Welcome to our pick of the best London exhibitions to see right now — get an early dose of culture in 2020. We've roughly split the list by London regions and exhibitions outside the M25 to make it easier to navigate.
Exhibitions in West London
LET THERE BE LIGHT: The gallery is aglow in the colourful lights of Liz West. Shift your stance and the colours move too, so that an array of yellow pillars morphs into a rainbow. Downstairs the colour has been stripped away as light and shadow interplay in the charcoal works of Jemma Appleby. Both artists explore the interaction of light and architecture in very different and yet equally beautiful ways.
Luce: Liz West & Jemma Appleby at Daniel Benjamin Gallery, Notting Hill. Until 15 February, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
DERELICT DECADENCE: Melted gold drips from the ornate ceiling and walls, vases smashed on the floor and a painting of a woman is distorted and darkened. Painter James Whistler's peacock room used to be located near the V&A before it was shipped off to the US. However, this version by artist Darren Waterston has fallen into decay to reflect the story of the original room — it was commissioned by shipping magnate Frederick Leyland and decorated by Whistler, Leyland refused to pay and it ignited a feud. Waterston's version is a beautiful reminder of the fact that art and money, and artist and patron are often unhappy yet necessary bedfellows.
Filthy Lucre: Whistler's Peacock Room Reimagined at V&A. Until 3 May, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Sunday)
MILITARY TATTOOS: Dog tags of the colleagues they've lost, a dragon as a reminder of serving in Hong Kong and ashes of a late daughter woven worked into one. Tattoos tell stories and there are plenty of those from the men and women of the armed forces. Charting historical references to Captain Cook's voyages where his sailors imitated those of the Pacific islanders they encountered, to those on the arms and chests of the Chelsea Pensioners down the road, the National Army Museum shines a light on military tattoos in this small and insightful free exhibition.
Tribute Ink by The Royal British Legion at National Army Museum. Until 17 April, free. ★★★☆☆ (Monday-Sunday)
Exhibitions in North London
PLANE SAILING: A plane tears through the blue skies and the air around it seems to distort and bend in response to the speed. Elsewhere a giant military ship appears out of the darkness while the chiselled faces of its sailor are displayed in front of it. Welcome to the world of Futurist painter Tullio Crali — an art movement that embraced the advancement of industry. The sculptures upstairs aren't particularly impressive but the main galleries are filled with paintings that are all angles and atmosphere, exactly what we want from a Futurist exhibition.
Tullio Crali: A Futurist Life at Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art. Until 30 August, £7.50. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Sunday)
Exhibitions in South London
GHOSTING: Inspired by marble sculptures and Victorian photography, these ghostly images populate timeless works. Hand finished and coloured in, these photographs include a woman crying blood and an eerie couple dancing in a garden. This is a series of hauntingly beautiful images that had me so entranced I bought one.
Katie Eleanor: The Sialia Marbles at MMX Gallery, New Cross. Until 15 February, free. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Saturday)
Exhibitions in Central London
BLOOD & GUTS: Arteries, nerves, organs and dissections are all beautifully illustrated, it's not for the faint hearted but it is a fascinating look under our skins. The star of this anatomical show is a video artwork by Mary Reid and Patrick Kelley, in which the organs and body parts of a corpse rhyme about how the body ended up at the bottom of a river in a darkly humorous work.
Under the skin: illustrating the human body at Royal College of Physicians, Regent's Park. Until 15 March, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Friday)
CHINESE MEGACITIES: Three cities are about to merge to form a megacity of over 110 million people — this isn't some sci-fi dystopia, it's happening in China today. Artist Gordon Cheung charts the rapid urbanisation of China including rivers that are being dammed to generate power and mapping the region where the Uighur community are being targeted with 're-education'. There are political references embedded within Romantic landscape paintings, that can be viewed through lattices in the style of the cultures that lay along the anicent Silk Road. By examining the region's past and present, the artist challenges us to consider what the future holds for this part of the world.
Gordon Cheung: Tears of Paradise at Edel Assanti, Fitzrovia. Until 7 March, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
THE LAST GIRL: A young girl plays on the beach in a dress made of plastic bags, eking out a life from found objects in some Planet of the Apes-esque post-apocalyptic world. Who is she, what happened to the rest of humanity and why has she lost the ability to speak — only verbalising through some eerie screams? In a time of environmental crisis this haunting short film projected on to a screen made of discarded slices of cardboard is a poignant piece from artist Kate McMillan.
The Lost Girl at Bush House Arcade, King's College London, Aldwych. Until 28 February, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Friday)
AN EXPECTANT EXHIBITION: How has pregnancy been portrayed in history? From rather formal portraits with a hand daintily placed across her bod to Demi Moore and Serena Williams posing naked and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair. This exhibition takes on an important topic with an anatomical model of a pregnant woman and Marc Quinn's pregnant Alison Lapper — a scaled down version of the one that sat on the fourth plinth. The exhibition relies a bit too much on reproductions instead of originals, but the role of pregnancy in art is a perfect topic for The Foundling Museum.
Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media at The Foundling Museum. Until 23 August, £10.50 (includes admission to the whole museum). ★★★☆☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
SILVER MOON: Fancy a moonlit stroll through a Japanese forest during the day? Well now you can at JD Malat Gallery where Masayoshi Nojo has recreated the effect using silver foil and a sparing use of colour. The details and the glint of light capture the moonlight beautifully in a series of meditative works that photographs cannot do justice to.
Under the Moonlight: Masayoshi Nojo at JD Malat Gallery, Mayfair. Until 15 February, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Saturday)
Exhibitions in East London
LITTLE BRITAIN: Brexit is finally happening, but did the sun ever really set on the British Empire? Shao-Jie Lin shares Google Street views from around the world of roads named after the Queen. It's projected on to a Union Jack made made up of leave and remain logos reflecting our politically divisive times. The artist has also created a passport made of pulped former passports of different countries and blank postcards made from UK border agency cards refusing entry to the UK. It's a reflection of the bizarre world we live in where a world more connected than ever is trying to break itself apart. The upstairs work by Anthony Ngoya is along a similar theme, but it's not as strong as the work downstairs by Shao-Jie Lin.
Under a flag: Shao-Jie Lin & Anthony Ngoya at Yamamoto Keiko Rochaix, Whitechapel. Until 20 February, free. ★★★☆☆ (Wednesday-Saturday)
A PISSED OFF ARTIST: A curled up woman is suspended in midair, it's terrifying to hear she was a stowaway who fell out of a plane — hence the sculpture also being laced with aviation fluid. Nearby are sculptures of 26 women representing migrants that drowned off the coast of Italy. The hard hitting political works continue with a 'holy grail' covered in information from global stock exchange. However, there is some room for playfulness — a machine spews out the names of every person who has ever pissed off the artist, friends and enemies alike.
Elizabeth Eade: "I know you are but what am I" at HIX Art, Shoreditch. Until 15 March, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Sunday)
Exhibitions outside London
AN ARMY OF HOOVERS: Do you pay much attention to the hidden army of workers that clean our offices after hours or look after the common areas of our flats? Larry Achiampong pulls on his personal experience of having accompanied his mother to these jobs to create a short video on these after hour cleaners. Watching this moving piece while sat on office chairs I only have rubbish bags and an army of Henry and Hetty vacuum cleaners to accompany me — these eyes are the only ones to regularly see these workers. Visitors to Southampton should also cross the old town to see the beautifully refurbished God's House Tower — a 700 year old building that's been restored to host art exhibitions.
Larry Achiampong: When the sky falls at John Hansard Gallery, Southampton. Until 21 March, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)