Our pick of the best exhibitions to see in London's galleries and museums this winter. We've split the list into geographical areas to make planning easier. There's also a cheeky addition from outside London.
Also check out our top shows to see in November.
Exhibitions in west London
STATUESQUE: Sprinkled among the classical sculptures of the V&A — mostly representing white men and women — we can now see busts and statues of Black every-men and women by Thomas J Price. They are composites of multiple individuals. Price doesn’t want them to memorialise individuals the way statues have done historically. The artist visited the museum as a child, but now, he and countless others can feel seen. A powerful collection of works in the perfect setting.
Thomas J Price at the V&A. Until 27 May 2024, free. ★★★★★ (Open daily)
CHIC COUTURE: When it comes to fashion blockbusters, nobody does it better than V&A. At Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto, there are glam outfits galore; double height vitrines crammed with Chanel numbers, while other swish garments parade down a staircase. Chanel's style was always about elegance, and that's mirrored in this exhibition's design; while the Dior and Alexander McQueen went big, this feels more restrained and tailored to the couture-savvy audience. Still, it's mightily impressive. Tickets are hard to come by (it sold out on day 1), but watch out for occasional extra ticket releases.
Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto at V&A. Until 25 February 2024, £26. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
REBELLIOUS FASHION: Chanel isn't the only major fashion show in town. If you’re looking for the opposite end of the style spectrum, head to the Design Museum for Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion. It's packed with punky, flamboyant designs that flaunt the anarchic (or should that be anar-chic?) creativity of the metropolis' designers. This is fashion at its edgiest and most innovative — including Sam Smith's inflatable latex suit and Bjork's swan dress, plus a mirror that allows you to apply filters to give yourself a bold new look.
Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion at Design Museum. Until 11 February 2024, £18. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
NATURE & TECH: The skeletal outline of an 800-year-old English Oak that now needs to be supported by scaffold mirrors the current state of England. A 16th century print is animated so that it sways in the breeze. Bower birds perform their courtship dances while spinning under strobe lighting. Mat Collishaw combines technologies old and new to provide a view of how they interact with nature, but may also be the end of it. A thought-provoking exhibition.
Mat Collishaw: Petrichor at Kew Gardens. Until 7 April 2024, £12-16 (includes admission to the gardens) ★★★★★ (Open daily).
FAGS & BREASTS: A mechanical arm stroking a phallus that isn't there. A hanging chair made of breasts. A wrecked car covered in cigarettes. Subtle this show is not. It's leery and sexually charged at every turn, and there isn't a white wall in sight. Looking back across Sarah Lucas' extraordinary career, Happy Gas leans fully into the irreverence of her world.
Sarah Lucas: Happy Gas at Tate Britain. Until 14 January 2024, £17. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
ANGER & ACTIVISM: Women in Revolt! whisks us through 20 years of art created by women, exploring how they battled sexism and protested for equal rights. It also looks at the related, but separate, fight for women of colour in the UK. There's kickboxing, there's punk, and a hell of a lot of banners are waved. It's angry, it's celebratory — it's essential.
Women in Revolt! Art and Activism in the UK: 1970-1990 at Tate Britain. Until 7 April 2024, £17. ★★★★★ (Open daily).
MINI CREATURES: Taking inspiration from traditional South Asian miniature paintings, Maha Ahmed has created golden realms populated by fantastical beasts, including a few who've broken free and may be spotted on the walls by sharp-eyed visitors. These are beautiful and skilfully executed paintings.
Maha Ahmed: Where Worlds Meet at Leighton House Museum. Until 3 March 2024, free. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Monday)
GRIEF & COLOUR: Towers of colourful orbs that look ready to topple over, and words overlaid to such an extent that they become illegible. What unites the works of husband and wife pairing Annie Morris and Idris Khan is that they’re both united by grief — Morris for her unborn child and Khan for his mother. With work scattered throughout what was John Soane's family home, this is a fitting setting for an exhibition about domestic life and loss.
