The best exhibitions to see in London in 2021 2

This summer sees hundreds of museums and galleries around the country eagerly reopen their doors to visitors. Here’s our guide to the best exhibitions in London for  summer 2021 and beyond.

Please note that for most shows tickets will need to be booked in advance and dates may sometimes differ from those shown here. Please always check open dates, times and booking information before making a special journey.


child floating in body of water, with just their face visible

Claudia Andujar, Susi Korihana thëri swimming, Catrimani, 1972-1974. Infrared film. © Claudia Andujar

Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle (June 17 – August 29) brings together more than 200 photographs, an audio-visual installation and a series of drawings exploring the Yanomami, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous groups. Andujar has spent the last five decades documenting and defending the Yanomami as their territory and way of life is at risk of illegal mining and the spread of Covid-19.

Noguchi (September 30 – January 9 2022) showcases the work of one of the most experimental and pioneering artists of the 20th century, Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). Bringing together six decades of the artist’s varied and wide-ranging works – from sculpture to architecture and even dance – the show examines Noguchi’s radical and unique approach to sculpture as a living environment.


British Library

tintype photographic self portrait of artist Khadija Saye seated and wearing headscarf

Khadija Saye, Peitaw, 2017. Tintype from the series Dwelling in this space we breathe. © Executor of the will of Khadija Saye

Khadija Saye: in this space we breathe (until October 7) is a series of 9 evocative self-portraits by Gambian-British artist Khadija Saye who used her experimental photography to explore how trauma is embodied in the black experience. In the same year her work was exhibited in the Diaspora Pavilion at the Venice Biennale Saye and her mother were tragically killed in the Grenfell fire and this display commemorates her creative communication of her lived experiences – as well as her enduring artistic legacy.

illustration of young girl in hat holding the hand of a bear

Paddington & Judy outside the door at Windsor Gardens; at end of Please look after this bear Illustrated by Peggy Fortnum © Peggy Fortnum/HarperCollins 2021, 1958

A family-friendly delight, this summer the British Library presents Paddington: The Story of a Bear (July 9 – October 31), bringing everybody’s favourite marmalade-loving Peruvian bear into the spotlight. The little ones can follow Paddington through his messy adventures around London, while for those young at heart there is a journey through the beloved bear’s 60 years of history, from original illustrations from the very first books to film clips from the recent hit films and animated series.


British Museum

a marble bust representing head and upper torso of Nero on black background

Marble bust of Nero, Italy, around AD 55. Photo by Francesco Piras. © MiC Museo Archaeologico Nazionale di Cagliari.

In Nero: the man behind the myth (until October 24) the British Museum brings together 200 objects to explore the rise and fall of infamous Roman emperor Nero, whose short and tumultuous reign coincided with some of the Roman Empire’s most momentous events. The exhibition questions the traditional narrative of the notorious emperor and asks whether he was really the cruel megalomaniac we know him as today.

Japanese illustration of two cats with leaves

Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), from Banmotsu ehon daizen zu (Illustrations for The Great Picture Book of Everything). Block-
ready drawing, ink on paper, Japan, 1820s–40s. Purchase funded by the Theresia Gerda Buch Bequest, in memory of her parents Rudolph and Julie Buch, with support from Art Fund. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Best known for the iconic Under the Wave off Kanagawa, popularly known as The Great Wave, for the Autumn the museum has an unmissable exhibition of newly rediscovered drawings by Katsushika Hokusai from an unpublished illustrated encyclopaedia called The Great Picture Book of Everything. In a global first, Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything (September 30 – January 30 2022) presents these exquisite drawings, recently acquired by the British Museum, while shining a light on the last chapter of the artist’s career and life.


Camden Art Centre

installation of abstract works on paper in a gallery setting

Courtesy Camden Art Centre

At Camden Art Centre, Walter Price – Pearl Lines (until August 29) is a new body of work by American artist Walter Price, who produced a series of expressive paintings and drawings made in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. By eking out his dwindling paint supplies by adding white paint Price both draws attention to the unstoppable cycle of waste and excess and mirrors his own exhaustion.

Alongside, Olga Balema – Computer (until August 29) is the first UK solo exhibition for the Ukrainian artist. Centred around a single flat sculpture consisting of a large digital print of a domestic carpet, the installation reflects Balema’s approach to making art that deliberately de-stabilises her own practice and in this case proposes a tenuous and uncertain relationship between the artwork and its defining structures.

