The Top Exhibitions To See In London: May 2024

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Last Updated 20 April 2024

The Top Exhibitions To See In London: May 2024

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Looking for an awesome London exhibition this May? Here's our roundup of must-see shows in the capital, plus a handful of additions from beyond London.

Renaissance Master: Michelangelo at The British Museum

The punishment of Tityus by Michelangelo. Royal Collection Trust. © His Majesty King Charles III 2024

Michelangelo is renowned for his masterpieces from his earlier life, including his statue of David and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. However, The British Museum is inviting us to view the smaller scale drawings and paintings he made when he left Florence for Rome, and kept creating for 30 more years in his later life, living to what was then a very impressive age of 88. Religious works, mythical scenes and studies of the human figure all feature — showing us the master at both his most delicate and dynamic.

Michelangelo: The Last Decades at The British Museum. 2 May-28 July, £14.

Powerful stories: World Press Photo at Borough Yards

One of the winner from last year's competition. Copyright Jonas Kako, Panos Pictures. Courtesy World Press Photo.

News stories can only convey so much in words: It's the photographs that come alongside them that can often be just as, if not more, powerful. The cream of the over 60,000 photographs submitted for the World Press Photo — including the winners — are on show in Borough Yards, near London Bridge. With so much happening in the world from wars, to environmental collapse, sporting heroics and beautiful human stories, this is a collection of powerful photographs with compelling stories behind each one. This used to be an annual favourite exhibition of ours, so it's great to see it back in the capital after a seven-year absence.

The World Press Photo exhibition at Borough Yards. 3-27 May, £12.50-15.

More of Moore: Henry Moore at The Holburne Museum, Bath

Henry Moore, Recumbent Figure, 1938. Reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation

Henry Moore is known for many of his large-scale sculptures, often found outside in fields and public squares. The Holburne Museum takes us to the other end of the scale with the largest work maxing out at a mere 30 centimetres in size. Moore made many miniature works, and over 60 have been gathered together from every decade of his life as a practising artist — from the 1920s to the 1980s. It will include maquettes for some of his best-known public sculptures, alongside other lesser-known works.

Henry Moore in Miniature at The Holburne Museum, Bath. 3 May-8 September, £11 (includes entrance to the museum).

Medicinal art: Marc Quinn at Kew Gardens

Held by Desire Cloud Garden 2023. © Marc Quinn Studio. Photo Hayden Phipps

Working closely with the scientists, horticulturalists and botanists at Kew, Marc Quinn has created over 20 artworks, including sculptures based on the medicinal plants that have been used to save human lives — even as we destroy the forests many have originated from. One of Quinn's most famous works is a cast of his head filled with his own blood. In this exhibition there's a slightly different incarnation of that work using coconut water instead — with reported claims that it can be used as an emergency intravenous fluid transfusion.

Marc Quinn: Light into Life at Kew Gardens. 4 May-29 September, £22 (includes entrance to the gardens).

Melting ice: Emma Stibbon at Towner, Eastbourne

Emma Stibbon conducting fieldwork in Svalbard, 2022. Photo by Tristan Duke

What do the melting ice sheets feel and look like? Artist Emma Stibbon has been documenting them in trips to both the Arctic and Antarctic including making en plein air sketches in the cold conditions. Alongside her drawings of towering bergs and vast ice fields she will have a monumental wall drawing showing a rock fall — something that's becoming more common on the UK's own coastlines as the climate changes.

Emma Stibbon: Melting Ice | Rising Tides at Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne. 9 May-15 September, £12.50.

Life and death: Still Life in Britain at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

Edward Wadsworth, Bright Intervals, 1928. Courtesy Museum & Art Swindon

Whether it be a Dutch painting of a table with fruit and flowers to remind us that life is fleeting, or apples on a table by Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne, the still life painting is a rich genre. Pallant House Gallery turns its focus to British still life paintings to show how they have evolved over time, featuring artists like Vanessa Bell, David Hockney, Lucian Freud and Mona Hatoum. It's a genre that incorporates themes as wide-ranging as life and death, beauty and decay, love and loss, identity and the subconscious, abundance and waste, biodiversity and climate change, migration and the legacies of colonialism and empire.

