The Biggest Exhibitions To See In London This Summer

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 8 months ago

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Last Updated 17 September 2023

The Biggest Exhibitions To See In London This Summer

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 planning easier.

Also check out our roundup of exhibitions to see in London this July.

Exhibitions in south London

Image courtesy White Cube.

COLOSSAL: A gallery space is filled with rubble and barbed wire, as if the remnants of a prison that used to stand here. Gigantic paintings overwhelm us and the passage between galleries contains vitrines stacked with ominous objects. This is art at its most epic — comparable to the last time Anselm Kiefer transformed this White Cube back in 2019. We've stepped into a museum of his mind, studded with references to nature, science, literature and history. A mind-blowing exhibition.

Anselm Kiefer: Finnegans Wake at White Cube, Bermondsey. Until 20 August, free. ★★★★(Tuesday-Sunday)

Image courtesy Hayward Gallery. Photo Mark Blower.

CLIMACTIC: The magnitude of the climate crisis is reflected in the work of 15 international artists in this show that includes a pyramid of plants, a sculpture made from enlarged birds' eyes, and a film about the melting of the polar ice caps — suspended over water. Dear Earth is filled with eye-catching works; whether or not they prompt you to change your behaviour, you're unlikely to forget some of them.

Dear Earth at Hayward Gallery. Until 3 September, £15-£16. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Sunday)

Copyright Tate Photography, Lucy Green

POLITICAL PHOTOGRAPHY: This sensational exhibition is a snapshot of photography across the African continent — with the power and diversity of the medium flaunted by 36 eye-catching artists. Colonialism, slavery, mining and religion are all covered. We are particularly in awe of Hassan Hajjaj's bright photographs of the Kesh Angels, an all-female Muslim biker gang. A World in Common has serious va-va-voom.

A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography at Tate Modern. Until 14 September, £17. ★★★★★ (open daily)

© David Hockney. Photo: Art Gallery of New South Wales/Jenni Carter

BIG HITTERS: A painting of a man watching a swimmer underwater by David Hockney, a snap of a colossal rave by Andreas Gursky, and scores more paintings and photography works fill this show with spectacular finds at every turn. Paula Rego, Warhol, Picasso, Freud, Bacon and Hiroshi Sugimoto are other highlights in an exhibition overflowing with talent. The theme holding them together is baggy, but when the quality of the work is this high, do we really care?

Capturing the Moment at Tate Modern. Until 28 January, £20. ★★★★☆ (open daily)

Tate Photography (Jai Monaghan)

SPIRITUAL DUO: Sweeping spiritual paintings by Hilma af Klint contrast with the rectilinear works of Piet Mondrian. Tate Modern tries to unite the two through their ties with spiritualism and how they both moved from traditional landscapes to abstraction. Yet they are very different artists, who followed differing paths (they never even met), meaning Forms of Life doesn't always tie together. Solo exhibitions for both artists would've been better.

Hilma af Klint & Piet Mondrian: Forms of Life at Tate Modern. Until 3 September, £20. ★★★☆ (open daily)

© Adeyemi Michael

INTER-CONTINENTAL: Peckham is also known as 'Little Lagos' due to its large Nigerian diaspora, and this exhibition brings artists from across the two parts of the world together in a show that looks at manufacturing, colonialism and beer brewed in London — while the sounds of Lagos play over it. It's filled with vibrant contemporary artworks and has a great tie-in to the community. Perfect for this gallery.

Lagos, Peckham, Repeat: Pilgrimage to the Lakes at South London Gallery. Until 29 October, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)

Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates

GLASS ART: Stained glass representations of mushroom clouds, cherry blossoms, jellyfish and dragonflies. There's a great sense of awe and movement in Brian Clarke's works — ranging from the petite to those that dwarf us — that take the traditional medium of stained glass and give it an exciting contemporary twist.

