The best art exhibitions to see in London in 2017 4

We’ve now published our 2020 round-up of London exhibitions. Click here to see the current guide.


Barbican – British Library – British Museum

Basquiat 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.


A history of magic at the British Library

The big autumn show at the British Library 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

Over at The British Museum, 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.


Camden Arts Centre – Cartoon Museum – The Courtauld Gallery – Design Museum

Bold geometry at Camden Arts Centre

Over at Camden Arts Centre, Milan-based painter and designer Natalie Du Pasquier‘s bold geometric works adorn the gallery walls for Other Rooms (September 29 2017 – January 14 2018). Du Pasquier, who was a founding member of the Italian interior design collective The Memphis Group, covers the gallery’s walls in her playful abstract designs for an immersive installation.

Nostalgia at the Cartoon Museum

Take a nostalgic trip at Bloomsbury’s Cartoon Museum with Daily Funnies: An Exhibition of Strip Cartoons (until November 5). The exhibition brings together many well-known and loved newspaper and magazine cartoon strips from the past 100 years, including Fred Basset, Peanuts and Oor Wullie.

French expressionism at The Courtauld Gallery

At The Courtauld Gallery, 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.

Designs of the year at the Design Museum

As befits its glittering new building in Kensington, 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.

For autumn, the museum has Beazley Designs of the Year (October 18 2017 – January 28 2018) and annual showcase of the best contemporary design from the year, encompassing the themes of Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Graphics, Product and Transport.

This is followed by a major exhibition of one of the world’s most famous car manufacturers. Ferrari: Under the Skin (November 15 2017 – April 15 2018) is a rare behind-the-scenes peek into the secretive and lucrative world of automobile design, and features a selection of the iconic motors as well as models and designs.


Dorich House Museum – Dulwich Picture Gallery – Estorick Collection – Fashion and Textile Museum

Fantastical furniture at Dorich House Museum

At Dorich House Museum, the former studio home of sculptor Dora Gordine, 31 Candles: Jessi Reaves featuring Bradley Kronz & Jessi Reaves (Waiting for Boots) (until November 4) is the UK’s first solo exhibition of sculptor Jessi Reaves. The exhibition comprises a new body of work developed in response to the museum space, blurring the lines between sculpture and functional design, Reaves’ highly sculptural furniture pieces tale inspiration from Gordine’s own designs.

A beloved children’s author in Dulwich

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.

This is followed by Tove Jansson (October 25 2017 – January 28 2018), which 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.

Poor art at the Estorick Collection

At the Estorick Collection there’s an exploration of the 1960s Italian art movement Arte Povera, Italy’s most influential movement of the 20th century. Poor Art | Arte Povera: Italian Influences, British Responses (September 20 – December 17) looks at key artists such as Alighiero Boetti, Mario Merz and Giulio Paolini alongside some of the British work they inspired, with pieces from Lucy Skaer, Richard Long and Gavin Turk, among others, illustrating the ‘poor art’ movement’s impact on the wider art world.

A major fashion photography retrospective 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.

Following this, the museum has a major retrospective of one of the early 20th century’s most important female fashion photographers. Louise Dahl–Wolfe: A Style of Her Own (October 20 2017 – January 21 2018) features over 100 photographs, focusing on the pioneer’s 22-year career at Harper’s Bazaar magazine – garments by couture designers such as Chanel, Balenciaga and Dior are seen through Dahl-Wolfe’s exacting and innovating eyes.


Foundling Museum – Freud Museum – Furtherfield Gallery – Guildhall Art Gallery

Basic instincts at the Foundling

Over at the Foundling Museum, London’s home and hospital for abandoned children, the main autumn show is Basic Instincts. The exhibition explores 18th century painter Joseph Highmore, a founder of the hospital, whose artistic style changed dramatically after becoming involved with the foundling hospital, to reflect his new views on the vulnerability of women and society’s shunning of those who had been abused.

To complement this, Raft of the Medusa (both September 29 2017 – January 7 2018) by British artist Rachel Kneebone is a display of a series of five porcelain sculptures, responding to and reflecting on the human condition. The sculptures, which betray porcelain’s traditional associations with elegance and perfection, are cracked and distorted takes on the themes of sexual desire, emotional damage, and female strength.

The Genesis Speech at the Freud Museum

At the Freud Museum, 80’s Sci-fi black comedy Britannia Hospital serves as inspiration for Toby Ziegler’s The Genesis Speech (until November 26), which showcases Ziegler’s sculptural and digital artworks. The exhibition takes its name from the film’s climatic scene – where a super-computer, hailed by its creator to be the future of humanity, soullessly recites the ‘What piece of work is man speech from Hamlet before malfunctioning.

