Welcome to our pick of the best London exhibitions to see right now — get your winter dose of culture. We've roughly split the list by London regions and exhibitions outside the M25 to make it easier to navigate.
Exhibitions in Central London
WORK IN PROGRESS: Why should an exhibition stay the same? Artists have been invited into Mayfair gallery LazInc to literally paint the walls of this exhibition. The works will stay in situ until both floors of the gallery are full of wall-to-wall art. There's a chance to watch the artists at work and so far there are colourful slashes by Remi Rough, and a room filled with balloons. It's a great idea and it'll be interesting to see the evolution and finished product of this ambitious project.
Watch This Space at LazInc. Until 21 December, free. ★★★★★ (Tuesday-Saturday)
IT'S SHOWTIME: Our theatre-style ticket is stamped as we enter an exhibition on theatre in Georgian London. Paintings show visitors dressing in their finest, while at the other end, in the cheap seats, cartoonist Thomas Rowlandson depicts people asleep, a nod to the fact that these seats used to get notoriously hot. There were often raucous crowds at performances and we learn that spikes were needed to stop the crowd getting on stage. There's a chance for visitors themselves to make some noise by wobbling a metal sheet designed to recreate the sound of thunder. This is an interactive look at some old-school entertainment.
Two Last Nights! Show Business In Georgian London at The Foundling Museum. Until 5 January, £12 (includes entrance to the museum's permanent collection). ★★★★☆
MATERNAL GRIEF: Kathe Kollwitz lost her son in the first world war, and it shows in her heartbreaking images of maternal grief — etchings and woodcuts show mothers weeping over the bodies of their dead children. War unsurprisingly also features in her works, alongside images of working women in an emotional display where I had to wipe away some tears after visiting.
Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz at The British Museum. Room 90. Until 12 January, free. ★★★★☆
PURPLE RAGE: Elaborate costumes show the artist's transformation from a servant to a raging purple entity, exuding tendrils and commanding an army of red dogs. Purple is a colour associated with a dye used by apartheid forces in Sibande's native South Africa, and the red of the attack dogs symbolises anger. It's a powerful and beautiful political display.
Mary Sibande: I Came Apart at the Seams at Somerset House. Until 5 January, free. ★★★★☆
MODERN SLAVERY: How does it feel to be a victim of modern slavery? Working with survivors and psychologists at King's College London, artist Sara Shamma has created insightful portraits featuring twisted bodies and piercing eyes. Figures repeat and ghostly images appear as if the people in the painting are being pulled apart by the trauma — the way we often separate a part of ourselves when we go through a difficult experience.
Sara Shamma: Modern Slavery at Arcade at Bush House, King's College London. Until 22 November, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Friday)
A NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE: Walk across the sand into a tiled interior that resembles a bathroom, step inside a curved, blindingly-bright white room that feels like a near death experience, and walk through a forest of fabric while eerie sounds play. These are all part of an exhibition dedicated to Berlin collective Honey-Suckle Company, where a series of spectacular immersive environments mark the fact this collective has been going for 25 years.
Honey-Suckle Company: Omnibus at ICA. Until 12 January, £5. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
Exhibitions in West London
MEMORY PALACE: What would a history of Earth's memories look like? Wonder no more, as Es Devlin has created this beautiful curved mirrored artwork filled with places associated with pivotal moments in history, from the location of the earliest cave paintings to the steps where Greta Thunberg started her climate protests. It's a breathtaking space that we can all step inside and experience. However, the experience has its downsides as we only had two minutes in there, which isn't anywhere near enough time (based on visitor feedback this has now been extended to five minutes, longer at quieter times). The map of the artwork is on the outside so it's hard to know what you're looking at when you're in there — this poor design tarnishes the experience a little.
Es Devlin: Memory Palace at Pitzhanger Manor. Until 12 January, £7 (includes entrance to the house). ★★★☆☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
DESIGN GURUS: Why do all home hubs like Google Home and Alexa have female voices? Designers have now come up with a gender neutral home hub. In this year's impressive Designs of the Year exhibition there's a website that generates completely artificial but scarily realistic faces, plastics made from plants, tiles made from volcanic ash, and a 3D printed motorcycle. Every year we are astounded by these fruits of human creativity and if the world is ever getting you down, head to Design Museum and see the brilliance of human creation.
Beazley Designs of the Year at Design Museum. Until 9 February, £12. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
ARTY SCIENCE: Art and science have a long history of exchange, with inspiration going both ways. The invention of Polaroid cameras changed how we took photographs, as it opened up the idea of quick feedback, rather than waiting for film to develop, and Turner's masterpiece Rain, Steam and Speed was inspired by the advent of railways. This exhibition ranges far and wide to cover everything from film to fashion, aeroplanes to bicycles. By biting off such a large topic we end up with an collection of fascinating individual stories that meanders too much and never feels like a cohesive exhibition.
The Art of Innovation: From Enlightenment to Dark Matter at Science Museum. Until 26 January 2020, free but ticketed. ★★★☆☆
LASERS & BEETLES: Next door to the above is a spectacular selection of science photography. A growling dog's head has been sliced in half, lasers fire from a telescope, and a man gives an orang-utan a piggy back. This small display show how science uncovers the macabre and the beauty in the natural world, including the very small — a particular favourite of ours is a close up of the wonderfully named Confused Flour Beetle.
Royal Photographic Society: Science Photographer of the Year at Science Museum. Until 5 January, free but ticketed. ★★★★☆
Exhibitions in South London
MUSICAL TORTURE: Music gets political as we hear of stories of American music being blasted at detainees at Guantanamo and Iraq — it's disturbingly absurd to learn that Britney Spears and even Sesame Street became instruments of torture. It's a powerful and upsetting work by Tony Cokes that's conveyed through music and words on the screen. Elsewhere he tackles his love of Morrissey's music and how he struggles to reconcile this with the musician's support of far right groups. Some of the other works can get very wordy and too bogged down in theory at times, meaning the whole show would take several hours to see it all, but there are potent gems to be found here.
