worlds. But Talbot’s shadows are lush; she paints with the ear of a novelist.  – Tom Jeffreys

Yu Ji, Flesh in Stone-Rema Rema 2001, 2020. Courtesy: the artist and Chisenhale Gallery, London; photograph: Andy Keate

Yu Ji

Chisenhale Gallery, London

In April 2019, in preparation for her first solo exhibition outside of China at Chisenhale Gallery, Yu Ji travelled from Shanghai to London to take part in a residency at Delfina Foundation. Although she did not know it at the time, the development of her show would be much like a meandering river: slow, and not without its twists and turns. Yu’s sculptural work and installations often respond to specific geographic locations and social conditions, which she deciphers through a poetic form of field research. A usually solitary undertaking, this involves tracking the physical and temporal zones between human-made and natural landscapes. This time, however, as she took to London’s streets to explore its markets and water systems, Yu was not alone. With her five-month-old baby son strapped to her chest, she started her investigation into the city’s inbetween places. – Kate Wong

walter price the theory of difference
Walter Price, The Theory of Difference, 2020, acrylic and oil on canvas. Courtesy: the artist and The Perimeter, London; photograph: Andy Stagg

'Citizens of Memory'

The Perimeter, London

The Perimeter’s narrow, winding staircase feels appropriate for navigating an exhibition dedicated to the contentiousness of memory. Spread across three floors, ‘Citizens of Memory’ features the work of seven Black artists who use paint to channel their experiences of recollection, nostalgia and history. On the ground floor, artist and US Navy veteran Walter Price presents acrylic paintings that touch on the relationships we have to objects. In works such as The Theory of Difference (2020), seemingly formless expanses of colour, denoting bodies of land and water, serve as backdrops to more readily identifiable forms – snakes, palm trees – evoking a hazy, oneiric state in which representational elements become ways of orienting yourself through a play of contradictions. – Aida Amoako 

Main image: Kobby Adi, 'pending upending', installation view at Goldsmiths CCA, London. Courtesy: the artist and Goldsmiths CCA, London; photograph: Mark Blower

Contemporary Art and Culture