11 Must See Exhibitions In London This October

11 Must See Exhibitions In London This October

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

1. Dancing and drunkenness

A Bacchanalian Revel. © The National Gallery, London

Think of Old Master paintings and you conjure up heavy subject matter: death, religion, moral judgement. This time, though, the National Gallery lets its hair down with a collection of paintings by Nicolas Poussin, overflowing with dancing and revelry. There are half naked figures and people too drunk to hold themselves up; with London's social scene on the mend, this seems perfectly timed.

Poussin and the Dance at The National Gallery. 9 October-2 January, £12.

2. A lethal family feud

Elizabeth's locket ring. © Chequers Trust.

Family is complicated. Even more so when your cousin is a rival queen. This British Library exhibition tells the story of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots; they never met but that didn't stop espionage, plots and treachery evolving throughout a bitter rivalry. Told through items including a manuscript of Elizabeth's speech to Parliament, and eyewitness accounts of Mary's execution, there's plenty to bring this centuries-old feud to life.

Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens at The British Library. 8 October-20 February 2022, £12.

3. A factory full of art

A previous installation by one of the artists, Catriona Robertson.

Everyone loves a free exhibition, so how about 10 in one venue? A group of over 80 emerging and mid-career artists — including the team behind the innovative Skip Gallery — have commandeered a warehouse near the Thames Barrier and filled it with art. Much of it has been made onsite, so overwhelmingly large sculptures abound and the sheer amount on view definitely warrants the trek out here.

The Factory Project. 9-22 October, free

4. Terrifyingly realistic sculptures

A day at the beach. Image © artist and gallery.

Ron Mueck creates sculptures of people that are uncannily realistic, down to the individual hairs on their legs. Sometimes they're playful, like an oversized couple relaxing under a parasol; other times they're downright frightening, like the naked corpse lying in front of us or a young man lifting his shirt to reveal a stab wound. These are powerful pieces, designed to make us uncomfortable, and question what it is that makes us human.

Ron Mueck: 25 years of sculpture at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. 13 October-13 November, free.

5. New war galleries at IWM

Copyright IWM London.

After a lengthy refurb, London's Imperial War Museum opens its new Second World War and Holocaust galleries. They bring together objects and voices to help us understand one of history's most devastating conflicts, and the unforgettable horrors of the Holocaust.

Second World War & Holocaust Galleries at IWM London. Opens 20 October*, free.

6. Let there be light

Starry beach by A'strict.

Everybody loves an immersive art installation, and there's a bunch of them in the Brutalist building at 180 Strand. Giant crashing waves glow in the dark, mesmerising bands of light hypnotise, and a figure transforms from light to rock, via fire and lava. This venue has a track record of spectacular shows and it's gone and done it again.

Lux at 180 The Strand. 13 October-18 December, £18.

7. Blowing bubbles

Sign us up. Courtesy of COS xStudio Swine. Photo: Juriaan Booij

Tree-like machines that create bubbles? Sign me up. The bubbles are scented and you can handle them? Seriously, where do I book? Superblue — the latest creation by artist duo A.A. Murakami — promises to be irresistible for those who love an immersive art experience.

Superblue London at Burlington Gardens. 12 October-9 January, £12.

8. Amazing Amazon

Copyright Sebastião Salgado / nbpictures

Sebastiao Salgado is the master of black and white photography, and here, Science Museum brings together over 200 photos from his project to photograph indigenous communities in Brazil at a time when the Amazon remains under threat from both humans directly, and climate change. Plenty of sweeping landscape snaps to take your breath away too.

Sebastiao Salgado: Amazonia at Science Museum. 13 October-March 2022, £10.

9. A really wild show

Cheetahs struggle to cross a raging river. © Buddhilini de Soyza

Every year we look forward to Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and it hasn't disappointed yet. The drama of animals hunting down one another, caring for each other — and the lengths photographers go to for that perfect shot — means our jaw is constantly being picked up off the floor. Shots of poaching, meanwhile, remind us who the scariest animal on the planet is.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year at Natural History Museum. 15 October-5 June 2022, £15.50.

10. Menace let loose in Somerset House

Dennis does Hockney. Copyright Horace Panter.

Rules are there for breaking. That's what the characters from the Beano will tell you anyway, and they're here to guide you round a distinctly rebellious exhibition at Somerset House. In a menacing double act, you get to step inside their comic book world, as well as see rule breakers from across the arts including artists, composers and writers.

Beano: The Art of  Breaking the Rules at Somerset House. 21 October-6 March, £16.

11. Rolling landscapes

© Royal Academy of Arts. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Limited.

Everybody knows someone who has a Constable print in their home — he's a British institution after all. The landscape painter actually graduated from the Royal Academy schools, so this is something of a homecoming, with a collection of his late career works where his sketches and oil paintings became more looser and expressive. The bucolic countryside awaits.

Late Constable at Royal Academy of Arts. 30 October-13 February, £19-21.

Art fairs

Copyright Marie Jordan - one of the artists at START art fair.

October is the month art fairs descend on London en masse.. The granddaddy is Frieze London and Frieze Masters (13-17 October, £36+) in Regent's Park, filled with contemporary art and masterpieces stretching back to ancient Greece. Alternatives include the always-impressive 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House (14-17 October, £25+) and the vibrant Start Art Fair at Saatchi Gallery (£15+)

If you're looking to start, or add to, a collection you can buy direct from the artists at The Other Art Fair at Old Truman Brewery (14-17 October, £11+), or from galleries from across the world at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea (21-24 October, £11+)

* Original published version mistakenly stated 11 October as the opening date.

Last Updated 04 October 2021