Phoebe Collings-James – A Scratch! A Scratch! (September 10 – December 23) showcases a new group of sculptures created by the artist during a 6 month residency at Camden Arts Centre. The sculptures, held in a sensual environment with bodies of water enveloped by an audio work composed and recorded by the artist with sounds of horns and the recital of texts, continue the artist’s study of ceramic form and the malleable and tender qualities of clay.

Zeinab Saleh – Softest place (on earth) (opens September 10) presents a new series of charcoal works on canvas by Kenya-born London-based interdisciplinary artist Zeinab Saleh. The artist draws on everyday experiences, home videos and music to offer a glimpse into a past world, with personal histories at its core.


Chisenhale Gallery

Over at Chisenhale Gallery, a commission from Montreal-based artist Abbas Akhavan (August 14 – October 17) examines the relationship between the traditional building material cobb and green screen technology. Through these contrasting technologies, Akhavan recreates sections of a historic Syrian landmark believed to have been destroyed by ISIS.

diptych of figure on plinth from behind in two different poses

Rindon Johnson, Working Still #2 (I do not walk a line that is thin, straight or secure) (2020). Courtesy of the artist. Commissioned and produced by SculptureCenter, New York and Chisenhale Gallery, London.

For the artist’s first UK solo exhibition, Rindon Johnson: Law of Large Numbers: Our Selves (November – January 2022) is a new commission deftly combining CGI and sculpture to explore ideas of identity and belonging. The commission centres around a live rendering of ocean weather data collected throughout 2020 and documents the North Atlantic’s “cold blob” – a cold patch in the ocean that is intriguing and baffling scientists.


Design Museum

In Kensington the Design Museum has Margaret Calvert: Woman at Work (until September 5), a celebration of the graphic designer who has produced timeless and iconic graphic design so ingrained in our lives – from road signage, wayfinding signs and even the typeface – that they have become part of our national visual identity. The show spans Calvert’s six-decade career and coincides with the launch of Network Rail’s new typeface, designed by Calvert in collaboration with typeface designer Henrik Kubel.

woman reclining in modern chair

Charlotte Perriand on the chaise longue basculante B306, 1929 | © AChP/ © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

In the summer, Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life (June 19 – September 5) celebrates Charlotte Perriand, the French designer and architect whose work helped shape the 20th century, but was often overshadowed by her male collaborators. Perriand believed good design should be available to all, and her influential vision and talent helped shape the modern interior.

Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street (until October 24) looks at the phenomenon of sneakers – footwear originally designed as purely performance shoes for specific sports but which have now become cultural symbols and firm fashion favourites. The exhibition takes you through the history of iconic styles and the process of designing some of the most ingenious sneakers of today, while also focusing on the figures who have shaped the scene, such as Michael Jordan and Run DMC.

landscape full of old tires

Oxford Tire Pile , Westley, California, USA, 1999. Image by Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Flowers Gallery, London / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto

Waste Age: What Can Design Do? (opens October 23) attempts to tackle the looming environmental disaster of waste – from fashion to food, electronics to construction, and even packaging – and asks whether design could be the answer to ending our throwaway culture. The exhibition highlights the scale of the issue through major new exhibits, while showcasing some of the visionary designers who are reinventing our relationship with waste, including Formafantasma, Stella McCartney and The Ellen MacArthur Foundation.


Dulwich Picture Gallery

triptych of flower arrangement obscured by broken and patterned glass

Ori Gersht, On Reflection, 2014. © the Artist

The first major photography exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery, Unearthed: Photography’s Roots (until August 30) explores the link between photography and nature. In the show, which features key figures in the history of photography as well as work by a selection of overlooked photographers, the history of photography is traced through depictions of nature, from Fox Talbot’s early paper negatives to the eroticism of Robert Mapplethorpe and Nobuyoshi Araki.

abstract painting with multiple colours swirling in centre

Helen Frankenthaler, Madame Butterfly, 2000. One-hundred-two color woodcut © 2021 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / ARS, NY and DACS, London / Tyler Graphic Ltd., Mount Kisco, NY

Helen Frankenthaler: Radical Beauty (September 15 – April 18) celebrates the career of experimental abstract artist Helen Frankenthaler, one of the most important American abstract artists of the 20th century. The exhibition examines her trailblazing work in the printmaking movement, presenting her groundbreaking and expressive woodcuts which display both control and expressive spontaneity.


Estorick Collection

At the Estorick Collection Olivier Debré: Fervent Abstraction (June 30 – September 26) is the first major show of the French post-war painter’s work in more than 40 years. Debré’s style, which he termed ‘fervent abstraction’ used vibrant and intense colours to communicate the emotions he felt when experiencing natural phenomena such as storms, typhoons and rivers.

