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The best exhibitions to see in London in 2024, from CUTE at Somerset House to Francis Bacon at the NPG

Playing dress-up with AI, 2023, by Graphic Thought Facility, on display in CUTE at Somerset House (Graphic Thought Facility)
Playing dress-up with AI, 2023, by Graphic Thought Facility, on display in CUTE at Somerset House (Graphic Thought Facility)

There's no city better than London for art, and this is a hill we are prepared to die on. This year is looking particularly rich, especially for women artists, with a bumper crop of solo and duo exhibitions across public institutions, for both contemporary and historical figures, raising their profile higher than it's ever been.

Along with an exploration of our obsession with all things adorable, an in-depth look at the life of a Roman legionary, a major show paying homage to one of Britain's most celebrated supermodels and a show revealing how Black painters are rethinking landscape, it's going to be an amazing year of exhibitions in the capital.

CUTE

Squeeeeeee! From Hello Kitty to big-eyes emojis, this landmark exhibition will explore the irresistible rise of cuteness, and the way, they say, "it seeks to enhance, disrupt and re-imagine the world we live in today", which surely sounds more sinister than it's meant to?

Somerset House, January 25 to April 14; somersethouse.org.uk

Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.

 (Serpentine Galleries)
(Serpentine Galleries)

The first institutional solo presentation for the pioneering American artist in more than 20 years brings together her provocative, striking and often wryly amusing photo/text collages. They're memes before memes were even invented.

Serpentine South, February 1 to March 17; serpentinegalleries.org

Legion: Life in the Roman Army

Copper alloy Roman legionary helmet (The Trustees of the British Museum)
Copper alloy Roman legionary helmet (The Trustees of the British Museum)

This look at life as part of the world's then-pre-eminent fighting force asks all the questions you've got – what was it like having a family on the fort? What drew disadvantaged young men to join up? How did the occupiers deal with the occupied? Sounds like it might resonate more than we think.

British Museum, February 1 to June 21; britishmuseum.org

Entangled Pasts, 1768 - now: Art, Colonialism and Change

Portrait of a Man (probably Francis Barber) by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1770 (Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston)
Portrait of a Man (probably Francis Barber) by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1770 (Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston)

This unique exhibition promises energy and impact by the bringing together of over 100 historical and contemporary artworks, in dialogue with each other – from J.M.W. Turner and Ellen Gallagher to Joshua Reynolds and Yinka Shonibare.

Royal Academy, February 3 to April 28; royalacademy.org.uk

When Forms Come Alive

Tara Donovan, Untitled (Mylar), 2011/2018 (Photo: Christopher Burke. Courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery)
Tara Donovan, Untitled (Mylar), 2011/2018 (Photo: Christopher Burke. Courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery)

Hopefully not as terrifying as it sounds, this group show of contemporary sculpture that spans more than 60 years looks, it says, at the ways in which artists from Franz West to Lynda Benglis have drawn on 'movement, flux and organic growth'. So, it'll be weird and, we hope, wonderful.Hayward Gallery, February 7 to May 6; southbankcentre.co.uk

Frank Auerbach: The Charcoal Heads

Frank Auerbach (b.1931), Head of Gerda Boehm, 1961 (The artist, courtesy of Frankie Rossi Art Projects, London)
Frank Auerbach (b.1931), Head of Gerda Boehm, 1961 (The artist, courtesy of Frankie Rossi Art Projects, London)

This will be the first time that London artist Frank Auerbach’s post-war charcoal drawings, each made over a period of months and several sittings in the 1950s and early 1960s, have been brought together as a comprehensive group. They will be shown with a selection of paintings he made of the same sitters.

Courtauld Gallery, February 9 to May 27; courtauld.ac.uk

Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art

Through work by artists from Magdalena Abakanowicz (whose 2023 Tate show was a revelation) to Louise Bourgeois and Judy Chicago, Tracey Emin and Cecilia Vicuña to Yinka Shonibare, this show will shine a light on artists from the 1960s to today "who have explored the transformative and subversive potential of textiles".

