London Exhibitions Guide 2021 | Last Updated 19.05.21
Rumour has it you’re keen to get out of the house.
Well, fortunately – given that you happen to live in the cultural capital of the world – you currently have many excellent excuses to do just that, chief amongst them being a ton of excellent museum exhibitions promising to give you an insight into both France’s most revered sculptor and ancient Rome’s least popular emperor; to take you on an epic jaunt across 5,000 years of Iranian history; to be dazzled by the brightest colours known to man; to explore a – technically forbidden – forest; and to tumble down a rabbit hole into the trippy world of virtual reality croquet.
(Of course, you can also see the permanent collections at most of these museums for free – take a look at our guide to the best museums in London, or for something a little different, the most unusual museums in London).
Sneakers Unboxed Exhibition | Design Museum
The Design Museum’s last show, Electronic – charting the history of dance music – left some pretty big shoes to fill. So they’ve filled it with, erm, shoes. Specifically sneakers (translation: trainers) which in the space of a century have gone from an athletic necessity to a global cultural phenomenon valued at $80bn. You’ll see how sibling rivalry sparked the origins of two of the world’s best-known brands; how trainers have been upcycled, innovated and customised by major fashion houses and in the backstreets of Tokyo; and – obviously – a tonne of really, really cool shoes. READ MORE
Details: Sneakers Unboxed runs at the Design Museum (closest tube station High Street Kensington) until 24th October. You can book tickets (£12) right here.
The Making of Rodin Exhibition | Tate Modern
Rodin is probably France’s most famous sculptor, so let’s give him a big hand. Tate Modern’s new exhibition showcases his studies in plaster (as opposed to his more finished works in bronze or marble). And if that sounds like a bust, think again – the sculptor was known to exhibit his plaster pieces as works of art in their own right, including at the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris. Here they’re combined in a surreal, mesmerising display of giant torsos, arms and hands, sometimes orbiting the finished works they inspired. With every smudge and fingerprint, you can see the master at work, and it’s genuinely fascinating. READ MORE
Details: The Making of Rodin runs at the Tate Modern (closest tube station Blackfriars) until 21st November. You can book tickets (£18) right here.
Epic Iran Exhibition | V&A Museum
What’s so epic about this exhibition? A mere five millennia of history condensed into ten dazzling displays with 300+ objects, ranging from some of the earliest known writing to cutting-edge digital art via a 15th century horoscope, 10m-long paintings and pottery that gives you good advice. READ MORE
Details: Epic Iran runs at the V&A (closest tube station South Kensington) from 29th May. You can book tickets (£18) right here.
Alice: Curiouser & Curiouser Exhibition | V&A Museum
Something about Lewis Carroll’s stories about a girl who falls down a rabbit hole, shrinks to 10 inches and then meets a megalomaniac Queen served by a pack of anthropomorphic playing cards just seems to stick in people’s heads. And this blockbuster show at the V&A attempts to serve up just a slice of the cultural offshoots it has inspired, from the fashion of Vivienne Westwood and recipes by Heston Blumenthal to films, ballet, theatre and art. You’ll even see the makings of a nonsensical genius, with doodles from Carroll’s own schoolbooks. Also you can play hand-illustrated, virtual reality croquet. READ MORE
Details: Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser runs at the V&A (closest tube station South Kensington) from 22nd May. You can book tickets (£20) right here.
Nero: The Man Behind The Myth Exhibition | British Museum
The Emperor Nero. On the zero to hero scale, he tends to score pretty low – generally due to practising the violin at inopportune moments, but also because of various other small indiscretions like murdering his own mother. However before he’s consigned to the ‘Terrible People Of History’ bin forever, the British Museum have amassed an impressive 200 objects to shed a little light on whether he was really all that bad, or if he was more one of those moody, misunderstood types… READ MORE
Details: Nero: The Man Behind The Myth runs at the British Museum (closest tube station Russell Square) from 27th May – 24th October. You can book tickets (from £20) right here.
Naturally Brilliant Colour Exhibition | Kew Gardens
“What is colour? Colour is not real.”