In the autumn, the gallery’s entire collection of modern Italian art goes on display in Estorick Collection Uncut (October 6 – December 19). The exhibition presents 123 paintings, drawings, watercolours, prints and sculptures in thematic groupings, with spotlights on Futurism and Metaphysical Art. There are also focused displays of work by artists who were particularly close to Eric and Salome Estorick, such as Campigli, Guttuso and Music.

To complement Estorick Collection Uncut, A Still Life: Paul Coldwell in Dialogue with Giorgio Morandi (October 6 – December 19) sees two entire galleries dedicated to works by Giorgio Morandi with responses by contemporary British artist Paul Coldwell, who has had a long-term interest in Morandi and his legacy. Coldwell’s prints, sculptures and poems draw parallels between his experience in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic and Morandi’s self-imposed restricted life in Bologna.



Fashion and Textile Museum

three dresses made from chintz fabric on display in museum gallery

Courtesy of the Fashion and Textile Museum

At the Fashion and Textile Museum, Chintz: Cotton in Bloom (until September 12) brings together 150 examples of chintz fabric to tell the textile’s extraordinary story. Chintz was originally a complicated and elite textile reserved solely for the upper classes due to the level technical craftsmanship required to manufacture. But in the 18th century, when the manufacturing process became easier, the lightweight, washable but still highly decorative fabric became a sensation across Europe.

A display of designs by textile artist Annie Phillips is on show until the summer. Annie Phillips: Ancient Technique and Contemporary Art (until September 12) showcases designer’s vibrant batik designs that put a bold, vivid and modern spin on the ancient textile artform.

three models wearing bright 1960s clothing in front of psychedelic peacock wall art

The Fool designs inside The Beatles Apple Boutique, 1967. Copyright Karl Ferris.

Later in the year, Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture (October 1 – February 2022) celebrates the role of the boutique clothing shops which helped spark a fashion revolution in the 1960s. The exhibition focuses on the radical clothing, inspired by deigns from Morocco and the Far East, sold by a handful of Chelsea boutiques, and explores era-defining stores such as Biba, Granny Takes a Trip and Ossie Clark. The show also features clothes worn by the biggest names of the era, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix.


Freud Museum

At the former home of Sigmund Freud, the Freud Museum shares the psychoanalyst’s experience during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920. 1920/2020: Freud and Pandemic (until September 12) explores the devastating impact the deadly virus had on the Freud family and reveals how, during unspeakable turmoil, Freud made one of his greatest breakthroughs in the field of psychanalysis. The exhibition relates the events of 1918-1920 to events experienced during the Covid-19 crisis and draws parallels between the two deadly pandemics that occurred a century apart.

Code Name Mary; The Extraordinary Life of Muriel Gardiner (September 18 – January 23 2022) celebrates the life of an extraordinary woman, Muriel Gardiner, and tells the incredible story of her tireless efforts to rescue German and Austrian refugees fleeing the fascist Austrian regime and the Nazis. The exhibition explores Gardiner’s life through family photo albums, unpublished documents and her autobiography, Code Name Mary.


Garden Museum

black and white photo of an arrangement of flowers in a wooden basket

Datura and waterlilies arrangement by Constance Spry. Photo by Reginald Malby c.1950. RHS Lindley Collections

At the Garden Museum, Constance Spry and the Fashion for Flowers (until September 26) celebrates the work of pioneering florist Constance Spry, whose use of uncommon flowers, foliage and even vegetables in her displays made her one of the 20th century’s most influential floral decorators. The exhibition mines Spry’s personal archives to feature an insightful collection of photographs, documents and personal items which tell the story of her extraordinary life and work.

abstract painting of vase and flowers on table with various objects and shapes

Purple Table with Orange Dish, 2013, oil on canvas, 102 x 111 cm

Later in the year Eliazbeth Blackadder: Favourite Flowers (October 19 – November 21) celebrates the work of renowned Scottish artist Elizabeth Blackadder whose garden serves as year-round inspiration for her paintings. Centred on the theme of growth, the exhibition brings together a selection of her watercolours, etchings and screenprints.

an unplanted cowslip on a green background

Cowslip arrangement by Yinari, photography by Hugo Rittson-Thomas

Celebrating the rich botanical heritage of wildflower meadows Hugo Rittson-Thomas: Wildflowers For the Queen (August 11 – October 17) brings together Rittson-Thomas’s fine-art photographs from his new book. The book, Wildflowers for the Queen, is inspired by the Coronation Meadows project to establish a wildflower meadow in every county of the UK, which was launched to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Coronation.

