The best free exhibitions in London – get your culture fix and keep your money for coffee

Jean Arp Untitled, 1927 (Courtesy Waddington Custot)
Jean Arp Untitled, 1927 (Courtesy Waddington Custot)

Spring has finally, gloriously, sprung, and as usual, London is absolutely packed with things to do – whether that’s exhibitions, events, theatre or music.

But of course, it can all get a bit pricey. So if you want to have a great weekend seeing some of London’s best culture, but also want to save a few quid, look no further than this guide to the best art shows to see in the city, which are all absolutely free.

Chris Ofili: Requiem

In this moving commission, Turner Prize-winning British artist Chris Ofili has created a giant art work across Tate Britain’s Northern Staircase to pay tribute to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. The dream-like, brightly-coloured mural gives a special nod to fellow artist Khadija Saye who was killed in the 2017 tragedy.

Tate Britain, ongoing; tate.org.uk

Materials and Objects

Eleven rooms of the Tate are dedicated to this visual exploration of the varied materials that artists have used over the decades. Expect to see works such as Doris Salcedos famous metal structures, Marcel Duchamp’s toilet seat and Sarah Sze’s installations.

Tate Modern, ongoing; tate.org.uk

Shaqúelle Whyte: Yute, you’re gonna be fine

Shaqúelle Whyte, It's inferred, 2024 (Photo: Eva Herzog)
Shaqúelle Whyte, It's inferred, 2024 (Photo: Eva Herzog)

Shaqúelle Whyte’s enigmatic paintings, which often depict figures caught off-guard, ask questions about the human condition, and explore how everyday moments come to form a life.

Pippy Houldsworth, to May 25; houldsworth.co.uk

LR Vandy: Twist

LR Vandy, Dancing in Time Twist, 2023 (Courtesy of the artist and October Gallery)
LR Vandy, Dancing in Time Twist, 2023 (Courtesy of the artist and October Gallery)

Twist is a continuation of Dancing in Time: The Ties That Bind Us, London-based artist LR Vandy’s five-meter-high rope sculpture commissioned for the International Slavery Museum’s 2023 Martin Luther King celebrations. LR Vandy is known for creating thought-provoking sculptures from unusual objects; here she has used ropes and boat hulls to examine the history of trade and power.

October Gallery, to May 25; octobergallery.co.uk

Earthly Bodies

Anwyn Howarth, Earthly Bodies (Courtesy of the artist and Sarah Myerscough Gallery)
Anwyn Howarth, Earthly Bodies (Courtesy of the artist and Sarah Myerscough Gallery)

Featuring the work of Ken Eastman, Luke Fuller, Yoshimi Futamura, Tomonari Hashimoto and Jonathan Keep, this group exhibition is a love letter to ceramics in a series of exquisite pots and sculptures.

Sarah Myerscough Gallery, to June 1; sarahmyerscough.com

Mark Corfield-Moore: We Speak Chicken

Mark Corfield-Moore, Cathedral, 2021 (© the artist, courtesy of Cob Gallery)
Mark Corfield-Moore, Cathedral, 2021 (© the artist, courtesy of Cob Gallery)

In this thought-provoking and humorous exhibition, multidisciplinary artist Mark Corfield-Moore (b. 1988, Bangkok) looks into the history of textile craftsmanship, adopting traditional techniques he learnt in northern Thailand and utilising the methods in his own playful textile works.

Goldsmiths CCA, to June 2; goldsmithscca.art

Acts of Resistance: Photography, Feminisms and The Art of Protest

Sheida Soleimani, Delara, 2015 (© Sheida Soleimani. Courtesy of Edel Assanti)
Sheida Soleimani, Delara, 2015 (© Sheida Soleimani. Courtesy of Edel Assanti)

Anti-rape demonstrations in Bangladesh, Iranian unrest after Mahsa Amini’s death, reactions to the US Supreme Court overturning of Roe vs Wade – these are just a few of the global events depicted in Acts of Resistance. The group photography exhibition, which has been organised in collaboration with the V&A, explores documentation as a tool of protest.