Steel yourself for more bombshells like that at Kew Garden’s mind-blowing new installation which displays colour never before produced by humans. They’re the kind of ultra-intense hues that some plants and animals, like hummingbirds, can make naturally thanks to microscopic structures that reflect light in a particular way. Now, the wizards at Lifescaped have discovered how to recreate it, and you can see incredible new artwork using this Pure Structural Colour right here.
Details: Naturally Brilliant Colour runs at Kew Gardens (closest tube station, Kew Gardens) until 26th September. Entry is included with tickets to the gardens – you can book those right here.
Our Broken Planet: How We Got Here and Ways to Fix It | Natural History Museum
This free display showcases the myriad ways humans have managed to trash the planet, from mowing down down rainforests to feed our sugar addiction, to mining lithium for our phone batteries. Be prepared to walk out feeling like everything you’re wearing, eating and carrying is somehow damaging the environment. But it’s not all doom and gloom – you’ll also see loads of inspirational examples of how scientists around the world are working together to fix our mistakes.
Details: Our Broken Planet runs at the Natural History Museum (closest tube station South Kensington) from 21st May. It’s free to visit, but you’ll need to book a timed entry ticket here.
While you’re there…
Wildlife Photographer of the Year | Until 1st August | £14.95
Just to be clear, this showcases photographers OF wildlife, not photographers that ARE wildlife. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most exciting annual exhibitions in London, and it’s back this month.
Fantastic Beasts™: The Wonder of Nature | Until 3rd January 2022 | £22
This long-awaited exhibition takes a bunch of bizarre, unusual and magical creatures from the Harry Potter universe, and raises you a bunch of even more bizarre, unusual and magical creatures from nature.
Museum of the Home Reopens
The Museum Formerly Known As Geffrye throws open its doors this summer after a three-year refurb. The amazing living room time warp is still there, but there’s a load of new stuff to catch up with, including some beautiful new gardens and a sound installation in the undercroft inspired by 18th century servants. Which, if nothing else, just gives you a good excuse to say ‘undercroft’.
Details: The Museum of the Home (closest tube station Hoxton) reopens on 12th June. Entry is free, but you’ll need to book ahead here.
London Design Biennale 2021 | Somerset House
Somerset House are breaking all the rules for this year’s Design Biennale. Except the ones about social distancing and mask-wearing – those will stay intact. But they will be recklessly defying the 18th century directive that explicitly states NO TREES can be planted in the courtyard… by planting 400 of them. This wild, unfettered rebellion is spearheaded by Es Devlin, set designer for Beyoncé and the London Olympics, who is this year’s artistic director of the LDB. Inside, you’ll also be able to see installations from 50 other countries, including 100 Guatemalan rain-sticks, a kind of literary confession booth housing two introverted writers from Latvia, and a series of giant metronomes producing what can only be described as emotive smells.
Details: The London Design Biennale 2021 is at Somerset House (closest tube station Temple) from 1 – 27th June. Tickets cost £22.50, and you can book here.
Gaia Exhibition | Old Royal Naval College
If you didn’t catch it during what felt like a teensy window of stuff being open last year, Luke Jerram’s jaw-dropping artwork Gaia – a huge, illuminated Earth – is returning to London this summer. And the setting isn’t too shabby, either: it’s hanging in Greenwich’s Painted Hall, also known as ‘the Sistine Chapel of London’ thanks to the 30,000 sq ft of hand-painted murals slapped onto every possible surface.
Details: Gaia is at the Old Royal Naval College (closest tube station Cutty Sark DLR) from 30th May – 1st July. Tickets cost £13.50 (but kids go free), and you can book here.
Van Gogh Alive Exhibition | Kensington Gardens
Van Go? Van Goff? Whatever, you know his paintings. Maybe you’ve even seen them in real life. But have you seen them blown up as larger-than-life projections that swirl around you in perfectly choreographed synchronicity alongside the sights, sounds and smells of France and the Netherlands? No? Well 7,000,000 people around the world have; they seemed to like it; and as of June, you can join them. READ MORE
Details: Van Gogh Alive is at Kensington Gardens (closest tube station South Kensington) from 4th June – 26th September. Tickets cost from £24, and you can book here.
Main image: Alice: Curiouser & Curiouser at the V&A
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