Barbican, February 14 to May 26; barbican.org.uk

Soulscapes

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Cassava Garden, 2015 (© Njideka Akunyili Crosby)
Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Cassava Garden, 2015 (© Njideka Akunyili Crosby)

Landscape can feel like a very 'historical' format, right? Wrong. This exhibition, curated by Lisa Anderson, Director of the Black Cultural Archives, looks at how contemporary artists from the African Diaspora such as Hurvin Anderson, Isaac Julien, Phoebe Boswell and Alberta Whittle have used it to look at our connection with the world around us.

Dulwich Picture Gallery, February 14 to June 24; dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Yoko Ono, Music of the Mind

Yoko Ono, Film No. 4 (Bottoms), 1966 (Courtesy the artist)
Yoko Ono, Film No. 4 (Bottoms), 1966 (Courtesy the artist)

Spanning seven decades of the trailblazing artist's practice, this will be the largest exhibition to date in the UK to celebrate the ground-breaking and influential work of artist and activist Yoko Ono, with particular focus on works from her five-year stay in London from 1966, when she met one John Lennon.

Tate Modern, February 15 to September 1; tate.org.uk

Zineb Sedira: Dreams Have No Titles

A not-to-be-missed chance to see the fantastically detailed, immersive installation that the French-Algerian artist created for the French Pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale. Mind out for the tango dancers.

Whitechapel Gallery, February 15 to May 12; whitechapelgallery.org

The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure

The presence and absence of the Black figure in Western art history is the starting point for this show which tells a story of representation through works by the likes of Michael Armitage, Denzil Forrester, Lubaina Himid, Claudette Johnson, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Chris Ofili, Kerry James Marshall and more, and sheds light on the social, psychological and cultural contexts in which they were produced.National Portrait Gallery, February 22 to May 19; npg.org.uk

Sargent and Fashion

John Singer Sargent, Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess d'Abernon, 1904 (Birrmingham Museum of Art. Photo Sean Pathasema)
John Singer Sargent, Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess d'Abernon, 1904 (Birrmingham Museum of Art. Photo Sean Pathasema)

Those silks! Those satins! John Singer Sargent had a stylist's eye for the sartorial and often manipulated the dress of his sitters (including the notorious Madame X, whose errant shoulder strap in his painting nearly destroyed her reputation). This will be like leafing through the pages of a particularly sumptuous issue of Vogue, but better.

Tate Britain, February 22 to July 2; tate.org.uk

Angelica Kauffman

Angelica Kauffman, self-portrait with bust of Minerva, c. 1780-81 (Gottfried Keller Foundation, Federal Office of Culture, Bern)
Angelica Kauffman, self-portrait with bust of Minerva, c. 1780-81 (Gottfried Keller Foundation, Federal Office of Culture, Bern)

She may have started out her career as a highly talented novelty, but Angelica Kauffman, who was one of only two women founders of the Royal Academy (the next to be appointed was Dame Laura Knight, 168 years later) was a bona fide prodigy, a highly accomplished painter who was also charming, intelligent, business-minded and impeccable of reputation. I slightly want to be her.

Royal Academy, March 1 to June 30; royalacademy.org.uk

David Bowie: A London Day

 (Kevin Davies)
(Kevin Davies)

In 1992, photographer Kevin Davies spent a day with the icon that is David Bowie, capturing him over the course of his 24 hours in London while he was preparing to release his album Black Tie White Noise. This show, curated by Standard editor Dylan Jones, is drawn from Davies rediscovered boxes of perfectly preserved film negatives of 400+ images from that day.