South London Gallery, to June 9; southlondongallery.org

Fanciful Figures

Soane office and Antonio Van Assen, Lothbury Court, Bank of England, c.1797-1801 (© Sir John Soane’s Museum, London)
Soane office and Antonio Van Assen, Lothbury Court, Bank of England, c.1797-1801 (© Sir John Soane’s Museum, London)

Drawing largely on pieces in the Lincoln's Inn museum’s fantastic collection, Fanciful Figures shines a light on the small human and animal figures that would populate large-scale Georgian architectural drawings, used by artists to add intrigue and create a sense of size.

Sir John Soane’s Museum, to June 9; soane.org

N.Dash

N Dash (Lévy Gorvy Dayan, photo by Nick Moss)
N Dash (Lévy Gorvy Dayan, photo by Nick Moss)

Lévy Gorvy Dayan’s inaugural London show is a solo exhibition of new paintings by American visual artist N.Dash. The process-focused works are inspired by the natural world and continue her exploration of bodily intelligence, this time honing in on touch.

Lévy Gorvy Dayan, to June 12; levygorvydayan.com

Judith Bernstein: Truth And Chaos

 (Courtesy the artist , Emalin, London and Karma International, Zurich. Photo by Stephen James)
(Courtesy the artist , Emalin, London and Karma International, Zurich. Photo by Stephen James)

An outspoken feminist and anti-war activist, New Jersey-born Judith Bernstein has spent her career making provocative large-scale drawings of genitalia. Her first exhibition in London in over a decade is a retrospective of 30 years of her startling, confrontational works.

Emalin, to June 15; emalin.co.uk

Beyond Surrealism

Jean Arp Untitled, 1927 (Courtesy Waddington Custot)
Jean Arp Untitled, 1927 (Courtesy Waddington Custot)

This illuminating group exhibition presents Surrealist works from pioneers of the movement, such as Giorgio De Chirico, Max Ernst and Joan Miró, alongside lesser-known contemporary artists who continue Surrealist ideas or strategies in their work. Asking questions about reality, the unconscious and perception, the exhibition marks 100 years since the publication of the Surrealist Manifesto.

Waddington Custot, to June 15; waddingtoncustot.com

Uri Aran: zero point everything

Uri Aran, Interiors 2024 (Credit: © Uri Aran. Courtesy the Artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: Dan Bradica)
Uri Aran, Interiors 2024 (Credit: © Uri Aran. Courtesy the Artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: Dan Bradica)

Jerusalem-born, New York-based multimedia artist Uri Aran imagines his works - drawings, paintings, sculptures, collages, photographs - as a visual language or a poem, with a rhythm and repeated motifs within. By exploring how these pieces relate to each other, he raises questions about excess, information, history and lexicons.

Sadie Coles HQ, to June 15; sadiecoles.com

Georg Baselitz: A Confession of My Sins

Georg Baselitz, Oh, ach, dazwischen, 2023 (Photo © White Cube (Theo Christelis))
Georg Baselitz, Oh, ach, dazwischen, 2023 (Photo © White Cube (Theo Christelis))

86-year-old German painter and sculptor Georg Baselitz returns to White Cube Bermondsey for the first time in eight years, presenting a body of new work in which he reflects on a variety of moments from his extraordinary life, and reflects on his art practice to date.

White Cube Bermondsey, to June 16; whitecube.com

Tesfaye Urgessa

Tesfaye Urgessa, As if she's always been, 2022 (Courtesy of the artist and Saatchi Yates)
Tesfaye Urgessa, As if she's always been, 2022 (Courtesy of the artist and Saatchi Yates)

An excellent option for those who won’t be able to make it to see Tesfaye Urgessa’s presentation at Ethiopia’s first National Pavilion at Venice this year. The show spotlights 14 paintings the celebrated Ethiopian painter has created over the last two years in Addis Ababa, Nürtingen and Padua. Depicting contorted human figures, the works deal with the artist’s personal experience of prejudice.

Saatchi Yates, to June 16; saatchiyates.com

Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin, Installation view, 2024 (© Nan Goldin, Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd, Courtesy Gagosian)
Nan Goldin, Installation view, 2024 (© Nan Goldin, Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd, Courtesy Gagosian)

Pioneering photographer and activist Nan Goldin is celebrated for her intimate and provocative depictions of American subcultures, and has become best known for shining a light on the effects of the HIV/AIDS crisis and the opioid epidemic.