Brian Clarke: A Great Light at Newport Street Gallery. Until 31 December, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)

Exhibitions in east London

© Jemima Yong

BLACK HISTORY: Painted-over Black Lives Matter signs on boarded storefronts that look like Abstract paintings are an example of Carrie Mae Ween's works that bring together commentaries on activism and the art world. Likewise with her daguerreotypes (early photographs) of enslaved men and women that have been repurposed to show them as people and not the commodities they were treated as. In fact this whole show is powerful, political and will make even a newbie to Ween's work feel thoroughly moved.

Carrie Mae Weens: Reflections for Now at Barbican Art Gallery. Until 3 September, £16. ★★★★(open daily)

IMMERSIVE & HAUNTING: Immersive art experiences are often derivative of an existing artist, so it's thrilling to have one that has an original narrative — this one around a dead poet. Each act, in separate rooms, ranges from the haunting visions of death to magical lights dancing around us. Memories of a Dead Poet is on the steep side, but it's the kind of immersive art that offers something deeper.

Memories of a Dead Poet at Illusionaries, Canary Wharf. Until 24 September, £27-£38. ★★★★☆ (open daily)

Photo: Luke Hayes.

FOREVER YOUNG: With mirrors festooning the stairs, arcade games to get your mitts on and building blocks to construct with, Young V&A gets a jazzy spruce up (and a new name, it was formerly the Museum of Childhood). Gone is the stuffy old incarnation; this refurb has play and touch at its centre. This is no longer a museum about remembering childhood, but one about celebrating it in the now.

Young V&A. Free. ★★★★(open daily)

Photo: Lorenza Demata

WEAVING STORIES: Lucy Orta has created tapestry portraits of the diverse array of women from the area, including those who've been involved in the local textile industry, weaving their life stories into these works. The output of these women hangs in a second gallery space. A fine example of an artist engaging with the local community.

Lucy Orta - Traces: Stories of Migration at The Nunnery Gallery, Bow Arts. Until 27 August, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)

Exhibitions in central London

Saint Francis painted by El Greco. © The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

GREEN SANCTUARY: Saint Francis of Assisi not only inspired Old Masters, but continues to intrigue artists today. That's best summed up by an Antony Gormley sculpture displaying wounds of stigmata, which stands in front of a take on the saint by Spanish Old Master Zurbaran (a stunning depiction of Assisi kneeling in shadow). That this impressive collection of works is free is in keeping with the Saint's belief in accessibility.

St Francis of Assisi at The National Gallery. Until 30 July, free. ★★★★☆ (open daily)

Copyright Trustees of The British Museum.

BLINGING: This blockbuster of blinging objects tells the story of how Greeks saw Persians as decadent, but after defeating them in battle happily co-opted their luxurious items — such as the beautiful and elaborate drinking horns in this show. Luxury and Power: Persia to Greece also includes some stunning gold treasures and a fascinating re-visit of history to show how much Eastern values influenced Greek culture.

Luxury and Power: Persia to Greece at The British Museum. Until 13 August, £15. ★★★★☆ (open daily)

Copyright Dominic Harris studio

INTERACTIVE: Butterflies flutter off the digital canvas once you touch them or get close; day turns to night once you swipe across a screen; and a digital Tower of Babel shows what's trending on social media. This interactive exhibition is the perfect inauguration for the new Halcyon Gallery space on New Bond Street.

Dominic Harris: Feeding Consciousness at Halcyon Gallery. 25 May-28 August, free. ★★★★☆ (open daily)

Image courtesy White Cube.

NIGHTMARES: Similarly dressed men with white eyes stand alongside ghostly vegetation and raw meat. The dream-like tableaux turns into a nightmare as they carry bodies of their brethren wrapped in plastic. The dark tone carries over in smaller works, including that of a ghostly ram's skull. Haunting stuff.

