17 Exhibitions To Check Out In London This Summer

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17 Exhibitions To Check Out In London This Summer

Welcome to our pick of the best London exhibitions to see this summer. Due to social distancing requirements, advance booking is required for many of these.

Exhibitions in Central London

Some of Banksy's most famous works, including Balloon Girl, are on show.

BANSKY'S BACK: A vast collection is assembled for a rare chance to see so many Banksys in one place. These are largely works from private collections so it lacks the guerilla aspect of Banksy we know and love. Still, iconic works are everywhere you look: Balloon Girl, Flower Thrower and Devolved Parliament (the one with all the apes). This might be Banksy tamed, but it's a great chance to study his unshrinking satire close up.

The Art of Banksy at 50 Earlham Street. Until 21 November, £25-£31.50. ★★★☆☆ (open daily)

Copyright trustees of The British Museum

BECKET BETRAYED: An archbishop who was murdered by the king's allies, then gained sainthood and inspired a cult-like following before having his reputation tarnished again by Henry VIII; Thomas Becket's story is more twisty than a soap opera plot line. Stunning stained glass windows, relief carvings of Becket's savage assassination while at prayer, and gold bling aplenty back up this rivetingly grisly story.

Thomas Becket: Murder and the Making of a Saint at The British Museum. Until 22 August, £17. ★★★★★ (open daily)

Conversations with God centres around this one painting. Photo by Grzegorz Zygier.

REVOLUTIONARY ART: Copernicus revolutionised astronomy with his heliocentric model, noting that the Earth revolves around the sun. To mark 400 years since his birth he was painted by fellow Polishman Jan Matejko, who depicted Copernicus being struck by his revelation. This loaned painting is the first time a Polish artist has been shown at the National Gallery, and it's accompanied by a stunning golden astrolabe as well as a book containing a heliocentric model drawn by Copernicus. I'm a big fan of the gallery's one room displays where they focus on one thing in illuminating detail.

Conversations with God: Jan Matejko's Copernicus at The National Gallery, Room 46. Until 22 August, free. ★★★★☆ (open daily)

© Michael Armitage. Photo: David Parry / © Royal Academy of Art

FIERCE FIGURES: Emotion leaps off the paintings of Michael Armitage; a figure's expressions of anguish is so visceral, you can feel it radiate from the canvas. The painting itself has been slashed as if scarred by what it bears. Paired with fantastical forest scenes, these works show what a hugely talented painter Armitage is. The show also dedicates a room to those who inspired Armitage; while interesting I'd have preferred more paintings from the man of the moment.

Michael Armitage: Paradise Edict at Royal Academy of Arts. Until 19 September, £15. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday - Sunday)

Reunited at last. Image courtesy Wallace Collection.

RUBENS' RAINBOW: The rainbow may have been a symbol of lockdown but long ago Rubens painted a rainbow landscape to mark his move away from politics to a simpler life in the country. It had a companion piece and the dup are finally reunited after being separated for over two centuries. While only an exhibition of two works, it allows you to absorb these wonderful landscapes without distraction. There's also a video of their journey to this moment.

Rubens: Reuniting the Great Landscape at The Wallace Collection. Until 15 August, free. ★★★☆(open daily)

Creepy. Copyright Tobias Bradford. Courtesy Huxley-Parlour

CREEPY ROBOTS: An animatronic taxidermied duck on a stool is on vocals, a disembodied hand plays keyboard, while a leg roams the floor kicking unsuspecting visitors... well I was certainly startled. This is the most bizarre musical act I've come across and it gets more quackers the longer you spend here. Stage Fright is designed to reflect on how unsettling animatronic models can be, and you can consider me unsettled.

Tobias Bradford: Stage Fright at Huxley Parlour. Until 3 July, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday - Saturday)

Image courtesy Bow Street Museum.

PRISON AWAITS: You can step into old prison cells at the new Bow Street Police Museum. The Museum tells the story of the Bow Street Runners — London's first professional police force — as well as the station and courthouse where Oscar Wilde, many Suffragettes, and the Kray brothers passed through.

Bow Street Police Museum, Covent Garden. £6. ★★★☆(Friday - Sunday)

Courtesy Opera Gallery

IMPERFECT PORTRAITS: Introspective individuals are beautifully painted, but before the paint dries Andy Denzler sweeps across them with a brush or spatula to distort them — moving the layers to see the true person beneath the surface. It's as if they are glitching and he uncovers truth and beauty in these imperfections.

Andy Denzler: Anatomy of the Mind at Opera Gallery. Until 27 June, free. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

Image courtesy TJ Boulting

ART OF DARKNESS: Step into the darkness to see UV reactive pigments glowing alongside a pumping soundtrack. No, the nightclubs haven't reopened just yet — this is the handiwork of Kate Dunn who looks at religion, rave culture and our own experiences in lockdown to consider how we see enlightenment in the dark. Grab a torch and get lost in this magical world.

