14 Exhibitions That'll Blow You Away This Summer

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 61 months ago

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Last Updated 21 June 2019

14 Exhibitions That'll Blow You Away This Summer

Welcome to our pick of the best London exhibitions to see right now — get your Summer dose of culture. We've roughly split the list by London regions to make it easier to navigate.

Exhibitions in central London

Copyright The Wallace Collection.

A SHOE STOPPER: Shoes and fine art don't sound like a good match, but it makes perfect sense once you see classic Manolo Blahniks displayed in front Wallace Collection's paintings of fashionable folk. It's a frilly and flamboyant showdown to see who can be the most stylish, and until now I hadn't realised what a natural fit The Wallace Collection is for fashion exhibitions — this is a fabulous start.

An Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at The Wallace Collection. Until 1 September, free. ★★★★☆

Image courtesy Waddington Custot.

GRAFFITI IN MAYFAIR: This white-walled Mayfair gallery has been transformed with a gritty grey overhaul. The exhibition takes inspiration from graffiti, and features artists such as Brassai — a photographer who captured faces scratched on walls as if they were their own modern language — and Twombly, who produces abstract swirling paintings. It's an ambitious set up that does a great job of bringing fine and street art together.

Writings on the Wall at Waddington Custot, Cork Street. Until 8 August, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Saturday)

(c) Tristan Fewings, Getty Images for RIBA

PLAYFUL PINK COLUMNS: Pink columns, yellow skies and birdsong make this feel more like a role playing video game than a gallery. My 'quests' are to scan the QR codes on the walls and follow them to websites featuring the real buildings which inspired the gallery's architectural features. I love how this inspired installation flips the script by bringing the digital into the real world and asking us to look at the real world on a digital screen. It's really playful — and who can resist columns and arches in shocking pink.

Playing the Picturesque - an installation by You+Pea at RIBA, Portland Place. Until 7 September, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Saturday)

Copyright Massimiliano Pironti

PEOPLE POWER: The annual celebration of portrait painters is back. Highlights include a highly impressive photorealistic image of a seated woman caught in the light through a window, and the fabulous details in the wrinkles of an elderly woman. It's an exhibition that shows us that the tradition of portrait painting is being kept alive by artists, even if only a handful really caught our attention this year.

BP Portrait Award 2019 at National Portrait Gallery. Until 20 October, free. ★★★☆☆

© The National Gallery, London

SPANISH & SAINTLY: The National Gallery often puts on one-room displays, focusing on a single artist many will not have heard of. This time it's Spanish painter Bartolome Bermejo, whose religious works are beautifully executed, including a shimmering golden depiction of the Archangel Michael striking down the devil. This theme was popular in Bermejo's era, as the Catholics had taken Spain back and liked to see the devil as representing Islam.

Bartolomé Bermejo: Master of the Spanish Renaissance at The National Gallery, Room 1. Until 29 September, free. ★★★★☆

Image courtesy Gagosian.

EVERYBODY LOVES BACON: Who doesn't love a bit of Bacon... Francis Bacon, that is. The painter is the master of capturing negative emotions and in these works, human and animal figures meld together in distorted paintings. Two figures intimately wound on a couch was painted the year homosexuality was decriminalised, and it's a work that pulsates with feeling.

Francis Bacon: Couplings at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill. Until 3 August, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)

Copyright Alison Watt

LIGHT AS A FEATHER: I descend the stairs and wonder why a painting is hanging back to front. It's only on getting closer that I realise it's actually a painting of the back of a canvas that's remarkably realistic. Alison Watt paints beautifully minimal works, including a feather that looks as if it could float out of the painting and catch the breeze coming through the gallery door.

Alison Watt: A shadow on the Blind at Parafin, Woodstock Street. Until 13 July, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)

Exhibitions in west London

Copyright Tate Photography (Matt Greenwood).

