Away from the office: London days out

The Temperate House, Kew
Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew
Philip Fisher
Columnist
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With the school holidays approaching and in the expectation that many of us will find business easing off over the next few weeks, this seemed a good time to highlight some potential days out in London that might appeal both to locals and visitors.

The city is packed with art exhibitions, which are so varied that there should be something for everyone.

Picasso 1932 at Tate Modern

Ignoring the pleasures of a stroll in glorious sunshine towards Tate Modern along or across the Thames, 1932 appears to have been an annus mirabilis for Pablo Picasso.

This Tate exhibition is quite astonishing in its demonstration of the wide range of work painted by a single artist in one year. Almost every style is present from realism to the extremes of Cubism. Even better, the works seem to be perfect examples of every genre, making this a highlight of the summer season.

Monet & Architecture at the National Gallery

Monet tends to be known for serial paintings of lilies and foggy cityscapes. As this splendid exhibition at the National Gallery demonstrates, he could paint on a far wider palette. Although the sample is relatively small, the quality of the paintings and the many surprises amongst work that does not fit into spectators’ expectations of the artist make this another highly worthwhile trip.

The Summer Exhibition and The Great Spectacle at the Royal Academy

Grayson Perry has curated the Royal Academy’s 250th annual Summer Exhibition and as ever it contains a wild and wacky cross-section of contemporary art works, many of which might well mean absolutely nothing to the average viewer.

As ever, there is at least a small selection of high quality work, generally by older, well-known artists such as Anish Kapoor, Ken Howard and Eileen Cooper. And for those that like little pussy cats, the pet representation is as strong as ever. Those of the political bent might be interested to note that unexpectedly Kim Jong-un beats Donald Trump 2-1.

Frankly, this year there seems to be far fewer gems them one might expect, even from this determinedly varied project. However, for an extra fiver it is possible to enjoy The Great Spectacle, which comprises a very small cross-section of work across 250 years of the Summer Exhibition from some of the finest British artists of the quarter-millennium. Not only is it a real pleasure but, unlike its loud cousin, the galleries are almost empty, allowing time to view, enjoy and contemplate.

Dorothea Lange/Vanessa Winship at the Barbican Gallery

At its best, photography is undoubtedly an intoxicating art form, even when the photos are in black and white. For this exhibition, the Barbican has combined work from two leading lights who don’t initially have all that much in common.

Dorothea Lange made her name during the Great Depression, photographing the needy and starving as they tried to survive in desperate straits. She continued to work through to the 1950s, as is demonstrated by this fine selection of her work.

Vanessa Winship also sought poverty as a subject but several decades later, travelling widely across Eastern Europe and the United States.

What the two ladies have in common is an eye for a visual story and a pithy sense of how the underclass in any era deserves to be represented, working, begging and sometimes even having a little fun.

Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew

If the idea of spending an afternoon indoors does not appeal, a perfect alternative might be a trip to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew (pictured above). They are easy enough to reach on the District Line or London Overground and offer many hidden delights.

On one level, it is easy to wander round, have a picnic and admire assorted plants, flowers and unusual buildings. For experts, there is an opportunity to appreciate flora from around the world, much of it so strange that it can hardly be believed until you see it.

As a special treat in 2018, the Temperate House has just reopened. This is the world’s biggest Victorian glasshouse and has to be seen to be believed.

Summer of sport

If none of those appeals, another fresh air alternative for those who spend their lives trapped in offices could be a trip to Wimbledon, Lords or the Oval, all of which can offer sporting excitement and a chance to make the most of your family pack of sunblock.

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