Beth Chatto: Unusual Plantswoman (August 3 – October 21) mines Chatto’s archive, which was donated to the Garden Museum in 2015, to explore how the award-winning British plantswoman, author and lecturer established her internationally famous Gravel Garden – an experimental garden which was created using drought-resistant plants and never needs to be watered. The exhibition explores Chatto’s ecological approach to planting, choosing plants that suit their local environment.


Guildhall Art Gallery

At Guildhall Art Gallery you can explore the glittering world of flamboyant playwright, composer and performer Noel Coward in Noël Coward: Art & Style (until December 23) which celebrates the dazzling visual side of his life and work. The exhibition explores his impact on the fashion and culture of the time and how this enduring legacy can still be seen today.

The touring exhibition Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America (July 23 – September 5) opens later in the summer. With a newly-crafted wampum belt, created from traditional shell beads, created by the Wampanoag people of Massachusetts at its core, the exhibition explores the history, art and culture of the Native Americans who met the passengers of the Mayflower 401 years ago.


Hayward Gallery

At the Southbank Centre’s Hayward Gallery  there’s Mixing It Up: Painting Today (September 9 – December 12) which brings together diverse images and ideas through the work of 31 contemporary painters who use the unique characteristics of their medium to transfix and challenge us. The exhibition features three generations of artists all living and working in the UK, and highlights the importance of British contemporary painting internationally.

pink ink blot

Gerhard Richter, 22. Juli 2020, 2020. Pencil, ink and coloured ink on paper. 420 x 593 mm. © Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist

One of the most important and influential painters working today, Gerhard Richter: Drawings, 1999-2021 (September 9 – December 12) gives a rare opportunity to explore his drawings – an intimate aspect of his artistic practice. The exhibition brings together more than 60 works on paper made between 1999 and 2021 and includes fluid and unpredictable ink works, over-painted photographs and drawings in pencil and charcoal.


Heath Robinson Museum

Over at the Heath Robinson Museum John Hassall: Illustrator and Poster Artist (until August 29) celebrates one of Britain’s most high-profile artists of the early 20th century. John Hassall was a well-known artist and designer whose work spanned book illustration, postcard and magazine art, toy design, pottery and oil painting. One of Hassall’s most prolific outputs was advertising posters, and his bold lines and cheerful style saw his work become embedded in popular culture.

Following this, Korky Paul’s Magic of Illustration (with a Flying Visit from Winnie and Wilbur) (September 9 – January 9 2022) showcases the work of award-winning illustrator of children’s books, Korky Paul, who has produced many popular characters including Winnie the Witch, The Fish Who Could Wish, Professor Puffendorf and Sir Scallywag. Korky Paul’s magical artworks show how he has been inspired by Heath Robinson, and the exhibition gives a unique insight into how he has created illustrations for books through his own archive.


Horniman Museum & Gardens

At the Horniman Museum we take a closer look at our closest living relatives, primates, with Monkey Business (until January 3 2022). Bringing together a selection of models, photography, film and more than 60 taxidermy specimens, the exhibition places you in the heart of the forest to explore how these incredible creatures live, eat, play and interact.

An Ode to Afrosurrealism (until November 7) is an exhibition of photographic works by Hamed Maiye and Adama Jalloh which explores spiritualism, reality and surrealism through a Black British lens. The term Afrosurrealism was coined by poet Amiri Baraka in the 1970s and investigates what lies beyond the visible world by presenting new ways to imagine spiritual identity.

Dance Can’t Nice: Exploring London’s Black music spaces (July 30 – October 24) asks where Black British music belongs, and who gets to decide? The exhibition celebrates the music scene of south London and explores the language and spaces that have nurtured the advancement of Black British music culture. The exhibition is a Black-led interrogation of the power and responsibility public spaces and organisations have in supporting local music.


Imperial War Museum London

In Lambeth, the Imperial War Museum has an immersive, site-specific artwork by internationally-renowned Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Ai Weiwei History of Bombs (until September 5) sees the museum’s atrium completely transformed by an artist for the first time since the building opened as Ai Weiwei’s stark artwork reveals the relationship between the individual, society and the state and explores our human capacity for destruction.

young man and older man in doorway wearing blue suits and holding a barbell bar

© Frederic Aranda. Ben Helfgott MBE with his grandson Sam. Ben was a champion weightlifter after he arrived in the UK.

Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors (until January 9 2022) brings together over 50 contemporary photographs of Holocaust survivors and their families to demonstrate the full lives they have lived, while highlighting the importance in us remembering and preserving their stories. The deeply moving photographs, displayed for the first time, capture the special bond between Holocaust survivors who have made their home in the UK after unimaginable trauma and the younger generations who will carry their legacy into the future.


