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The best art exhibitions to see in London in 2017 4

A guide to London’s best exhibitions in 2017, updated throughout the year. Check back for the latest shows in the capital – updated June

Barbican – Ben Uri – British Library – British Museum

A Journey Through Sci-Fi at The Barbican

The big news at The Barbican is Basquiat: Boom for Real, (September 21 2017 — January 2018) which is the first large-scale UK exhibition of the iconic painter and New York downtown scene prodigy, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Focusing on Basquiat’s relationship to music, text, film and television, the exhibition places the artist within the wider cultural context of the time via paintings, drawings and notebooks – alongside rare film, photography, music and ephemera.

1960s postcard featuring sci-fi graphic design image

Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction, Postcard – An electronic brain of a distant world – Andrey Sokolov. 1968, Moscow Design Museum

Opening in summer 2017, Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction (until September 1) includes original objects and artworks from The Paul G. Allen Family Collection; concept art and models from films Godzilla, Stargate and Dark City; and original manuscripts from iconic authors such as Jules Verne alongside contemporary artistic responses.

Polish Art at Ben Uri

Over at Ben Uri, Art Out of the Bloodlands: A Century of Polish Artists in Britain (until September 17) focuses on refugee and migrant artists from the largest migrant group in Britain. The show, which features 100 years’ worth of art across many different styles, examines Poland’s unsettled past and artists’ response to this, and their new lives in Britain.

A revolution at the British Library

The British Library is one of several London venues marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution with Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths (until August 29), which examines the experiences of the people caught up in the vents via posters, letters, photographs, banners, weapons, items of uniform, recordings and film.

The big autumn show is Harry Potter: A History of Magic (October 20 2017 — February 28 2018) showcasing a fascinating display of wizarding books, manuscripts and magical objects combined with centuries-old British Library treasures with original material from Bloomsbury’s and J.K. Rowling’s own archives.

Treasures of the Scythian tombs at the British Museum

Kohada Koheiji from One Hundred Ghost Tales. Colour woodblock, 1833. Purchase funded by the Theresia Gerda Buch bequest in memory of her parents Rudolph and Julie Buch. © The Trustees of the British Museum. On display from 25 May – 13 August.

One of the most famous Japanese prints of all time is the The British Museum’s jumping off point for Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave (until August 13), which focuses on the last 30 years of Japan’s most renowned artist’s, Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760–1849), career from around 1820 to 1849. It features a broad selection of works including, of course, the Great Wave.

Places of the Mind: British watercolour landscapes 1850—1950 (until August 27) features stunning works from the British Museum’s rich collection of prints by artists who have interpreted landscape on paper during the Victorian and early Modern (20th century) period.

The 125 watercolours and drawings on display range from highly coloured, detailed Pre-Raphaelite attempts to follow John Ruskin’s precepts to ‘go to nature’, to sweeping wash sketches painted on the spot by James McNeill Whistler and Philip Wilson Steer. There are also abstractions by Graham Sutherland and Henry Moore who followed a different aesthetic.

Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia (September 14 2017 — January 14 2018) explores one of the great nomadic civilisations of antiquity. First mentioned by the Assyrians in the ninth century BC and admired by Herodotus, the Scythians developed a powerful alternative economy that dominated a huge region stretching from Siberia to the Black Sea.

Royal Scythian tombs from Siberia and Kazakhstan will be on display together with objects of exceptional beauty including some remarkable surviving objects like multi-coloured (ninth century BC!) rugs, fur-lined garments and accessories, unique horse headgear, beautiful gold objects and much more.


The Courtauld Gallery – Design Museum – Dulwich Picture Gallery – The Estorick Collection

Bloomsbury art and Design at The Courtauld Gallery

Bloomsbury Art & Design (until September 21) continues at The Courtauld Gallery, featuring a selection of work by the infamous group bequeathed to the gallery by member Roger Fry. The exhibition includes paintings and drawings from artists such as Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, as well as decorative arts from the enterprising group’s Omega Workshop.

In response to this, CORPUS: The Body Unbound (June 16 – July 16) is an exhibition from students studying art museum curation and explores how artist interpret and engage with the body through their work.

Soutine’s Portraits: Waiters, Cooks and Bellhops (October 19 2017 – January 21 2017) showcases 20th Century artist Chaïm Soutine’s obsession with French hotel staff, their mannerisms and their bright uniforms. These expressionist images established Soutine as one of the leading artists in Paris in the 1900s.

