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London’s best exhibitions

Need a culture fix? Here's the capital's most awesome art exhibitions happening this autumn.

‘Tis the season for London’s biggest galleries and museums to launch their super-duper blockbuster shows. Here’s our edit of the ones that definitely warrant a whizz into the city…


Basquiat: Boom for Real, Barbican Centre, 23 Sep – 28 Jan

yellow graffiti artwork

Jean-Michel Basquiat, ‘Hollywood Africans’, 1983

Former graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat was only 27 when he died from a heroin overdose in 1988, but the New Yorker – and Warhol bestie –  left a huge impression on the art world in his short life. This long overdue first ever UK retrospective promises to be a colourful, controversial corker.


Rachel Whiteread, Tate Britain, until 21 Jan

art gallery exhibition

Rachel Whiteread, ‘100 Spaces’, 2017

The London YBA was the first woman to win the Turner Prize, in 1993, and continues to be one of Britain’s leading contemporary artists, with her concrete, plaster and metal casts of workaday objects. This exhibition, celebrating 25 years of her career, promises both as-yet-unseen works and some old favourites (although not the cast of the house that nabbed her the Turner, which was controversially demolished).


Modigliani, Tate Modern, 23 Nov – 2 April

naked lady art

Modigliani, ‘Reclining Nude’, 1919

Paintings of naked people, anyone? Well, if you insist. The 20th century Italian painter and sculptor’s famous, sensuous nudes are the highlight of this comprehensive retrospective. There are 12 here, the largest selection ever reunited in the UK. All that sexy flesh proved controversial when it first went on display 100 years ago, attracting police censorship, but these days you’ll be able to look at those peachy bots in peace.


Cézanne, National Portrait Gallery, 26 Oct – 11 Feb

painting of man in top hat

Paul Cézanne ‘Self Portrait with Bowler Hat’, 1885-86

‘National Portrait Gallery? But Cezanne painted exquisite Aix-en-Provence landscapes, didn’t he?’ I hear you cry. (You’re quite the Brian Sewell, aren’t you?) Yes indeed, Cezanne is best known for his pastoral daubings but this exhibition brings together 50 of the 19th century superstar artist’s portraits for the first time. Also, while you’re on forward planning mode – the NPG is now booking for next summer’s Michael Jackson exhibition. We’ll be moonwalking down to that one for sure – if only for the fact it’s called On The Wall.


North – Fashioning Identity, Somerset House, 8 Nov – 4 Feb

fashion photo

Alice-Hawkins, LOVE magazine, ‘The Liver Birds’, 2012

Forget the north/south divide, London doffs its hat to Manchester, Newcastle et al in this new exhibition. Social documentary film and photography detailing life in the north of England in the mid-20th century sits alongside works by photographers, designers and artists inspired by the parts of our green and pleasant land beyond the Watford Gap. Contributors include Nottingham’s finest Paul Smith and Manchester’s Factory Records designer Peter Saville. If you visit after 15 Nov,  you can also take a twirl on Somerset House’s gorgeous outdoor ice rink.


Beazley Designs Of The Year, Design Museum, 18 Oct – 28 Jan

art exhibition

Kate Darby and David Connor, ‘Croft Lodge Studio’

Have you been to the new Design Museum at the former Commonwealth Institute on Kensington High Street? It’s definitely worth a look, if only for the breathtaking atrium. The annual Designs Of The Year exhibition launches next month, covering the coolest new works in architecture, digital, fashion, graphics, product and transport. Protest and activism are big themes this year, with exhibits including the pink pussy hats worn by women campaigning against Trump’s sexist outbursts. Check out the 60 products on display and then vote for your favourite.


Monochrome: Painting in Black and White, National Gallery, 30 October – 18 Feb  

Mariene Dumas, ‘The Image as Burden’, 1993

We love a chic monochrome outfit but monochrome art? It’s not something you tend to think about much – and there’s never been a major exhibition on the subject until now. This explores black and white works from the Middle Ages, through the Renaissance to present day, with works painted on glass, velum, ceramic, silk and wood, as well as your usual canvas. Old Masters such as Rembrandt are featured alongside the likes of Gerhard Richter and Bridget Riley, so there’s something for every taste here.


Sculpt at Kew, Kew Gardens, until 15 Oct

sculpture at kew

This is hands-down the best time of year to visit Kew Gardens, as you’re treated to nature’s own technicolour art display in the form of the turning of the leaves. This autumn you can also explore a sculpture exhibition set within the gardens – catch Piers Mason’s and Hamish Mackie’s life-size animals lurking in the bushes, among 70 works by other British and international artists. Access to show is included in the general admission ticket.


Dali/Duchamp and Jasper Johns, Royal Academy, Fri 29 Sep to Sun 10 Dec

Dali art

Salvador Dalí, ‘The First Days of Spring’, 1929

Calling all pervs! The unpicking of Marcel Duchamp and Salavador Dali’s friendship and mutual obsession with sex has been flagged as “autumn’s kinkiest show” by one reviewer. Considering the latter’s paintings include one titled The Great Masturbator, that sounds about right. The show runs 7 Oct to 3 Jan. For the fainter of heart, the Royal Academy is also hosting Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth. The 86-year-old American artist is best known for his paintings of flag and targets but this runs the gamut of his 60 year career, tracking history of modern US art along the way. Runs 29 Sep to 10 Dec.

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