National Gallery

At the National GalleryBellotto: The Königstein Views Reunited (July 22 – October 31) reunites the five views of the Saxon fortress of Königstein, near Dresden, painted by Italian landscape painter and often-overlooked nephew of Canaletto, Bernardo Bellotto. Commissioned as part of a larger series of views of Dresden and its surroundings the paintings capture the drama of this foreboding historic site.

figures in robes dancing and revelling in a wooded landscape

Nicolas Poussin, The Triumph of Pan, 1636. Oil on canvas, 135.9 x 146 cm. © The National Gallery, London

Seeing out the year, Poussin and the Dance (October 9 – January 2 2022) reveals how the French classical painter captured his heady and joyous paintings of dance. The unique paintings, bringing the Classical world of gods and mortals to life are shown alongside the ancient sculpture he studied and a reconstruction of the wax figurines he used to choreograph his works.

oil painting of young Christ surrounded by old men with large books

Albrecht Dürer Christ among the Doctors, 1506. Oil on panel, 64.3 x 80.3 cm. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (1934.38). © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist (November 20 – February 27 2022) is the first UK exhibition of Albrecht Dürer’s paintings, drawings and prints in nearly 20 years, and follows the artist’s travels across the Alps, Venice and the Netherlands. The exhibition brings the artist to life and takes a look at the people and places he visited, while examining his role in the exchange of ideas between Netherlandish and Italian Renaissance artists.

a woman in long white coat in showy mountain scene

Film still from “In Search of the Miraculous,” 2021. © Kehinde Wiley. Courtesy of Stephen Friedman Gallery and Galerie Templon.

Kehinde Wiley at the National Gallery (December 10 – April 18 2022) is an exhibition of new artworks by American artist Kehinde Wiley, who is best known for his portraits placing people of colour in the traditional settings of Old Master paintings in place of the original historical, religious or mythological figures. The new artworks, which include film and painting, focuses on the epic scenes of oceans and mountains captured by artists of the European Romanticism movement, including Turner, Claude and Vernet.


Old Royal Naval College

In Greenwich at the Old Royal Naval College, 500 Years of Mischief and Mayhem in Greenwich (May – October) brings together a selection of mischievous drawings by award winning illustrator Nick Ellwood, inspired by the Painted Hall – one of the most spectacular Baroque interiors in Europe and known as ‘Britain’s Sistine Chapel’. The original artworks, which were produced by Ellwood to feature in the hall’s family trail and booklets, are on show.


Royal Academy of Arts

a treehouse in a blossoming tree

David Hockney, No. 125, 19th March 2020. iPad painting. © David Hockney

At the Royal Academy of Arts the recent work of prolific artist and 20th century British icon David Hockney are on show. David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 (until September 26) presents 116 new works created in the midst of the pandemic, in which Hockney captured the unfolding of spring in digital drawings on his iPad. The exhibition charts the entire spring of 2020 at his home in Normandy in what is a joyous celebration of the seasons during one of the most uncertain and challenging years of the past century.

two figures barely visible on top of a lush landscape

Michael Armitage, The Paradise Edict, 2019. Oil on Lubugo bark cloth, 220 x 420 cm. The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection © Michael Armitage. Photo: © White Cube (Theo Christelis).

Drawing inspiration from Titian, Goya, Manet and Gauguin, Michael Armitage: Paradise Edict (until September 19) brings together a selection of works – including 15 large-scale paintings – by Kenyan-born artist Michael Armitage. Armitage’s work explores East African culture and folklore, challenging cultural assumptions and exploring politics, history, civil unrest and sexuality.

Later in the year is the academy’s annual Summer Exhibition 2021 (September 22 – January 2 2022) which has run uninterrupted for more than 250 years. This year’s offering is curated by Yinka Shonibare and centres on the theme of ‘Reclaiming Magic’. It’s the world’s largest open-submission art show bringing together art in all mediums from household names as well as emerging new talent.

abstract photograph of building

Hélène Binet, Zaha Hadid Architects, Vitra Firestation, Weil am Rhein, Germany, 1993. Digital black-and-white silver-gelatin print, 80 x 80 cm. Courtesy ammann // projects. © Hélène Binet

Light Lines: The Architectural Photographs of Hélène Binet (October 23 – January 23 2022) exhibits the powerful and thought-provoking work of architectural photographer Hélène Binet who has worked for 30 years to capture historic and contemporary buildings. Around 90 of Binet’s photographs are on display, demonstrating her skill in interpreting and capturing architectural elements. Binet worked especially closely with architect Zaha Hadid, having captured almost all of the late architect’s projects.

expressive oil painting of rainy grey clouds over the sea

John Constable, Rainstorm over the Sea, ca. 1824-1828. Oil on paper laid on canvas, 23.5 x 32.6 cm. Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photo © Royal Academy of Arts, London; photographer: John Hammond

Late Constable (October 30 – February 13 2022) celebrates the free and expressive brushwork of one of Britain’s best-loved artists during his late career. Covering the last 12 years of his life, the exhibition brings together watercolours, oils, drawings and prints in the first major retrospective of his work held at the academy that he graduated from and exhibited at regularly.


