The Top Exhibitions To See In London In September 2023

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 10 months ago

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Last Updated 04 September 2023

The Top Exhibitions To See In London In September 2023

Looking for an awesome London exhibition this September? Here's our roundup of must-see shows in the capital — and one a little further afield.

Shining bright: Sara Shakeel at Greenwich Design District

Photo: Charles Emerson.

Sara Shakeel's blinging Great Supper is back in Greenwich — we interviewed her when it was last in London back in 2019.  It's her take on Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper and it's a full table, chairs and meals all coated in crystals. It dazzles in a darkened setting. and is simply beautiful. She's gained a huge following on Instagram for her digital collages and this is a rare chance to see her glittering work take physical form. It's part of the annual London Design Festival, whose wider programme features exhibitions, talks and events all across London.

Sara Shakeel: The Great Supper at Greenwich Design District. 16 September-16 October, free — booking recommended.
London Design Festival at sites across London. 16-24 September, many events are free.  

Chic couture: Chanel at V&A

Copyright V&A.

When the V&A puts on an exhibition of a major fashion brand, it pulls out all the stops — just think of its previous Alexander McQueen or Dior blockbusters. So expectations are high for this exhibition about how Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel established the House of Chanel and made major waves in women's fashion. The show contains a slice of fashion history and an impressive selection of stylish and chic outfits.

Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto at V&A. 16 September 2023-25 February 2024, £24.

Outdoor art: Frieze Sculpture at Regent's Park

Jyll Bradley is in this year's Frieze sculpture. Pictured is her work outside Hayward Gallery. Photo: Thierry Bal.

With mega annual art fairs Frieze London and Frieze Masters popping up in Regent's Park, we also get the free outdoor sculpture park that comes with it — and as an added bonus it's around for more than a month, a lot longer than the five days of the fair. It's a mixture of British and International artists, and with a new curator at the helm this year, it could be branching off in new direction. Public art can engage people who wouldn't normally venture into a gallery or art fair, and it's always great to see how the public react to it.

Frieze Sculpture at Regent's Park. 20 September-29 October, free.

Fleshy figures: Rubens & Women at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Diana returning from the hunt. Courtesy bpk | Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden | Elke Estel | Hans Peter Klut

Peter Paul Rubens is arguably know for his big dramatic paintings, often featuring fleshy nudes. Dulwich Picture Gallery is showing another side to the Flemish baroque painter who painted more portraits of his wife and children than almost any other Old Master. It's a wider exploration of the role that women, both real and imagined, played in his life and this exhibition is an intimate look at a painter of the spectacular. The gallery will also be showcasing the work of contemporary figurative painter Sara Shamma and her work that draws inspiration from the Old Masters — we interviewed the artist back in 2019.

Rubens & Women at Dulwich Picture Gallery. 27 September 2023-28 January 2024, £16.50 for entrance to the gallery.
Sara Shamma at Dulwich Picture Gallery. 9 September 2023-25 February 2024 (though closed 11-22 September), included in ticket price above.

Sex and cigarettes: Sarah Lucas at Tate Britain

Courtesy Sarah Lucas and Sadie Coles HQ.

Whether it's stuffed tights or a pair of eggs on a table. Sarah Lucas's works are often sexually suggestive, playful and irreverent. She rose to prominence as one of the Young British Artists alongside Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, and now Tate is looking back across her 40-year career in a show filled with her works. A dismantled car covered in thousands of cigarettes, and fluorescent tubes skewering a chair, alongside early photographs are included in the show.

Sarah Lucas: Happy Gas at Tate Britain. 28 September 2023-14 January 2024, £17.

Inbox overload: Email is Dead at Design Museum

Courtesy Mailchimp and Design Museum.

We don't know about your inbox, but ours is constantly overflowing, leading us to wonder if email is even effective anymore — even though we rely on it so heavily. Charting the history of email from the 1970s t0 today, Design Museum is guiding us through how we got here, what the future looks like and how artificial intelligence will shape it. It is a commercial partnership with Mailchimp, so expect some plugs from them in there, but it's a topic that almost all of us can relate to and the chance to figure out what email personality type you are has us wondering whether there's any other type than passive-aggressive.

