visual art

Wooden head from southern Nigeria, collected by Northcote W. Thomas in 1910

Lucian Freud insisted a forgery could be as great as the real thing. Was he right?

10 August 2019 9:00 am

Perhaps we should blame Vasari. Ever since the publication of his Lives of the Artists, and to an ever-increasing extent,…

Like walking into a Rothko: ‘Din blinde passager’ (‘Your blind passenger’), 2010, by Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson’s art is both futuristic and completely traditional – which is why I love it

27 July 2019 9:00 am

Superficially, the Olafur Eliasson exhibition at Tate Modern can seem like a theme park. To enter many of the exhibits,…

‘Telepainting’, 1964, by Takis

Full of wonders: Takis at Tate Modern reviewed

13 July 2019 9:00 am

Steel flowers bend in a ‘breeze’ generated by magnetic pendulums. This is the first thing you see as you enter…

The eyes have it: ‘The Zebra’, 1763, by George Stubbs

What makes British art British?

27 April 2019 9:00 am

There’s no avoiding the Britishness of British art. It hits me every time I walk outside and see dappled trees…

Art or propaganda? Wolfgang Tillmans’ pro-EU poster for the 2016 referendum

For many artists being propagandists has become their raison d’être

9 March 2019 9:00 am

If you want to lose friends and alienate people in the art world, try telling them you support Britain leaving…

A document of a mass human experiment that is moving, revolting, violent and extraordinarily pornographic

Dau is the strangest and most unsettling piece of art to come out of Russia in years

2 February 2019 9:00 am

Dau is not so much a film as a document of a mass human experiment. The result is dark, brilliant…

‘Tristan’s Ascension’, 2005, by Bill Viola

The odd couple: Bill Viola / Michelangelo at the RA reviewed

2 February 2019 9:00 am

The joint exhibition of Michelangelo Buonarroti and Bill Viola at the Royal Academy is, at first glance, an extremely improbable…

‘The Artist with his Wife Margaret and Eldest Daughter Mary’, c.1748, by Thomas Gainsborough

It’s hard to think of finer images of children than Gainsborough’s

12 January 2019 9:00 am

When he knew that he was dying, Thomas Gainsborough selected an unfinished painting from some years before and set it…

The ‘soul canoe’ from New Guinea is a sculpture as powerful as any by Brancusi

Full of fabulous, but baffling, things: Oceania reviewed

13 October 2018 9:00 am

At six in the morning of 20 July 1888, Robert Louis Stevenson first set eyes on a Pacific Island. As…

‘The Acrobat Schulz V’ (1921), by Albert Birkle

Caricature, satire and over-the-top horror: Magic Realism at Tate Modern reviewed

25 August 2018 9:00 am

‘It is disastrous to name ourselves!’ So Willem de Kooning responded when some of his New York painter buddies elected…

A kind of blue: Yves Klein’s ‘Jonathan Swift’ (c.1960) amid the Van Dycks and Joshua Reynolds

A visionary and playful heir to Duchamp: Yves Klein at Blenheim Palace

11 August 2018 9:00 am

Nothing was so interesting to Yves Klein as the void. In 1960 he leapt into it for a photograph —…

Lee Bul’s ‘Monster: Pink’ (foreground) and ‘Crashing’ (background)

If you like monstrosities, head to the Hayward Gallery

21 July 2018 9:00 am

One area of life in which globalism certainly rules is that of contemporary art. Installation, performance, the doctrine of Marcel…

Volcano of invention: Alexander Calder at Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Alexander Calder was a volcano of invention

23 June 2018 9:00 am

In the Moderna Museet in Stockholm there is a sculpture by Katharina Fritsch, which references Chekhov’s famous story ‘Lady with…

The earliest aerial drawing, made from a balloon basket, by Thomas Baldwin, 1785, left, and Apollo 8’s ‘Earthrise’, right, 50 years old

How the world was turned upside down by revelation of aerial perspectives

16 June 2018 9:00 am

‘To look at ourselves from afar,’ Julian Barnes wrote in Levels of Life, ‘to make the subjective suddenly objective: this…

‘A Cellar Dive in the Bend’, c.1895, by Richard Hoe Lawrence and Henry G. Piffard

A short history of flash photography

18 November 2017 9:00 am

All photography requires light, but the light used in flash photography is unique — shocking, intrusive and abrupt. It’s quite…

‘Les Modes se suivent et ne se ressemblent pas’, 1926, cover design for Harper’s Bazaar

The time is right for an Erté revival – a new hero for our gender-anxious times

18 November 2017 9:00 am

Erté was destined for the imperial navy. Failing that, the army. His father and uncle had been navy men. There…

Cover illustration for the magazine Garm 1944, by Tove Jansson

A chance to see the Moomins’ creator for the genius she really was: Tove Janssons reviewed

18 November 2017 9:00 am

Tove Jansson, according to her niece’s husband, was a squirt in size and could rarely be persuaded to eat, preferring…

Before the larp: ‘Just the two of us’, 2013, by Klaus Pichler

The art of larp

18 November 2017 9:00 am

‘It’s all wizards and elves, right? Dungeons & Dragons stuff?’ Such is the general response when you mention larp, or…

‘Regent’s Park Zoo’, 1930, by Arnrid Banniza Johnston

The forgotten history of the Tube’s ‘poster girls’

4 November 2017 9:00 am

Every weekday, I travel by Tube to The Spectator’s office, staring at the posters plastered all over the walls. I…

The old ways

28 October 2017 9:00 am

I’m sitting across a café table from a young man with a sheaf of drawings that have an archive look…

‘The First Days of Spring’, 1929, by Salvador Dalí

It’s the thought that counts

21 October 2017 9:00 am

During a panel discussion in 1949, Frank Lloyd Wright made an undiplomatic comment about Marcel Duchamp’s celebrated picture of 1912,…

The Factory (image: OMA/Factory)

The Bilbao effect

21 October 2017 9:00 am

Twenty years ago I wrote of the otherwise slaveringly praised Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao: I’m in a minority of, apparently,…

Moving pictures: ‘Achaean’, 1981, by Bridget Riley

Snap, crackle and op

2 September 2017 9:00 am

Stand in front of ‘Fall’, a painting by Bridget Riley from 1963, and the world begins to quiver and dissolve.…

Matisse’s ‘Still Life with Shell’ (1940) with his beloved chocolate pot, top left

Object lesson

5 August 2017 9:00 am

Why did Henri Matisse not play chess? It’s a question, perhaps, that few have ever pondered. Yet the great artist…

True or false? The Temple of Bel, Palmyra, before and after its destruction at the hands of Islamic State

Why confront the ugly lie of Islamic State with a tacky fake?

28 May 2016 9:00 am

There is fakery in the air. And maybe the French are done with deconstruction. A drone operated by a French…