Exploring colour at the Design Museum

As befits its glittering new building in Piccadilly, The Design Museum has an ambitious programme of events lined up for 2017.

California (until October 15) takes its jumping off point the idea that California has pioneered tools of personal liberation, from LSD to skateboards and iPhones. Cue a parade of political posters, personal computers and self-driving cars and a look beyond the hardware to explore how user interface designers in the Bay Area are shaping some of our most common daily experiences.

The summer exhibition is Breathing Colour: Hella Jongerius (until September 24), an installation-based exhibition that takes a deeper look at the way colour behaves, exploring shapes, materials, shadows and reflections.

Singer Sargent watercolours in Dulwich

a colour sketch of a woman reclining beneath a white parasol

John Singer Sargent, The Lady with the Umbrella, 1911. Museu de Montserrat. Donated by J. Sala Ardiz. Image © Dani Rovira

Down in leafy Dulwich,  Dulwich Picture Gallery has Sargent: The Watercolours (until October 8), the first UK show in nearly 100 years devoted to watercolours by the Anglo-American artist, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). The show brings together 80 paintings from private and public collections, revealing Sargent’s idiosyncratic view of the world and the scale of his achievement.

Tove Jansson (October 25 2017 – January 28 2018) lifts the lid on the world of Moomins creator, Tove Marika Jansson who was born in Helsinki in 1914 and went to forge a career as an illustrator, children’s author writer and artist.

Art as Design at the Estorick Collection

The newly refurbished Estorick Collection has Franco Grignani: Art as Design 1950-1990 (until September 10); Grignani’s swirling woolmark design anticipated many of the key ideas and visual characteristics of Op Art by several years.


Fashion & Textile Museum – Guildhall Art Gallery – House of Illustration

Rock n roll romanticism at FTM

Rock-n-roll romanticism – courtesy of The World of Anna Sui (until October 1) – arrives at The Fashion and Textile Museum for the summer with a look at how the American fashion designer reinvents pop culture for every new generation. Over 100 looks from the designer’s archive present a roll call of archetypes from Surfers and School Girls to Hippies, Mods and Punks.

Presenting a new body of work created especially for the ICA, the exhibition includes exploratory vocal and movement performances of Elaine Mitchener, Barbara Gamper and her dancers: Eve Stainton, Ria Uttridge and Be van Vark, with an invited audience.

#LondonTrending at Guildhall Art Gallery

As the home of the City of London’s art collection it seems fitting that Guildhall Art Gallery’s summer show is an exploration of the radical art and artists who worked in the capital. #LondonTrending (until August 28) looks at the collaborations between groups of groundbreaking artists from the mid-20th century to the early noughties, including Damian Hirst, Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake.

painted backdrop for anime film in shades of blue


Anime Architecture at House of Illustration

In Camden, House of Illustration has Anime Architecture: Backgrounds of Japan (until September 10). The First of its kind in the UK, the show brings together a selection of handmade backgrounds from a variety of Japanese anime sci-fi films including 1995’s influential flick Ghost in the Shell. These beautiful, intricate backdrops are easily overlooked and this display helps bring the backdrop to the foreground and give them the appreciation they deserve.


Imperial War Museum – Jewish Museum – Leighton House Museum

100 Years of Modern War at IWM

photomontage image of skeleton reading protect & survive pamphlet

Protect and Survive (1981), photomontage on paper © Peter Kennard

At Imperial War Museum London, 2017 marks 100 years of studying and displaying modern war with People Power: Fighting for Peace (until August 28) the first major UK exhibition exploring the evolution of anti-war protest from the First World War to the present day.

Syria: A Conflict Explored (until September 3) is a season of events and displays reflecting upon the ongoing conflict in Syria and includes an exhibition of documentary photography from the war-torn country by Russian photographer Sergey Ponomarev, and an installation bringing together objects, personal stories and interactive film.

The return of Amy Winehouse at Jewish Museum London

The Jewish Museum in London welcomes home one of its most poignant and successful exhibitions as Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait (until September 24) returns after its long stint on the road.

At Home in Antiquity at Leighton House Museum

Leighton House Museum is showing Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity (until October 29) – the largest exhibition about Leighton’s contemporary and closest competitor Lawrence Alma-Tadema to be shown in London since 1913.


