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

Last Updated 08 July 2024

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

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

Exhibitions in south London

Image courtesy the artist and Hayward Gallery. Photo: Mark Blower

A DIFFERENT HISTORY: Sculpture, an encyclopaedic room and a floating ship out on the balcony all cover important themes about how history has been written through a Western European lens; Tavares Strachan's works shine a light on a past we don't often see, referencing a meeting between Queen Elizabeth II and Emperor Haile Selassie and attempts at space programmes by African and Caribbean countries. The art and the information it conveys are both vital and eye-opening.

Tavares Strachan: There Is Light Somewhere at Hayward Gallery. Until 1 September, £18. ★★★★★ (Tuesday-Sunday)

© Tate photography (Larina Fernandes)

IMPRESSIVE EXPRESSIONISM: Fantastic paintings at this Tate Modern show include a striking tiger by Franz Marc and the rather eerie Ice Skaters by Marianne von Werefkin. The curators have cast the net wide to include a treasure trove of lesser-known artists, and the quality of these is varied. Attempts to tie the movement into anti-colonialism are lacking in evidence too. However, there's more than enough here to make you fall in love with the style and energy of the Expressionists. Our newsletter goes into depth on five of the works in the show.

Expressionists: Kandinksy, Münter and The Blue Rider at Tate Modern. Until 20 October, £22. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

© Anthony McCall, Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, 2001. Photo by Hank Graber

SLICING THE LIGHT: Here's a unique show that'll stick in your memory. Lines of light crisscross in a darkened space and appear solid. Although you can move through them, you find yourself hesitating before doing so. It's a mesmerising experience you could easily while away an hour in, as a silhouette floating among the beams.

Anthony McCall at Tate Modern. Until 27 April 2025, £14. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

Photo Graham Turner

PRINTS OF THE WORLD: Three generations of a Japanese family working with traditional woodblock printing are brought together in this revelatory exhibition. The Yoshidas travelled extensively, and we get prints of the Grand Canyon, Taj Mahal and the Grand Canal in Venice. It's unexpected to see these places shown using this medium, and it frankly blew us away. The finale is a surviving family member's immersive cherry blossom room, complementing the historic elements of the show.

Yoshida: Three Generations of Japanese Printmaking at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Until 3 November, £20. ★★★★★ (Tuesday-Sunday)

© IWM

HUMANITY IN WAR: Tim Hetherington was killed while reporting on the Libyan civil war, and this collection of photographs from the front lines shows what a great eye he had for capturing the human side of those involved in such conflicts. Seeing his subjects as individuals rather than a headline or a statistic, meant he could show the humanity of soldiers even when they had weapons at their side.

Storyteller: Photography by Tim Hetherington at IWM London. Until 29 September, free. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

Exhibitions in central London

© The Trustees of the British Museum

LATE LIFE FLOURISH: Think Michelangelo, and the Sistine Chapel springs to mind. But here is a subtler and more delicate side; the drawings he completed in his later years and the letters he wrote to those close to him. The great artist lived to be 88 — extremely rare back then — and it gave him time to pause and reflect on everything. No Renaissance bombast here, but it's a fascinating exhibition that's as much about the man as his art.

Michelangelo: The Last Decades at The British Museum. Until 28 July, £18. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

© Archivio Patrimonio Artistico Intesa Sanpaolo / foto Luciano Pedicini, Napoli

ALL THE DRAMA: We’ve always been a fan of the one-room displays at the National Gallery, but this is the first that's had lengthy queues — and deservedly so. The draw is an atmospheric Caravaggio showing the brutal martyrdom of St Ursula, and using the painter's trademark dramatic lighting. It's considered to be his last painting and is in London for the first time in 20 years — hanging alongside the gallery's own stunning Caravaggio. It's just one room, but it's packed with drama.

The Last Caravaggio at The National Gallery. Until 21 July, free. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

© Mairie de Paris, Photothèque des Musées de la ville de Paris

ART & THE CIRCUS: Circus performer Miss La La was quite the celebrity in her day, so much so that that Degas made her a regular subject of his paintings. This clever show covers the story of the entertainer's life, with a focus on her jaw-dropping athletic skills, including when she managed to hold a cannon aloft with her teeth even while it was fired. Featuring works by other artists and circus posters, this is less about Degas and more about Miss La La — making it all the more interesting.

