Our pick of the best exhibitions to see right now in London's galleries and museums. We've split the list into geographical areas to make it easier to hit them up.
Exhibitions in east London
FEMINIST ICONS: The Barbican's Curve space has been turned into a stunning installation with geometric Islamic designs along the walls and floor, and striking portraits of feminist icons from pre-revolutionary Iran. Coupled with songs from Iranian singers playing in the space, and film clips projected inside a beautiful mirrored sculpture, this a wonderful tribute to these women from an important period in Iranian history. I've been following Sokhanvari for years, and this is the major show her important political artworks deserve.
Soheila Sokhanvari: Rebel Rebel at Barbican, Curve. Until 26 February, free. ★★★★★ (Open daily)
Exhibitions in north London
GREATER THAN GREAT: Alexander the Great's life was spectacular, but he has spurred countless legends that go well beyond fact, and this thorough exhibition leans fully into such mythical stories. This includes the belief that his conception involved serpents imagined in a clip from a Hindi TV series, an illustration of his visit to the Kaaba in Mecca, his appearance in a Superman comic, and a book that tells of how his ship was blown off course and landed on Britain's shores — an island of 'dark woods and enchantresses'. Here's a fascinating look into the legends behind a man who continues to captivate.
Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth at The British Library. Until 19 February, £17. ★★★★★ (Open daily)
ANIME, ARCADES & AI: A female K-pop idol dukes it out with what appears to be one of the aliens from Mars Attacks as they tower Godzilla-style among skyscrapers. In the next room, we get hands on with arcade machines. It's all part of the bright, loud and sensory-overloaded show that is LuYang's exhibition at the Zabludowicz Collection. It draws inspiration from video games and other sources of pop culture but also has deeper, thoughtful pieces around spiritual re-incarnation, and whether we will all exist as merely avatars in the future. An avatar of the artist themself appears in this show. The perfect blend of high concepts with madcap fun.
LuYang: NetiNeti at Zabludoiwicz Collection. Until 12 March, free. ★★★★★ (Thursday-Sunday)
Exhibitions in central London
LOCKER ART: Visitors have to navigate most of this show's four floors between rows of gym lockers, benches, exercise machines and scratched abstract paintings. All very claustrophobic, and strangely disorientating given there's none of the half-dressed people you'd encounter in the gym — only confused-looking tote-bag-wielding gallery goers. Eventually the maze-like installation spits us out at a video of a person slapping themselves across the face hard enough to draw blood; there's a sofa in front but it's covered in concrete blocks so you can't sit down (fitting for an uncomfortably brutal film). It's an intense experience and everyone will take something different away from it, but no one will forget it.
Anne Imhof: Avatar II at Sprüth Magers. Until 23 December, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
INSIDE MOSQUES: Marwan Bassiouni's photos show us the views that mosques look out onto, whether The Shard, a Lidl or a church. It both highlights the fact mosques are more recognisable from inside — given most are converted use buildings — and how the Muslim community has grown within Britain. A powerful and affirming statement.
Marwan Bassiouni: New British Views at Workplace. Until 19 November, free. ★★★★★ (Tuesday-Saturday)
MONSTERS EVERYWHERE: Welcome to a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by dinosaur-like creatures, large enough that, in one case, a monster lies down snugly inside a stadium. This is a fun take on the end of the world — with a delightful mix of paintings and sculpture — in a scenario where humans have been driven out by beasts, or perhaps replaced by them once we've driven ourselves to extinction.
Jeremy Olson: This Time of Monsters at Unit London. Until 19 November, free. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
BUMBLING BORIS: The UK under Boris was a tempestuous time filled with Covid lockdowns, the war in Ukraine, Partygate and endless piffling waffling. While a terrible time for many, it gave satirical cartoonists plenty of ammunition; a glut of these cartoons have been pulled together for an exhibition at Cartoon Museum — tearing Johnson's endless inconsistencies and double standards to shreds, in a humorous show that pokes fun at our erstwhile scruffy leader.
This Exhibition Is A Work Event: The Tale of Boris Johnson at The Cartoon Museum. Until 16 April, £8.50. ★★★★☆
INTO DARKNESS: We may not know what's happened to this person, but as they stand slumped and alone in the darkness within the building's grand architecture, they appear small and child-like. This is one of the large scale paintings in a show that envelops the viewer in gothic gloominess. There may only be a handful of portraits, ranging from a person surrounded by knives to a close up of a caved in chest, but they all drip with atmosphere.
Lewis Hammond: Turbulent Drift at Arcadia Missa. Until 14 January*, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
TERRIFIC TURNERS: Two fantastic large scale Turner paintings have returned to the UK from the Frick Collection in New York, and this one-room display lets us get up close with his landscapes of the harbours in Dieppe and Cologne. Turner's ability to capture light was phenomenal, as was his inability to get human figures right — something we've always known but overlooked. Nonetheless, this free exhibition is a real treat.
