The Must-See London Exhibitions To Look Forward To In 2024

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 6 months ago

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Last Updated 30 December 2023

The Must-See London Exhibitions To Look Forward To In 2024

Want to know what exhibitions have got us excited for the year ahead? Read on, as we pick our highlights.

1. Art and Empire: Entangled Pasts at Royal Academy of Arts

Courtesy Hew Locke and Ikon Gallery. Photo: Stuart Whipps.

What was the role of art in maintaining and critiquing the British Empire and what's its role today in ongoing discussions around decolonising art institutions? Royal Academy of Arts (RA) brings together paintings by Old Masters such as Turner and Reynolds, and pairs them with contemporary artists who are seeking to decolonise through their work, from Lubaina Himid's cut out figures to Hew Locke's flotilla of suspended boats. Entangled Pasts also examines the role of the RA's own role of colonialism, spanning its 250 year history. We're looking forward to their exhibition dedicated to Angelica Kaufmann — one of two female founders of the RA — too.

Entangled Pasts, 1768–now: Art, Colonialism and Change at Royal Academy of Arts. 3 February-28 April 2024, £22.

2. Head pieces: Frank Auerbach at The Courtauld

© Frank Auerbach, courtesy of Frankie Rossi Art Projects, London

Frank Auerbach is now in his 90s, and his distinctive thick layered painting style makes him one of Britain's greatest living artists. The Courtauld brings together a collection of his heads drawn using charcoal in the 1950s and 1960s, showcasing his energetic style of working and reworking drawings to create richly layered portraits. Shown alongside his paintings here's a chance to see how impressive (and important) Auerbach drawings are, in a medium he's less known for.

Frank Auerbach: The Charcoal Heads at The Courtauld. 9 February-27 May 2024, £14.

3. Picturesque pollution: Edward Burtynsky at Saatchi Gallery

Copyright Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Flowers Gallery.

Edward Burtynsky's large scale aerial photographs look like abstract paintings from a distance. However, once up close we realise they represent man's devastating impact on the landscape — whether that's swathes of deforestation, or pools filled with toxic chemicals caused by industrial mining, as well as natural landscapes at their most awe-inspiring. There are over 100 works by the phenomenal photographer in this show and a new augmented reality experience so we can step into his works. Burtynsky's London gallery Flowers will be hosting a smaller free show of his works on Cork Street.

Burtynsky: Extraction/Abstraction at Saatchi Gallery. 14 February-6 May 2024, £18.

4. Conceptual: Yoko Ono at Tate Modern

Yoko Ono in a room of halved objects. Photo by Clay Perry © Yoko Ono

Politics, performance, photography, music and participation: Yoko Ono's artistic practice is diverse to say the least, and Tate Modern has reasoned it's time to look back over a career of nearly 70 years through over 200 works. Ono's overriding message of peace can be found throughout her works, and visitors have the chance to play on her all-white chess set, leave a photograph and a message on a long wall dedicated to mothers, or dedicate a wish for peace of her 'wish tree'.

Yoko Ono: Music of the Mind at Tate Modern. 15 February-1 September 2024, £20.

5. Dancing: Zineb Sedira at Whitechapel Gallery

A still from the Venice Biennale performance.

Zineb Sedira's exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2022 stole the show, and now it's coming to the UK so we all get to experience it. In one room a couple dances away at a bar resembling a film set; in another we're transported to Sedira's living room in her Brixton home. Tying together her own life and heritage, and activist films Dreams Have No Titles is an engagingly political, and highly mesmerising, exhibition.  

Zineb Sedira: Dreams Have No Titles at Whitechapel Gallery. 15 February-12 May 2024, £12.50.

6. Black portraiture: The Time is Always Now at National Portrait Gallery

© Michael Armitage.

How do artists from the African diaspora in the UK and USA depict the Black form given Western art history is dominated by white faces? This show brings together 22 contemporary artists who address this issue in their work and examine the aesthetic, psychological and political considerations involved in representing blackness. It's curated by Ekow Eshun who did a great job with the In the Black Fantastic exhibition at Hayward Gallery in 2022.