Here, see a series of her early black and white photographs, taken between 1972 and 1974. Her work can also be seen at the V&A in the new Fragile Beauty exhibition and at Gagosian’s Charing Cross Road branch from May 30.

Gagosian Burlington Arcade, to June 22; gagosian.com

Art Now: Zeinab Saleh

Zeinab Saleh, Early morning, 2024 (Courtesy of the artist and Tate Britain)
Zeinab Saleh, Early morning, 2024 (Courtesy of the artist and Tate Britain)

Art Now is Tate Britain’s long-running exhibition series spotlighting rising stars in the art scene; this time, it’s Kenyan-born and London-based artist Zeinab Saleh’s turn to shine. Drawing on everyday experiences and memories, Saleh uses patterns and silhouettes in soft colours to create a feeling of otherworldliness and intimacy.

Tate Britain, to June 23; tate.org.uk

Matthew Krishanu: The Bough Breaks

Boy in River, 2024, Matthew Krishanu (Courtesy of the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary, Photo: Rob Harris)
Boy in River, 2024, Matthew Krishanu (Courtesy of the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary, Photo: Rob Harris)

Bradford-born Matthew Krishanu draws on his childhood in Bangladesh raised by Christian missionary parents to create this new series of paintings and works on paper. Atmospheric and sometimes haunting, the pieces explore memory, religion and history.

Camden Art Centre, to June 23; camdenartcentre.org

Andrew Omoding: Animals To Remember Uganda

Andrew Omoding, Teddy, 2016 (Image courtesy of the Artist and ActionSpace)
Andrew Omoding, Teddy, 2016 (Image courtesy of the Artist and ActionSpace)

Ugandan-born, London-based artist Andrew Omoding presents a brand new site specific series of abstract installations that incorporate music, video and sculpture, which have been made from repurposed objects and metal. The autobiographical pieces, a continuation of his 2019 presentation at the gallery, reflect on childhood and migration.

Camden Arts Centre, to June 23; camdenartcentre.org

Leo Robinson: DREAM-BRIDGE-OMNIGLYPH

Leo Robinson: DREAM–BRIDGE–OMNIGLYPH, installation view, 2023 (Photo: Marcus Leith)
Leo Robinson: DREAM–BRIDGE–OMNIGLYPH, installation view, 2023 (Photo: Marcus Leith)

Bloomberg’s City of London basement is full of surprises. It not only consists of an art gallery, but it is home to parts of an ancient Roman temple and showcases a number of Roman artefacts too. Its next art commission is DREAM-BRIDGE-OMNIGLYPH, a collection of multimedia works from British artist Leo Robinson that explores ancient myths, personal identity, history, tradition and colonialism.

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE, to June 29; londonmithraeum.com

Soufiane Ababri: Their mouths were full of bumblebees but it was me who was pollinated

 (Soufiane Ababri. Photo: Rebecca Fanuele)
(Soufiane Ababri. Photo: Rebecca Fanuele)

Moroccan artist Soufiane Ababri’s first major solo UK exhibition is a tender investigation of queerness, desire and diasporic life through drawings and set design: “This atmospheric installation won’t give up all its secrets to everyone, but it’s evocative nonetheless,” said the Standard.

Barbican, to June 30; barbican.org.uk

The Conservatory x Ranjani Shettar

Installation view of Ranjani Shettar: Cloud songs on the horizon (Courtesy Barbican Centre, KNMA, Ranjani Shettar © Max Colson, Barbican Art Gallery)
Installation view of Ranjani Shettar: Cloud songs on the horizon (Courtesy Barbican Centre, KNMA, Ranjani Shettar © Max Colson, Barbican Art Gallery)

Not that anyone really needs an excuse to visit the Barbican’s gorgeous conservatory, but the space now features five large-scale works from Indian sculptor Ranjani Shettar. The delightful sculptures, which have been inspired by nature, have been crafted by hand using materials - including wood, stainless steel, muslin - and techniques that are used in traditional Indian craftwork.

Barbican, to July 1; barbican.org.uk

Andrew Pierre Hart: Bio-Data Flows and Other Rhythms – A Local Story

Installation View: Andrew Pierre Hart: Bio-Data Flows and Other Rhythms – A Local Story (Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery. Photo: Above Ground Studio)
Installation View: Andrew Pierre Hart: Bio-Data Flows and Other Rhythms – A Local Story (Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery. Photo: Above Ground Studio)

London-based music producer and interdisciplinary artist Andrew Pierre Hart has created a series of oil paintings, a soundscape, a film and a sculpture, inspired by, and responding to, Whitechapel and its place as a home for diasporic and migrant communities.

