Looking for an awesome London exhibition this February? Here's our roundup of must-see shows in the capital, plus two additions outside of London.
1. Buying in: Barbara Kruger at Serpentine Gallery
Immersive installations, video works and soundscapes from the 1980s to recent times form this exhibition by Barbara Kruger. She started off her career in graphic design, and her works subvert the language of marketing and advertising, to create bold messages that focus on people and emotions, rather than material possessions.
Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You. at Serpentine South. 1 February-17 March 2024, free.
2. Like clockwork: Zimingzhong at Science Museum
The hour has come to embark on a journey through time, with this exhibition of opulent clockwork treasures, at Science Museum. It stars 23 rare clockwork automata from 1700s China. 'Zimingzhong' translates as 'bells that ring themselves'; each of these clocks combine beautiful designs and precision timekeeping with enchanting musical elements. What's more, they played an historic role in early cultural exchanges between Britain and China.
Zimingzhong 凝时聚珍: Clockwork Treasures from China’s Forbidden City at Science Museum. 1 February-2 June 2024, pay what you can — minimum £1.
3. Roman Empire: Legion at The British Museum
Step into the world of the Roman Empire through the eyes of its soldiers. From enlistment to retirement, Legion: Life in the Romany Army explores the soldier's odyssey, accompanied by letters from Roman Egypt and tablets inscribed with some very early handwriting. Here's an invitation to uncover the perils soldiers faced and the dynamics of military life, in this immersive glimpse into the expansive legacy of the Roman Legion.
Legion: Life in the Romany Army at The British Museum. 1 February-23 June 2024, £17.
4. Art and Empire: Entangled Pasts at Royal Academy of Arts
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.
Entangled Pasts, 1768–now: Art, Colonialism and Change at Royal Academy of Arts. 3 February-28 April 2024, £22.
5. Abstract women: Beyond Form at Turner Contemporary, Margate
Sculpture, painting, textiles — abstract art can take many forms. What unites these 80 works at Turner Contemporary is that they were all made by women artists in the 20 years after the second world war. Whether reflecting on women's role in the domestic space, or symbolising resistance and liberation from state censorship or monitoring, this is a show filled with impactful political works.
Beyond Form: Lines of Abstraction, 1950 - 1970 at Turner Contemporary, Margate. 3 February-6 May 2024, free.
6. Head pieces: Frank Auerbach at The Courtauld
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 Auerbach 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's drawings are, in a medium he's less known for, yet adroit at.
Frank Auerbach: The Charcoal Heads at The Courtauld. 9 February-27 May 2024, £14.
7. Fantastic Beasts: Dinosaur rEvolution at Horniman Museum
Which dino features are better: horns, spikes or quills? Did t-rex actually have feathers? And how did some dinosaurs survive extinction? Based on the latest research, Horniman Museum hosts a family friendly exhibition on the 'terrible lizards' that offer endless fascination for children big and small. Everybody loves dinosaurs, and here's a chance to fall in love with them once again.
Dinosaur rEvolution at Horniman Museum & Gardens. 10 February-3 November 2024, £6-£9.
8. Tons of textiles: Unravel at Barbican
These days, textiles are being used to address ideas of gender and sexuality, the movement and displacement of people, and histories of extraction and violence — as well as understanding the world through connecting with ancestral practices and communing with nature. Bringing together 100 works by over 50 international artists, Barbican brings together the artists taking textile art in new and exciting directions.
Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art at Barbican Art Gallery. 13 February-26 May 2024, £13-£18.
9. Picturesque pollution: Edward Burtynsky at Saatchi Gallery
Edward Burtynsky's large scale aerial photographs look like abstract paintings from a distance. However, once up close, you 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. There are over 100 works by the phenomenal photographer in this show, plus a new augmented reality experience so you 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.
10. Landscapes: Soulscapes at Dulwich Picture Gallery
Landscape art may be one of the oldest genres but it's often been told in the UK through the lens of Western European artists. Dulwich Picture Gallery has brought together more than 30 works by contemporary artists from the African diaspora, that work across painting, photography, film, tapestry and collage. Reflecting on themes of belonging, memory and joy it's time to re-visit the genre.
Soulscapes at Dulwich Picture Gallery. 14 February-2 June 2024, £tbd.
11. Conceptual: Yoko Ono at Tate Modern
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 on her 'wish tree'.
Yoko Ono: Music of the Mind at Tate Modern. 15 February-1 September 2024, £20.
12. Dancing: Zineb Sedira at Whitechapel Gallery
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 utterly mesmerising, exhibition.
Zineb Sedira: Dreams Have No Titles at Whitechapel Gallery. 15 February-12 May 2024, £12.50.
13. Black portraiture: The Time is Always Now at National Portrait Gallery
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.
14. Stylish society: Sargent and Fashion at Tate Britain
If you wanted a stylish portrait wearing the latest threads in the late 19th/early 20th century then American painter John Singer Sargent was your man. Tate Britain has brought together almost 60 of his paintings, along with period clothing, to show how much the clothes maketh the man (or woman). Sargent was meticulous in ensuring the clothing was worn and positioned just right to capture the sitter's identity and personality.
Sargent and Fashion at Tate Britain. 22 February-7 July 2024, £22.
15. War and redemption: William Blake’s Universe at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Responding to revolution and war in Europe and the Americas in the late 18th and early 19th century led to European artists creating spiritual works — including William Blake. Taking over 90 of Blake's prints, drawings and paintings, and combining them with his European contemporaries, this exhibition has visions of redemption from a fallen world at its core. A fascination with Christian mysticism, belief in the coming apocalypse, spiritual regeneration and national revival all come through in these often ethereal works.
William Blake’s Universe at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. 23 February-14 May 2024, £tbd.
Short run exhibitions
Pop-up Bobcat Gallery, whose catchphrase of affordable art for all is one we can definitely get behind, will be having an exhibition featuring artworks and handmade gifts in Earl's Court (6-24 February 2024, free), including work by portrait painter Sal Jones (pictured). Plus they are hosting a solo show of impressive glass artist Kira Phoenix K'inan in Marylebone (26 February-2 March 2024, free).
Over at HOFA gallery, Anne von Freyburg (2-14 February, free) creates textile works that take inspiration from art history, fashion and the role of women, to create colourful works that look like they're digitally glitching or falling apart.
Over at Truman Brewery, Migrate Art brings together 29 works by indigenous and non-indigenous artists (21-25 February 2024, free) for an exhibition whose proceeds will raise money for the Xingu indigenous communities of the Amazon Rainforest. Titled 'From the Ashes', the artworks are made using ink, pigment and pastels manufactured from ash and charcoal gathered from the Amazon Rainforest fires.