Saatchi Gallery

large scale artwork of eyes held by crowd of people in the desert

© JR. Migrants, Mayra, Picnic across the Border Tecate, Mexico-U.S.A., 2017 Installation image

Over at the Saatchi Gallery, JR: Chronicles (until October 3) is the biggest solo exhibition to date of French artist JR, following the artist’s journey from teenage graffiti artist to critically acclaimed artist, Oscar-nominated filmmaker and one of the most influential figures working today. The exhibition showcases recent projects, including a large-scale collaborative piece created to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Louvre pyramid and an art project undertaken at a maximum-security prison in California.


Serpentine Galleries

photographic exhibition on display in the Serpentine North Gallery

James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective (Installation view, 19 May – 24 October 2021, Serpentine) Photograph: Zoe Maxwell

At the Serpentine Galleries, James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective (until October 22) celebrates the six-decade career of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor. Working between Accra and London, Barnor captured major social and political changes through his portraits, photojournalism and editorial commissions.

Celebrating the career of Haiti-born French multidisciplinary artist Hervé Télémaque (Autumn 2021) this autumn the gallery presents highlights from his playful and unique portfolio of painting, drawing, collage and assemblage. Drawing a line between the realms of personal and political experience and the complex relationships between image and language, Télémaque’s work spans six decades.


Sir John Soane’s Museum

view of ancient ruin atop a hill overlooking a small settlement

William Pars, Sepulchral Monument at Mylasa, 1764, Pen and grey ink with watercolour and bodycolour and some gum arabic © The Trustees of the British Museuma

At Sir John Soane’s Museum, The Romance of Ruins: The Search for Ancient Ionia, 1764 (until September 5) brings together a series of evocative and poetic watercolours by William Parr which document the 1764 expedition to discover ancient Green ruins in Ionia, an ancient region on the western coast of present-day Turkey. A lover of Greek architecture, Soane collected books relating to the expedition, which are shown alongside Parr’s watercolours.

This autumn take a tongue-in-cheek voyage into the depths of hell with Pablo Bronstein: Hell in its Heyday (October 6 – January 2 2022), a deeply ironic imagining of the underworld by contemporary artist Pablo Bronstein. Created especially for the museum the series of large-scale watercolour paintings see hell represented as a monumental city, and takes visitors through concert halls, casinos, botanical gardens, car factories and oil rigs.


Somerset House

child on skateboard in graffitied skatepark

‘Here to win’ © Katie Edwards

Over at Somerset House there’s an exploration of all things skate culture in No Comply (July 19 – September 19). Celebrating the UK’s thriving skateboarding scene, a hobby and lifestyle which has experienced its biggest uptake since 2000 during the Covid-19 lockdown, the exhibition takes a look at the work of leading photographers, filmmakers and designers who champion the subculture and document its influence on UK life and society. In the year that we see skateboarding debut at the Olympics, this exhibition brings together film, photography, art, fashion and design to explore the country’s diverse skateboarding community.

Dennis the Menace and Gnasher carrying a large abstract artwork with boys in the background saying 'that horrible object won't even win the booby prize!'

Dennis and Gnasher, 1993. Courtesy of Beano

Later in the year, Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules (October 21 – March 6 2022) takes you into the pages of the beloved and iconic British institution that is the Beano. The exhibition brings you face to face with the Beano gang to explore how the comic has inspired generations of rulebreakers and features contributions from a host of rebellious artists of today.

Seeing out the year, We Are History (October 16 – February 6 2022) is a new group exhibition by nine artists with connections to the Caribbean, South America and Africa. The work on show gives a different perspective on humanity’s impact on the planet, and explores the complex interrelations between today’s climate crisis and legacies of colonialism.


Tate Britain

Turner painting of ships at sea

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Peace – Burial at Sea, exhibited 1842. Oil paint on canvas. Support: 870 x 867 mm, framed: 1110 x 1108 x 120 mm. Tate. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856.