National Gallery – Natural History Museum – National Portrait Gallery – Photographers’ Gallery

A racy renaissance at the National Gallery

The National Gallery sees Chris Ofili returning to the gallery for spring to reveal his recent foray into tapestry for Chris Ofili: Weaving Magic (until August 28) which is the result of a collaboration with the internationally renowned Dovecot Tapestry Studio who have produced a hand-woven tapestry reflecting Ofili’s ongoing interest in classical mythology and the stories, magic, and colour of the Trinidadian landscape he inhabits.

painted panel depicting scenes from Christ's life

Scenes from the Life of Christ – Giovanni da Rimini © Image courtesy of the Ministerio dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo, Gallerie Nazionale di Arte Antica di Roma, Palazzo Barberini e Galleria Corsini

Giovanni da Rimini: An Early 14th-Century Masterpiece Reunited (until October 8) sees the exquisite ‘Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and other Saints’ by Giovanni da Rimini, reunited with ‘Scenes from the Life of Christ’ to make the diptych that many experts believe the two masterpieces make.

By contrast Monochrome: Painting in Black and White (November 1 2017 – February 18 2018) comprises works on glass, vellum, ceramic, silk, wood, and canvas by artists such as Rembrandt, Picasso, and Gerhard Richter (1932–) and uncovers the fascinating but little-studied history of black-and-white painting.

Wildlife Photography at the Natural History Museum

At the Natural History Museum, the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year (until September 10) prize exhibition is back with the ever-vivid, surprising and serendipitous images of the creatures, plants and landscapes that share our planet – reminding you of the beauty this world has to offer.

Cezanne’s portraiture at the NPG

Over at the National Portrait Gallery, the BP Portrait Award Exhibition will run at the NPG from June 22 to September 24 2017 showcasing the very best in contemporary portrait painting.

Old Woman Wearing a Ruff and Cap attributed to Jacob Jordaens c.1625-40 © Scottish National Gallery

Following this, the NPG has The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt (until October 22) which explores the moment of encounter between artist and sitter through the work of some of the most masterful of the Renaissance and Baroque eras. The exhibition, which contains over 50 pieces, includes rarely-seen works by European masters, including da Vinci, Holbein and Rubens.

Later in the year, a major exhibition of Cézanne Portraits (October 26 2017 – February 11 2018) brings together over 50 of them from collections across the world, including works never before on public display in the UK.

Cathedral of the Pines at the Photographers’ Gallery

photograph of two women on sofa in lounge with open patio door leading to snowy yard

Gregory Crewdson, Mother and Daughter, 2014 © Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

At The Photographers’ Gallery this summer, the gallery gives over all three of its galleries to images by one artist for the first time. American photographer Gregory Crewsdon’s Cathedral of the Pines (until October 8), set in the rural town of Beckett, Massachusetts, is a series of carefully-staged scenes which resemble film-stills from a tense, but unknown story.


Queen’s Gallery – The Royal Academy – Science Museum – Serpentine Galleries

Art and Power at the Queen’s Gallery

At The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, Canaletto and the Art of Venice (until November 12) brings the irresistible allure of one of the most beautiful cities into view with a spectacular selection of 18th-century Venetian art including some of Canaletto’s greatest works.

Charles II: Art & Power, (December 12 2017 – May 12 2018), revels in the opulence of Charles II’s court and reveals the role of the arts in the re-establishment of the Stuart monarchy in 1660. John Michael Wright’s monumental portrait of Charles II in his coronation robes and old master paintings, together with tapestries and glittering furniture all make an appearance.

Dalí / Duchamp at the RA

The Summer Exhibition (until August 20) at The Royal Academy returns for its 249th successive year to showcase the width and breadth of art being made today. The world’s largest open exhibition has over 1,200 pieces on display from a diverse range of contemporary artists, selected by artist, and keeper of the RA, Eileen Cooper. The show features work by renowned artists such as Gilbert & George and Yinka Shonibare, as well as lesser-known and emerging artists.

Later in the year there’s a recreation of Matisse in the Studio (August 5 – November 12) which will assemble his collection of exotica and ephemera featuring everything from African masks to Chinese calligraphy from which he drew inspiration.

charcoal drawing on paper of all numbers 0-9 laid on top of each other

Jasper Johns, 0 Through 9, 1960. Charcoal on paper. 73 x 58cm. Collection of the artist © Jasper Johns / VAGA, New York / DACS, London 2017. Photo: Jamie Stukenberg / Professional Graphics Inc., Rockford, IL

Jasper Johns (September 23 – December 10) brings together the artist’s paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings for a show that tracks everything from his innovations in sculpture to his use of collage in paintings, giving focus to the different chapters of Johns’ career.