Email is Dead at Design Museum. 28 September - 22 October, free.

Turner in Towner: The Turner Prize at Towner Eastbourne

The work of shortlisted artist Barbara Walker. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation, with the support of The Whitworth, University of Manchester Courtesy of the artist and Cristea Roberts Gallery, London

Whether it be large contorted sculptures made of metal, shining a light on the Black figures in Old Master paintings that are often sidelined, reflecting on the struggles of the pandemic or art incorporating baby monitors, the often controversial Turner Prize nominees are as varied as ever. It's a strong line up this year and thankfully it's not very far from London, down on the south coast, so it makes for an easy day trip.

Turner Prize 2023 at Towner Eastbourne. 28 September 2023-14 April 2024, free.

I spy... a spy: Spies, Lies and Deception at IWM

Copyright IWM

Most people are familiar with spies through films, but how does it work for real? Imperial War Museum offers a peek into the evolution of spy craft from the first world war through to today, from audacious plots to secret messages in a matchbox. It includes the stories of real spies and the human cost of espionage, including the story of Noor Inayat Khan, the first female wireless operator sent into Occupied France who successfully transmitted messages for months before she was captured and executed at Dachau concentration camp.

Spies, Lies and Deception at IWM London. 29 September 2023-14 April 2024, free.

Claudette Johnson at The Courtauld

Copyright the artist.

Large-scale drawings of Black women and men have an impact, but also show the sitters as vulnerable and, most importantly, human. Claudette Johnson was one of the founding members of the Black British arts movement, and this show looks back across her 40-year career with a focus on how she draws from both modern life and art history.

Claudette Johnson: Presence at The Courtauld. 29 September 2023-14 January 2024, £15 - includes gallery entry.

Cloth power: Fabric of Democracy at Fashion & Textile Museum

Peace in our time scarf 1938. Copyright Jonathan Richards.

Textiles can be beautiful objects but they can also be used as tools of propaganda, whether to promote Fascism, or by democracies to create a national identity. With textile messages ranging from the Chinese revolution to Brexit, these strips of fabric show how they played a part in revolutions, and during crises in Monarchies and times of war.

Fabric of Democracy: Propaganda Textiles from the French Revolution to Brexit at Fashion & Textile Museum. 29 September 2023-3 March 2024, £12.65.

Beyond the laugh: Frans Hals at The National Gallery

© Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem

Best know for his famous painting The Laughing Cavalier in The Wallace Collection, Frans Hals was a portrait painter extraordinaire and here's a chance to see that there was more to his paintings than one smirking soldier — though the latter is part of the exhibition as well. 50 works have been assembled from around the world to shine a spotlight on the talents of this 17th century Dutch painter.

The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Frans Hals at The National Gallery. 30 September 2023-21 January 2024, from £20.

Short run events

A snap from a previous year's Art Car Boot Fair.

Most of the graduate shows at art schools were in July but there's still a chance to see the great works that MA students at City & Guilds Art School have produced (2-9 September, free). Over in Lewis Cubitt Square, King's Cross, artists rock up in their cars and sell works out the back of them at the aptly named Art Car Boot Fair (16 September, £5-£15).

Local festival Deptford X (22 September-1 October, free) turns 25 years old this year, featuring artist commissions, exhibitions and a parade with local students and members from a local over-60s group. For a mix of art and jewellery check out the intricate and beautiful designs by Wallace Chan on show at Christie's auction house (4-10 September, free).

Rafal Zajko's work, who will lead the parade at Deptford X.

Late September also marks the beginning of art fair season. If you want to see luxurious art, design and antiques, head to LAPADA in Berkeley Square (27 September-1 October, £25). The best of British Modern and Contemporary art is on show at Saatchi Gallery in the British Art Fair (28 September-1 October, £20).

A previous edition of LAPADA.

For those preferring to snag a great bargain direct from the artists, Roy's Art Fair at Oxo Bargehouse (28 September-1 October, free) and New Artist Fair at The Truman Brewery (29 September-1 October, £6-10) are two fairs that we'd recommend, as we've bought works from both of them in the past.