Recent articles

I launched a chat show with Shane MacGowan. It didn’t end well

    For mysterious reasons, the fates kept throwing me together with Shane MacGowan. I was a respectable, middle-class art critic. He was the untameable, rotten-toothed, curse-heavy, drug-addicted, Christ-bashing, hissing, pissing, scallywag genius of post-punk Irish poetics. Yet our paths kept crossing. Till the end. I first met him as the 1980s were petering out. I was […]

    Think you know everything about the impressionists? Not anymore

      Back in the days when no one cared much about making exhibitions sound sexy, there was one title that regularly filled me with despair: “Works on paper.” If a show was called “Works on paper” it was guaranteed to be dull, sparse, monochrome, and, worst of all, “rigorous”, a word the art world used indiscriminately […]

      I’ve never been an Imperial War Museum fan — this changed my mind

        Short of actually starting the Third World War it’s difficult to see how the fates could better have prepared the ground for the opening this week of the Blavatnik galleries at the Imperial War Museum. With the globe on fire on two fronts, the contents of these art-filled new spaces suddenly feel especially visceral and […]

        Holbein at the Tudor Court review — the genius artist who invented Henry VIII

          Holbein at the Tudor Court is both a wondrous show and a tragic one. It’s wondrous because it’s full of Holbeins, and Hans Holbein is one of the dozen or so true geniuses ever to have lifted a paintbrush. It’s tragic because the fates dumped him in the orbit of Henry VIII, thereby thrusting him deep […]

          Test tubes and transgender parents — art shreds the nuclear family

            I blundered into Real Families at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge expecting something warm and gooey. I emerged feeling slapped about and challenged. On the surface, it’s an examination of the way artists have represented the family in their work. Under the surface, it’s another skirmish in the culture wars. I was expecting something gooey because I’ve […]

            Mat Collishaw’s Petrichor at Kew Gardens is one of the best shows this year

              Environmental issues are the trendiest subject in art right now. The climate. Ecology. What we’re doing to the planet. Everybody is tackling it. And they’re doing it badly. Re/Sisters at the Barbican is essentially a giant PowerPoint presentation packed with jargon and clunky curatorial interjections, masquerading as an art show. The Serpentine Gallery’s Back to Earth programme probably […]

              Nicole Eisenman: the lesbian pioneer who changed art

                I know what I want to get Nicole Eisenman for Christmas. A copy of The Power of Discipline by Daniel Walter. Even a brief perusal of this helpful tome will make clearer why the artistic career presented to us in the Eisenman retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery ends up as such an evident descent. And why the […]

                Frans Hals, National Gallery review — lean in to this glorious show

                  My advice to anyone visiting the rousing retelling of Frans Hals’s career that has arrived at the National Gallery is: lean in. As close as the guards will let you. Because that is where the magic happens. Oil paints can be used prosaically, and they can be used with guts and bravura. Hals is spectacularly […]

                  Philip Guston: forget the Ku Klux Klan row, this show is unmissable

                    The art world is always capable of preposterous behaviour — it’s that kind of world — but even by its own base standards the decision in 2020 to cancel the Philip Guston exhibition that was heading for Tate Modern was cowardly and callow. Cancel culture had sunk to a new low. At issue were the […]

                    Sarah Lucas and Marina Abramovic — which exhibition should you book first?

                      Two big shows by women artists have opened at prestigious London venues. Both are impressive. Both imaginative. Both tinged with what we might call “a tangible national flavour”. For my money, one of the shows is more worthwhile than the other. But which? At Tate Britain Sarah Lucas, the former enfant terrible of British art, who […]