Discover Degas and Miss La La at The National Gallery, Sunley Room. Until 1 September 2024, free. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

© Succession Picasso & Alberto Giacometti /DACS, London 2024; © 2024 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. Courtesy Gagosian

MASTER SCULPTORS: A spindly standing and walking sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, a scale model of a sculpture you can walk inside by Bruce Nauman, and busts by Pablo Picasso. Gagosian has brought together rarely-seen works by three artistic powerhouses, and they play off each other more naturally than you might expect, given the styles they're best known for are far more varied than we see here.

The Body as Matter: Giacometti Nauman Picasso at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill. Until 26 July. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday).

Image courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts.

FEELING HOOKED: These sea and cloud-scapes created using fish hooks and barbed wire are nothing short of spectacular, and need to be seen in person to appreciate the sheer technical skill that produced them. We're familiar with the fish hooks but barbed wire is a new one on us. Don't get too close though, or you may get literally hooked.

Yoan Capote: See Escapes at Ben Brown Fine Art. Until 26 July, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Saturday)

Courtesy Edel Assanti. Photo Tom Carter

FLORAL SENTINELS: Standing like sentinels throughout the gallery space, these pillars — based on plants — feel like the natural world equivalent of the Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an — locked in time and on a watch that could last forever if they remained untouched, unlike the transitory flowers they are based on. The gallery is earning a reputation for major installations, and this is another striking addition where we can weave in and out among the works.

Jodie Carey: Guard at Edel Assanti. Until 23 August, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday).

Photo: Rob Harris, ICA

TRUCKS & DUST: These distressed tarpaulin sheets came off trucks that can freely cross borders which migrants can't — the dust and grime make them appear like big abstract paintings shaped by time and memory, not an artist's hand. This exhibition looks at the impact of colonialism on the Iraqi people, with Rheim Alkadhi generating images of rebels that aren't real as the records have been lost. Templates for Liberation is an information-dense exhibition that unravels the more time you spend in it.

Rheim Alkadhi: Templates for Liberation at ICA. Until 18 September, £6. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday).

Photo: Fergus Carmichael

CHILDHOOD INNOCENCE: These fantastic images by Roger Mayne are of children and teenagers on the streets of Britain in the 50s and 60s, and most striking are his shots of children playing among war-damaged buildings. Alongside some intimate photos of his personal life, it's a look at a great photographer who we weren't familiar with until now.

Roger Mayne: Youth at The Courtauld. Until 1 September, £13. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

© David Parry

POWERFUL WOMEN:  This historical exhibition tells the story of each of Henry VIII's wives, who've often been sidelined as part of that crude rhyme many of us learned at school. The lightweight introduction with references to Six the Musical is an unsure start, but things really pick up from there — with six rooms, each dedicated to a queen, offering fascinating insights into their lives through art.

Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII’s Queens at National Portrait Gallery. Until 8 September, £21. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

Photo © Royal Academy of Arts, London / David Parry. © Vadym Meller

UKRAINIAN ART HISTORY: It's wonderful how In the Eye of the Storm is comprised of works on loan from Ukrainian museums — both sharing them with the world and keeping them safe from harm. However, many of these works deserve to be here on their own merit, including colourful theatre costume sketches by Vadym Meller and gritty grey interior scenes by Anatol Petrytskyi.

In the Eye of the Storm: Modernism in Ukraine, 1900–1930s at Royal Academy of Arts. Until 13 October, £17. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday).

Exhibitions in west London

Photo: © Jo Underhill. Courtesy Yinka Shonibare CBE and Serpentine.

TACKLING COLONIALISM:  Using his trademark Dutch wax print Yinka Shonibare presents figures involved in colonialism such as Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria, alongside models of buildings that have been used as refuges for vulnerable and persecuted persons around the world. The most powerful piece is his war library where over 5,000 books include those with 'titles' on their spines naming conflicts and peace treaties relating to imperial ambition with nearby tablets so you can look up each one's history.

