Welcome to our pick of the best London exhibitions to see right now — spring forth into these shows. We've roughly split the list by London regions and exhibitions outside the M25 to make it easier to navigate.
Exhibitions in central London
BATHE IN LIGHT: Stare into the light and bathe in changing colours which wash over you. James Turrell's works are hypnotising, my heartbeat picking up in the fiery red light and then slowing back down under a cool blue. Forget about the world outside, that impending deadline and your long to do list, and simply lose yourself in colour.
James Turrell at Pace London, Mayfair. Until 14 August*, free (appointment only). ★★★★☆
ROBOT ARTIST: Once the robots take all our jobs, we'll all become artists, right? Not so fast, say duo Rob and Nick Carter, and their talented robot arm. It's painted a whole bunch of famous artists including Picasso and Warhol, and it's done a far better job than most people could. Visitors can see the robot arm in action — when I stop by, it's painting the Queen. It's a playful exhibition, challenging us to think about what will become of us when all jobs become automated.
Rob and Nick Carter: Dark Factory Portraits at Ben Brown Fine Arts, Mayfair. Until 24 July*, free (book ahead). ★★★★★ (Monday-Friday)
IN MEMORY: Beautifully painted figures sweep upwards as if the very paint is lifting them up, or emerge from within the eye sockets of a larger figure. It was so sad to hear of the death of Tom French late last year, at just 37 years of age. This exhibition reminds us what a massive loss to art his death is, and what a talented painter of the human form he was.
Tom French: Transcend at Unit London, Mayfair. Until 7 March, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Sunday)
DRAW US IN: One of my favourite parts of The British Museum are the prints and drawing galleries near the top, which host excellent free exhibitions. Currently on display are beautiful architectural drawings by Piranesi, where columns recede into the distance and stairways zigzag across one another like an Escher drawing. In the next gallery are prints by French Impressionists such as Cezanne and Pissarro, showing a different side to these artists we know primarily as painters.
Piranesi drawings: visions of antiquity at The British Museum. Until 9 August, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Sunday)
French Impressions: prints from Manet to Cezanne at The British Museum. Until 9 August, free. ★★★☆☆ (Monday-Sunday)
PRIZE PHOTOS: Anton Kusters visited the last known location of Nazi camps, looked up and photographed the blue skies above. The resulting pictures remind us that though most of these camps are now destroyed, we must never forget where they were and what they stood for. Kusters' work, alongside Mark Neville's surreal photographs of Brittany ('little Britain'), Clare Strand's abstract works, and Mohamed Bourouissa's documentation of a deemed Parisian underclass makes this the strongest year for this annual competition since 2013.
Deutsche Borse Photography Foundation Prize 2020 at The Photographers' Gallery. Until 20 September*, £5 (free after 5pm). ★★★★☆ (Monday-Sunday)
FEEDING THE TROLLS: Photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero has received horrendous comments from online trolls. So to get her own back she's dressed up as caricatured versions of them while including their hateful words in the photograph. The results are hilarious and while feeding the trolls isn't usually a good idea, it's great to see her throwing their words back at them. The fact that she's having such a great time doing it must anger them even more, and I salute her for it.
The Bully Pulpit: Haley Morris-Cafiero at TJ Boulting, Fitzrovia. Until 14 March, free. ★★★★★ (Tuesday-Saturday)
DARK & STORMY: Bleak haunted settings, distorted faces and empty landscapes. These angsty works are by early 20th century painter Léon Spilliaert — don't worry, I'd never heard of him until now either. Stumbling upon these gloomy and beautiful paintings is like discovering another Edvard Munch, and this show at the Royal Academy is a revelation.
Léon Spilliaert at Royal Academy of Arts. Until 20 September*, £14. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Sunday)
ROUND ROUND: Right, I'm going to take lots of everyday recognisable items and turn them into spheres. That's the goal of artist Lars Fisk who has given a car, a mock Tudor house and some lederhosen the spherical treatment in a collection of beautifully crafted playful works. Centre stage is taken by a houseboat, with little details like a barbecue and plant inside bringing it to life. Art can be a lot of fun to make and to experience — this show ticks both boxes.
Lars Fisk: Wattle & Daub at Marlborough Gallery, Mayfair. Until 14 March, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Saturday)
DUTCH MASTER: Not heard of Nicolaes Maes? He was a student of Rembrandt — that much is obvious from the fact that there's dramatic lighting everywhere in this exhibition. His subjects include a woman sewing, and a maidservant eavesdropping — the maid makes eye contact with visitors so we all feel complicit in the spying. The final room of grand commissioned portraits is less exciting, but frankly, who cares when we get to see the works of a fabulous painter for free.
Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age at The National Gallery. Until 20 September*, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Sunday)
Exhibitions in south London
LOVELY LONDON: Whether it be The Shard or the London Eye, Gail Brodholt brings London to life with her colourful linocuts. She makes our wonderful city even more vibrant than it already is, and this Londoner loves her for it.
Gail Brodholt: Poetry, Prose and Print at Eames Fine Art, Bermondsey. Until 8 March, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Sunday)
OPULENT INTERIORS: Whether it be a colourful Indian, a luxurious Venetian or the abstract grids of Modernism, 50 years of Designers Guild has generated some amazing interiors. Sections of living rooms have been recreated in this exhibition to really immerse you in the company's world — though unfortunately you can't lounge in them. Admittedly, this exhibition may have niche appeal to fans of interior design, but for those who do love a good interior, this is sheer eye candy.
Out of the Blue: Fifty Years of Designers Guild at Fashion & Textile Museum, Bermondsey. Until 13 September*, £9.90 ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday).
MIGRATION BY NATURE: It was heartbreaking to see The Migration Museum close last year. Thankfully it's found a new home in a more populous location, within Lewisham Shopping Centre. It has re-opened with two exhibitions from its former home, including the excellent Room to Breathe. With two sections of the Berlin Wall decorated by Stik and Thierry Noir out front, I consider this a very successful migration.
Migration Museum at Lewisham Shopping Centre. Until at least 2021, free. ★★★★★ (Wednesday-Sunday)
COLOUR BY NUMBERS: Immerse yourself in a sea of brightly coloured numbers. The years gone by are represented in white, while a hundred shades of colour epitomise a bright, hopeful future. When standing within this installation, it's easy to forget about all the horrible things happening in the world and believe we are heading towards a bright and inclusive future. This is a popular one so make sure you book ahead.
Slices of Time: Emmanuelle Moureaux at Now Gallery, Greenwich Peninsula. Until 19 April, free (ticketed). ★★★★☆ (Monday-Sunday).
SEE THE FUTURE: A collective of artists has joined forces to present an ambitious, museum-style curated exhibition on humanity's future and what it may look like. Mesmerising light art, creepy figures with cameras for heads and a chance to voice your opinions are all part of this immersive exhibition. It's curated by Oskar Krajewski who has built illuminated cities out of found materials, including a future Mars colony complete with narration describing how it functions — it's just one captivating piece across the four floors of artworks.
Mars & Beyond at Oxo Bargehouse, South Bank. Until 15 March, £15-20. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Sunday)
THREE QUEENS: While Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire gets a spruce up, some of its treasures have come to Greenwich to hang alongside the Queen's House collection, from kitsch parrots to a fantastic Rembrandt of a an elderly rabbi that brilliantly captures all his wrinkles. The star attraction is too see all three Armada portraits of Elizabeth I reunited for the first time, side by side.
Exhibitions in east London
Only wealthy landowners get grand portraits, right? Kehinde Wiley is changing that up, by painting women and girls from the streets of nearby Dalston into regal-looking floral portraits. Given Wiley has been using William Morris designs in his paintings for years, this William Morris Gallery exhibition is the perfect alignment of gallery, artist and subject.
Kehinde Wiley: The Yellow Wallpaper at William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow. Until 25 May, free. ★★★★★ (Tuesday-Sunday)
Exhibitions in north London
From an 1840 stormy seascape by Romantic painter Thomas Cole to a cannon firing a bouquet of flowers by Jeff Koons, this exhibition of 50 works looks at how the American landscape has been presented as art has evolved. I'm not convinced that the works come together as neatly as a curated exhibition should, but it's still a show filled with gems. Highlights include an illusory house by Roy Lichtenstein which messes with my eyes, and a sublime tiny painting by Thomas Cole.
American pastoral at Gagosian, Britannia St - King's Cross. Until 14 March, free. ★★★☆☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
Exhibitions outside London
The important history of black art in the American South is explored in Margate. Abstract works made from found materials in backyards, and photography of the protests in the Civil Rights movement all feature. This exhibition highlights an important part of Black American history by outsider artists, whose work may often be lumped in under the umbrella term 'folk art' — yet have their own distinct message and origins that are inextricably linked to black American history. Interesting, even if sufficient context for a lot of the works is lacking.
We Will Walk - Art and Resistance in the American South at Turner Contemporary, Margate. Until 6 September*, free. ★★★☆☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
* Dates have been adjusted to account for changes to end dates post-pandemic.