Annie Morris & Idris Khan: When Loss Makes Melodies at Pitzhanger. Until 7 January 2024, £9. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Sunday).
INDIAN ARMY: Historically, the story of Indian soldiers serving in the British Army is not often told, and certainly something I was never taught in school. A regiment of Indian soldiers were stationed in the grounds of Hampton Court and often went on parades through the streets of London. This exhibition brings together archival photographs, medals of former soldiers and stories told by their descendants, for a small but important exhibition.
The Indian Army at the Palace at Hampton Court Palace. Until 3 March 2024, £26.30-£29 (includes admission to the palace). ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
HIDDEN CULTURE: The Ainu are an indigenous people largely living in the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, who have suffered much discrimination and erasure of their culture. This exhibition celebrates their language, ceremonies and beliefs in a look at a people most in the UK will not have been aware of.
Ainu Stories: Contemporary Lives by the Saru River at Japan House London. Until 21 April 2024, free. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
Exhibitions in north London
BEAUTIFUL?: Wellcome takes a fascinating (if information dense) look at beauty ideals, from cosmetic ointment slabs from Ancient Egypt to Shirin Fathi's critque at the Iranian obsession with cosmetic nose surgeries — as well as the role of race and gender in what's historically been viewed as traditional beauty. It's that blend of historical insight and contemporary art that the Wellcome Collection does so well.
The Cult of Beauty at Wellcome Collection. Until 28 April 2024, free. ★★★★★ (Tuesday-Sunday)
NOUGHTS & CROSSES: Step into the world of Malorie Blackman, author of the series Noughts and Crosses, imagines a world where Africa colonised Europe, and how that would manifest in society today. You don't need to know Blackman's books to enjoy this show; you'll learn about her life growing up in a homeless shelter, how important the local library was to her, and the many rejection letters she received before she finally got a book deal. This show pans out to look at race and politics, making for a stronger experience. Tie this free show into a visit to the British Library's excellent Fantasy exhibition.
Malorie Blackman at The British Library. Until 25 February 2024, free. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
Exhibitions in central London
BLACK FASHION: Stylish outfits, a great soundtrack — and even a functioning nail salon — are part of The Missing Thread, an exhibition celebrating Black British fashion. It doesn't shy away from the abhorrent racism faced by the Black community, including photograph from Balham in 1974 of graffiti that says 'Keep Britain White'. Here's a vital celebration of Black British culture, and how its impact on fashion spans haute couture to trainers and hoodies.
The Missing Thread: Untold Stories of Black British Fashion at Somerset House. Until 7 January 2024, £12. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
PERFORMANCE PERFECTION: Squeeze between a naked couple to enter another room, watch the artist scream until she loses her voice and get ready to flinch as an arrow is pointed at Marina Abramović’s heart at full tension — fully reliant on her partner not letting go. It's intense, unsettling, admirable — performance art at its finest and most unforgettable.
Marina Abramović at Royal Academy of Arts. Until 1 January 2024, £25.50. ★★★★★ (Tuesday-Sunday)
MATERNAL ART: Based around the theme of motherhood, The Foundling Museum brings together an impressive collection of artworks by female artists including Louise Bourgeois' pink and fleshy drawings of childbirth, and a sofa with hands for cushions symbolising how women are often treated as objects. The works hang alongside the permanent collection so you have 18th century portraits adjacent to a contemporary self-portrait by Sylvia Sleigh where she faces the viewer confidently, her husband in the distant background.
The Mother & The Weaver: Art from the Ursula Hauser collections at The Foundling Museum. Until 18 February 2024, £9.50 (includes admission to the museum). ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
SMIRKS APLENTY: It’s all about the facial hair when it comes to Frans Hals, the Dutch golden age painter who captured the upturned moustaches and manicured beards of many a dapper gentlemen. He was a deft touch at showcasing the lighter side of life; a smirking gent or a jovial lute player — a very different painter to his moodier peer Rembrandt. And boy, but could he nail a fleeting facial expression.