Turner On Tour at The National Gallery, Room 46. Until 19 February, free. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
DIGITAL DELIGHT: A figure marches across a screen, changing from solid rock to gaseous mist, then into what appear to be jewels. It was one of the highlights of the last 180 The Strand exhibition so it's no surprise that the creators Universal Everything have been given an entire show to populate with digital artworks. Other works include dancers who appear to break into pixels in a digital wind tunnel, and works that react to visitor movements to allow flowers to bloom. Digital art is taken in playful and exciting new directions, and there's a wonderful sense of energy to the works. More of this please.
Universal Everything at 180 The Strand. Extended to 30 December, £25. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Sunday)
A GLOWING CHURCH: It's a sign of the manufactured world we live in that most of us have seen tobacco but couldn't identify a tobacco leaf. I'm just as guilty and on seeing them in Lidia Leon's artwork I was shocked to see how huge they are, with lights pulsing to illuminate them along the walls of a church. Leon wants to to connect us with nature, and she's used tobacco farming to do this, as it's a major industry in her home country of the Dominican Republic. Situated opposite Somerset House, St. Mary Le Strand is one of the churches many of us will have walked past without knowing we can go inside; here's all the more reason to explore its beautiful interior.
Lidia Leon: Conexion at St. Mary le Strand. Until 11 December, free. ★★★★☆ (Monday-Friday)
HOUSE OF HORRORS: Conjoined children, monster masks and a Spitting Image puppet of Margaret Thatcher — all manner of horrors await in Somerset House's exhibition, which you enter through a giant set of fangs. It's a look at how horror has inspired creative rebellion in the UK over the last 50 years — so we get art, fashion and politics that merge scares with play. I'll admit that it's a very loose theme and how the works hang together is never clear, but the show contains so many great pieces that all is forgiven. Especially when I'm looking at David Shrigley's taxidermy kitten holding up a sign: "I'm dead".
The Horror Show! A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain at Somerset House. Until 19 February, £16.50. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
THE ART OF DEATH: This intense exhibition showcases art pertaining to the battlefield, ranging from the first world war through to the current war in Ukraine. It includes Peter Kennard's famous edit of John Constable's Haywain to show the cart carrying rockets. My personal favourites are Eleanor Antin's various beautiful pastel drawings of Death as a skeleton, either on his own or carrying a young woman. Sadly the quote attributed to Plato has been proven right in that 'only the dead have seen the end of war', though while it rages, artists will continue to comment.
Organised Killing: 100 Years of War and Genocide at Richard Saltoun Gallery. Until 26 November, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
Exhibitions in south London
IMMERSIVE QUILTING: If you think woven quilts are a largely conservative affair, think again. This exhibition contains a bright pink rhinoceros, a plethora of plants and a rooster with plenty of attitude. There is, it turns out, a dynamic side to contemporary quilt-making. Throw in patchwork flooring and vibrant stools from which to admire the art, and you have an immersive exhibition that's a must see for textile lovers — and one that may well convert the uninitiated.
Kaffe Fassett: The Power of Pattern at Fashion and Textile Museum. Until 12 March, £12.65. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
PRISONER PAINTINGS: This fab annual exhibition is made up of works created by people inside the criminal justice system — including prisoners, young offenders and those on parole who all use art and creativity as an outlet to craft a broad range of works. This year it's curated by Ai Weiwei, an artist who has faced imprisonment himself, and he's crammed in as much work as possible in sections whose dimensions match that of a prison cell. That way, we can see art that's available to purchase while realising how claustrophobic a cell can be. The best edition of this exhibition I've seen.
Koestler Arts: Freedom at Royal Festival Hall. Until 18 December, free. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
CREATIVE CERAMICS: Focusing on artists who work in ceramics, Strange Clay brings together a fantastic selection of artists. One of my favourites is the work of Lindsey Mendick; her ceramic home has slugs taking over the kitchen and cockroaches in the living room, including two fighting it out in a boxing ring on top of a ceramic OK magazine. Other highlights include Klara Kristalova's statues within a garden environment and David Yink Li's deflated giant squid in a pool of viscous liquid. Grayson Perry's vases are in the show too, but it's the less established artists who shine here.
Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art at Hayward Gallery. Until 8 January, £15. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Sunday)
Exhibitions in west London
STRANGER THINGS: Whether it be a horse with a lampshade on its head or Salvador Dali's iconic lobster phone, this exhibition looks at how surrealism leapt off the canvas and influenced design. We get funky dresses next to trippy paintings in a densely-packed look at the full gamut of Surrealism across disciplines. Oddball objects are at every turn: from a curving set of drawers to some ever-so-creepy mechanical wings on the back of a jumper. Chic, playful, informative and eye-catching.
Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924 - Today at Design Museum. Until 19 February, £16.80. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
CUTESY ROBOTS: Matt's Dixon's illustrations may be best known for appearing in the O2 adverts, but here we see a much more involved world of adorable rusty robots in multiple styles, and represented in prints and sculpture. The installation goes all out with fake grass carpeting the space, lenticular prints where the image changes as you walk by, and augmented reality Instagram filters so you can place a robot in the space or see a print underwater. This family-centred show is a departure from the previous art exhibitions at Pitzhanger Manor, and they've done a great job with it.
A Sense of Wonder: The Curious Robot World of Matt Dixon at Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery. Until 12 February, £13.20. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Sunday)
* Lewis Hammond exhibition extended from originally published end date of 17 December.