9 Must See Exhibitions In London This September

9 Must See Exhibitions In London This September

We look ahead to September's must-see shows. As venues may still be restricting numbers for social distancing, we recommend booking ahead.

1. A tragedy, and its legacy

A highly relevant season. Copyright IWM

It's been 20 years since the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11, and as part of a season of programmes IWM will be hosting a photographic exhibition by Wim Wenders looks back on the pivotal event with photos of the site after the attacks. The wider online programme will look at the war in Afghanistan, which feels particularly poignant given the tragic events of recent weeks.

Wim Wenders: Photographing Ground Zero at IWM London. 10 September-9 January, free.
Part of 9/11 Twenty Years On at IWM Online

2. Regent's Park becomes a sculpture park

A mock up of the disembodied head you can expect to encounter in Regent's Park. Courtesy Daniel Arsham and Perrotin.

We have to wait till October for Frieze Art Fair, but its sculptures arrive early in Regent's Park early to whet our appetites. Expect to see a disembodied head emerging from the ground, an off-colour giant pineapple, and something that looks like a massive blood clot. It'll challenge perceptions and get you talking — exactly what contemporary art should do.

Frieze Sculpture at Regent's Park. 14 September-31 October, free.

3. How video games reflect reality

Video game-inspired Trouble in Outer Heaven. Screenshot by Jamie Sutcliffe.

Video games are a massive part of our culture, and we don't see enough exhibitions based around them. Changing things up is Trouble in Outer Heaven, put together by a host of artists inspired by the Metal Gear Solid franchise. With military states and private organisations overthrowing governments, it's clear this fiction may be closer to truth than we care to admit.

Trouble in Outer Heaven: Portable Ops Plus at Southwark Park Galleries. 15 September-31 October, free.

4. Confronting Islamophobia

A powerful, politically-charged photo by Ajlan Gharem.

The Jameel Prize brings together artists and designers inspired by Islamic tradition, with the eight finalists on view at a V&A exhibition. This year's cream of the crop include fashion designer Kallol Datta, who fuses styles from across the Islamic world, and photographer Ajlan Gharem, who captures people inside a mosque resembling a cage, and confronting Islamophobia by showing how oppression affects Muslims.

Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics at V&A. 18 September-28 November, free.

5. Embracing lockdown art

One of several thousand Art by Post participants. Photo by Eoin Carey.

Many of us embraced creativity when locked down, and Art by Post: Of Home and Hope recognises the artistic stylings uncovered when we were confined to our homes. Over 600 works show us that art can thrive anywhere, encouraging us to persist with those lockdown hobbies that may now be starting to wane. Art has found a way to connect us once more.

Art by Post: Of Home and Hope at Royal Festival Hall. 20 September-3 October, free.

6. Autumn is the new summer

A highlight from the 2020 Summer Exhibition. Image by Tabish Khan.

This year's Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is pushed back to the autumn. Over 1,000 artworks across a dozen galleries ensure everyone will fall in love with something. The theme of 'Reclaiming Magic' feels apt given the 18 months we've all had.

Summer Exhibition 2021 at Royal Academy of Arts. 22 September-2 January, £20-22.

7. The man behind the Laughing Cavalier

The Laughing Cavalier. Photo courtesy trustees of The Wallace Collection.

One of the Wallace Collection's highlights is the Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals, a smirking portrait that stands out against its stony-faced neighbours. This exhibition sheds light on the Dutch artist's wider portfolio.

Frans Hals: The Male Portrait at The Wallace Collection. 22 September-30 January, £14.

8. Clay creations

Image courtesy the artist and White Cube.

Clay may be seen as one of the simplest artistic mediums, but we shouldn't underestimate it as an art form. Theaster Gates brings together his own clay works with those by David Drake, an enslaved African American potter, and Ruth Dowsing who created sculpture after escaping the Nazis. It creates a deeply powerful history to the art. Alongside this show, other works by Gates will be shown at White Cube gallery.

Theaster Gates: A Clay Sermon at Whitechapel Gallery. 29 September-9 January, free.
Theaster Gates at White Cube, Mason's Yard. 17 September-30 October, free.

9. Making waves

Hokusai's signature piece. Copyright trustees of The British Museum.

Hokusai made great waves with his last British Museum blockbuster, and now the museum is displaying over 100 of his drawings by the Japanese master. Hokusai was compiling them for a huge encyclopaedia that featured Buddhism in India, ancient China and the natural world — all sketched out in his bold style. The book was never published, so this is the closest we'll get to seeing it.  

Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything at The British Museum. 30 September-30 January, £14.

Art fairs and events

Image by Chloe Elizabeth.

The Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (30 August-11 September) has a host of events across the area including a spectacular light show by Dan Acher that will recreate the Northern Lights across Greenwich, then Woolwich.  

The illuminated bridges are part of the festival. Courtesy Leo Villareal.

What would London be without the Thames? The Totally Thames Festival (1-30 September) is an entire month dedicated to the river, with exhibitions, talks, a chance to go mudlarking on the foreshore, and a classic boat festival. Check out the full programme.

Central Saint Martin students who missed out on their 2020 show are finally getting a chance to display their work at the Ugly Duck Gallery in Bermondsey (3-5 September).

An artwork made up of 3D printed beehives by Arthur Mamou-Mani.

London Design Festival (18-26 September) brings quality design to venues across London, including a pod where Londoners can unplug and relax, and a sculpture made of 3D printed beehives in Fortnum & Mason. (The bees will remain in their hives on the roof, for obvious reasons.)

The Photo London art fair (9-12 September, £29) fills 91 Somerset House galleries with photography from 17 countries. There's also a virtual version of the fair for those who can't be there in person.

Art and modern design meet at The Eye of the Collector.

September sees the first Eye of the Collector art fair (8-11 September, £25) take place in the unique Two Temple Place. Ancient art rubs shoulders with modernist furniture in this stylish-looking debut.

Colourful flags by Michael Craig-Martin for Art in Mayfair.

Art in Mayfair (2 September-17 October) is a collaboration between jewellers and artists, with many of the luxury designer stores displaying art, while artist Gary Hume brings his bright banners to Bond Street.

The first ever Brentford Creative Mile (3-5 September) should be worth a look too, inviting you to meander along the Thames, taking in over 50 artists across eight venues.

Last Updated 13 September 2021