12 Must See Exhibitions In London This Month: October 2020

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 22 months ago

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12 Must See Exhibitions In London This Month: October 2020

We look ahead to London's art and exhibition openings in October 2020 and select the must-see shows that are opening. As these are uncertain times, the opening dates may be subject to change and most exhibitions will require you to book ahead.

Infinity and Beyond: Mayfair Sculpture Trail

This bench has appeared in Mayfair. Photo credit: Waddington Custot and Rodrigo Reinoso.

Mayfair Art Weekend has always been about making the intimidating world of galleries more welcoming and this year there's an outdoor element, and even better it's on for a whole month. Visitors may sit on a bench whose slats appear to break apart and take on a life of their own, or stare into the abyss in a work by Anthony James that seems to have no end. Plus the audio guide to take you round the sculptures and tell you about each work will be narrated by our very own visual arts editor Tabish Khan.  

Mayfair Sculpture Trail. 1-31 October, free.

Clickbait at its Artiest: Sarah Maple at Jealous Gallery

The artist posing with Grayson Perry and his work.

Satirical artist Sarah Maple asked what words generate the most 'click-throughs', and based on those findings has titled her exhibition Nazi Sexy Shark show - it worked on us. Her work lampoons both the wider world and art itself — taking on political hot potatoes such as Trump, Brexit and toxic masculinity. The show also features a fusion of art and the sitcom genre in what is a very meta exhibition.

Sarah Maple: Nazi Sexy Shark Show at Jealous Gallery. 1-18 October, free.

Badass Painter: Artemisia at The National Gallery

Copyright The National Gallery

17th century art was most definitely a man's world, but Artemisia Gentileschi managed to stand out as one of the most accomplished followers of Caravaggio. She managed to endure horrible treatment and still realise a hugely successful career. Artemisia was a badass and a painter everyone should know about. We've had a sneak peek and you may read our review here.

Artemisia at The National Gallery. 3 October - 24 January, £20.

Autumn is the new Summer: Summer Exhibition at Royal Academy of Arts

An entire Mercedes crushed flat by Ron Arad in this year's exhibition. Photo: Tabish Khan.

It's been a tradition that's held for over 250 years and the pandemic almost put a stop to it. However the Royal Academy is forging ahead with its annual exhibition — just a little later than usual. With over 1,200 works on display there's something for every art lover and much of it is for sale. Works by the likes of Tracey Emin rub shoulders with lesser known artists as art covers all the walls. Prepare for art overload.   

Summer Exhibition at Royal Academy of Arts. 6 October - 3 January, £20-22.

Sweet Sinners: Sin at The National Gallery

Nobody does sin quite like Hogarth. © The National Gallery, London

We've all sinned at some point in our lives, some more so than others ... though not us, of course. But how does art display the act and feeling of sinning in a way that we can either relate to or that may warn us from sinning again? The National Gallery's exhibition is a tour through art history on how sin is show in both religious and secular paintings. Make sure you repent after visiting this exhibition.

Sin at The National Gallery. 7 October - 3 January, free.

Through the looking glass: Alice in Hackneyland at Orleans House

A snap from their previous trippy installation.

Alice in Hackneyland are an art collective who create immersive and interactive exhibitions and believe the art should appeal to both adults and children — a philosophy we can get behind. In the past we've climbed through a hatch to join a fluorescent tea party and now they've responded to the architecture of the magnificent Orleans House in Twickenham to create a new illusory installation.  

Alice in Hackneyland: 'Octagon 300' at Orleans House Gallery. 13 October - 21 March, free.

Snakes on the brain: Polly Morgan at The Bomb Factory

Sculptor Polly Morgan is trying to find the limits of what can be achieved through taxidermy. Taxidermy snakes spill forth from contorted positions within concrete and polystyrene frames. Are the snakes representative of us stuck in lockdown or in jobs that we never wanted anyhow but needed the money? Squirm or sympathise — the choice is yours.

Polly Morgan: How to behave at home at The Bomb Factory Art Foundation. 14 October - 2 November, free.

