15 Exhibitions Not To Miss In London This Month: October 2019

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 31 months ago

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15 Exhibitions Not To Miss In London This Month: October 2019

We look ahead to London's art and exhibition openings in October 2019 and select the must-see shows.

Modern Slavery

Copyright Sara Shamma

Modern slavery is an issue in many countries, and shockingly prevalent in London. Artist Sara Shamma has heard the stories of victims of kidnapping and exploitation by so called Islamic State in both Iraq and her native Syria. She's captured the stories of those who have suffered in powerful portraits to bring attention to these horrific crimes. Read our interview with the artist for more information about her work.    

Sara Shamma: Modern Slavery at Bush Arcade, King's College London. 1 October-22 November, free.

Prepare to be dazzled

Image courtesy UVA

Lasers, animal sounds and lights swinging to music. It's hard to do justice to the work of audio visual collective United Visual Artists. They've brought three fantastic installations to the cavernous venue at 180 Strand. Back in 2014, their installation at Barbican blew our minds and this time we've got a triple header of mind-bending, eye-popping experiences to look forward to.

The Store X The Vinyl Factory presents Other Spaces: United Visual Artists at 180 Strand. 2 October-8 December, free.

Let there be light

Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, USA

Dulwich Picture Gallery commemorates 350 years since the death of Rembrandt with an exhibition on the man who mastered the use of light and dark in his paintings. Religion and myths got even more dramatic in the hands of one of history's finest painters, and there are 35 works for us to feast our eyes upon in an enlightening exhibition.

Rembrandt's Light at Dulwich Picture Gallery. 4 October-2 February, £16.50.

Gauguin's portraits

© Norton Museum of Art

Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin is famous for his paintings of Tahiti and the sun-kissed palate he used in his work, separating him from his Europe-based contemporaries like Van Gogh and Cezanne. National Gallery focuses on his portraits and shows us how his style evolved when moving from France to French Polynesia, through an exhibition that contains over 50 works. He may have been a horrible person, but he sure could paint.

Gauguin Portraits at The National Gallery. 7 October-26 January, £20-24.

East meets West

© Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia.

The Islamic world was historically a source of ideas and scientific advancement for the West, and The British Museum is demonstrating that the same rings true for art. The art, ceramics, photography, glass and jewellery in this exhibition all bear the hallmarks of Islamic influence from the Middle East and North Africa. The exhibition also includes a modern response in four artists' explorations of what it means to be a Muslim woman today.

Inspired by the east: How the Islamic world influenced western art at The British Museum. 10 October-26 January, £14.

Binge drinking orgies

Binge drinking orgies, iffy politicians, and banging music are all in this major exhibition of the works of 18th century satirist William Hogarth at John Soane's Museum. If you're a Hogarth fan, this is a rare chance to see many of his works under one roof. Read our full preview for more details.

Hogarth: Place and Progress at John Soane's Museum. 9 October-5 January, free.

Hidden London

Londoners sheltering at Aldwych in 1940.

London is full of secrets, many of them underground — we should know as unearthing those hidden aspects of our city is one of our fortes. There's loads of history down in the tube tunnels and London Transport Museum is letting us in on the secrets with an exhibition of photographs, vintage posters, a mocked up abandoned station and a chance to see how Churchill continued to live in style underground when sheltering from the Blitz. Read our full preview for what else you can expect.

Hidden London: the exhibition at London Transport Museum. Opens 11 October, £18 for adults/children go free.

Robots made of TVs

Using the latest tech is common in art these days, but Korean artist Nam June Paik was one of the early pioneers. Constructing a robot out of televisions and seeing the advent of the Internet and mass media long before many others did, he was a visionary. Tate Modern celebrates his career with over 200 works including films and performances. Make sure to tune in to this one.

Nam June Paik at Tate Modern. 17 October-9 February, £13.

The really wild show

Copyright Jason Bantle.

Sex, death, beauty, destruction and savagery. Our favourite annual exhibition blows us away every year with breathtaking images. Visitors will be picking up their jaws from the floor at the amazing shots, and the lengths photographers go to get them. Humanity's impact on the environment always features and it's heartbreaking to see how cruelly we treat our fellow inhabitants on this planet.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2019 at Natural History Museum. 18 October-31 May, £13.95

Life on Mars

A potential Martian home. Image courtesy HASSELL + Eckersley O’Callaghan

Will humans ever get to Mars, and how will we survive there? For everyone who isn't Matt Damon this may seem like a flight of fancy, but designers are already working towards this goal, tackling big questions such as how we can make basic items like clothing on the red planet rather than taking extra weight with us. Could plant life be sent ahead to make it more liveable for when we touch down? Design Museum is giving us some of the answers in this futuristic exhibition, including a Martian house we can step inside.

