The Top Exhibitions to See in London: July And August 2024

Last Updated 28 June 2024

The Top Exhibitions to See in London: July And August 2024

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As summer reaches its peak (fingers crossed), London's cultural scene is bursting with must-see exhibitions. From Barbie to David Hockney, there's something to captivate every exhibition art lover. Here's our guide to the top exhibitions to catch this July and August.

Let's go party: Barbie at Design Museum

© Mattel, Inc

Believe it or not, the fresh-faced doll turns 65 this year, something that's celebrated with this major show charting Barbie's evolution — not just in fashion but also architecture, furniture and vehicle design. 180 dolls feature altogether, including a rare first edition Barbie from 1959, and the first Black, Hispanic and Asian dolls to bear the Barbie name — as well as the first Barbie with Down syndrome, and the first to use a wheelchair. Don your pinkest clothing and head on over to find yourself in a Barbie World.

Barbie: the exhibition at the Design Museum. 5 July 2024 - 23 February 2025, adult tickets from £14.38

Race and art: Lonnie Holley at Camden Art Centre

© Lonnie Holley. Image courtesy Edel Assanti

This is the first major exhibition in London of American artist and musician Lonnie Holley. Known for his improvisational approach, Holley transforms overlooked and discarded materials into profound works of art. Highlights include a monumental pipe organ sculpture commemorating the 2015 Charleston church massacre and poignant pieces addressing racial violence. Holley's emotional works are deeply rooted in his heritage and life experiences, offering powerful messages of resilience and hope.

Lonnie Holley: The Growth of Communication at Camden Art Centre. 5 July - 15 September, free.

Gold and myths: Lina Iris Viktor at John Soane's Museum

Image courtesy Caudwell collection

This wide-ranging show explores connections across cultures and eras, from ancient Egypt to medieval illumination. Viktor's sculptural works, created specifically for this exhibition, are interspersed throughout the museum, echoing John Soane's own eclectic collection. Viktor has created her own mythic time by fusing different motifs and materials, spanning sculpture, painting, photography, and gilding — using materials such as bronze, ceramic, wood and silk.

Lina Iris Viktor: Mythic Time & Tens of Thousands of Rememberings at Sir John Soane's Museum. 10 July - 19 January 2025, free.

Grayson Perry at Pitzhanger

One of the tapestries when previously shown at The Lightbox in Woking. Photo: Tabish Khan

The Vanity of Small Differences is a series of six large-scale tapestries by Grayson Perry that show the rise and fall of a modern-day fictional character called Tom Rakewell.  It's based on William Hogarth's famous series A Rake's Progress, and now Perry's works are on show in this building for which A Rake's Progress was originally purchased by John Soane, in order to display it. Much like Hogarth's work, Perry's is an excellent satire on class, wealth and contemporary society.

Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences at Pitzhanger. 10 July - 8 December, £12 for adults (includes general admission).

Portraits aplenty: HSF Portrait Award at National Portrait Gallery

© Peter Field

Launching under a new name, the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award (formerly the BP Portrait Award) is an exhibition celebrating the best in contemporary portraiture. It's always a diverse mix of entrants and painting styles that shows us just what portraiture can be in today's world — and there's always great fun to be had in finding your personal favourite.  

Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024 at National Portrait Gallery. 11 July - 27 October, free.

A denim garden: Ian Berry at Garden Museum

© Ian Berry

You walk along a garden path and through dangling leaves — the twist being they're made from recycled jeans. Ian Berry has been working with denim for years and here he's created an immersive garden we can step into and enjoy. Exploring themes of sustainability in the textile industries and the importance of access to green spaces in the city for young minds, it must be seen to be believed.

Ian Berry: The Secret Garden at Garden Museum. 13 July - 8 September, free.

Blowing your mind: The Paradox Museum

Prepare to have your mind and eyes scrambled at the Paradox Museum, where nothing is as it seems. This immersive experience features a series of optical illusions and interactive exhibits designed to challenge perceptions and defy logic. It's a fun, family-friendly adventure that will leave you questioning reality. There arev already branches across the world, and London's Knightsbridge is the next place to make heads spin.

Paradox Museum London. Opens 17 July, £22 for adults / £16.50 for children.

Posters for peace: Peter Kennard at Whitechapel Gallery

A/POLITICAL collection, Courtesy Peter Kennard

Peter Kennard is one of Britain’s most important political artists — his posters against war and nuclear weapons making powerful statements about the futile nature of conflicts and the military industrial complex. This retrospective at Whitechapel Gallery presents an extensive archive of his photomontages and installations, which have addressed issues from nuclear disarmament to social justice. Sadly, his work remains just as relevant today as when he first started making it decades ago.

Peter Kennard: Archive of Dissent: Whitechapel Gallery. 23 July - 19 September, free.

Masters across centuries: Hockney and Piero at The National Gallery

© David Hockney. Photo: Tate, London

David Hockney and early Renaissance master Piero della Francesca may seem an odd pairing. Hockney's paintings are highly personal — depicting his parents and a friend — while Piero's work is on the Baptism of Christ - very different works but equally moving. Still, the National Gallery is inviting us to connect the dots across the centuries, and we reckon they know what they're doing. The gallery has a great track record with its one-room displays; the ongoing Caravaggio work has had people queuing up to get a glimpse.

Hockney and Piero: A Longer Look at The National Gallery. 8 August - 27 October, free.

Shorter runs and smaller events

In this section we step away from the major exhibitions and focus on smaller ones, some of which run over a shorter timescale too.

Copyright Tim Noble and Sue Webster. Courtesy Tin Man Art

The glittering interior of Fitzrovia Chapel is turning to a different kind of worship as Tin Man Art gallery fills it with artists that deal in witches, female power and proto-religious imagery (2-12 July, free). Meanwhile, illustrator and cartoonist Ben Jennings has created his own take on Hogarth's Rake's Progress (a popular theme right now!) through a series of drawings at Coningsby Gallery (8-20 July, free).

Family Ties at St. Margaret's House in Bethnal Green is a group exhibition that asks how photography can both shape and reveal our distinctive perspectives of memory, family and migration (2-29 July, free). Sticking with photography in east London, the Photobookcafe has Wolfgang Strassl's candid shots of legs and bodies of fellow tube commuters (4-7 July, free).

Photograph: Prudence Upton

Rejects is a collection of works pulled together by Art Friend gallery in Stoke Newington, as they showcase artists who didn't make it into this year's Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (4-14 July, free). While if you want to pick up a mini-masterpiece then the one-night-only postcard fundraiser 'From ArtCan with Love' will be on at Bermondsey Project Space* (23 July, 6-8pm, free - booking required)

Greenwich and Docklands International Festival returns to the area — and this time it has an eight-hour performance on a suspended melting block of ice (sounds slippery, pictured above), theatre on the banks of the Thames and a synchronised pram party. In total there are over 50 free performances to choose from. (23 Aug - 8 Sept, free).

An exhibition outside London

Photography: Marcus Leith. Courtesy of the artist, Modern Art, London, and Luhring Augustine, New York

Our top pick for outside London this summer is Mohammed Sami's exhibition at Blenheim Palace. Bringing together his own Iraqi heritage and the rich history of Blenheim, Sami has created a new series of paintings that reflect on both this grand location, and his own personal journey. Sami’s paintings feature landscapes, interiors and more abstract scenes, but no human figures. It's never clear what's real and what isn't in his work — and its this ambiguity, mixed with references to history and politics, that pull you in.

Mohammed Sami: After the Storm at Blenheim Palace. 9 July - 6 October, £38 (concessions available).

* The author of this piece is a trustee of ArtCan