Kate Dunn: The Tabernacle - Welcome to Pharmakon at TJ Boulting. Until 3 July, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday - Saturday)

Exhibitions in South London

Photo Tabish Khan

MONKEY-ING AROUND: Swing over to Forest Hill to spend some time with our primate cousins — from large silverback gorillas to tiny marmosets. Where they live, what they eat and how they are losing their habitats; their stories are told through interactive displays, a host of taxidermy specimens and piped-in sounds of the jungle. Another fantastic family exhibition from the Horniman.

Monkey Business at Horniman Museum. Until 31 October, £8 (£18 family ticket). ★★★ (Thursday - Tuesday)

Copyright Bedwyr Williams.

ARTY LAUGHS: 'A mural of people watching a performance in south London painted on a dam'. If you think that's contemporary art gone too far, you'll be glad to know it's one of dozens of sketches by Bedwyr Williams mocking the all-too mockable art world. Artists coyly or moodily posing in front of their work also come in for flack. Some references might only be recognisable to art world insiders, but it's a fun show nonetheless.

Milquetoast: Bedwyr Williams at Southwark Park Galleries. Until 11 July, free. ★★★☆☆ (Wednesday - Sunday)

One of Matthew Barney's sculptures. © Matthew Barney, 2021. Photo: Mark Blower

DUST & WOLVES: Two exhibitions for the price of one at Hayward Gallery, but it's the smaller one by Igshaan Adams which really shines: ethereal meshes hang from the ceiling, while works on the floor and walls draw inspiration from the artist's South African background, featuring elements of Islam and Christianity. Adams has navigated his own path and visitors are encouraged to do the same through the mesmerising space. The larger space belongs to Matthew Barney's shiny sculptures centred around a ponderous two-hour-plus film about a wolf hunt. Dull it may be, though props to the gallery for including a link on tickets so visitors can watch the film at home.

Igshaan Adams: Kicking Dust at Hayward Gallery. Until 25 July, £12 (for both exhibitions). ★★★★☆
Matthew Barney: Redoubt at Hayward Gallery. Until 25 July, £12 (for both exhibitions). ★★☆☆☆

Copyright National Maritime Museum

ROYAL HISTORY: Opulent portraits, stamps bearing the images of monarchs, and photographs of royalty at rest take us on a nifty tour on the history of the Royal Family from the Tudors to our current queen. The exhibition does a great job shining a light on complex family trees and recounting how Britain's history unfolded under each monarch. Even this republican found it fascinating.

Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits at National Maritime Museum. Until 31 October, £10. ★★★★☆ (open daily)

Exhibitions in East London

© Estate of Eileen Agar/Bridgeman Images Photograph courtesy Pallant House Gallery, Chichester © Doug Atfield

ANARCHIC AGAR: Cubism, surrealism, collage, photography — Eileen Agar could do it all, and while going against the artistic conventions of her time, too. Yet many will not have heard of this talented British artist and it's a revelation to discover eye-catching work spanning seven decades.

Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy at Whitechapel Gallery. Until 29 August, £9.50. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday - Sunday)

BRUTAL BEAUTY: Dubuffet brought ugliness into art and transformed it forever. Incorporating everything from street art and butterfly wings into his works it's easy to see how he inspired the likes of Jean Michel Basquiat and Damien Hirst. This exhibition showcases the full diversity of the artist; once you see his work you'll start seeing his influence everywhere.

Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty at Barbican Art Gallery. Until 22 August, £18. ★★★★☆ (open daily)

Exhibitions in West London

Photo: Felix Speller

SNEAKER PEEK: Sneakers (or trainers if you will) have never been so popular a right now, and this exhibition does a great job showing their evolution from sportswear to fashion icons, and how they've become valued within urban communities. The show does skim over concerns around how shoes are manufactured and the consumerism it inspires in communities who can't always afford the prices. However, there's enough for fans of sneakers to comfortably get their kicks.

Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street at Design Museum. Until 24 October, £12.50. ★★★☆(open daily)

Over-fishing means a black marlin this large is now rare. Copyright Trustees of Natural History Museum

OUR BROKEN PLANET: A highly relevant display shows us terrifying stats, for example, how 96% of all mammals are either humans or livestock, and the fact we still milk horseshoe crabs for their blood to develop new vaccines. We may be destroying our planet but it's not all doom and gloom; videos show how we can be more sustainable, including farming seaweed to replace our reliance on existing crops.

Our Broken Planet: How We Got Here and Ways to Fix It at Natural History Museum. Free, ★★★(open daily)

Rogue's Gallery

This is a section where we flag the exhibitions that didn't cut it for us, but you may be interested in seeing nonetheless.

© Royal Academy of Arts , London / David Parry. All works: © David Hockney

DAVID HACK-NEY: He may be a living British art legend but there's something so twee about David Hockney's iPad drawings of spring that they feel like he's having us on. If only that were true. Without the big name attached, these works would never get shown in the Royal Academy and in this grand setting it's all hugely underwhelming. Do yourself a favour by spending some time in the real outdoors and ignoring this pale imitation.

David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy 2020 at Royal Academy of Arts. Until 26 September, £19-21.

Last Updated 13 June 2021