Fitzrovia Chapel, March 1-20; fitzroviachapel.org

Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence

Tropical Modernism was an architectural style developed in the hot, humid conditions of West Africa in the 1940s. After independence, India and Ghana adopted the style as a symbol of modernity and progressiveness, distinct from colonial culture. This exhibition, born out of a collaboration between the V&A, the Architectural Association and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana, will highlight the architects and designers behind the movement.

V&A South Kensington, March 2 to September 22; vam.ac.uk

Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron: Portraits to Dream in

Sadness (Ellen Terry) Julia Margaret Cameron 1864 (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los An)
Sadness (Ellen Terry) Julia Margaret Cameron 1864 (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los An)

Two of my favourite artists are brought together; two of the most influential women in the history of photography, a century apart, but both exploring portraiture beyond its ability to record, instead using their own imagination to explore beauty, symbolism, transformation and storytelling.

National Portrait Gallery, March 21 to June 16; npg.org.uk

The Biba story: 1964-1975

Though it lasted only ten years, Barbara Hulanicki's iconic label remains influential even today. From the first simple shift dresses, to the super-glam wraps, sequinned bodices, leopard print coats, trouser suits and floppy hats that made the Biba woman stand out, this show brings together some lush looks from the height of the British brand to tell its story.

Fashion and Textile Museum, March 22 to September 8; fashiontextilemuseum.org

Yinka Shonibare CBE

A solo exhibition for the multi-disciplinary artist, whose signature batik fabrics adorn installations, sculptures, quilts and woodcuts to explore cultural identity and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalisation. They're beautiful, thoughtful and brilliant.Serpentine South, April 12 to September 1; serpentinegalleries.org

Expressionists: Kandinksy, Munter and the Blue Rider

Gabriele Münter, Portrait of Marianne von Werefkin, 1909 (DACS 2023)
Gabriele Münter, Portrait of Marianne von Werefkin, 1909 (DACS 2023)

The Blue Rider sounds like a painting, or a YA novel, but in the early 20th century it was a groundbreaking group of artists, both men and women, that gathered around Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter to experiment with colour, sound and light, creating bold and vibrant works rarely seen in the UK.

Tate Modern, April 25 to October 20; tate.org.uk

Beyond the Bassline

Sound system set up, Notting Hill Carnival, 2014 (Adrian Boot / Urbanimage.tv)
Sound system set up, Notting Hill Carnival, 2014 (Adrian Boot / Urbanimage.tv)

The first major exhibition to document 500 years of Black music in Britain, from Tudor musician John Blanke and the 19th century composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, through to contemporary record producer and DJ, Nia Archives. It will spotlight venues across the country, as well as carnivals, community centres and record shops.British Library, April 26 to August 26; bl.uk

Michelangelo: The Last Decades

Michelangelo sketch (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
Michelangelo sketch (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

It's easy to forget that the British Museum's holdings of drawings and works on paper are quite as astonishing as they are. This exhibition looks at the last 30 years of Michelangelo's remarkable life, when his return to Rome brought him new commissions and reunited him with some of his closest friends, through intimate letters, poems and drawings.British Museum, May 2 to July 28; britishmuseum.org

Fragile Beauty: Photographs from the Sir Elton John and David Furnish Collection

Fashion, celebrity, reportage and the male body are just some of the focus points in this exhibition, bound to be gorgeous (one of the key pillars of Sir Elton and David Furnish's collecting is the acquisition of the best possible prints), which showcases one of the country's most exquisite private collections of photography.V&A, May 8 to January 5; vam.ac.uk

Now You See Us: Women Artists in Britain 1520-1920

Angelica Kauffman, R.A, Colour 1778-80 (© Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photographer: John Hammond)
Angelica Kauffman, R.A, Colour 1778-80 (© Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photographer: John Hammond)

We cannot WAIT for this one. The last ten years have seen a flourishing in interest and visibility for women artists, for so long relegated to second best or forgotten entirely, their works misattributed to men or forgotten entirely. Starting with the women miniaturists at the Tudor court, this show does everything it can to reveal the talents so infuriatingly buried.

