UK Shows to See This Summer

The second half of the 20th century was defined by radical social and political change. The “permissive society” of the swinging sixties gave way to mass discontent during the 1970s and 1980s, while the marginalised and disenfranchised took demanded their rights. Pioneering artists like Judy Chicago, and those featured in National Galleries Scotland’s exhibition Women in Revolt!, were at the heart of these changes, setting the agenda with their work. Fast-forward 20 years and creatives like Francis Alys and Tavares Strachan are dealing with the modern-day effects of these changes, inviting us to think about our own place in society, and those who shaped it. These are summer shows not to be missed.

Francis Alys: Ricochets | Barbican, London | Until 1 September

Musical chairs in Mexico. Leapfrog in Iraq. Jump rope in Hong Kong. Francis Alys (b. 1959) has been recording children at play since 1999. His ongoing series Children’s Games foregrounds social interactions which are in decline due to rapid urbanisation, the erosion of communities and the prevalence of digital entertainment. Ricochets is the first time this collection has been presented in the UK, and the exhibition includes an immersive installation showing recorded experiences of play. Visitors are encouraged to perform their own games. They use their bodies to cast shadows and act out instructions conceived by children from local schools. There is a universality to Alys’ work, his images, captured around the world, are connected by a sense of youthful joy and abandon familiar to us all.

Tavares Strachan: There is Light Somewhere | Hayward Gallery, London | Until 1 September

The first mid-career survey of Bahamian artist Traves Strachan (b. 1979) showcases his celebration of unsung explorers and cultural trailblazers. Strachan was a recipient of the MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’, and over the past two decades has dedicated his work to telling histories of colonialism and racism, and how they impact modern identities. This sentiment is spelled out across the façade of the gallery in nine-meter-high neon words that declare: “You Belong Here”. There is Light Somewhere centres around Strachan’s Encyclopedia of Invisibility (2018), which the artist describes as a “home for lost stories”. It features more than 17,000 entries detailing extraordinary figures forgotten by history. This is an artist who has pushed the boundaries of contemporary art with the imaginative verve of a true pioneer.

Judy Chicago: Revelations | Serpentine, London | Until 1 September

Feminist artist and educator Judy Chicago (b.1939) has been offering women a seat at the table since the 1960s. Known as one of the “first-generation female artists”, Chicago’s work examines the role of women in history and culture, and explores themes of birth and creation, the social construct of masculinity, notions of power, and her own Jewish identity. Now, Revelations traces a career defined by a desire to challenge a male-dominated art world. The exhibition takes its name from a manuscript Chicago penned in the 1970s whilst creating her iconic The Dinner Party – a monumental installation with 39 place settings for mythical and historically significant female figures. It brings together artwork, sketchbooks and performance videos to paint a vivid picture of a remarkable six-decade career. 

Lynda Benglis: Recent Sculptures | Turner Contemporary, Margate | Until 15 September

“Everything is a knot…growing a plant is a knot, a body is a knot, every embryo is a knot. And I began to think, what is form? It’s a growth. It’s a continuation. It’s an expansion.” It is this investigation that forms the basis for Lynda Benglis’ (b. 1941) most recent exhibition. Initially working with clay models, the artist digitally transformed the shapes into large bronze sculptures, ensuring they retained marks from the intimate touch of her hands. Benglis is best known for her works that capture a fluid substance in motion, and in Blatt (1969) she extended Jackson Pollock’s famed drip technique into three dimensions, spilling liquid rubber on the floor. Here, her innovative use of materials and movement continues, the reflective surfaces evoke the fluidity of liquid forms, interacting with both light and space.

Women in Revolt! | National Galleries Scotland, Edinburgh | Until 26 January

The 20 years between 1970 and the dawn of the 1990s were defined by seismic social, economic and political changes. The era saw marginalised communities demand their rights, and second wave feminism was ushered in as the Women’s Liberation Movement saw protests across the country. A backlash to Thatcherism meant punk music dominated the scene, while ‘Madchester’ saw the north become the centre of youth culture. Meanwhile, Section 28 and the AIDs epidemic came to define a generation’s call for LGBTQ+ civil rights. Part of Edinburgh Art Festival, Women in Revolt! showcases the powerful and provocative work of over 100 artists who explore a range of issues, from gender and race discrimination to domestic experiences. This timely survey celebrates the women who changed the face of Britain.

Words: Emma Jacob

Image Credits:
1. Francis Alÿs, Children’s Game #2: Ricochets, Tangier, Morocco, 2007 In collaboration with Rafael Ortega and Julien Devaux

2. Tavares Strachan, You Belong Here, Prospect 3 New Orleans, 2014. (Installation view from Prospect 3 Biennale, New Orleans, LA). Blocked out neon travelling installation on the Mississippi River. 30 ft x 80 ft on 100-ft barge. Courtesy of the artist, photo & video by Joe Vincent Grey

3. Judy Chicago, Woman with Liquid Smoke from Women and Smoke, 1971-1972; Remastered in 2016 Original Total Running Time: 25:31. Edited to 14:45 by Salon 94, NY 2017 © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo courtesy of Through the Flower Archives Courtesy of the artist.

4. Lynda Benglis: Recent Sculptures, 2024 Installation View. © Courtesy Turner Contemporary. Photo by Beth Saunders.

5. Still from 3 Minute Scream. Gina Birch. 1977. Courtesy of the artist.