Art exhibitions I have my eye on for when restrictions lift

We've missed out on a lot this year, not least seeing and learning about great art across the UK.

For me, exhibitions provide the chance to learn the story behind an artist or movement, and fall in love with discoveries old and new. You’re given the chance to put meaning to work, thanks to carefully curated descriptions and placements, but can read as little or as much as you like.

Lockdown has also confirmed to me that I love arts spaces as much for the experience as for the art itself. There is a tranquility about tottering around a white cube without a time limit, and a sense of engulfment  that comes with being swallowed by the grand façades of old museums. Once the next step of this pandemic-come-nightmare has passed, I’m looking forward to entering arts spaces again. And so, here are 3 exhibitions I have my eye on once museums and galleries reopen.

The Pre-Raphaelites: Drawings and Watercolours
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

We’re starting local. Growing up in Oxfordshire has meant walking past, and wandering into, the Ashmolean a number of times over the years. The art galleries up some very grand stairs were most likely my first experience of seeing paintings as ‘established and important’. My favourite of the collection has always been Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (although I prefer the colour palette of the one pictured below, which belongs to the Tate Britain).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Proserpine, Tate (1874), via Art UK

But it’s not paintings this time which draws me to the Ashmolean (or their wonderful After Hours events on the last Friday of each month). This spring the museum is set to exhibit drawings and watercolours from the Pre-Raphaelites. While we may associate these artists with the art establishment – Ophelia by John Everrett Millais is the Tate Britain’s best selling postcard – these artists were once (very privileged) teenage rebels.

Students at the Royal Academy of Art, the PRB established sketching clubs in direct resistance to the Renaissance and neo-classical style they were being taught. This is where the name ‘Pre-Raphaelites’ comes into play, thanks to the group’s desire to explore medieval and mystical subject matter that came before the Renaissance golden boy, Raphael.

The Pre-Raphaelites are always a knotty group to learn about, and the exhibition promises to explore ‘the intimate and often complex friendships and love affairs between them’. No doubt there will be a spotlight on Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s chalk drawings of his lover, Jane Morris (who was also a respected embroider and the wife of Arts and Crafts star, William Morris).

Jupiter Rising
Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh (28 – 30th August)

This one isn’t an exhibition, but instead a festival! We’re hoping to head up to the outskirts of Edinburgh for Jupiter Artland’s Jupiter Rising festival on the last weekend of August. Up in sunny Scotland, the festival features experimental art and music, set in the massive sculpture garden that is Jupiter Artland. 

The line up is yet to be released, in fact we think it’s going to be a long while as there is still an open call for residencies at the event, but we know that from previous line-ups and the JA team at the helm, the festival will be a stunner.

Best of all this is a firmly independent and artist driven festival that is run for pleasure not profit. We know that Jupiter Rising will be inherently participatory and empower attendees to make new connections and develop their creative practice. Jupiter Artland aren’t trying to rip anyone off – everyone that participates is fairly paid, and tickets don’t cost an arm and a leg. This ethos is an extension of the organisation’s brilliant commitment to engaging every child in Scotland with the park.

All in all there promises to be plenty of dancing, arts workshops, a cheeky swim if we can brave the weather, and lots of good food. There’s nothing like an arty festival for the promise of good vegan food, nom. Get me to the tofu and chickpeas, already.

Paula Rego
Tate Britain, London 

With a career spanning six decades, the Tate Britain’s offering on the Anglo-Portuguese artist promises to be the ‘the largest and most comprehensive retrospective of Paula Rego’s work to date’.

Rego’s best-known work is figurative and centres on the female experience. From school girls getting backstreet abortions, to women embodying ‘the beautiful grotesque’ by behaving like dogs, Paula Rego undoubtedly explores the politics and policing of female sexuality. Tate Britain are using these socio-political contexts to anchor the curation of the exhibition, which will include collages, pastels, sculptures and drawings alongside Rego’s paintings.

As someone who wrote a dissertation on Angela Carter‘s explorations of visceral sexual violence and subversive displays of sexuality, I can’t help noticing the similarities in the two women’s interests. Both examine female violence, physicality and a primal pain that sits outside the confines of the socially acceptable. I’m excited to learn more about Rego’s practice, and see how growing up under a Portuguese dictatorship, and in a devoutly Catholic nation influenced her perspective on gender expression.

That’s all from me – let us know on our socials what art events and exhibitions you’re looking forward to digging your teeth into this late spring and summer.

Like what you read? You can find more of my creative work on Instagram and Twitter, as well as all the projects I facilitate with Emily here on MEDUSA.

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