Tate Britain, May 16 to October 13; tate.org.uk

Judy Chicago: Revelations

The second of three shows by important American women to deservedly take up space at the Serpentine this year will focus on the pioneering feminist artist Judy Chicago's drawings, bringing together “archival and never-before-seen works, preparatory studies, notebooks and sketchbooks... to express Chicago’s innermost thoughts”.

Serpentine North, May 22 to September 1; serpentinegalleries.org

Alvaro Barrington

Alvaro Barrington (Jeremiah Cumberbatch)
Alvaro Barrington (Jeremiah Cumberbatch)

The annual Tate Britain Commission, which takes over the building's Duveens Galleries, this year goes to the London-based American artist Alvaro Barrington, whose muscular, multimedia work, as he describes it, is "concerned with celebrating communities in the way that they celebrate themselves, and the diverse cultural languages in which we celebrate ourselves".

Tate Britain, May 29 to November 10; tate.org.uk

Zanele Muholi

A welcome return for the South African artist's show from 2020/21, which Tate has basically decided not enough people saw due to the pandemic. This iteration will include new work made since then, so even if you saw Muholi's stark but beautiful photography documenting and celebrating the lives of South Africa’s Black lesbian, gay, trans, queer and intersex communities, you should come back.

Tate Modern, June 6 to January 26, 2025; tate.org.uk

Gavin Jantjes: To Be Free! A Retrospective (1970 – 2023)

The largest solo presentation in the UK to date for the Oxfordshire-based South African painter and printmaker, which brings together more than five decades of the artist’s practice to look at Jantjes’s formative years in Cape Town during the early years of apartheid and how his art and activism have played a transformative role.

Whitechapel Gallery, June 12 to September 1; whitechapelgallery.org

Roger Mayne: Youth

Roger Mayne, Men and boys in Southam Street, London, 1959 (Roger Mayne Archive / Mary Evan)
Roger Mayne, Men and boys in Southam Street, London, 1959 (Roger Mayne Archive / Mary Evan)

The influential photographer Roger Mayne's gorgeous documentary images, taken during the 1950s and early 1960s, celebrated the lives of young people growing-up. Picturing children at play and the emerging phenomena of the swaggering teenager, Mayne captured the energy of post-war Britain.

Courtauld Gallery, June 14 to September 1; courtauld.ac.uk

Yoshida: Three Generations of Japanese Printmaking

Yoshida Fujio,Yellow Iris,1954 (Photograph by Mareo Suemasa)
Yoshida Fujio,Yellow Iris,1954 (Photograph by Mareo Suemasa)

The first exhibition of its kind in the UK – and Europe more widely – brings together artworks by the Yoshida family, a Japanese artistic dynasty. It will focus on three generations of woodblock print artists and trace the evolution of Japanese printmaking across two centuries, culminating in a new site-specific installation of cherry blossom by Yoshida Ayomi, Hodaka’s and Chizuko’s daughter.

June 19 to October 20; dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII’s Queens

Tudor paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger meets contemporary photography by Hiroshi Sugimoto alongside many other images in this show, which looks at the lives and afterlives of the six women who had the misfortune to marry Henry VIII.National Portrait Gallery, June 20 to September 8; npg.org.uk

NAOMI

NAOMI is at the V&A from June 22 (Marco Bahler)
NAOMI is at the V&A from June 22 (Marco Bahler)

Like a Brazilian footballer, she only needs one name. This show will look at the phenomenon that is Naomi Campbell, through the work of international designers with whom she's worked, and celebrate her creative collaborations, activism and far-reaching cultural impact. Get your tickets early, it's bound to be a big one.

