Our pick of the best exhibitions to see right now in London's galleries and museums. We've split the list into areas to make it easier to navigate, with one exhibition outside of London that's worth travelling for.
Exhibitions in Central London
URBAN LONDON: London is constantly changing, as we all know, and painter Jock McFadyen has been capturing it for the last 30 years, including a poster-less wall at Bank station, a blocks of local authority flats, a glaringly bright petrol station and view across Canary Wharf. It's not a celebration of London but one man's reflection of a changing city in some impressive large scale paintings.
Jock McFadyen RA: Tourist without a guidebook at Royal Academy of Arts, Weston Rooms. Until 10 April, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
FADED GLAMOUR: There's something beautiful about old-school movie theatres, with their elaborate ceilings and thick curtains, even when in a state of disrepair — modern cinemas just can't compete. Photographic duo Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have captured those that are falling apart and also those that have been repurposed into other uses such as a supermarket, and most strikingly, a basketball court — we'd love to shoot hoops in that one.
Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre: Movie Theaters at Tristan Hoare Gallery. Until 11 March, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
CERAMIC BEAUTY: It's great to stumble across an exhibition that expands your horizon, and that's exactly what happens at Two Temple Place, with a show of 70 years of ceramic art by Black female artists both in Britain and abroad. It opened our eyes to a practice we knew little about, and as an added bonus, it's free to visit and housed inside one of London's most beautiful interiors.
Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics and Contemporary Art at Two Temple Place. Until 24 April, free. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Monday)
BLUE BOY: After travelling to the US 100 years ago, Gainsborough's portrait known as 'blue boy' has returned to the UK. Gainsborough's paintings can be hit and miss, but in this full length portrait of a young chap in blue, he has truly excelled in capturing the boy's quiet confidence and superb outfit. It's great to have this masterpiece back temporarily, flanked by a few of the artist's other paintings held by the gallery.
Gainsborough's Blue Boy at The National Gallery, Room 46. Until 15 May, free. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
Exhibitions in West London
AMERICA IN CRISIS: This photography exhibition captures the United States in a microcosm. There are flags, American football, proms and 4 July fireworks, alongside the darker side of gun violence, poverty and homelessness. It's brought right up to date with a refrigerated trailer for victims of Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests — the photograph of riot police emerging from a cloud of tear gas feels apocalyptic. The variety and quality on display is superb.
America in Crisis at Saatchi Gallery. Until 3 April, £5. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
Exhibitions in South London
DEATH DOULA: Objects hang from the ceiling, all of which feature in a video looking at the role of a millennial death doula in preparing a body for burial, whether it's a comb to neaten the hair of the deceased or chocolate bars to ensure the relatives of the dead eat something. The video is part-documentary, part-performance and all fascinating.
Every Ocean Hughes: One Big Bag at Studio Voltaire. Until 17 April, free. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Sunday)
SPIDERY MOTHER: Louise Bourgeois was best known for her spindly spider sculptures and while there are a few here, the focus is on her fabric works. There are some superb works including creepy vitrines and tender fabric embraces, but the works can be very hit and miss and almost everything on the walls doesn't add much to the show.
Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child at Hayward Gallery. Until 15 May, £15. ★★★☆☆ (Wednesday-Sunday)
DARK & MOODY: I hadn't heard of Keith Cunningham before this exhibition, and now my head is filled with his dark, thickly-layered portraits, paintings of dogs, skulls and other animals. It's easy to draw parallels to Francis Bacon and this showing of over 70 artworks is an impressive collection of an artist from the 1950s and 60s who has largely been forgotten — a shame, as this exhibition is memorable one.
Keith Cunningham: The Cloud of Witness at Newport Street Gallery. Until 21 August, free. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Sunday)
DELIGHTFUL DESIGNS: If you missed the Noguchi exhibition at Barbican, here's a chance to see more of his works including a fountain wall and ceiling mounted undulations, and to stand among a sea of circular lanterns. It's a truly beautiful show even if I'm not convinced that it manages to make the leap across from design to art.
Isamu Noguchi: A New Nature at White Cube, Bermondsey. Until 3 April, free. ★★★☆☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
THE SURREAL LIFE: Tate Modern takes us on a global tour to show how artists were creating surreal visions beyond Europe, across Latin America, Asia and Africa — a highlight being the dark and moody paintings from Cairo. It's great to see more diverse artists alongside well-known works by Picasso, Dali's famous lobster telephone and Magritte's train emerging from a fireplace. Where this show comes a cropper is that it's very research-heavy and it comes at the expense of showing us the fantastical paintings that we're all here to see — this show would have benefitted from a greater focus on the art over the message.
Surrealism Beyond Borders at Tate Modern. Until 29 August, £18. ★★★☆☆ (open daily)
Exhibitions in North London
FEEL THE MUSIC: The life of one of history's greatest musicians is laid out through his fantastic compositions and a depiction of the huge turnout at his funeral. But it's not all good news as we also see the flawed genius who fell out with people including the nephew he'd adopted. While most of the show is mildly interesting, the mind-blowing highlight is an interactive piece where, by placing elbows on a wooden rail and cupping our hands over our ears, we can listen to music the way Beethoven managed to after he lost his hearing.
Beethoven at The British Library. Until 24 April, £8. ★★★☆☆ (open daily)
Exhibitions in East London
INSIDE THE STUDIO: The artist's studio is where the magic happens and Whitechapel Gallery invites us in to see the creative process up close. The highlights are the recreation of well-known artists' studios including the red wall as the backdrop for works by Henri Matisse, silver foil to replicate Andy Warhol's factory and lots of scaled-up photos showing Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth at work. A lot of artists and artwork are packed into this show, which makes it a little congested, but the variety on display makes it a fun journey through the creative process.
A Century of the Artist's Studio at The Whitechapel Gallery. Until 5 June, £12.95. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
DAILY DOODLE: We all savoured our daily walks during lockdown and artist Vlatka Horvat took it one step further by photographing what she saw and then modifying them to turn everyday scenes into a volcano, a tower into a beacon of light and ladders hooked on to clouds. It's innovative and fun, even if the sculpture and video in the other two rooms don't deliver as strong a showing.
Vlatka Horvat: By Hand, on Foot at Peer. Until 2 April, free. ★★★☆☆ (Wednesday-Saturday)
Exhibitions outside London
WHAT IS REAL?: Legendary political artist Ai Weiwei has a new show in Cambridge that looks at the power of truth and what's real. There's a burgeoning market for replica ancient Chinese vases and while they aren't the real thing, they are keeping factories in China open, asking us to challenge our beliefs around greater good. Thematically the show is often all over the place without a solid narrative throughout, but any chance to see the impactful work of Ai Weiwei is always a treat.
Ai Weiwei: The Liberty of Doubt at Kettle's Yard, Cambridge. Until 19 June, free. ★★★☆☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)