Moving to Mars at Design Museum. 18 October-23 February, £16-18.

Seeing spots

© Bridget Riley 2019

Waves of spots pass in front our eyes and we start to feel dizzy and lose our perspective. Bridget Riley is the master of using abstract shapes to create visual illusions that fool us and make us question our senses. This show is no optical illusion and Hayward Gallery is bombarding us with stripes, spots and chevrons from across Riley's 70 year career.

Bridget Riley at Hayward Gallery. 23 October-26 January, £20.  

Play time

We all learned about the world through play as children, and most of us continue to play games as adults. Wellcome Collection has charted how play time has evolved over the centuries and its importance in our development as we grow and age. From board games to Fortnite, it's a chance to see how popular culture and society has been shaped by how we play.

Play Well at Wellcome Collection. 24 October-8 March,  free.

The history of Buddhism

An image of the life of Buddha. Copyright British Library.

Buddhism has around one billion followers worldwide but how much do you know about its history? The British Library shines a light on its North Indian roots and its philosophies through beautiful silk scrolls and scriptures written on tree bark. This exhibition enlightens us on the origins and art of one of the world's longest standing religions.

Buddhism at British Library. 25 October-23 February, £14.

Serious Freud

© The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images

Portrait painter extraordinaire Lucian Freud loved to paint those close to him, and that included lots of self-portraits. 50 works chart his development as an artist and how he viewed himself, with each portrait opening a window into his soul. Raw, unflinching and unflattering is Freud's style and this exhibition give us it all from the 1940s through to his death in 2011.  

Lucian Freud: Self-portraits at Royal Academy of Arts. 27 October-26 January, £18.


Now that we're all interconnected via our smartphones, it feels like life is always on and there's no rest from the information that's constantly bombarding us. We check out phones on average every 12 minutes and 50% of us think life would be boring without them. 50 artists look at and challenge our always-on culture, facial recognition software and data harvesting. If you're not paranoid already, this may get you there. There's also an isolation chamber for you to lock yourself away in, if it all gets too much.

24/7: A wake up call for our non-stop world at Somerset House. 31 October-23 February, £14.

Art fairs and short run events

One of the highlights from last year's Frieze London.

October is the month for art fairs as grand daddy Frieze London (3-6 October, £36) is in town with over 160 galleries and works by over 1,000 artists inside a giant marquee in Regent's Park. At the other end of the park is its sister fair Frieze Masters (3-6 October, £36) with over 130 galleries showing works from the Renaissance through to the 20th century — a combined ticket for both fairs isn't cheap, setting you back £60.

The presence of Frieze means several other fairs pop up in London on the same week with Sunday Art Fair (4-6 October, free) across the road from the park specialising in galleries showing artists who are earlier in their careers.

A piece by Grayson Perry, whose work will be at The British Art Fair. Image courtesy Piano Nobile.

Somerset House marks the return of 1:54 (3-6 October, £25), a fantastic art fair focusing solely on contemporary African art. The British Art Fair (3-6 October, £7.50-20) over at Saatchi Gallery caters more to those looking for homegrown talent. If street art is more your thing, Moniker Art Fair (2-6 October, £13-27) at The Chelsea Sorting Office will be your bag

If you'd rather buy direct from the artist then there are two options; The Other Art Fair at Victoria House (3-6 October, £11) in Holborn or Roy's People Art Fair at the Old Truman Brewery (3-6 October, free). They're filled with fantastic emerging artists and we've snapped up some excellent buys at both in the past.

Fran Giffard, one of many talented artists at The Other Art Fair. Copyright the artist.

Later in the month the Affordable Art Fair is back at Battersea (17-20 October, £9-27) — ideal if you're looking for that perfect buy for your home, as everything on display is priced under £6,000.

Stepping away from the fairs, the David Roberts Art Foundation is hosting an evening of performance art at Ministry of Sound (3 October, 7.30pm-2am - free but ticketed) that will go late into the night.

Head to Chelsea for a slice of history.

October also hosts the annual Art Licks weekend (17-20 October, free) — a fab idea to bring audiences to hidden away gallery spaces all across London that you may not have even known existed. In previous years we've been inside a hair salon and into the back of a van to catch some art.

Head west and you can get some fab history lessons at the Chelsea History Festival (9-13 October, events range from free to £30), which will host events on topics as wide ranging as mudlarking and the story of a Falklands paratrooper — and will include a talk by the man behind the London is a Forest book. Plus, if you fancy staying local in South East London, Deptford X (25 October-3 November, free) is back for an impressive 21st year with a host of exhibitions, talks and events.

Last Updated 03 October 2019