Whitechapel Gallery, to July 7; whitechapelgallery.org

Adriano Costa: ax-d. us. t

Adriano Costa, FRANGO ASSADO (You Will Always Be My Baby I Won’t Tell Anyone), 2024 (Courtesy of the artist and Emalin, London. Photo by Stephen James)
Adriano Costa, FRANGO ASSADO (You Will Always Be My Baby I Won’t Tell Anyone), 2024 (Courtesy of the artist and Emalin, London. Photo by Stephen James)

Brazilian artist Adriano Costa uses everyday materials to create his sculpture, installation and painting works. His minimalist and modernist work is here presented in – and draws from – the historical Clerk’s House in Shoreditch High Street.

Emalin, to July 13; emalin.co.uk

Hannah Starkey

Hannah Starkey, Untitled, November 2023 (© Hannah Starkey, courtesy Maureen Paley, London)
Hannah Starkey, Untitled, November 2023 (© Hannah Starkey, courtesy Maureen Paley, London)

Hannah Starkey often uses staged settings and actors to achieve her large-scale photos, each shot lushly cinematic. Thought-provoking, full of rich colours and often featuring women, the images work as a meditation on the female experience and on women’s representation in contemporary culture. Here, see more of her illuminating works.

Maureen Paley, to July 14; maureenpaley.com

The Last Caravaggio

The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula by Caravaggio, 1610 (Archivio Patrimonio Artistico Intesa Sanpaolo / Luciano Pedicini, Napoli)
The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula by Caravaggio, 1610 (Archivio Patrimonio Artistico Intesa Sanpaolo / Luciano Pedicini, Napoli)

Violent, cinematic, eternally provocative, Caravaggio’s kinetic paintings continue to inspire. Which is why a one-room show of just two of the Italian master’s paintings – The National Gallery’s Salome with the Head of John the Baptist (1609-10) and The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula (1610), seen in London for the first time in 20 years – is one of the most buzzy openings of the year.

The National Gallery, to July 21; nationalgallery.org.uk

Isa Genzken: Wasserspeier and Angels

Installation view, ‘Isa Genzken. Wasserspeier and Angels’ at Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly, London, UK, 2004. (© Isa Genzken. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2024. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth)
Installation view, ‘Isa Genzken. Wasserspeier and Angels’ at Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly, London, UK, 2004. (© Isa Genzken. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2024. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth)

Influential German contemporary artist Isa Genzken, best known for her sculptural works, draws on the aesthetics of Minimalism and punk culture to ask questions about society, capitalism, human experience and perception. Here her 2004 installation, Wasserspeier and Angels, is revived to celebrate two decades since its London debut.

Hauser & Wirth, to July 27; hauserwirth.com

Ibrahim Mahama: Purple Hibiscus

Ibrahim Mahama’s Purple Hibiscus during installation at the Barbican, 2024 (Courtesy Ibrahim Mahama, Red Clay Tamale, Barbican Centre, London and White Cube.  © Pete Cadman, Barbican Centre)
Ibrahim Mahama’s Purple Hibiscus during installation at the Barbican, 2024 (Courtesy Ibrahim Mahama, Red Clay Tamale, Barbican Centre, London and White Cube. © Pete Cadman, Barbican Centre)

Ibrahim Mahama has collaborated with hundreds of craftspeople from Ghana to create this delicate, uplifting installation, which sees the Barbican wrapped in 2,000 square metres of purple cloth. 100 ‘batakaris’ – royal Ghanian robes – have been hand sewn to the brightly-coloured piece that adds a shock of colour to the famous grey tones of the Brutalist space.

Barbican, to August 18; barbican.org.uk

Beryl Cook / Tom of Finland

Beryl Cook, Elvira’s Café, 1997 (Courtesy of the Beryl Cook Estate, John Cook 2023)
Beryl Cook, Elvira’s Café, 1997 (Courtesy of the Beryl Cook Estate, John Cook 2023)

The works of cultural icons Beryl Cook and Tom of Finland are displayed in the same space for the first time: the British artist’s comical scenes next to the Finnish artist’s homoerotic figures, the works playful and political. With the inclusion of archival materials, the survey explores their interconnected ideas concerning gender, sexuality, taste and class.