The RA closes the year with a look at two giants of twentieth century art in Dalí / Duchamp (October 7 2017 – January 3 2018) which is the first exhibition to throw light on their surprising relationship and its influence on the work of both artists.

Bringing together around 60 works, including some of Dalí’s most inspired and technically accomplished paintings and sculptures, and Duchamp’s ground breaking assemblages and readymades, the exhibition will showcase some less familiar photographs by Dalí and paintings by Duchamp together with correspondence and collaborations between the two artists.

Robots at the Science Museum

The Science Museum’s Robots (until September 9) looks like it will be loads of fun fun as they take a fascinating look at the 500-year story of humanoid robots and the artistic and scientific quest to understand what it means to be human. Over 100 robots will be featured, including a 16th-century mechanical monk and one of the first two legged walking robots.

Grayson Perry at the Serpentine

image of tapestry showing mourners at a coffin, with miner and mma fighter in banner above

Grayson Perry, Death of a Working Hero, 2016, Tapestry, Courtesy the artist, Paragon Press and Victoria Miro, London, Photography: Stephen White © Grayson Perry

At Serpentine Gallery, Grayson Perry continues his role as an outspoken commentator on culture with a major exhibition of his art and crafts. The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! (until September 10) covers themes affecting everyone in contemporary society, and aims to realise Perry’s goal of reaching as wide an audience as possible with contemporary art.

Over the bridge at Serpentine’s Sackler Gallery, cinematographer Arthur Jafa’s A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions (until September 10) explores identity and race, tackling presumptions and misconceptions about black lives and people through films, installations and collaborations with social media users.


Sir John Soane’s Museum – South London Gallery – Tate Britain – Tate Modern

Drawn from Life at the Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soane’s Museum has Marc Quinn: Drawn from Life (until September 23), in which the sculptor and avowed collector of things and ephemera responds to the museum collection with a series of ethereal fragmentary sculptures placed among the multiple antique casts and sculptures.

The Place is Here at South London Gallery

Down in Camberwell’s South London Gallery, The Place is Here (until September 10) is a collaboration with the Middlesborough Institute of Modern Art of art from 1980s black artists and collectives working in Britain. The exhibition focuses on an era in society when black artists were responding to Margaret Thatcher, Apartheid and black feminism. The resulting work is a powerful mix of photography, painting and film from artists such as Sonia Boyce, Mona Hatoum and Keith Piper.

Queer British Art at Tate Britain

Tate Britain celebrates the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality with their first ever exhibition dedicated to Queer British Art (until October 1). With artworks ranging from the 1860s to the 1960s, the exhibition covers the full spectrum of LGBTQ identities.

Autumn at the Gallery ushers in Rachel Whiteread (September 12 2017 – February 4 2018), which celebrates 25 years of her sculpture and includes works such as Ghost (1990), Untitled (100 Spaces) (1995) and Untitled (Staircase) (2001) alongside works that have never been previously exhibited.

The last word at Tate Britain belongs to the nailed on crowd-pleaser, Impressionists in London (November 2 2017 – April 29 2018), which tells the story of the artists who fled to Britain to escape war in France. Cue captivating works by Monet, Tissot, Pissarro and their compatriots. Cha-ching!

Unseen Giacometti at Tate Modern

abstract sculpture representing woman with cut throat

Woman with her Throat Cut, 1932. Bronze (cast 1949) National Galleries of Scotland © Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017

Alberto Giacometti (until September 10) brings the work of the Italian sculptor back to Tate’s galleries 50 years after they first appeared there. Tate’s curators have mined the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti’s extraordinary collection and archive to reveal his influences, the development of his style and to show some never before seen plasters and drawings alongside more familiar bronze sculptures and oil paintings.

Summer sees the large, abstract paintings of Turkish artist Fahrelnissa Zeid (until October 8) arrive for a major exhibition that explores the late painter’s geometric synthesis of Islamic, Byzantine, Arab, Persian and European influences.

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (until October 22) explores how ‘Black Art’ developed in the United States between 1963 and 1983 via the work of artists like Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, Lorraine O’Grady and Betye Saar, alongside prominent British Guyanese painter Frank Bowling who was resident in New York much of this time.

Marking 100 years since the Russian Revolution, Tate have a contemporary entrée from Russian born conceptualists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov (October 18 2017 – January 28 2018) before Red Star Over Russia (November 8 2017 – February 18 2018) explores artworks made by Russian and Soviet artists over five decades, from the first revolution of 1905 to the death of Stalin in 1953.