The Credit Suisse exhibition: Frans Hals at The National Gallery. Until 21 January 2024, £20. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
EROTIC ABSURDITY: Mannequins flex in eroticised poses while holding a pram or sitting over an electric fire, across all four floors of this impressive gallery tucked away in a Bloomsbury mews. This eye-catching work is a critique of the impossible position of women who are constantly pressured to be seen as both domestically capable and sexually appealing. These sculptures are creepy and absurd, and so they should be.
Anna Uddenberg: Home Wreckers at The Perimeter. Until 22 December 2023, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
BIG, BLACK & BOLD: Assured Black persons drawn at large scale with sparing use of colour on their clothing and background make for beautiful figurative paintings by Claudette Johnson. Their style draws the eye to the tender facial features of each larger-than-life sitter. It's a striking contrast to the largely white faces in the rest of the Courtauld's collection.
Claudette Johnson: Presence at The Courtauld. Until 14 January 2024, £13 (includes entry to the collection). ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
ASIAN HISTORY: A major exhibition tells the history of Burma/Myanmar over the centuries as a trading superpower to the recent protests against the regime. It's filled with treasures including a stunning carved teak chair, silk pages of a book bound within a giant seashell, and a gilded lacquer offering vessel — right through to an elaborate ceramic python by contemporary artist Soe Yu Nwe, who incorporates both Burmese and Chinese symbolism to highlight the continuing prejudice against mixed ethnic marriages in the country.
Burma to Myanmar at The British Museum. Until 11 February 2024, £16. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
IMMERSED IN CERAMICS: These ornate porcelain sculptures may look like something from centuries ago, but get closer and there's a spray bottle here, a pair of trainers over there. Francesca DiMattio's art mashes up cultures so the classical is tossed together with the contemporary. Complete with custom wallpaper and flooring Wedgwood is an exhibition to get lost in and enjoy the intensity of it all.
Francesca DiMattio: Wedgwood at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery. Until 23 December 2023, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
HAUNTING: Walking into this gallery is like walking into a lobby, and that's no coincidence — it's based on the artist's memories of entering the lobby of the World Trade Center before it was destroyed in 2001. It feels eerie and unsettling as you walk through a recreated office environment with large scale images of people of those impacted by the attack, and an unsettling disembodied hand. It makes you question what you remember of those events, how you processed it and what life became after.
Avery Singer: Free Fall at Hauser & Wirth. Until 22 December 2023, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
HOCKNEY'S BACK: Cruelly cut short by the pandemic, the Hockney drawings exhibition is back at National Portrait Gallery for a second run — now including lots of additional works he's made since, even if all the attention is on his rather drab take on Harry Styles (there, I said it). Luckily the rest of the works are far stronger and I can happily stick to the four star review I gave it the first time around.
David Hockney: Drawing From Life at National Portrait Gallery. Until 21 January 2024, £21. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
Exhibitions in south London
CARTOONISH KLANSMEN: Realism, abstract, and the cartoonish; this isn't an exhibition of several artists but of one very versatile one — Philip Guston. He's most famous for his paintings of Klansmen doing everyday things such as driving a car, drawing our attention to the fact that racism and prejudice exist in the day to day. It's a message that's even more relevant decades after it was painted. Guston may not be a household name but he should be, and this major exhibition shows us the full breadth of his artistic brilliance.
Philip Guston at Tate Modern. Until 25 February 2024, £20. ★★★★★ (Open daily)
CASCADING BOTTLE TOPS: A gigantic artwork cascades down the full height of the Tate's Turbine Hall, while one almost as big blocks off its view at the entrance. These immense pieces are made from woven together bottle tops in Nigeria and reference colonial trade routes through the awe-inspiring art of El Anatsui. The vast space of the Turbine Hall is always a daunting blank canvas, but here we have works that feel like even this cavernous space can only just about contain. If you want to see El Anatsui's smaller scale works, prints and a sculpture, some of his works are on show at October Gallery in Bloomsbury.