Yinka Shonibare CBE: Suspended States at Serpentine South. Until 1 September, free. ★★★★ (Tuesday-Sunday).

© V&A

SPECTACULAR PHOTOGRAPHY: There's impressive photography on every wall at this exhibition, thus making up for the fairly loose curation, which feels more designed to showcase the breadth of Elton John and David Furnish's collection rather than provide a clear path throughout. However, it's quality photography that visitors will want to see and on that front, Fragile Beauty delivers. Read our Substack newsletter for highlights from the exhibition.

Fragile Beauty: Photographs from the Sir Elton John and David Furnish Collection at V&A. Until 5 January, £20. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

An emu skeleton. Copyright Trustees of Natural History Museum

BIRD NERDS: Birds are dinosaurs, they can see ultraviolet light, some great tits get an energy boost by eating the brains of hibernating bats, and the earliest known modern bird is called a wonderchicken. These are just some of the mind-blowing (and grisly) facts in an exhibition about our feathery friends that will enchant children and adults alike. You may look at birds very differently after your visit.

Birds: Brilliant and Bizarre at Natural History Museum. Until 5 January, £16.50. ★★★★ (Open daily)

Image courtesy Saatchi Gallery

FASHION FORWARD: Bodies draped in clothing that merge into one. A finger presses suggestively into a flower. A face whose features are lost in the shadow of another head. This mix of fashion photography is diverse and conceptually imaginative. If you like your fashion photography to be non-traditional and different from what's found on magazine front covers, Beyond Fashion will win you over.

Beyond Fashion at Saatchi Gallery. Until 8 September, £12. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)

Exhibitions in north London

Photo: Benjamin Gilbert.

BATTLING ILLNESS: About as colourful and joyful an exhibition you'll see this summer. Jason Wilsher-Mills was confined to bed due to an autoimmune condition when he was 11, and he's turned this experience into an exhibition about what was happening inside and outside of his body — from a giant body lying in bed, to a model of Sebastian Coe with a television for a head. A tough time has been turned into a celebration of memories, in this strange and playful exhibition.

Jason and the adventures of 254 at Wellcome Collection. Until 12 January 2025, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday).

Exhibitions outside London

Photo by Pete Huggins, courtesy Houghton Hall Foundation

BURIED & BRILLIANT:  Chunky sculptures based on casts of Antony Gormley are scattered around the grounds with some on plinths and others buried right up to their heads. Inside Houghton Hall you'll find art that's just as powerful, albeit less imposing, from Magdalene Odundo. Her works blend in with the interiors (as if they've been there for decades and centuries); the centrepiece is a ceramic sculpture created using historic Wedgwood moulds, addressing themes of slavery and contemporary activism.

Dame Magdalene Odundo & Antony Gormley: Time Horizon at Houghton Hall & Gardens, Norfolk. Until 29 September / 31 October, £22. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday & Sundays)

© Collection: Frank Milner

BUSTLING PRINTS: The details on these traditional Japanese woodblock prints is phenomenal, including bustling scenes full of people in Edo — modern-day Tokyo. The impressive collection is accompanied by the work of contemporary artist Hiroko Imada who has used traditional techniques to create a hanging set of cherry blossom prints we can walk in between. Plus it's a great opportunity to visit the permanent collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and the spectacular Grade I listed chapel. It was our first visit and we're definitely coming back.

Edo Pop: Japanese Prints 1825 - 1895 at Watts Gallery, Surrey. Until 6 October, £15 (includes general admission). ★★★★☆ (open daily)

Photo: Jonty Wilde. Courtesy Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

ANIMAL HUMAN HYBRIDS: Bharti Kher's hybrid sculptures of women mixed with animals draw from Indian and Western art history, each one symbolising different aspects of femininity. The works are also politically charged including a memorial made from melted glass bangles, in homage to those killed in the 2002 Gujarat massacre in India when religious violence led to the deaths of over 1,000. It flaunts the diverse range of Kher's practice in a major museum show that includes works inside and out.

Bharti Kher: Alchemies at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Until 27 April, £9.50. ★★★★☆ (open daily)