Tony Cokes: If UR Reading This It's 2 Late: Vol. 1 at Goldsmiths CCA. Until 12 January, free. ★★★☆☆ (Wednesday-Sunday)
FABULOUS FASHION: West meets East in this selection of amazing outfits. From the New York skyline to floral patterns, this is a showcase of the designs of Dame Zandra Rhodes to recognise her contribution to the world of fashion over the last 50 years. In a show like this, it's important to let the clothes do the talking and that's what the museum has done with stepped stages of mannequins wearing varied and impressive designs. It's exactly how a fashion exhibition should be done and this one's fabulous.
Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous at Fashion & Textile Museum. Until 6 January, £9.90. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
Exhibitions in North London
PRETTY IN PINK: There's a pink tower in front of me, with several short films are embedded in it —including one featuring artist Shana Moulton escaping said tower. Opposite, a waterfall with eyes cascades down one wall and in a video next door, the artist is pecked to pieces by an army of cut-out birds. This show is utterly bonkers and while it's meant to be about feminist spirituality, I'm fairly certain most of it went over my head — but who cares when it's this much fun.
Shana Moulton at Zabludowicz Collection. Until 15 December, free. ★★★☆☆ (Thursday-Sunday)
Exhibitions in East London
PONG, PIPELINES & PETROL: It's disturbing to learn that beer pong was invented by US university fraternity brothers and was called 'Beirut' in a nod to a bombing that had taken place in Beirut. The game was seen as an analogy of revenge as the balls represented bombs being thrown across the table. We can only image how much more disturbing it must have been for Beirut based artist Rayyane Tabet to discover this and so he's placed a game of beer pong on to a map of Beirut to recognise the origins of the game. Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal, a defunct trans-Arabian pipeline and logos from gas stations all interweave with the artist's life and Lebanon's history in a show full of fascinating political stories to accompany the works.
Rayyane Tabet: Encounters at Parasol Unit. Until 14 December, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
PULSING LIGHTS: A translucent woman pulses with light, a shopping bag at her feet and a phone out of reach. Either side of her is an airplane wing and a swimming pool at night. Nothing feels real — it's as if a digital simulation has been recreated in the real world. Upstairs, spinning wind chimes, bright lights and a woman split in half make for an eerie atmosphere. Even if it doesn't quite manage to convey its aim of highlighting our evolving relationship with tech, it's still an immersive and impressive show.
Doug Aitken: Return to the Real at Victoria Miro, Wharf Road. Until 20 December, free. ★★★☆☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
CABARET!: It's showtime at Barbican's exhibition on the art of cabaret. It's refreshing to see it highlighted that cabaret is not a solely Western European art, with performances from Tehran and Nigeria covered. Plus there are a couple of impressive immersive environments including a recreation of a cabaret bar, with colourful tiles all around. There's plenty of art here but ultimately cabaret is a performance and there isn't enough footage or examples of the actual performances for us to get fully engrossed in this often-overlooked art form.
Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art at Barbican Art Gallery. Until 19 January, £15-17. ★★★☆☆
Exhibitions outside London
HERD OF HORSES: A horse rears up in front of a green background. George Stubbs' famous painting Whistlejacket has made the trip from London to Milton Keynes and stands in front of a horse skeleton, surrounded by equine anatomical drawings. Yes, there are plenty of horses, and Stubbs clearly enjoyed painting them more than humans, but we're also treated to a cheetah about to be unleashed on a stag, and detailed sketches of babies in the womb. It's great to see more works by this British painter and scientist who we knew little about beyond the one painting that usually hangs in The National Gallery.
George Stubbs; 'all done from Nature' at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes. Until 26 January, £8.50. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
TRIPPY LIGHTS: Solar panels create electronic beats, water seems to flow upwards when exposed to strobe lighting, and a six second loop of digital waves repeats — mirroring the average length of time people spend with a painting when visiting the Louvre. This trippy audio visual exhibition includes a reverberation chamber where every sound we hear echoes in the space for up to six seconds, and a dizzying flickering light changes colour rapidly triggering visual hallucinations. This is one intense exhibition.
Haroon Mirza: Waves and Forms at John Hansard Gallery, Southampton. Until 11 January, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
A section where we flag the exhibitions that didn't cut it for us, but you may be interested in seeing nonetheless.
BUTTERFLY BUTCHERY: Damien Hirst is back with a set of circular mandalas, trying to show a meditative side to his work. These are visually striking and beautiful objects made up of iridescent butterfly wings, but they lack the punch that made his previous works so visceral. It feels like Hirst is 'phoning it in' for these pretty but ultimately pointless artworks.
Damien Hirst: Mandalas at White Cube, Mason's Yard. Until 2 November, free. ★★☆☆☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
MUGGED UNDER A MOTORWAY: It's rather ambitious to transform one of Tate Britain's galleries into a motorway underpass, but it makes for a remarkably dull exhibition. Mark Leckey's show is filled with videos playing in this dimly-lit space relating to his youth — so we get references to dancing in clubs and a recollection of when the artists encountered a fairy in the underpass. But for all of us who aren't familiar with Mark Leckey's life, the show is too abstract and impossible to get into — it's the type of inaccessible art that I hate, where barely any context is provided. It feels like I've been mugged in this motorway underpass.
Mark Leckey: O' Magic Power of Bleakness at Tate Britain. Until 5 January, £13. ★☆☆☆☆