V&A, June 22 to April 6; vam.ac.uk

Francis Alÿs

Tired of dragging the kids round exhibitions they couldn't care less about? Try this one by the Belgian artist, his largest institutional solo exhibition in the UK for almost 15 years. Conceived as a welcoming space for all children, this expansion of his glorious presentation at the 2022 Venice Biennale, of films documenting children at play, will transform the Barbican Art Gallery into a cinematic playground. Barbican, June 26 to September 1; barbican.org.uk

Anthony McCall

Since 1973, the American artist Anthony McCall has been known for his 'solid light' installations, that transform a space into something between sculpture, drawing and cinema. A thin mist and slowly evolving planes of projected light make for a magical experience.

Tate Modern, June 27 to April 27; tate.org.uk

In the Eye of the Storm: Modernism in Ukraine, 1900-1930s

Davyd Burliuk, Carousel, 1921 (The Burliuk Foundation)
Davyd Burliuk, Carousel, 1921 (The Burliuk Foundation)

A testament to the resilience of the Ukrainian people, this show explores the bold, experimental and groundbreaking modernist movement in the country during a time of collapsing empires, the First World War, the fight for independence, and the eventual establishment of Soviet Ukraine.

Royal Academy, June 29 to October 13; royalacademy.org

Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award

New year, new sponsor, but the same brilliant exhibition – now more than 40 years old, the competition, open to everyone aged eighteen and over, showcases the very best in contemporary portrait painting.

National Portrait Gallery, July 11 to October 27; npg.org.uk

Michael Craig-Martin

One of the most influential artists and teachers of his generation, Michael Craig-Martin is a seminal figure in conceptual art (and taught a number of the YBAs). This is the largest survey yet for the artist, whose Pop/Minimalist work spans sculpture, installation, painting, drawing and print.

Royal Academy, September 21 to December 10; royalacademy.org

Turner Prize 2024

This year's show breathed new life into the rather waning prize, just in time for its 40th year. With a total prize pot of £55,000, it remains one of the most financially lucrative art prizes, and a chance to take the temperature of the British contemporary scene.

Tate Britain, September 25 to February 16, 2025; tate.org.uk

Silk Roads (working title)

Sancai camel (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
Sancai camel (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

Follow how the journeys of people, objects and ideas shaped cultures and histories in the period AD 500–1000 – a pivotal period in the history of the ‘silk road’. Going beyond the idea of a simple trade route between ‘East’ and ‘West’, this story spans Afro-Eurasia, from Japan to Britain, highlighting the fruits and perils of cross-cultural exchanges while inspiring reflections on global connections today.British Museum, September 26 to February 23, 2025; britishmuseum.org

War and the Mind

Research on the psychological impact of war really only began in the mid-20th century, but since then we've learned so much about what it can do to our minds. From civilians caught up in war’s turmoil, to frontline troops under bombardment or on consistent alert against an unseen threat, this major exhibition will shine a light on the many and varied psychological dimensions to war and conflict.

Imperial War Museum, September 27 to April 27, 2025; iwm.org.uk

Monet and London: Views of the Thames

Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament (Le Parlement, soleil couchant) 1904 (Museum Barberini, Potsdam)
Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament (Le Parlement, soleil couchant) 1904 (Museum Barberini, Potsdam)

The French Impressionist made some of his most remarkable pictures in London, not of haystacks or poplars, but of the capital's ever-changing river and skies. He showed them in Paris is 1904, but was thwarted in his fervent wish to exhibit them in London... until now. This is the show the artist curated, and bound to be a smash hit so pick up your tickets as soon as you can.

Courtauld Gallery, September 27 to January 19, 2025; courtauld.ac.uk

Lauren Halsey

This is the first solo exhibition of the American artist Lauren Halsey's work in the UK It will showcase her wide-ranging practice, which is deeply rooted in the neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles in which her family has lived for generations and comprises immersive installations and stand-alone objects that celebrate the community’s vitality, and represent creative resistance to growing gentrification.Serpentine South, October to January, 2025; serpentinegalleries.org

Lygia Clark

Another first, as a major UK public gallery survey of work by the Brazilian artist, who died in 1988. It explores a pivotal moment in Clark’s artistic journey when, in the 1950s and early 1960s, her approach shifted from the object as a work of art towards an experience that elicits and foregrounds audience participation. Fun!

