From Rubens to Barbara Hepworth and Alexander McQueen: the best art exhibitions to see in 2015
January 8, 2015 | By:

Kirstie Brewer profiles ten of the best art shows in 2015, including the Barbara Hepworth retrospective at Tate Britain, Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy and Jackson Pollock at Tate Liverpool

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Peter Paul Rubens: Tiger, Lion and Leopard Hunt (detail). Photo from MBA, Rennes


Rubens and his Legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne, Royal Academy, London (24 January–10 April)

The Royal Academy of Arts rocks baroque later this month, with a chance to see the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens in all their fleshy majesty. This will be the first major UK exhibition to bring together the works of the 17th-century Flemish painter with those of the artists he inspired, including choice pieces from Turner, Renoir, Klimt and Picasso.

His masterpieces, utterly engrossing and beautifully composed (can you tell I’m a fan?), will be looked at through the lens of six themes: power, lust, compassion, elegance, poetry and violence. A must-see for 2015. Royal Academy: Rubens and His Legacy

Lynda Benglis, The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield (6 February–5 July)

Lynda Beglis, 1970. Photo by Henry Groskinsky

Lynda Benglis doesn’t get as much attention as her male counterparts (such as Andy Warhol, Sol LeWitt and Barnett Newman) but The Hepworth Wakefield will address that imbalance with an extensive survey of the artist’s work.

In 1970, Life magazine lauded her the heir to Pollock (more of which below). Now in her 70s, she is one of America’s most significant living artists, reknowned for her works dealing with feminist politics and self-image.

The most infamous of these is Centrefold, which showed a naked Benglis posing with a giant dildo and sunglasses. It appeared as an advertisement in the pages of Artforum magazine, and she chose an ad so that she could control the image. However, it resulted in a handful of disgusted editors quitting the journal.

Her paintings and sculpture using wax and poured latex are particularly beguiling. Curious? Hepworth Wakefield: Lynda Benglis




History is Now: 7 Artists Take on Britain, Hayward Gallery, London (10 February–26 April)


Tony Ray-Jones: Picnic, Glyndebourne 1967. Photo from National Media Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

As the General Election looms large, the Hayward Gallery takes stock of the past 70 years of British history and asks how we got to where we are today. The venue never fails to serve up shows that are dynamic and creative in their execution – and this one should be no exception.

The exhibition comprises seven artists grappling with particular periods of our cultural history, from cold war and post-Thatcherite society to mad cow disease and the cult of celebrity. In the run-up to putting that cross on a ballot paper, History is Now is a timely show to see. Southbank Centre: History is Now: 7 Artists Take on Britain

Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions, National Portrait Gallery, London (12 March–7 June) 

Francisco de Goya: Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington. Photo from National Gallery, London

The National Portrait Gallery is to host the first gallery exhibition dedicated to the Duke of Wellington, to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

The Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo is, of course, well known, but this display of 59 portraits will offer a fuller picture of the man, rather than simply the hero. It will look at less familiar aspects of the Duke’s life, including the long political career which cost him his popularity.

There will be a wealth of cultural events to commemorate the milestone this year, but the National Portrait Gallery’s offering promises to be particularly rich. National Portrait Gallery: Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions




Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, V&A (14 March–19 July)

Butterfly headdress, Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen. Photo by Anthea Simms

OK, so perhaps this is not strictly ‘art’ in the same way as the other exhibitions featured (but what is art, anyway?). The V&A’s forthcoming celebration of the late designer will be nothing short of spectacular.

It is the first and largest retrospective of the late designer’s body of work, spanning from his 1992 graduate collection to his final spring/summer 2010 Plato’s Atlantis collection. A double height gallery will dramatically unfurl with more than 200 McQueen ensembles and accessories, a running catwalk and a huge cabinet of curiosities.

Gainsbury and Whiting, the production company that collaborated with McQueen on his extravagant catwalk shows, has been drafted in, helping to ensure that the visionary designer’s work will be showcased with all the theatricality and fantasy he is loved for. 

The exhibition is expected to sell very fast, so get in early. V&A: Savage Beauty





Henry Moore: Back to a Land, Yorkshire Sculpture Park (7 March–6 September)

Henry Moore: Two Piece Reclining Figure Points. Photo by Jonty Wild

It’s a bumper year for three-dimensional art and a great time to do something different and go on a sculpture safari at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The ‘gallery without walls’ (though there are now some impressive indoor spaces too) boasts an exciting programme for 2015, kicking off with Henry Moore in March and Antony Caro through to July.

The duo’s sculptures are then further contextualised by work from another generation of artists in the proceeding months. Fresh and fun, the natural beauty of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park makes it the best way to appreciate sculpture. YSP: Henry Moore Back to a Land

Barbara Hepworth, Tate Britain, London (24 June – 25 October)

Barbara Hepworth: Curved Form (Delphi). Photo from the Estate of Dame Barbara Hepworth

It has been almost 50 years since a major retrospective of Barbara Hepworth’s work came to London. The Wakefield-born sculptor (and friend of Henry Moore) makes a welcome return this summer in an exhibition that charts her progress from the small carvings made as a young woman to the arresting bronzes that propelled her on to the world stage.

Nowadays, Hepworth is often overlooked, and yet she was a key player in the British Abstract Art scene. Visitors will be able to see textiles, drawings and collages, as well as sculptures. 

She remains one of the few women artists to have achieved international prominence. Tate Britain: Barbara Hepworth





Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool (30 June–18 October)
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Jackson Pollock: Portrait and a Dream 1953 (detail). Photo from Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS)

So familiar to us is the work of Jackson Pollock that one could be forgiven for not properly taking it in. The man was a deeply troubled trailblazer, whose dripping ‘action paintings’ shook up the 20th-century art world.

If art like his leaves you overwhelmed and scratching your head, the beauty of this Tate Liverpool show is that it neatly zeroes in on a small segment of his career. The paintings the US artist made between 1950 and 1953, are often referred to as the Black Pourings and cited as his finest work. Tate Liverpool: Jackson Pollock Blind Spots

The World Goes Pop, Tate Modern, London (17 September 2015–24 January 2016)
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Ushio Shinohara: Doll Festival 1966. Photo from Tokyo Gallery and BTAP

Think Pop Art and inevitably Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein spring to mind. But in true Tate style, this autumn exhibition bursts that bubble and reveals how artists around the world – from Latin America to Asia and the Middle East – have engaged with the spirit of Pop art and made it their own.

Forget the Pop Art-esque designs you see on today’s stationery and homeware; in the 60s and 70s, the world’s most accessible art movement was also a subversive international language for criticism and public protest. Tate Modern: World Goes Pop

Ai Weiwei, Royal Academy of Arts, London (19 September–13 December)

Portrait: Ai Weiwei. Photo by Gao Yuan

Ai Weiwei has suffered torture, imprisonment and denial of travel rights at the hands of the Chinese authorities, but this hasn’t stopped the artist from working. This September, creative freedom is championed at the Royal Academy, when Weiwei’s powerful – and increasingly iconoclastic – creations, old and new, will fill the venue’s biggest space.

Whether the 57-year-old, who is perhaps best known for his sunflower seed installation at the Tate Modern, is permitted to travel and be at the show in person, remains to be seen. The man is a walking cultural phenomenon and whether there in spirit or in person, the show will be charged with his energy. Royal Academy: Ai Weiwei