Welcome to our pick of the best exhibitions to see right now in London's galleries. Due to social distancing, advance booking is required for many of these.
Exhibitions in Central London
NATIONAL FELT SERVICE: The Queen of Felt is back, and this time Lucy Sparrow has created an entire pharmacy. Pop in and buy soft, cuddly versions of Lemsip, Xanax, and de rigueur antiseptic wipes. The attention to detail is superb — and will bring a smile to any visitor's face. We prescribe this as the perfect antidote to the year we've just had.
Lucy Sparrow: Bourdon Street Chemist at Lyndsey Ingram, Mayfair. Until 8 May, free - most visitor slots are booked, but walk-ins are welcome to queue. ★★★★★ (Monday-Saturday)
LEAF AT FIRST SIGHT: It's as if an explosion of leaves caught up in the wind has been frozen in time. These ceramic sculptures by Rebecca Manson are so lifelike, I hold my breath as I take a closer look — lest my exhalation disturbs it. Other leaves wrap around a rake, while sunflowers sprout in these spectacularly crafted works, whose level of detail is leaf mind-blowing.
Rebecca Manson: Dry Agonies of a Baffled Lust at Josh Lilley, Fitzrovia. Until 22 May, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
STEP INTO A PAINTING: Ever stood in front of a painting and wished you could step inside? The National Gallery invites us to do just that, with Jan Gossaert's The Adoration of the Kings. Walk into a wraparound chamber, as background noises and narration whisk you back to Biblical times. A video of the painting zooms in so close, you can see the individual hairs on a man's mole. It's a superb example of how to engage more closely with the works in the gallery's collection. More of this please. Until museums open again, it can be experienced online.
Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert's 'Adoration' at The National Gallery, Room 1. 17 May - 13 June, free. ★★★★★
NEW NORMAL: Like all of us, Gilbert & George had to adapt to a new lockdown routine — it's just they did it more stylishly than most, in their trademark suits. In New Normal, we see them gardening, protesting in their beloved East End, and waking up to the new world. While it's no divergence from their trademark style, it does sum up lockdown living neatly.
Gilbert & George: New Normal Pictures at White Cube, Mason's Yard. Until 8 May, free. ★★★☆☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
ARMA-SHED-DON: A cabin has its roof caved in, as if falling debris from a hurricane has crushed it. Nearby, another cabin is looking worse for wear — as if abandoned. Rachel Whiteread has been casting perfect replicas of objects for decades; this change in style sees her creations incorporate destruction — a brilliant reflection on a topsy-turvy year.
Rachel Whiteread: Internal Objects at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill. Until 6 June, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Saturday)
LEAD WATER TO HORSES: These horses appears to contain a miniature landscapes of sky and sea — as if each one is half-filled with liquid. In fact, these beautiful mini-equines are made from two different shades of glass. It's a playful take on a traditional genre where the landscape is now in the horse, rather than the other way round.
Ugo Rondinone at Sadie Coles, Kingly Street. Until 22 May, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
FULL HOUSE: How do you a make beautifully distressed Georgian house in Marylebone even more beautiful? By filling it with contemporary art and mid-century Nordic design, that's how. Stephen Friedman Gallery has collaborated with London House of Modernity to fill eight rooms across three floors with brilliant, dazzling work. A triple treat of art, design and architecture.
Stephen Friedman at London House of Modernity, Marylebone. Until 28 May, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Friday)
NATURAL DRAMA: Sweeping sandstorms, majestic wildlife, water flowing over archival photographs. Intensity and drama abound in a 50 minute film that covers themes of ecological disaster, colonialism and memory. We've seen many John Akomfrah films, and never cease to be moved by them. Adjacent are works on the vital theme of Black Lives Matter — although they aren't quite up to the impressive scale of Akomfrah's centrepiece.
John Akomfrah: The Unintended Beauty of Disaster at Lisson Gallery. Until 5 June, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
Exhibitions in South London
HAIRY LIKE THE WOLF: In a deeply personal video, Lindsey Mendick recalls what it's like to live with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and the excessive hair growth that's one of the symptoms. She does this by splicing the video with footage of werewolf. Outside in the 'waiting room' are toys that have developed cysts, while patients with lupine heads and feet wait to be seen. Both playful and heartfelt.
Lindsey Mendick: Hairy on the Inside at Cooke Latham Gallery, Battersea. Until 21 May, free. ★★★★★ (Wednesday-Friday)
PLANT PHOTOGRAPHY: Lots of us love to take pictures of pretty flowers, but who took the first? Dulwich Picture Gallery gets to the root of the matter, charting the journey from the earliest still life photography to the exploding flowers of contemporary artist Ori Gersht. It's a lovely show, if lacking in standout pieces.
Unearthed: Photography's Roots at Dulwich Picture Gallery. 19 May - 30 August, £16.50. ★★★☆☆ (Wednesday-Sunday)
PUTTING THE KING IN KINGSTON: Did you know that Athelstan, the first King to rule all of England, was crowned in Kingston? That's one of the historical references in this atmospheric projection by Mat Collishaw that's now on public view, and best seen after dark. We join a bat as it flies through a recreation of the original church predating the current All Saints Church in Kingston. It's an impressive and beautiful 11 metre-long projection that's a nod to Edward Muybridge, pioneer of stop motion photography. He was also a Kingston resident.
Echolocation by Mat Collishaw at The Undercroft, 6 Riverside Walk, Kingston. ★★★★★ (on view every day until 11pm, best seen after dusk).
Exhibitions in West London
SAVING OUR PLANET: We're all trying to do our bit to reduce our carbon footprint, but how do we capture the carbon that's already out there? This free display brings together information and objects on how both forestry and technology can capture carbon — including a mechanical tree that does a fantastic job of it, even though it looks nothing like a tree. There's a fun interactive (and contactless) piece where you can have a go at tackling thorny policy around reducing carbon emissions. There's even some vodka made from captured carbon — although no samples, unfortunately. This small exhibition may not have too many eye-catching objects but it tackles a hugely important issue affecting all of our futures.
Our Future Planet at Science Museum. 19 May - 2022, free. ★★★★☆
Exhibitions in North London
THIRST FOR HIRST: Love or hate him, you can't deny Damien Hirst's ambition. This time he's taken over an entire branch of Gagosian Gallery for a year. It's a playful show with a decapitated cow's head and bin bags placed next to jewellery cabinets — though the hyperreal paintings relating to fake news really belong in a different show. Bring a £1 coin so you can nab a can of Coke signed by Hirst: who said you can't afford one of his works? As he's got the gallery for a year, we'll have to wait and see how this exhibition evolves.
Damien Hirst: Fact Pictures and Fact Sculptures at Gagosian, Brittania Street. Until 2022, free. ★★★☆☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
Exhibitions in East London
LOCKDOWN LINGO: If you could sum up lockdown in words, what would you say? Idris Khan has his thoughts written within large imposing works, that are the culmination of 12 months of writing. They're so densely over-written, in fact, it's hard to see any words at all. But study them long enough, and 'kind', 'care' and 'virus' materialise. I can feel the weight of the pandemic in these densely layered works. Downstairs, it's lighter in tone, as Vivaldi's Four Seasons gets a similar but more uplifting treatment — with notes layered onto score sheets.
Idris Khan: The Seasons Turn at Victoria Miro. Until 15 May, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)