Our pick of the best exhibitions to see right now in London’s galleries and museums. We’ve split the list into geographical areas to make it easier to navigate.
Exhibitions in west London
COLOUR & LIGHT: It’s as if clouds of colour have floated into Pitzhanger Gallery, as they bathe in the light that filters through the skylights. It’s one work in Rana Begum’s show, that also sees brightly coloured threads zigzag inside the staircase within the manor, and crumpled up pieces of paper recreated using harder materials in an illusory effect. Interacting with the light makes the contemporary art a magical match for the impressive architecture at Pitzhanger.
Rana Begum: Dappled Light at Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery. Until 11 September, £7.70. ★★★★★ (Wednesday-Sunday)
MINIATURE ART: We all like to get close to art, but this time you need to get really close, and even then you may need a microscope to see the details on these lovingly crafted miniature masterpieces. It includes artworks made out of pencil leads, an angel made from a single sheet of paper and fab works by miniature specialist Slinkachu, including bankers and citizens tussling over a five Euro note. Larger scale models do stretch the concept, but there are plenty of jaw-dropping tiny treasures in an exhibition that’s ironically larger than we expected.
Small is Beautiful: Miniature Art exhibition at 79-85 Old Brompton Road. Until 17 July, £16. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
POLITICAL PARADE: Over 100 figures appear to march through the centre of Tate Britain, some on horseback, others carrying possessions, and many in Carnival-esque costumes. This line up of men, women and children carry banners that reference global trade and colonialism. It’s up to us to draw our own ideas from them, and many of us will see refugees fleeing war zones given recent events, though there are also pockets of joyous colour within this immersive installation.
Hew Locke: The Procession at Tate Britain. Until 22 January, free. ★★★★★ (Open daily)
SOCIAL ART: Four artists have been commissioned to create films about those who care for others, such as social workers, carers and community groups — it’s a great example of what art should be doing in highlighting this important work. Most powerful is Sonia Boyce’s look at domestic abuse, though the rest of the experience is hurt by the fact that the other films are all around an hour long, and sitting on wooden benches to view them is a sub-par experience.
Radio Ballads at Serpentine North. Until 29 May, free. ★★★☆☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
ALIEN ENVIRONMENTS: Don a virtual reality headset and be swarmed by alien creatures as you float through space — it’s a creative and immersive experience. While waiting for your turn, chill out in a central atrium filled with science fiction references and floor cushions fashioned as book covers of famous sci-fi novels. More artists should be referencing the rich world of sci-fi and this is a fun exhibition, even if we struggled to get deeper meaning from it.
Dominique-Gonzalez Foerster: Alienarium 5 at Serpentine South. Until 4 September, free. ★★★☆☆ (Tuesday-Sunday)
Exhibitions in central London
FIGHTING FROGS: We’d never heard of 19th century Japanese artist Kyōsai before this revelation of an exhibition of his work, and it’s now a name we shan’t forget. The show is filled with beautiful paintings such as a tiger eyeing up its reflection in a pool of water, satirical drawings where a man kicks a demon high up into the air as if in a cartoon, and some clever political commentary — censorship wouldn’t allow Kyōsai to depict a battle so he switched out the people for frogs. It’s in one of Royal Academy’s smaller galleries and this is the best use of this space we’ve seen since it opened in 2018.
Kyosai: The Israel Goldman collection at Royal Academy of Arts. Until 19 June, £17. ★★★★★ (Tuesday-Sunday)
SWORDS & SAMURAI: In more Japanese brilliance, the Queen’s Gallery has a fab collection of treasures from the country, including ornate lacquered boxes, imposing samurai armour and swords, and beautifully illustrated folding screens. It includes gifts from the Japanese royal family to Britain’s, but also items imported second or third hand from a time when Japan cut itself off to global trade. It’s a fascinating slice of history featuring some sensational items.
Japan: Courts and Culture at Queen’s Gallery. Until 26 February 2023, £17. ★★★★☆ (Thursday-Monday)
DESTROYING ART: Why make an artwork from scratch when you can take another artist’s work and mutilate it? That’s the theme in this subversive show featuring artworks co-opted by other artists including a piece by the Chapman Brothers who took a series of Goya’s Disasters of War etchings and gave them a colourful makeover. Martin Kippenberger bought a Gerhard Richter painting and turned it into a table, ultimately devaluing it. It’s a playful exhibition that flies in the face of the reverential way we often treat art and challenges whether we should.