V&A – Wellcome Collection – Whitechapel Gallery

The mortal remains of Pink Floyd at the V&A

image showing pig floating over battersea power station

Pink Floyd: Animals © Pink Floyd Music Ltd

In many ways the perfect follow up to landmark shows like Bowie and Sixties should be The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains (until October 1), which is the first international retrospective of the band. The V&A seem to have a patented secret ingredient for successful music themed exhibitions. But can the Floyd match Bowie? Either way the V&A have proved they can deliver an immersive and entertaining trip.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion (until February 18 2018) looks at the life and work of haute couturist Cristóbal Balenciaga who is widely regarded as one of the most innovative and influential designers of the last century.

photograph of 1960s moulded plywood chair

Moulded plywood chair designed by Grete Jalk, 1963. Photograph © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

You may not be surprised to learn that Plywood (until November 12) will be the first major exhibition on the ubiquitous engineered wood material, but with works by Eames and designs for surfboards, aircraft and a Frank Lloyd Wright workshop in the mix, it may well surprise.

The V&A’s major exhibition for the autumn is Opera: Passion, Power and Politics (September 30 2017 – February 25 2018) a suitably opulent inaugural show for their new purpose built exhibition space, the Sainsbury Gallery. The exhibition will take visitors back to seven opera premieres in seven different cultural and historical settings. A splendid bombastically brilliant time is guaranteed for all.

It might be worth mentioning here that the V&A is also opening a new photography gallery on the first floor of the historic North East Quarter of its South Kensington building in 2017 to house its own historic collection and that of the Royal Photographic Society, which travelled south from the National Media Museum to Kensington in 2016.

The final V&A exhibition of the year will attempt the tricky business of doing what Disney Pixar and Dreamworks do on a regular basis by serving up something designed for adults and children.

Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring A Classic (December 16 2017 – April 8 2018) will draw on the V&A’s own archive of pencil sketches, proofs, letters and photographs and many key loans to reveal the story behind the creative partnership of A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard and the factors contributing to the success and enduring popularity of Winnie-the-Pooh.


Life-Saving Graphic Design at the Wellcome Collection

In Bloomsbury, The Wellcome Collection becomes A Museum of Modern Nature (June 22 – October 8) for the summer, exploring how we—as city dwellers, rural folk or suburbanites—connect with nature. With objects borrowed from the public, the exhibition tells the story of how we relate to the eco system that surrounds us.

To end the year, the museum asks Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? (September 7 2017 – January 14 2018) in an exhibition of posters, signs, and campaigns all designed to enlighten, inform and warn us. The display features influential graphic designers and highlights the subliminal tactics and messaging they use to help us look after our environments and ourselves.

Dust as art at the Whitechapel

At the Whitechapel Gallery, there’s Q&A: Artists in Conversation (until August 27)—an exhibition of artist interviews which brings together conversations from the Whitechapel’s archive with artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Bridget Riley, Nan Goldin and Cornelia parker. The exhibition explores the idea of interviews as a dialogue, performance and artwork.

Alongside, Emanuel Almborg: Learning Matter (until August 20) explores our relationship with technology and the impact it has on our everyday lives. It brings together photographs taken by the artist’s mother during a workshop with local schoolchildren, as well as two films – one based on a free school, and one on a Russian deaf-blind school.

photograph of artwork in studio covered in dust

Man Ray/Marcel Duchamp – Élevage de poussière, 1920 Gelatin silver print – printed c. 1968 © Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017

Later in the year a trio of shows ushers us into autumn. A Handful of Dust (until September 3) explores how over 30 artists have documented, utilised and discussed dust in their artworks to cover a range of themes from war and disaster, to decay and forensics.

Alongside, Benedict Drew: The Trickle-Down Syndrome (until September 3) sees the artist react to and reflect on current issues by drawing on a range of artistic references in a massive, 5-room installation.

And Emma Hart: Mamma Mia! (until September 3) Is the result of a six month Italian residency by London-based Emma Hart. The installation is an exploration of patterns – from visual to behavioural and looks at both the design of pattern and the flaws which destroy it.







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4 comments on “The best art exhibitions to see in London in 2017

  1. Cal on

    A great round up of whats on . Love your website layout and descriptions. Great diversity too including some maybe not so mainstream venues.

  2. Barrington on

    This is invaluable to a Canadian visitor. I had no idea there was so much choice. The problem will be limiting myself to what I can take in.


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