The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure at National Portrait Gallery. 22 February-19 May 2024, £16/£18.

7. Her-story of art: Women Artists in Britain

Angelica Kauffman © Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photographer: John Hammond

Tate Britain has an excellent exhibition on feminist artists in Britain from 1970-1990, but what about all the those who were creating long before then? Well, Tate has us covered there as well; with a look back spanning 400 years, this prequel follows women on their journeys to becoming professional artists from Tudor times to the first world war. They challenged what it meant to be a working woman of the time by going against society’s expectations — having commercial careers as artists and taking part in public exhibitions.

Women Artists in Britain: 1520-1920 at Tate Britain. 16 May-13 October 2024, £tbc.

8. Catwalk Royalty: Naomi at V&A

Photo: Marco Bahler.

Supermodels don't come more iconic than Naomi Campbell and V&A is charting her 40 year career from being scouted in Covent Garden aged 15 and being the first Black model on the cover of Paris Vogue, through to her later advocacy work for social change. And of course there's a glut of fashionable outfits, with over 100 looks by all the big name designers, and stunning snaps from the model's career by top photographers.  

NAOMI at V&A. 22 June 2024-6 April 2025, £tbc

9. Lighting up the darkness: Anthony McCall at Tate Modern

Photo: Hans Wilschut, courtesy Sprüth Magers

You don't really know what can be done with light in the name of art until you step inside one of Anthony McCall's installations. Using mist and planes of light he creates works that make barriers and cones of light for us to step inside. It has the sense of making you feel trapped, even though there's nothing stopping you getting out. McCall's  been creating immersive art long before it became a buzzword. We're very excited for this one.

Anthony McCall at Tate Modern. 27 June 2024-27 April 2025, £tbc

10. Let's go party: Barbie at Design Museum

A 1962 Barbie Dream House. Photo: Mattel, Inc

Life in plastic, it's fantastic... or not, as we all saw in the Barbie movie. Hottish on its (high) heels comes Barbie the exhibition, as the fresh-faced doll turns 65. This major show charts Barbie's evolution — not just in fashion but in architecture, furniture — even vehicle design. The exhibition has been three years in the making, and it's safe to say will be London's pinkest happening in 2024.

Barbie®: The Exhibition at Design Museum. 5 July 2024-23 February 2025, £tbc.

11. Starry Nights: Van Gogh - Poets and Lovers at The National Gallery

© Photo: Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

It's the 200th birthday of The National Gallery in 2024 and it's been 100 years since it acquired two paintings by Vincent Van Gogh — those of his chair and the famous sunflowers. What better way to mark this than an exhibition of one of that self-same artist. It's time to step inside Van Gogh's creative mind and see how poetry and love led to the creation of many of his masterpieces. Can you ever truly get enough Van Gogh in your life?

Van Gogh - Poets and Lovers at The National Gallery. 14 September 2024-19 January 2025, £tbc.

12. Queens and Scribes: Medieval Women at The British Library

Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England, presented with a book © British Library Board

This British Library exhibition delves into the dynamic lives of European women from 1100-1500, unveiling challenges and triumphs through original documents and artefacts, and illuminating women's impact across private, public, and spiritual domains. It explores their diverse roles in trades, professions, politics, and spirituality — offering insights into their artistic, literary, and musical contributions, as well as the nuanced facets of their personal lives, beauty rituals and healthcare.

Medieval Women at The British Library. 25 October 2024-2 March 2025, £tbc

13. Gothic masterpieces: Tim Burton at Design Museum

© Tim Burton

Beetlejuice, Batman, Edwards Scissorhands and The Nightmare before Christmas are just a handful of the spectacular films that Tim Burton has created. It's time to get immersed in his creative psyche by way of his personal archives. There are sketchbooks, sculptural installations, storyboards, paintings and photos, in an exhibit that captures a singular imagination, one that's been fizzing with ideas from Burton's childhood right through to present day. The show's actually been on the road for a decade but this — its final stop — will be the first (and last) time for Londoners to dive into this rabbit-hole.

The World of Tim Burton at Design Museum. 25 October 2024-21 April 2025, £tbc