Are we all addicts? at Furtherfield

In Finsbury Park, Furtherfield Gallery poses the question Are We All Addicts Now? (until November 12). The exhibition of work by artist Katriona Beales interrogates life online, and the seductive potential of saturated images, infinite scroll and gamification to draw us in and addict us to our ever-glowing screens.

Re-imagining still life at Guildhall Art Gallery

Over at the Guildhall Art Gallery, Nature Morte (until April 2 2018) is a 21st century re-imagining of the historic genre of still life. The exhibition of over 100 works of art by both international contemporary artists and historic artists from the City’s collection examines how these current artists have interpreted the theme for a modern-day audience.


Heath Robinson Museum – Horniman Museum – House of Illustration – ICA

The Water Babies at Heath Robinson Museum

The autumn show at Harrow’s Heath Robinson Museum has an exhibition of wonderful illustrations from a classic Victorian tale. Visualising “The Water-Babies” (until November 26) brings together drawings and watercolours from the Reverend Charles Kingsley’s novel whose Victorian fairy-tale story conceals a deeper meaning – addressing the clash between Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and the Church.

Robotic creatures at the Horniman

There’s still time to catch The Robot Zoo (until October 29) at Horniman Museum and Gardens. Offering a sneak-peek into the inner workings of some of planet earth’s most amazing creatures through robotic models constructed from everyday items, the exhibition answers questions like ‘how do chameleons change colour?’; ‘what makes grasshoppers leap so high?’; and ‘how do bats see at night?’

Satirical set-design at House of Illustration

English National Opera – Orpheus in the Underworld – publicity poster © Gerald ScarfeIn Camden’s House of Illustration, satirical cartoonist Gerald Scarfe takes the limelight in an exhibition that explores the celebrated, and often controversial, illustrator’s lesser known production designs. Gerald Scarfe: Stage and Screen (September 22 2017 to January 21 2018) brings together a collection of Scarfe’s storyboards, costumes and props for Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Disney’s Hercules and English National Ballet’s The Nutcracker.

Post-conceptual film at ICA

A stroll down London’s iconic road, The Mall, brings you to the ICA, which has a survey exhibition of New York based artist Seth Price. Seth Price circa 1981 (October 4 2017 to January 7 2018) is a selection of the post-conceptual artist’s film and video works.


Imperial War Museum – Jewish Museum – Leighton House Museum – London Transport Museum

An age of terror at IWM

In Lambeth, Imperial War Museum London‘s Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11 (October 26 2017 to May 28 2018) examines artist responses to the ever-present threat of terror. The exhibition, which takes the horrific attacks on 11th September 2001 as a starting point, features work by over 40 British and international artists who communicate their thoughts on war, conflict and the continuing state of emergency through their artworks.

Designs on Britain at Jewish Museum London

Over at The Jewish Museum London, Designs on Britain (October 19 2017 to April 15 2018) explores how Jewish immigrants to Britain shaped the face of British design. Included in the display are iconic designs for some of Britain’s most famous brands and institutions, including London Underground, the General Post Office and Tate & Lyle.

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.

Poster Girls at LTM

In Covent Garden, the London Transport Museum has a major exhibition exploring some of the key female graphic designers who produced designs for London Transport and TFL in the 20th and 21st century. Poster Girls (opening October 13) features stunning original posters, as well as other artworks and ephemera, from artists including Dora Batty, Laura Knight and Herry Perry.


National Army Museum – National Gallery – Natural History Museum – National Portrait Gallery

The art of war at NAM

The newly-reopened National Army Museum’s first temporary exhibition is an exploration of war art, looking at how both artists and soldiers create art in response to war, and their perspective on its impact. War Paint: Brushes with conflict (until November 19) features over 130 artworks and objects, used to create records, report news or present a point of view on war and conflict.

A racy renaissance at the National Gallery

At The National Gallery, 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.

Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell (until May 7 2018) is a selection of some of Degas’ finest artworks from Scotland’s Burrell collection, rarely seen in public. The display of Degas’ pastel drawings, which he began to favour over oil paint, commemorates the centenary of the masterful artist’s death.

Wildlife Photography at the Natural History Museum

At the Natural History Museum, the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year (opens October 20) 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 Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt (until October 22) 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.


Photographers’ Gallery – Pump House Gallery – The Queen’s Gallery – RIBA

Cathedral of the Pines at the Photographers’ 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.

The end of history at Pump House Gallery

Over at Battersea Park’s lakeside Pump House Gallery, Time Crystals (October 4 – December 17) is a new solo exhibition by artist David Panos. The work focuses on the period around 1989, dubbed The End of History, and examines alternative and rave subcultures of society.

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.

