Three exhibitions to see in London

A short flight away, the British capital currently offers an array of great art options, writes Des O’Driscoll

Antony Gormley

Royal Academy

One of the rooms at the Antony Gormley exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Picture: Niklas Halle’n
One of the rooms at the Antony Gormley exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Picture: Niklas Halle’n

Best known for his 20-metre ‘Angel of the North’ in Gateshead, Antony Gormley returns south to his birthplace for an exhibition that features pieces from various stages of the hugely-influential artist’s career, as well as new installations.

Before you even enter the hallowed halls of the Royal Academy, in the courtyard you can see ‘Iron Baby’, a curled up figure based on Gormley’s six-day-old daughter.

Inside, the human body is prominent in many of the rooms, and anyone involved in art or galleries will marvel at what must have been quite a feat to set up the exhibition.

One entire room is covered in a few inches of seawater on a bed of clay (you observe from the doorway); another is filled with 8km of curled aluminium tubing (you can clamber through it). The cast iron figures of his own body, previously lined up on beaches and fields, create a different effect here by projecting in gravity-defying angles from the walls and ceiling.

Irish visitors to this impressive exhibition may regret that a plan for Gormley’s Statue of Liberty-sized sculpture of a human figure in the River Liffey was scuppered by the collapse of the Celtic Tiger.

Practicalities: A short stroll from Piccadilly Circus or Green Park tube. Tickets £18–£22; open until 10pm on Friday and Saturday. Plenty of time slots are available but no harm to book in advance if you’re aiming for a busy weekend time. Allow yourself about 60 minutes for the a basic tour of the exhibition. Until December 3.

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life

Tate Modern

Olafur Eliasson in one of his installations at the Tate Modern.
Olafur Eliasson in one of his installations at the Tate Modern.

The current exhibition by the Danish- Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson also goes beyond being a mere ‘viewing’ experience, and caters for far more senses.

A corridor of mirrors has you walking through a giant kaleidoscope; a strobe light illuminates a sporadic fountain in a darkened room; a series of projectors prompts attendees to make shadow shapes on the wall; etc. Not surprisingly, it’s an exhibition that attracts many parents with kids, and even the boring grow-ups will feel tempted to unleash their inner child.

The most striking installation is probably the tunnel of thick multi-coloured fog — you step carefully forward, barely able to see what’s in front of you through the 45-metre journey. If you want to go beyond the fun, Eliasson uses his art to put across strong messages about our connection with nature, and the perils of climate change.

Either way, it’ll probably be one of the most enjoyable exhibitions you’ll ever attend.

Practicalities: Adults £18; Child 12–18, £5; Under 12s free. Book in advance and try to avoid the busy weekend afternoons of what has proved to be a hugely popular exhibition.

The Tate Modern is a magnificent building, housed in a converted power station, and many of the rest of the exhibitions are free. Southwark and Blackfriars are the nearest tube stations, but a nice itinerary involves stopping for food in the buzzing Borough Market near London Bridge, and then taking the 20-minute stroll along the bank of the Thames to the Tate.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Natural History Museum

Eduardo Del Álamo’s picture of a gentoo penguin trying to escape a leopard seal, at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum.
Eduardo Del Álamo’s picture of a gentoo penguin trying to escape a leopard seal, at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum.

An annual treat for anybody who is into wildlife, environmental issues or just great photography.

Around 100 images are selected from about 50,000 entries, and are nicely displayed on lightboxes (rather than as prints).

The beauty and majesty of nature are to the forefront of the various categories, but of course there’s also a sprinkling of poignant pictures illustrating the catastrophe being inflicted on the natural world.

For example, one of the most striking images of recent years featured a seahorse clinging to a cotton bud that had been dumped in the ocean.

The 2019 exhibition opens on October 18, with the winners of the various categories also being announced around then. A recent preview of some of the commended images included spectacular photographs of a gentoo penguin being chased by a leopard seal, and a curious grey whale calf approaching a pair of human hands.

Practicalities: Oct 18 – May 31; Adult £13.95, Child £8.25. The NH museum is a five-minute walk from the Gloucester Road and South Kensington tube stations. For an added bonus, you could spend most of the rest of the day looking around the wonderful museum, or even venture next door to the Science Museum. Both have free admission, but if going on weekends or school holidays, it’s worth it to get there early, or to book in advance for the photography exhibition.

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