Animal Antics: Wildlife Photographer of the Year at Natural History Museum

Copyright Hannah Vijayan

Drama, action, sex, babies, death — the Game Of Thrones of exhibitions returns with another collection of images to make your jaw drop and your eyes pop. Predators hunt down prey, seabirds killed in fishing nets form a macabre display and a hippo is almost invisible under a layer of mud. This exhibition is an annual favourite and it's time to get acquainted with the new crop.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year at Natural History Museum. 16 October - 6 June, £15.

Pensive Portraits: Andrew Salgado at Beers London

Copyright Andrew Salgado.

Being stuck in lockdown had us all thinking about the uncertain times and fantasising about the world we'd like to live in once we're allowed out again. Portrait painter extraordinaire Andrew Salgado has converted these thoughts into fantastical portraits that mix reality with the surreal. With bright colours and bold lines Salgado knows how to seduce viewers and bring them into his world.

Andrew Salgado: Strange Weather at Beers London. 17 October - 21 November, free.

Uber-cool: Arctic at The British Museum

A snap from the Spring whaling season. © Kiliii Yuyan.

The Arctic may be viewed as inhospitable by many, but indigenous cultures have been inhabiting it for over 30,000 years. This exhibition tells the story of their cultures and how they've managed to forge an existence in such a cold and dry climate. Of course no mention of the Arctic is complete without noting the effects of the climate crisis, and the exhibition has taken this topic head on.

Arctic: culture and climate at The British Museum. 22 October - 21 February, £18.

Women's Rights: Unfinished Business at The British Library

Banner designed by Shakila Taranum Maan and loaned by Southall Black Sisters.

The British Library has taken on the hot topics of bodily autonomy and the right to education, to self-expression and protest for women. From the suffragettes to the No More Page 3 campaign this exhibition celebrates those who have struggled to overcome the barriers to living a fully-realised life in the fight for women's rights. Including artworks, fashion and protest banners this exhibition covers the breadth of the women's rights movement.

Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights at The British Library. 23 October - 21 February, £15.

Tomorrow's World: Turner's Modern World at Tate Britain

The brilliant Fighting Temeraire will make an appearance. Copyright The National Gallery.

Technology is always evolving at pace and that was true with the industrialisation that was taking place during Turner's time. Tate Britain is taking us into the world of how he captured this through paintings and drawings — whether it be trains steaming through the countryside or old war ships taken to be dismantled. Turner captured the mystery, the romance and the speed of it all with his expressive brushstrokes.

Turner's Modern World at Tate Britain. 28 October - 7 March, £22.

Short run events

Liz West will be installing a colourful public piece for KCAW. Photo: MDP photography.

Kensington and Chelsea Art Week (1-11 October, free) has a very ambitious programme this year with self-guided walks, plenty of outdoor installations and art to be found in windows. Mayfair Art Weekend (2-4 October, free) may have been pushed back from the summer but 30 galleries are still ready to fling their doors open, along with a public sculpture trail, talks and tours.  

Marielle Plaisir will be showing at 1:54. Image courtesy TAFETA.

The two giant marquees of Frieze Art Fair won't be appearing in Regent's Park this year but Frieze sculpture park (5-18 October, free) will be popping up with politically charged works reflecting the times we live in. October is the month of art fairs but only one is going ahead in a physical space and that's the dynamic 1:54 African Art Fair (10 October, £25) that will taking up residence in its usual home of Somerset House alongside an exhibition of the French Moroccan photographer Leila Alaoui (11 October - 28 February, pay what you can).

Online events

Kirstjana Williams will be showing at the Viral Art Car Boot Fair. Image copyright the artist.

A lot of busy in person events have understandably gone online and if you want to snag a bargain artwork then the Viral Art Car Boot Fair (4 October, £5 / free) is the place to go.  Two major art fairs are going online too with both the Frieze viewing room (9-16 October, free - registration required) and Photo London Digital (7-18 October, free) offering us the chance to see the world's leading artists and photographers for free.

If you're looking for a digital exhibition then Heart of the Nation by Migration Museum (5 October onwards, free) seems like the perfect choice as it celebrates the contribution of migrants to the NHS. We've been applauding them, now it's time to celebrate their diversity — it even comes with its own Spotify playlist so you may view it with a soundtrack.

Last Updated 01 October 2020