The Biggest Exhibitions To See In London (And Beyond) This Spring

Last Updated 19 April 2024

The Biggest Exhibitions To See In London (And Beyond) This Spring

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Our pick of the best exhibitions to see in London's galleries and museums this spring. We've split the list into geographical areas to make planning easier. There are also a few cheeky additions from outside London.

Exhibitions in Central London

Tavares Strachan's installation in the Royal Academy courtyard. Photo: Tabish Khan

POST-COLONIAL: This exhibition often makes for difficult viewing, confronting us with both problematic and outright racist depictions of colonised peoples. However, it's important that an institution as established as the Royal Academy of Arts confronts its past associations with the Empire and the colonial era and starts to redress this balance by focusing on how contemporary artists are addressing colonialism through art. Whether a suspended flotilla of ships based on the history of colonialism by Hew Locke, or a Black version of the Last Supper by Tavares Strachan in the main courtyard — there are powerful works in this show, even if some are more potent than other. Read our Substack post for our highlights from the exhibition.

Entangled Pasts, 1768–now: Art, Colonialism and Change at Royal Academy of Arts. Until 28 April, £22. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)

A dragon standard. © Koblenz Landesmuseum

LEGIONARY LIFE: According to a social media trend, men think about the Roman Empire a lot — but what was it like to live in the Roman Empire? This fascinating exhibition follows the story of one man's life in the Roman military, showing us how he lived, fought and played games. It's an engrossing story peppered with phenomenal artefacts including an ankle bone with a crucifixion nail still embedded in it, and the last surviving example of a Roman legionnaire's shield. If you'll excuse the pun, the British Museum has nailed it.

Legion: life in the Roman army at The British Museum. Until 23 June, £22. ★★★★★ (Open daily)

Photo: Stephen James

INUIT ART: The surreal worlds that Shuvinai Ashoona conjures reflect both Canadian Inuit culture and her own life experiences, from the anachronism of Inuit people using dog sleds (they've now switched to snowmobiles and quad bikes) to her visit to Toronto to see the dentist. Coloured pencils create  human-animal hybrids and tentacles aplenty — it's unlike anything else we've seen before. We've picked some fascinating facts about the artist and her show in our newsletter.

Shuvinai Ashoona: When I Draw at The Perimeter. Until 26 April, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday, booking required).

© From the British Library Archive

SIKH WARRIOR: A child who lost his sight in one eye, who would go on to form a Sikh empire that battled with both Mughals and the East India Company. Ranjit Singh's fascinating story is brought to life with ornate weaponry, a golden throne and beautiful artworks — as Wallace Collection shines a light on a flawed yet historically-important character, as well as the shifting political allegiances of the time. Such was Singh's presence, many of Napoleon's defeated army switched to fighting for him.

Ranjit Singh: Sikh, Warrior, King at The Wallace Collection. Until 20 October, £14. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

Courtesy Amy Sherald and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joseph Hyde.

BLACK FIGURES: Bringing together a collection of contemporary artists from the African diaspora who all focus on the figure, here is a political powerhouse of an exhibition. Whether it be Thomas J Price's statue of an oversized composite average woman (cast in gold to ensure it's not only the white and wealthy we venerate), Noah Davis' painting of the horrific 'Black Wall Street' massacre, and Amy Sherald's paintings of Black women with grey skin to remove the focus on colour — every work leaves a lasting impact. We've picked our top artists from the show over on Londonist Urban Palette.

The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure at National Portrait Gallery. Until 19 May, £16. ★★★★★ (Open daily — pay what you wish on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings)

Photo: Fergus Carmichael

CHARCOAL HEADS: A dignified self portrait by Frank Auerbach, contrasts with another of his fellow painter Leon Kossoff — head enlarged with his skull visible beneath, confronting us with mortality (Kossoff died just four years ago.) They are both sober portraits but Auerbach shows he can still mix it up with one of regular sitter Helen Gillespie where he incorporates energetic red strokes. Auerbach is best known for his heavily layered impasto portraits and there are some here, including one where paint is squeezed directly out of the tube. Still, this show's main focus are those superb charcoal heads.

Frank Auerbach: The Charcoal Heads at The Courtauld. Until 27 May, £14 -- includes entry to the collection. ★★★★☆ (Open daily).

© Polly Braden.

FLEEING WAR: With so many people having to flee Ukraine and settle elsewhere, photographer Polly Braden draws our attention to a few individuals and their stories. Film and photography combine to show how the subject set up a new life in a new country. New jobs are found; teenagers finally have their prom. Braden shows us very personal stories that incorporate both elements of sadness and sweetness — a side of the war you don't see so much in the news.

Polly Braden: Leaving Ukraine at The Foundling Museum. Until 1 September, £12.75 — includes entrance to the museum. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)

Exhibitions in West London

© Science Museum Group

GOLDEN TIME: There are clocks and then there are these golden stunners from the 1700s. Embellished with elephants, cranes and shepherds, they're so elaborate it's easy to forget they also tell the time. The impressive timepieces were made in Britain and sent across to China — offering a glimpse into what the West thought of Chinese culture at the time. Sometimes, all Eastern cultures were conflated into one, hence the man in a turban. Beauty, of course, is only skin deep — but the inner workings of these clocks are just as special.