JOYFUL PAINTING: Colour explodes from the walls in this collection of big bold paintings that are a joy to behold. It's about time Frank Bowling got his dues and this Tate Britain show is the spotlight he so richly deserves. The man is a heavyweight of British painting and he's still going at the age of 85 — what a legend. It's not just gorgeous paintings; there are political themes here too, including works that tackle migration, homelessness and colonialism. Any fan of painting must visit this long overdue retrospective.

Frank Bowling at Tate Britain. Until 26 August. ★★★★☆

Exhibitions in south London

© International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

PHOTOGRAPHY UNDER FIRE: Remember the beach landing scene from Saving Private Ryan? It was based on the D-day landings with Allied troops under heavy fire from German machine guns. Robert Capa was there at the D-Day landings, photographing it in all its intensity. This small display may contain only 10 photographs but it's coupled with harrowing quotes from those involved, bringing home how traumatic that event was: "Later, when I reached the high water mark, the bodies floated in, and you could see your friends, people you'd served with for years, floating face down or face up".

Robert Capa: D-Day in 35mm at IWM London. Until 29 September, free. ★★★★☆

© The Estate of Cyril Power. All Rights Reserved, [2019] / Bridgeman Images/ photo The Wolfsonian–Florida International University

FEEL THE SPEED: Motorcycles speed by in tight formation, and a merry-go-round whirls around at speed, as if it could lift off at any moment. This exhibition of printmaking is filled with energy and movement. Block-headed footballers ooze aggression and passengers jammed onto the tube in the 1930s show not much has changed in the last 80 years. Dulwich Picture Gallery has given us a movement we'd never heard of, and brought it to life through a vibrant selection of work.

Cutting Edge: Modern British Printmaking at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Until 8 September, £13.50 (includes entrance to the gallery). ★★★★☆  (Tuesday-Sunday)

What the cafe looks like. Photo: Tania Dolvers.

FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD: A cafe that serves delicious food and free coffee sounds pretty special. But what's extra special about this one is that everything in the cafe, including the tables, food and cutlery, are artworks in themselves. It's really awkward to eat off an arty plate, but it's worth it for a chance to interact with art in a playful manner outside a gallery.

Edible Goods: Tender Touches by Open Space Contemporary at AMP Gallery, Peckham. Until 30 June, free to visit. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Sunday)

Exhibitions in east London

© Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

NOT A LOAD OF POLLOCKS: Lee Krasner has always been in the shadow of her more renowned husband, Jackson Pollock, and never been held in the same high regard. Barbican is saying Pollocks to that and rightfully highlighting what a great abstract painter she was. Her big works are just as energetic and explosive as Pollock's, even if some of the smaller works are so-so.

Lee Krasner: Living Colour at Barbican Art Gallery. Until 1 November, £15. ★★★☆☆

The demolition of the old London Bridge. Copyright Guildhall Art Gallery.

LONDON IS BEAUTIFUL: This show wants you to know what a beauty London is. See her at sunset from Greenwich in a classical work, or in Ben Johnson's huge hyper-real painting of Trafalgar Square. Guildhall Art Gallery is filled with artworks that capture every aspect of our fair city from historical scenes such as the Great Fire and the destruction of the old London Bridge to views looking out over back gardens. Us Londoners don't slow down for much, but here's a show worth spending lots of time with to see how our city has transformed over the years.

Architecture of London at Guildhall Art Gallery. Until 1 December, £10. ★★★★☆

Exhibitions in north London

Photo: Mike Bruce. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian

FEEL SMALL: A huge metal pen, light bulb and pair of headphones stand up in the gallery, as if delicately balanced on their ends, while a giant fork looks like it's been stabbed into the gallery floor. These giant objects are playful artworks by Michael Craig-Martin, and while we've seen these kinds of works before outdoors, they feel even more gravity defying inside.

Michael Craig Martin: Sculpture at Gagosian, Brittania Street. Until 3 August, free. ★★★☆☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)