Classicism at RIBA

For the architecture geeks, there RIBA’s Pablo Bronstein: Conservatism, or The Long Reign of Pseudo-Georgian Architecture. The exhibition, which delves into RIBA’s prestigious drawings collection to contextualise 50 new drawings of modern buildings, designed in a typically ‘Georgian’ style, examines the appeal of ‘Georgian’ architecture, spanning more than 300 years.

Alongside, Abacus, Capital, Base (both until February 11 2018) is a site-specific installation by London-based architects APPARATA. The installation complements the exhibition, designed in response to the idea of classicism and classical architecture.


The Royal Academy – Royal Observatory Greenwich – Saatchi Gallery – Serpentine Galleries

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.

Jasper Johns: ‘Something Resembling Truth’ (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.

Celestial beauty at the Royal Observatory

In Greenwich, the Royal Observatory’s awe-inspiring exhibition is the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2017 (until July 22 2018), a feast of stars, moons, galaxies and nebulae. The exhibition showcases the stunning celestial images by the latest winners of the biggest international astrophotography competition, as well as an interactive exhibit featuring all of the shortlisted entries.

Iconoclasts at Saatchi

At the Saatchi Gallery, Iconoclasts: Art out of the Mainstream (September 27 2017 – January 7 2018) investigates small group of groundbreaking contemporary artists, working with innovative materials and practices. Using diverse, often destructive, means to create their art, they challenge the idea of what defines a work of art.

Unsettling art at the Serpentine Galleries

At the Serpentine Gallery, Wade Guyton: Das New Yorker Atelier, Abridged sees the artist’s linen paintings and compositions on paper fill the gallery space. Guyton works with modern tech – iPhones, cameras, computers and printers – and focuses on the translations happening between the different media to create large-scale glitchy artworks.

Over the other side of the lake at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, Torbjørn Rødland’s familiar, yet slightly unsettling photographs take centre stage. The Touch That Made You (both September 29 2017 to February 4 2018) mirrors techniques found in editorial photography, but the bright, glossy images keep you looking with bizarre, unexpected touches.


Somerset House – Tate Britain – Tate Modern – V&A

The Andy Warhol of Marrakesh at Somerset House

At Somerset House, Hassan Hajjaj: La Caravane (October 5 2017 – January 7 2017) is a an exhibition of the British-Moroccan artist’s work made in response to travelling between the cities of London and Marrakesh. Hajjaj, known as the Andy Warhol of Marrakesh, is best known for Kesh Angels, his vivid photographic portraits of the people he meets on his travels – giving them clothes, props and furniture often made by Hajjaj the photographs play with stereotypes. The exhibition has new work from the Kesh Angels series, as well as a new nine-screen installation.

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!

Russian conceptualism at Tate Modern

Summer sees the large, abstract paintings of Turkish artist Fahrelnissa Zeid (until October 8) arrive for a major exhibition at Tate Modern 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.

The mortal remains of Pink Floyd at the V&A

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.

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.


Wallace Collection – Wellcome Collection

Spanish Masterpieces at the Wallace Collection

At the beautiful Wallace Collection they’re hosting the first ever London exhibition of work from the Bowes Museum’s extensive collection of Spanish Art. El Greco to Goya – Spanish Masterpieces from The Bowes Museum (September 27 2017 – January 7 2018) features work, collected by John Bowes, spanning three hundred years. The display includes masterpieces from the likes of El Greco, Goya and Antonio de Pereda.

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 ecosystem 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.

A legacy revealed at William Morris Gallery

At the William Morris Gallery, the father of the arts and craft movement’s legacy is explored in a major exhibition which is the largest survey of work by William Morris’ youngest daughter. May Morris: Art & Life (October 7 2017 – January 28 2018) tells the story of the woman who followed in her father’s footsteps as an exquisite artist and passionate socialist. The exhibition features a comprehensive selection of May’s work, including decorative embroidered panels, and a hand painted valentine card to her lover George Bernard Shaw.

A major retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery

At the Whitechapel Gallery ISelf Collection: The End of Love (until November 26) explores contemporary portraiture and the relationship between artists and sitter. Work from nearly 30 international artists including Jake and Dins Chapman, Gillian Wearing, Bill Brandt and Fiona Banner. Akram Zaatari’s series The End of Love, which lends its name to the exhibition, is a collection of 48 portraits of brides and grooms, taken by defunct Lebanese studio Shehrazade.

Also on at the East London gallery is Thomas Ruff: Photographs 1979 – 2017 (September 27 2017 – January 21 2018), a major retrospective of the German photographer, which draws on nearly 40 years of work. The exhibition, which features Ruff’s photographic series, depicts diverse themes including utopianism, suburbia, advertising culture, pornography and surveillance.








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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