Hyundai Commission - El Anatsui: Behind the Red Moon at Tate Modern. Until 14 April 2024, free. ★★★★★ (Open daily)
El Anatsui: Timespace at October Gallery. Until 13 January, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
SPYCRAFT: A match for writing secret messages and a blade contained within a pencil; this isn't a James Bond movie but actual evidence of spy craft. Spies, Lies and Deception opens our eyes to everything from dazzle camouflage used on warships ships in WWI, through to the Salisbury poisonings.
Spies, Lies and Deception at IWM London. Until 14 April 2024, free. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
THE ART OF WAR: Whether the newly restored John Singer Sargent painting of blinded soldiers being led away after a mustard gas attack, or Steve McQueen's sheets of postage stamps memorialising British soldiers killed in the Iraq war, these new permanent galleries at IWM are filled with powerful and moving artworks. It doesn't make for easy viewing and nor should it. Another fantastic addition to the museum.
Blavatnik Art, Film and Photography galleries at IWM London. Free. ★★★★★ (Open daily)
BEAUTY IN BLACK & WHITE: A black and white photo split perfectly between the sea below and the sky above, and cinemas snapped through long exposure so the film on screen is simply white, meaning we get to appreciate the architecture of these great theatres: Hiroshi Sugimoto is the master of black and white photography and this subtle and beautiful exhibition shows us why.
Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine at Hayward Gallery. Until 7 January 2024, £18. ★★★★☆ (Wednesday-Sunday)
BODIES EVERYWHERE: Antony Gormley is an artist who regularly wows us with recreations of the human form, or more specifically his form. This latest exhibition warms you up with figures leaning against walls in one gallery, but it's all to prepare you for the final gallery that's a 'cityscape' of 244 bodies lying in different poses made of bricks. It's utterly spectacular — a fantastic installation to get lost inside and (carefully) walk among.
Antony Gormley: Body Politic at White Cube, Bermondsey. Until 28 January 2024, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
Exhibitions in east London
VIRTUAL PYRAMIDS: Virtual Reality and immersive experiences seem to be popping up everywhere, but this is the most impressive use of the technology in art we've seen so far. Pop on a backpack and a headset and walk around a tour of the great Pyramid of Giza that feels so real that the high viewpoints are positively vertiginous. It's family focused and so the humour can be cheesy at times (plus the high prices reflect the cutting edge tech), but we have to applaud this most ambitious of immersive experiences.
Horizon of Khufu: Journey in Ancient Egypt at Westfield, Stratford. £20-£45. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
ART IS HARD: This playful exhibition pokes fun at the difficult life of an artist with a literally thick skinned artist shown as The Thing from the Fantastic 4, reading what we assume is another rejection letter. There's also a fun series of paintings that critically examine our obsession with screens — looking at them on a sofa, a bed and a train. Nicole Eisenman is an American artist I'd not come across before, and this is an enjoyable show that mixes up the political with the bawdy and the irreverent — with over 100 works across her career of more than four decades.
Nicole Eisenman: What Happened at Whitechapel Gallery. Until 14 January 2024, £12.50. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
Exhibitions outside London
MINI MASTERPIECES: This impressive exhibition includes hundreds of years old miniature paintings and then partners these with contemporary South Asian artists who take inspiration from traditional miniature painting to create rooms spattered with blood, beautiful birds taking flight and works that look at the role of religion and culture in contemporary South Asian life. It's a knockout show that's well worth the trip out of London.
Beyond the Page: South Asian Miniature Painting and Britain, 1600 to Now at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes. Until 28 January 2024, £11.50 ★★★★★