London Exhibitions Guide 2021 | Last Updated 24.08.21
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 tribal struggles; 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).
Noël Coward: Art & Style | Guildhall Gallery
Noël Coward was an extraordinary person who led an extraordinary life, and now a free exhibition at the Guildhall Gallery is throwing a little light on the man, the myth he created, and that star quality that surrounded him. It’s curated by a bona fide Coward superfan, Brad Rosenstein, who has already put on acclaimed exhibitions across the U.S. The basic idea behind it is to show the enormous cultural ripples Coward produced, uplifting the nation through two world wars and one Great Depression, and how those ripples are still felt today… READ MORE
Details: Noël Coward: Art & Style runs at the Guildhall Gallery from now until 23rd Dec 2021. Tickets are free, but must be pre-booked. You can find out more, and secure your spot at the website right here.
The Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition | Covent Garden
There’s a new Harry Potter show in town, and it looks like it’ll be here for quite a spell. Warner Bros’ latest dalliance into the world of witchcraft & wizardry is a photographic exhibition exploring behind-the-scenes images from a decade’s worth of classic Potter flicks, all topped off by a genuine bottled butterbeer bar… READ MORE
Details: The Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition is open now. Tickets on sale now (£20 per adult) and you can get them right here.
Phantoms of Surrealism | Whitechapel Gallery
When people think surrealism, they often think of
purple giraffes eating bagpipes Salvador Dali. But the fact is that he did not invent the art form, and a great many of his predecessors have gone un-celebrated. Until now. The Whitechapel Gallery is putting on a show examining the pivotal role of women as both artists and as behind-the-scenes organisers within the surrealism movement in Britain in the 1930s. Works by Sheila Legge, Claude Cahun, Ithell Colquhoun, and Diana Brinton Lee will all be showcased, and they are incredible…
Details: Phantoms of Surrealism runs at the Whitechapel Gallery until 12 December 2021. It’s free, but you must book a time slot, which you can do right here.
Our Future Planet | Science Museum
Many of the world’s scientists aren’t thinking about slowing, or even stopping climate change – they’re thinking about reversing it. This exhibition is an exploration of the science of Carbon Capture and how agriculture, technology, and plain old trees can help. You’ll see everything from ‘air vodka’ made from sequestered carbon, to CO2-sucking mechanical trees…
Details: Our Future Planet is on at the Science Museum until the end of the year. It’s completely free, but you must pre-book your entry to the museum itself, which you can do here.
Ryoji Ikeda | 180 The Strand
If you haven’t heard of him, Ryoji Ikeda is a Japanese artist who specialises in audio visual mind-pretzeling. 180 Strand are putting on his biggest European show yet, and it involves a veritable labyrinth of complete sensory bafflement, from an “intense audio-visualisation that creates a virtual experience akin to entering a black hole”, to a sound installation comprising six colossal Meyer SB-1 speakers, which can ‘throw’ sound at pin-point accuracy over huge distances.
Details: Ryoji Ikeda is showing until 18th September at 180 Strand. You’ll need to pre-book your time slot, and you can do that right here.
David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring | The Royal Academy
While the rest of us were steadfastly refusing to learn how to bake sourdough or learn Japanese, David Hockney spent the pandemic painting on his iPad. He’s created a series of 116 new and optimistic works “in praise of the natural world”. It’s bright, it’s sunny, and it’s just the thing to help clear the cobwebs out of your brain right now.
Details: The Arrival of Spring is being shown in the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries at the Royal Academy until 26 September. You can get tickets (£19–£21) right here.
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) until 12th September. 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) until 31st December. 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) until 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.
On Happiness | The Wellcome Collection | Euston
This should put a smile on your face: the Wellcome Institute’s staging a pair of exhibitions focussed on Joy and Tranquillity. They’ve brought together artists, neuroscientists, philosophers and spiritualists to share installations, objects and ideas, amongst which you’ll find vintage projections of yoga practice; a 15th century medical handbook linking the body and the cosmos; and a stunning Sri Lankan print of Buddha on the path to enlightenment.
Details: On Happiness is showing at the Wellcome Collection until February 27th 2022. It’s completely free to view, but you’ll need to book ahead.
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. READ MORE
Details: Our Broken Planet runs at the Natural History Museum (closest tube station South Kensington) until 18th April 2022. It’s free to visit, but you’ll need to book a timed entry ticket here.
While you’re there…
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 – Newly Reopened
The Museum Formerly Known As Geffrye has opened its doors 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) is open now. Entry is free, but you’ll need to book ahead 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) until 26th September. Tickets cost from £24, and you can book here.
Main image: Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser
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