At Tate Britain, Turner’s Modern World (until September 12) explores how one of Britain’s greatest artists recorded a period of intense environmental, social and technological change – the Industrial Revolution. Living and working at the peak of the revolution, Turner’s fascination with the way the world was changing around him is evident through his prolific and revered artworks. Bringing together some of the artist’s major works the exhibition explores what it meant to be a modern artist in Turner’s time, and explores his involvement in political and social causes of the time.

eight figures dancing in the moonlight with a building atop a rocky outcrop in the background

Paula Rego, The Dance, 1988. Tate © Paula Rego

Paula Rego (July 7 – October 24) is a major retrospective of the Portuguese-born painter and printmaker whose career has spanned six decades. The largest and most comprehensive exhibition of Rego’s work to date, the exhibition features over 100 works and tells her extraordinary life story, explores her socio-political interests and reveals how she has revolutionised the way in which women are represented.

Art Now: SERAFINE1369: from darkness to darkness (September 24 – January 2022) is a new installation by London-based artist, dancer and choreographer SERAFINE1369. The piece explores what it means to be or feel haunted, host to multiple entities – existing in the tensions between coming together and coming apart.

Hogarth and Europe (November 3 – March 20 2022) explores how William Hogarth and his contemporaries documented the dramatic change in European society and culture in the mid-18th century. Though Hogarth’s greatest works and those of his peers across the continent, the exhibition explores how artists created vivid and compelling depictions of the idiosyncrasies of society.


Tate Modern

abstract shapes in blue, gree,red, yellow, black and white with small black crosses

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Six Spaces with Four Small Crosses. 1932.. Oil paint and graphite on canvas 65 x 100. Kunstmuseum Bern. Gift of Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach

Over at Tate Modern the enduring legacy of influential abstract artist and designer Sophie Taeuber-Arp (July 15 – October 17) is explored in the first retrospective of her work held in the UK. One of the foremost abstract artists of the 1920s and 30s, Taeuber-Arp’s extraordinary work made a significant contribution to modern art and this exhibition brings together examples from her diverse portfolio, many of which have never been seen in the UK before.

The EY Exhibition: The Making of Rodin (until November 21) is a landmark exhibition of the formative French sculptor, bringing together more than 200 works, many of which have never been seen outside of France. The exhibition explores how Rodin’s trailblazing style defined modern sculpture, and focuses on his use of plaster and clay to give his works their characteristic movement and personality.

A Year in Art: Australia 1992 (June 8 – Spring 2022) responds to a pivotal year in Australian history during which High Court ruling overturned terra nullius – the declaration that the land belonged to no-one, used by the British to colonise the land in the 18th century. The exhibition explores how artists have recognised the relationship that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have with their land and examines the long-lasting impact of colonialism and the issues this causes in Australian society today.

chandeliers reflected in a mirror room, giving the impression it goes on forever

Yayoi Kusama, Chandelier of Grief 2016/2018. Tate. Presented by a private collector, New York 2019. © YAYOI KUSAMA. Courtesy OTA Fine Arts and Victoria Miro. Photo © Tate (Joe Humphrys)

The gallery invites you to step inside a hugely popular immersive installation by internationally-acclaimed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, and experience infinite space. Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms (until June 12 2022) is a rare opportunity to experience two artworks: Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life and Chandelier of Grief, both of which give the experience of existing in a seemingly endless space.

Lubaina Himid (November 25 – July 3 2022) is a large-scale exhibition debuting new works and presenting selected highlights from the Turner Prize winning artist’s influential career. Playing a pivotal role in the UK’s Black British arts movement, Himid initially trained in theatre design and has gained international recognition for her figurative paintings, which explore overlooked and invisible aspects of history and of contemporary everyday life.



close up of clasp on black Hermes bag, with J.B stamped into the leather

Jane Birkin’s Birkin, 1984, Image courtesy of Les 3 marches de Catherine B

Over at the V&A and featuring more than 300 pieces, the major fashion exhibition Bags: Inside Out (until January 16 2022) is the UK’s most comprehensive foray into the world of bags and features luxury brands including Chanel, Mulberry and Hermès as well as some surprising examples from history. Star items include the first ever Hermès Birkin bag – the handmade handbag which became the most sought after and expensive bag in history, a gas mask bag owned by Queen Mary during WWII and Sarah Jessica Parker’s infamous Fendi Baguette bag from Sex and the City.

photo of a male dance teacher in a suit showing a move to a group of ballerinas

Stanislas Idzikowski teaching 5th year RAD scholars at Holland Park Avenue in 1952. Crown copyright

Celebrating the academy’s 100-year anniversary, which took place in 2020, On Point: Royal Academy of Dance at 100 (until September 12) delves into the RAD’s archive to take you behind the curtain and into the dance studio of one of the world’s most famous dance education organisations. The exhibition presents over 60 original objects and over 80 archival images, including costumes, designs and photographs that chart the RAD’s history and explore how the organisation shaped the future of dance training.