Whitechapel Gallery, October 2 to January 12; whitechapelgallery.org

Mike Kelly: Ghost and Spirit

Nearly 14 years after his death, this exhibition showcases the work of the American artist Mike Kelley, which drew on popular and underground culture, literature, and philosophy to explore how the roles we play in society are entangled with the historical and fictional stories we consume. Comprising drawing, collage, performance, found objects, and video, as well as his breakthrough 'craft' sculptures made from textile and plush toys, and multi-media installations, it promises to be fascinating.

Tate Modern, October 2 to March 9, 2025; tate.org.uk

Haegue Yang: Leap Year

Installation view of Haegue Yang, ETA 1994–2018 (Museum Ludwig, Saša Fuis, Cologne)
Installation view of Haegue Yang, ETA 1994–2018 (Museum Ludwig, Saša Fuis, Cologne)

Haegue Yang may not be a household name here, but in her native South Korea the 52 year-old artist is a genuine art superstar. This show looks at her varied and wide-ranging practice from the 2000s onwards, including installation, sculpture, collage, photography and video.

Hayward Gallery, October 9 to January 5, 2025; southbankcentre.co.uk

Francis Bacon Portraits

Alongside the artist’s self-portraits, sitters in this show of works from the 1950s onwards include Lucian Freud, Isabel Rawsthorne and Bacon's lovers Peter Lacy and George Dyer, among many more. It will explore Bacon’s deep connection to portraiture and how he challenged its traditional definitions, while also tracing his life through the friends and lovers he depicts. Rarely flattering, never less than fascinating.

National Portrait Gallery, October 10 to January 19, 2025; npg.org.uk

Medieval Women

Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies - Harley MS 4431, f. 290r (British Library)
Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies - Harley MS 4431, f. 290r (British Library)

Using the British Library's extensive collections, this show will explore the challenges, achievements and daily lives of women in Europe from 1100-1500 through their own words, and uncover their rich and varied lives through original documents and artefacts to reveal their influence across private, public and spiritual realms.British Library, October 25 to 2 March, 2025; bl.uk

Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael: Florence, c.1504

Florence 1504 must have been ELECTRIC. For a brief period, three of the greatest and most influential artists who ever lived, crossed over in the city, competing fiercely for the top patrons of the day. This show explores that moment, the rivalry between the two older men, and their impact on the young upstart, Raphael. I mean, wow.

Royal Academy, November 9 to February 16, 2025; royalacademy.org.uk

Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize

New year, same sponsor (see the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award above!) but as ever this brilliant exhibition of photographic portraiture will be hugely popular. As with its sister competition, also at the NPG earlier in the year, it's open to everyone aged eighteen and over, and showcases the very best in contemporary work of its kind. National Portrait Gallery, November 14 to February 23, 2025; npg.org.uk

Photographing 80s Britain: A Critical Decade

Paul Trevor, Outside police station, Bethnal Green Road, London E2, 17 July 1978 (Paul Trevor)
Paul Trevor, Outside police station, Bethnal Green Road, London E2, 17 July 1978 (Paul Trevor)

Turbulent times breed extraordinary work, and this show traces the response of a diverse community of photographers, collectives and publications which created radical responses to the Thatcher years, with a backdrop of race uprisings, the miner strikes, section 28, the AIDS pandemic and gentrification.

Tate Britain, November 21 to May 5, 2025; tate.org.uk

Electric Dreams

This fun-sounding show celebrates the early innovators of optical, kinetic, programmed and digital art, who pioneered a new era of immersive sensory installations and automatically-generated works, from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Tate Modern, November 28 to June 1, 2025; tate.org.uk