Cinga Samson: Nzulu yemfihlakalo at White Cube, Mason's Yard. Until 26 August, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)

Image courtesy Edel Assanti

PARK THE BUS: Transporting and re-assembling almost an entire bus into the gallery space, including a section we can walk through, has resulted in an ambitious installation by Marcin Dudek. The bus was used to transport the fans of Bucharest team FC Dinamo and contains the memories of its past life, alongside textile work made from hoodies and other clothes associated with the fans. Like much of Dudek's works, this is a crunching tackle into the communal and toxic sides of football culture.

Marcin Dudek: Neoplan at Edel Assanti. Until 1 September, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Friday)

Copyright Mitra Tabrizian & Alan Harris

LIFE ON EARTH: Seemingly beautiful landscapes can belie hidden histories. They include sites where nuclear waste has been dumped, paths leading to concentration camps, and an inverted landscape which shows how lives were flipped upside-down by the pandemic. In the downstairs space, meanwhile, Mandy Barker creates beautiful assemblages of all the colourful pieces of plastic pollution found in our oceans — spectacular both in their looks... and their detriment to ecosystems.

Landscape Trauma & Mandy Barker: Plastic Soup at Centre for British Photography. Until 24 September, free. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Sunday)

Umberto Giunti in the style of Botticelli. Image courtesy The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust)

ORIGINAL FAKES: What a beautiful painting by Botticelli! Only it's not by Botticelli — it was painted four centuries later, in the vein of the Renaissance great. This fascinating exhibition looks at deliberate fakes of Old Masters, as well as those that have been misattributed over time. A fascinating slice of art history where nothing is as it seems, and squinting is encouraged.

Art and Artifice: Fakes from the Collection at The Courtauld Gallery. Until 8 October, £9-14 (includes admission to the permanent collection). ★★★★☆ (open daily)

Exhibitions in west London

Photo: Andy Stagg

STYLISH SARIS: Taking the traditional South Asian outfit of the sari and giving it a contemporary twist, this exhibition shows how the sari is evolving and blending Eastern and Western designs. It also shows how versatile the garment can be — whether looking stylish at a wedding, or worn for rock climbing.

The Offbeat Sari at Design Museum. Until 17 September, £12.60. ★★★★☆ (open daily).

© Mike Kelley.

HUMANITY: Workers are dwarfed by the cavernous sewer systems under Tokyo, while slums stretch out into the distance in Mumbai; customers haggle at a giant market in Sao Paolo, and hundreds pray in a mosque in Jakarta. This large-scale photography exhibition captures every facet of human life on our planet. It's moving, inspiring and haunting — much like humanity's impact on the world around us.

Civilization: The Way We Live Now at Saatchi Gallery. Until 17 September, £16. ★★★★☆ (open daily).

© Isaac Julien.

CINEMATIC: Isaac Julien produces beautiful films that look at important social topics, from the Black queer experience to restitution of looted objects in museums. Some videos are stronger than others and these layered works require time — so having seven films in one show can feel overwhelming. Maybe not the best way to experience Julien's powerful works.

Isaac Julien: What Freedom is to Me at Tate Britain. Until 20 August, £17. ★★★☆(open daily)

© Gregor Sailer.

FROZEN: The ethereal light, the odd-shaped buildings, the fact plants need to be grown indoors. The landscape at the extremes of the Arctic looks almost alien at times. Photographer Gregor Sailer captures this vast terrain, and the impact the human footprint is having on it — from research bases to military installations — in a stunning photography exhibition.

Polar Silk Road: Photographs by Gregor Sailer at the Natural History Museum. Until 22 December, free. ★★★★☆ (open daily).

© Science Museum Group.

INSPIRING: A surgical robot arm, a satellite that provides internet access, and a mechanical artwork. This new gallery at the Science Museum not only shows us brilliantly-engineered creations, but the people behind them.  What a brilliant idea to have a gallery of objects and people, sure to inspire the next generation of engineers.

Engineers at Science Museum. Free. ★★★★☆ (open daily).