Historical ceramics from the Middle East have long been revered and celebrated, and Contemporary Ceramic Art from the Middle East (until October 17) brings together contemporary ceramic artists from the Middle East and North Africa to explore how the tradition of decorative ceramics influences their work today. Split into three themes: tradition, identity and politics, the exhibition looks at how these artists use ceramics to celebrate their nation’s past, explore their culture and communicate political messages.

woman singing into a microphone through darkness

Shirin Neshat, Turbulent, 1998. © Shirin Neshat. Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Organised by the V&A with the Iran Heritage Foundation in association with The Sarikhani Collection Epic Iran (until September 12) explores 5,000 years of exquisite artworks travelling from its ancient civilisations into the 21st century via painting, ceramics, textiles, sculpture, antiquities, photography and more.

page of sketchbook with alice in wonderland themes illustrations

Illustrations detailing the creative process behind Heston Blumenthal’s Mock-Turtle Soup, part of the V&A’s Alice Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition © drawings by Dave McKean. Image courtesy of Heston Blumentha

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser (until December 31)  explores the origins, adaptations and reinventions of one of the most enduring children’s classics of the last 150 years, with an immersive jump down the rabbit hole via a suitably theatrical show that charts the evolution of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from manuscript to a global phenomenon beloved by all ages.


Whitechapel Gallery

a collage with a nude female in the centre

Eileen Agar Erotic Landscape 1942. Collage on paper. Private collection. ©Estate of Eileen Agar/Bridgeman Images. Photograph courtesy Pallant House Gallery, Chichester © Doug Atfield.

At the Whitechapel Gallery, Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy (until August 29) is a major retrospective featuring more than 150 works charting the ground-breaking career of the surrealist Eileen Agar. Spanning seven decades, the exhibition reveals Agar as one of the most dynamic, prolific and influential artists of the 20th century and explores how she brought a sense of mystery to daily life, transforming the everyday into the extraordinary.

woman in Trafalgar Square wearing white dress and holding pigeons on her outstretched arms. Her head is completely covered in roses

Sheila Legge as Surrealist ‘Phantom’, Trafalgar Square, London, 11 June 1936. Photograph attributed to Claude Cahun Courtesy Jersey Heritage Collections

Phantoms of Surrealism (until December 12) reveals the pivotal role of women in the Surrealist movement in Britain, both as artists and organisers. The exhibition takes its name from an appearance made by performance artist Sheila Legge to launch the opening of the London International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936 in which she paraded around Trafalgar Square in a bridal gown with her head completely shrouded in roses. Legge’s surrealist work will be accompanied by work from other notable female surrealists, including Claude Cahun, Ithell Colquohoun and Diana Brinton Lee.


William Morris Gallery

textile pattern of green leaves against a bronze and rust background

Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo Design for Artichoke, Birds and Squirrels textile. Early 1880s. Mackmurdo bequest, 1942 © William Morris Gallery, London. Borough of Waltham Forest.

At the William Morris Gallery, former home of the Arts and Crafts pioneer, Within The Reach Of All: The Century Guild (until August 31) is the first exhibition in 20 years to explore the work of this collaborative group comprising architects, designers and artisans. Established in 1882 the guild spanned architecture, painting, furniture, sculpture, textiles, wallpaper and metalwork, all instilled with the Arts and Crafts ethos of beauty and functionality.

Distant Fellowship: Morris and South Asia (until August 31) explores the link between William Morris and South Asia, revealing and problematising his connections with the region. The exhibition features new work from artists in residence Priya Sundram and Nia Thandapani who have created a pattern based on Morris’s designs which is being produced by a traditional Indian block printing method. The pattern is used to create a domestic style space in the gallery where visitors can explore alternative resources around Morris and South Asia in various community languages.

Seeing out the year, Young Poland: An Arts and Crafts Movement (October 9 – January 30 2022) is the first major exhibition to explore the decorative arts and architecture of Young Poland (Młoda Polska), an extraordinary cultural movement that flourished in response to Poland’s invasion and occupation by foreign powers.The exhibition brings together over 150 works spanning spanning furniture and textiles to christmas decorations and paper cuttings.

2 comments on “The best exhibitions to see in London in 2021

    • Richard Moss on

      Thanks for the heads up Carolyn – we are updating and amending this guide all the time and will add this fantastic exhibition very soon. Meantime thanks for the link.


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