Studio Voltaire, to August 25; studiovoltaire.org

Yinka Shonibare: Suspended States

Yinka Shonibare CBE, Decolonised Structures, 2022-23. (Yinka Shonibare, Serpentine South Gallery)
Yinka Shonibare CBE, Decolonised Structures, 2022-23. (Yinka Shonibare, Serpentine South Gallery)

Described as “beautiful, alluring and disquieting” and “classic Yinka”, Suspended States, Yinka Shonibare’s first London solo exhibition in more than two decades is a series of illuminating installations made since 2017. Expect statues of Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill wrapped head to toe in bright fabrics; models of buildings that have housed the vulnerable; and his harrowing war library.

Serpentine South Gallery, to September 1; serpentinegalleries.org

Beyond The Matrix: A Sculptural Exhibition by Jodie Carey

Beyond The Matrix: A Sculptural Exhibition by Jodie Carey (AWITA x Brookfield Properties, Beyond the Matrix)
Beyond The Matrix: A Sculptural Exhibition by Jodie Carey (AWITA x Brookfield Properties, Beyond the Matrix)

British artist Jodie Carey’s large-scale installations extend across the giant glass foyer of this east London office, inviting viewers to contemplate the anthropocene, material memory, and the relationship between objects and their environment.

100 Bishopsgate, to September 20; brookfieldproperties.com

Cedric Christie: Oblivious to Your Own Career

Installation view, Cedric Christie (Rocket Gallery)
Installation view, Cedric Christie (Rocket Gallery)

London-based artist Cedric Christie’s training as a welder is evident in his minimalist sculptures made of industrial materials, covered in car paint. In this survey exhibition, he continues his exploration of the “aesthetic of reduction”.

Rocket Gallery, to September 21; rocketgallery.com

Art Without Heroes: Mingei

 (From the collections of the Crafts Study Centre, University for the Creative Arts)
(From the collections of the Crafts Study Centre, University for the Creative Arts)

Mingei, meaning ‘the art of the people’, is an early 20th century Japanese folk-craft style which encompassed ceramics, woodwork, paper, toys, textiles, photography and film. In this wide-ranging, illuminating show, unseen pieces, museum loans and archival footage tell the story of the influential movement.

William Morris Gallery, to September 22; wmgallery.org.uk

Monumental: Tipping The Scales of Historical Design

Joaqium Tenreiro, Credenza (Photography by David Brook, courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery)
Joaqium Tenreiro, Credenza (Photography by David Brook, courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery)

This group exhibition presents the works of nine pioneering designers, including Le Corbusier, Serge Mouille, Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvé, Sergio Rodrigues and Joaquim Tenreiro, and explores questions about scale and perception.

Carpenters Workshop Gallery, to September 22; carpentersworkshopgallery.com

Flaming June

Frederic, Lord Leighton PRA, Flaming June, c. 1895. (Museo de Arte de Ponce. Luis A. Ferré Foundation, Inc.)
Frederic, Lord Leighton PRA, Flaming June, c. 1895. (Museo de Arte de Ponce. Luis A. Ferré Foundation, Inc.)

Frederic Leighton’s most famous painting, the exquisite Flaming June, was originally part of the British artist’s submission to the RA’s Summer Exhibition in 1895. Now, 128 years later, it’s on show at the institution again (on loan from the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico), being shown alongside work from both Leighton and his contemporaries.

Royal Academy of Arts, to January 12, 2025; royalacademy.org.uk

Colin Davidson: Silent Testimony

Walter, Colin Davidson: Silent Testimony (Courtesy of the artist and National Portrait Gallery)
Walter, Colin Davidson: Silent Testimony (Courtesy of the artist and National Portrait Gallery)

Quiet, thought-provoking and moving, the exhibition displays 18 large-scale portraits by the Belfast-born artist Colin Davidson. He’s painted individuals who have experienced loss due to The Troubles, Ireland’s 30-year sectarian conflict.

National portrait Gallery, February 23, 2025; npg.org.uk