The Shape of Things: Still Life in Britain at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. 11 May-20 October, £14.

Peak sexuality: Beryl Cook / Tom of Finland at Studio Voltaire

Image courtesy the Beryl Cook Estate. Photo: John Cook

There are curvaceous buttocks and bulging crotches aplenty as two artists gives us all the flesh we could ask for — prudish art fans should look away now. Beryl Cook painted provocative, larger-than- life women carousing in nightclubs, eating in cafés or enjoying ribald hen parties, rendered in graphic and colourful forms. Tom of Finland drew depictions of homosexual machismo in bikers, cowboys, labourers, and uniformed soldiers and sailors broadly representing queer, leather and muscle communities. Both artists also provided commentaries on social classes, gender and sexuality and it's a great pairing to have them shown together.

Beryl Cook / Tom of Finland at Studio Voltaire. 15 May-25 August, free.

Her-story of art: Women Artists in Britain

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

Tate Britain is taking us on an empowering journey by looking back across 400 years of art by women artists. This exhibition 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.

Now You See Us: Women Artists in Britain: 1520-1920 at Tate Britain. 16 May-13 October, £20.

Plentiful photography: Fragile Beauty at V&A

Elton John: Egg On His Face, New York, 1999. © David LaChapelle

Sir Elton John and David Furnish have amassed an impressive photography collection of over 7,000 works, and the V&A has picked out 300 for this exhibition that covers themes as diverse as fashion, reportage, the male body, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, AIDS activism of the 1980s, and 9/11. Of course, there are also snaps of his celebrity pals and a great one of Sir Elton himself with literal egg on his face. Read our full preview here.

Fragile Beauty: Photographs from the Sir Elton John and David Furnish Collection, V&A. 18 May 2024-5 January 2025, £20.

Feminist art: Judy Chicago at Serpentine Galleries

© Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY - Courtesy of the artist

Judy Chicago is an American artist who has been creating art over the last six decades about how women have been erased from art history and participation in contemporary art — including her famous artwork 'The Dinner Party' that has 39 place settings for famous mythical and historical women. Now's the chance for us Londoners to sample a range of her works including plenty of her drawings, films, sketchbooks and interviews with participants from The Dinner Party. Expect plenty of punchy political works.

Judy Chicago: Revelations at Serpentine North. 23 May-1 September, free.

Avian beauty: Birds at Natural History Museum

Copyright trustees of Natural History Museum

What are the brilliant and bizarre adaptations that have allowed birds to exist on Earth for 150 million years? Beautiful plumage, mass migration, the rapid heartbeat of a hummingbird and a simulation of what a dawn chorus in the UK could sound like in 2050 if we brought in measures to help our birds bounce back. It's time to take flight and swoop into the Natural History Museum for a fascinating exhibition on the animals that are the only surviving branch of the dinosaurs.

Birds: Brilliant and Bizarre at Natural History Museum. 24 May 2024-5 January 2025, £16.50.

Short-run events and exhibitions

Copyright Belle Hoare

'Wunderkammer' is the German word for a cabinet of curiosities and that's what you'll get when Bobcat Gallery pops up at Gallery 54 in Shepherd Market, Mayfair (14-19 May, free). The show contains artworks by over 50 artists, many at affordable prices. Over at Oxo Gallery, Bella Hoare has created over 20 artworks that explore the beauty of the female form alongside references to forests, leaves and flowers in a verdant exhibition (22 May-2 June, free).

Joseph Rodriguez, Night Scene, Spanish Harlem, NY. 1988. Image courtesy Galerie Bene Taschen.

If you love photography and are looking to buy, then mammoth art fair Photo London returns to Somerset House (16-19 May, £35), bringing together over a hundred exhibitors from 44 cities across four continents, showcasing important works from across the globe from the dawn of the medium to today. Whether it's classic or contemporary photography that floats your boat, portrait or experimental, British or from further field - this fair has you covered.