Bad Manners: On the creative potentials of modifying other artists’ works at Luxembourg + Co. Until 15 May, free. ★★★★☆ (Tuesday-Saturday)
MAGICAL KINGDOM: What does French decorative art have to do with Walt Disney? You’ll wonder no more after seeing this exhibition. The focus is on Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, and how Walt Disney was inspired by the ornate items of the French Rococo period. Expect to see animation stills of the transformation of Cinderella for the ball in the same space as an overly elaborate pot pourri holder shaped like a castle turret. It’s a wonderfully over-the-top pairing that the Fairy Godmother, and visitors, will love.
Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts at The Wallace Collection. Until 16 October, £14. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
REWRITING ART HISTORY: If there is a Black figure in the Old Master paintings in Western art history they are often a servant or slave, and shamefully placed in the corner. Barbara Walker takes these marginalised figures and centres her work on them, by embossing out the white figures in the painting so they are only visible if you look closely. This show asks us to revisit paintings of centuries past with a critical eye and makes an important and powerful statement.
Barbara Walker: Vanishing Point at Cristea Roberts. Until 23 April, free. ★★★★★ (Tuesday-Saturday)
ART SCARS: We may not think of an artwork as a living thing but when it gets damaged it has to ‘live with’ those scars — for example the National Gallery’s Rokeby Venus still shows scratches from when it was slashed by a suffragette. Ali Cherri, as artist in residence at the gallery, has created works that focus on these scars including a blown-up recreation of a bullet ‘wound’ to a work by Leonardo da Vinci, and a taxidermy lamb with birth abnormalities, inspired by a damaged Poussin painting that features a lamb. It’s an intelligent interpretation of the concept of damaged artworks and makes us consider the power of such acts of vandalism and how they add to the art’s legacy and importance.
Ali Cherri: If you prick us, do we not bleed? at The National Gallery. Until 12 June, free. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
PRIZE PHOTOGRAPHY: This year is a strong showing for this annual photography prize with the finalists covering important issues including Apartheid, the Black experience and conflict in Northern Ireland. Star billing belongs to Anastasia Samoylova who looks at the impact of climate change on US coastal cities with a great eye for composition, whether it be capturing an an alligator underwater or trees bent over by a storm contrasting with the pink pavement around them.
2022 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize at The Photographers’ Gallery. Until 12 June, £5. ★★★★☆ (Open daily)
Exhibitions in south London
FORZA VENEZIA: Canaletto’s paintings of Venice are superb landscapes filled with tiny details, some visible in the foreground and others tucked away through first floor windows. The chance to see the full set of his 24 Venetian views is a special treat, and whether it’s the famous Grand Canal or a quiet square within the rabbit warren of Venice’s streets, each piece is a marvel. The exhibition charts how Venice has changed, what’s still standing from Canaletto’s time, the artistic license he took with his paintings, and the very current threat of climate change and rising sea levels that are resulting in greater floods. Beautiful paintings and an important message come together to highlight one of the world’s most treasured cities.
Canaletto’s Venice Revisited at National Maritime Museum. Until 25 September, £10. ★★★★★ (Open daily)
LIVING WITH DEMENTIA: Through a sound piece and two films, Suki Chan looks at the effect of dementia on people’s lives. Most powerful is the film of a woman recounting her own experiences of not recognising people, realising she can never go for a run again and doubting herself all the time. It’s an important piece as it allows us to understand what it’s like to live with dementia. At times, it’s heart-breaking.
Suki Chan: Conscious at Danielle Arnaud Gallery. Until 7 May, free. ★★★★☆ (Thursday-Saturday)
SMELL THE ROSES: A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, every rose has its thorn… roses have a strong position in popular culture. The Garden Museum looks specifically at the place of roses in fashion through dresses and fairy tales, with an early copy of Sleeping Beauty on display. The exhibition takes us from Ancient Rome where men wore garlands of roses, via the suffragettes marking a hunger strike with pink roses, to the common sight of people selling roses on the street — something that can still be seen in many cities including London. It’s a small display but it packs a lot of information in.
Wild & Cultivated: Fashioning the Rose at Garden Museum. Until 19 June, £14 (includes entrance to museum). ★★★★☆
Exhibitions in north London
DISSECTED ANIMALS: Damien Hirst is best know for his vitrines filled with complete and dissected animals, but this is the first show dedicated to these pieces. There’s his classic sharks, one still whole and one split into vertical segments, and an entire cow sliced in half — with a fascinating look at its insides as the vitrine moves past visitors on a rail. It’s nothing new from Hirst and some of the works referencing religion feel as if they’re in poor taste but there’s no doubt that these pieces still hold a morbid fascination that makes us want to see them.
Damien Hirst: Natural History at Gagosian, Brittania Street. Until 1 June, free. ★★★☆☆