Zimingzhong: Clockwork Treasures from China's Forbidden City at Science Museum. Until 2 June, pay what you can. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

An aerial view of diamond mine tailings. © Edward Burtynsky. Courtesy Flowers Gallery

POLLUTION & PHOTOGRAPHY: The colourful tailings from mines look quite stunning, until you realise what they are, and the damaging impact they have. This is what Edward Burtynsky does with aplomb: take something destructive, and make it beautiful. A lengthy street full of fast food outlets is another of these. Burtynsky's monumental aerial photographs have been blowing us away for years and it's great to see so many in one awe-inspiring exhibition with a powerful message about our deleterious impact on the planet.

Burtynsky: Extraction / Abstraction at Saatchi Gallery. Until 6 May, £17.50. ★★★★★ (Open daily)

A work by Nanda Vigo in the show. Work by Nanda Vigo. © Eva Herzog for the Design Museum

PANTHERS & SCYTHES: Abstract art, a sleek drawing of a black panther, a collection of sickles and scythes and a conceptual work where we kneel before a mirror and reflect on the fact that when all other ideologies fail, we're left with nothing but our own reflection. The late Enzo Mari may not be a name you've heard, but he clearly had a diverse practice, so kudos to the Design Museum for making us all aware of this talented Italian artist and designer, alongside contemporary artists who have been inspired by him.

Enzo Mari at Design Museum. Until 8 September, £16.33. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

Exhibitions in North London

Image: Justin Sutcliffe.

TO THE MOON: Time to get immersed in space as we look at past journeys to the Moon narrated by Tom Hanks, plus soundbites from the future astronauts planning on travelling to the Earth's natural satellite. Being surrounded by screens is extremely effective; rockets blast off dramatically, while the moon fills our entire field of vision. It's a very different experience to this venue's previous Hockney exhibition, but Lightroom is just as effective here.

The Moonwalkers: A Journey with Tom Hanks at Lightroom. Until 13 October, £25+. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

Exhibitions in South London

A work by Tara Donovan made from Mylar. Photo: Jo Underhill. Image courtesy Hayward Gallery

SPECTACULAR SCULPTURE: A giant molecule form made of Mylar (plastic film). Foam extruding from the walls. Curving pipes on the windowsill. Synchronised sculptures descending from the ceiling. This is sculpture at its most impressive — a collection of contemporary artworks from the last 60 years that bring the cavernous spaces of the Hayward to life. The biggest works are the strongest and thankfully there's plenty of large scale stuff to keep us immersed.

When forms come alive at Hayward Gallery. Until 6 May, £18-19. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

Courtesy Poulomi Basu, TJ Boulting and JAPC.

FEMINIST PHOTOGRAPHY: Women involved in peace negotiations in Northern Ireland, the 'Rhodes Must Fall' protests in South African, and female genital mutilation are some of the important topics captured in this exhibition of photography. Acts of Resistance shows how such photography can be as used as a tool to protest and advance the rights of women around the world. We've picked out our highlights from this punchy, free exhibition for Londonist Urban Palette.

Acts of Resistance: Photography, Feminisms and the art of Protest at South London Gallery. Until 2 June, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)

Exhibitions in East London

Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery. Photo: Damian Griffiths.

DANCE WITH ART: Time your entrance right and a couple engage in an impromptu tango that's utterly mesmerising. This is the heart of Zineb Sedira's exhibition that draws from her own personal French-Algerian background, as well as having spent a core part of her life in Brixton. It is also an ode to cinema. This show wowed us in 2022 in Venice, and has since been expanded, making it even more magical.

Zineb Sedira: Dreams Have No Titles at Whitechapel Gallery. Until 12 May, £12.50. ★★★★★ (Tuesday-Sunday)

Igshaan Adams' work. © Jemima Yong / Barbican Art Gallery

THREADING HISTORY: Textiles can be warm and comforting but they have also been used to create powerful art throughout history, particularly by women artists and artists of colour. Over 50 artists feature in this major exhibition that includes the narrative quilts of Faith Ringgold, and the immersive wire sculptures by Igshaan Adams that reference the paths people carve out by walking over them repeatedly in South Africa. An extensive exhibition, full of important stories and political statements — all told through textiles.

Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art at Barbican Art Gallery. Until 26 May, £18. ★★★★☆ (Open daily - pay what you can on Thursday evenings).

Exhibitions outside London

Image: Tegen Kimbley

RECYCLED ART: Make yourself a cup of tea, browse through the book and clothes swaps and maybe even take home a packet of seeds. That's the idea behind Tatiana Wolska's shelter made from recycled wood — a refreshing community vibe inside a museum exhibition. Recycling extends to Wolska's sculptures made from old plastic bottles and wooden palettes in a show that's all about using what we have and slowing down for a bit. That's a message many of us Londoners need to hear.

Tatiana Wolska: Leisure as Resistance at Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham. Until 2 June, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)

© Turner Contemporary. Photo: Beth Saunders

ALL ABSTRACT: An exhibition of abstract art from painting to sculpture, all the artists included in Beyond Form are women. Ranging from Ruth Asawa's delicate hanging wire sculptures to Marisa Merz's towering aluminium works, themes include motherhood and domesticity. The works are diverse but reference common challenges including many of the artists having to make the works at home, due to the lack of a studio. Many of the artworks are subtle but all are imbued with fascinating stories of how they were made and the women who made them.

Beyond Form: Lines and Abstraction, 1950-1970 at Turner Contemporary, Margate. Until 6 May, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)