The best exhibitions to see in London galleries and museums in December

·6-min read
Detail from Jah Shaka 1983 by Denzil Forrester in Life Between Islands  (Mike Newman)
Detail from Jah Shaka 1983 by Denzil Forrester in Life Between Islands (Mike Newman)

How we’ve missed this. Here are the exhibitions you should see in London in December.

Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art, 1950s to now

Oceans Apart, 1989 by Ingrid Pollard (Ingrid Pollard)
Oceans Apart, 1989 by Ingrid Pollard (Ingrid Pollard)

Spanning an ocean and half a century, this celebratory landmark exhibition will focus on the work of artists from the Caribbean who have made their home in Britain, and other British artists who have been influenced by the region’s culture. With paintings and fashion, film and photography, Claudette Johnson, Peter Doig, Sonya Boyce, Grace Wales Bonner and Alberta Whittle are just the start.

Tate Britain, to April 3

Summer Exhibition

This year’s ‘summer’ exhibition feels fresh even if it was late (PA)
This year’s ‘summer’ exhibition feels fresh even if it was late (PA)

The annual jamboree kicked off late this year for obvious reasons, but co-ordinated this year by Yinka Shonibare CBE, it feels fresh, fun and significantly more diverse with a strong thread of textile throughout (don’t worry, if RAs doing the same thing they’ve been doing for years is your thing, there’s plenty of that too, that’s part of the joy).

Royal Academy, to January 2

Noguchi

Portrait of Isamu Noguchi, 1947 (Arnold Newman Collection via Getty)
Portrait of Isamu Noguchi, 1947 (Arnold Newman Collection via Getty)

A compelling and uplifting exhibition about the thrillingly experimental Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi, whose stunning work spans sculpture, architecture, dance, design and landscape, driven by humanist values and using materials from ceramics to paper to light.

Barbican, to January 9

Hyundai Commission: Anicka Yi

Hyundai Commission by Anicka Yi (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
Hyundai Commission by Anicka Yi (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

This dreamy installation, the 20th to be commissioned for Tate Modern’s vast Turbine Hall, is bound to be a hit, comprising as it does gentle, jellyfish-like forms floating through the this industrial cathedral, propellers whirring on their sides, so they buzz as they drift through the perfumed air above you. Ahhhh.

Tate Modern, to Jan 9

Poussin and the Dance

The Triumph of Pan, 1636 (National Gallery)
The Triumph of Pan, 1636 (National Gallery)

The first London exhibition of Nicholas Poussin’s work in over 30 years focuses not so much on his celebrated landscapes as the riotous raving that’s taking place within so many of them, showing his work in the context of the great pieces of classical art that first inspired them.

National Gallery, to January 2

Late Constable

Stonehenge, 1835 (Victoria & Albert Museum, London)
Stonehenge, 1835 (Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

I’m not going to lie, I always think of Constable as a bit… twee. All those white highlights on pastoral scenes. This exhibition, though, sets out to show just how radical this famous Royal Academician actually was, with the expressive, free paintings of his later career.

Royal Academy, to February 13

Hogarth and Europe

A Scene from ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ VI, 1731 (Tate)
A Scene from ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ VI, 1731 (Tate)

William Hogarth captured and commented on the British contemporary experience in an age of change and enlightenment - but his colleagues across Europe were doing the same thing in their own countries. This excellent exhibition puts the artist in his European context for the first time.

Tate Britain, to March 20

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

Yuki San and the series Hakanai Sonzai (© Pierre-Elie de Pibrac)
Yuki San and the series Hakanai Sonzai (© Pierre-Elie de Pibrac)

As usual, this exhibition of great photography is a bit too small to really do justice to the work that it’s showcasing, but it’s a good way to get a snapshot (sorry, accidental) of what’s going on in contemporary photography - and the world.

Cromwell Place, to January 2

Peru: a journey in time

Funerary mask (Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru)
Funerary mask (Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru)

Coinciding with the 200th anniversary of Peru’s independence, this landmark show will highlight the history, beliefs and cultural achievements of the peoples who lived in the remarkable landscapes of the central Andes from 2000 BC to the arrival of Europeans in the 1500s.

British Museum, to February 20

Waste Age: What Can Design Do?

A large-scale analogue TV art installation by Ibrahim Mahama made from e-waste in Ghana (Alamy Live News.)
A large-scale analogue TV art installation by Ibrahim Mahama made from e-waste in Ghana (Alamy Live News.)

This exhibition looks at the sheer unbelievable waste generated by our contemporary way of life (shame!) and, crucially, sets out to show how ingenious designers can mitigate it. So it’s not all bad, but don’t stop recycling.

Design Museum, to February 20

The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Dürer’s Journey: Travels of a Renaissance Artist

Christ among the Doctors, 1506 (Museo Nacional Thyssen- Bornemis)
Christ among the Doctors, 1506 (Museo Nacional Thyssen- Bornemis)

Through paintings (by Dürer and other masters), drawings, prints and letters, this show follows in the footsteps of the great German Renaissance artist as he travelled across Europe taking in the Alps Italy, Venice (then independent) and the Netherlands, exploring his influences and those he had on those he encountered.

National Gallery, to February 27

Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution

The Alexander Palace Egg, 1908 (The  Moscow Kremlin Museums)
The Alexander Palace Egg, 1908 (The Moscow Kremlin Museums)

Fifteen Imperial Easter Eggs - the largest collection to go on display together in a generation, many of which have never been seen in Britain before - sit in royal glory in the final room of this glittering exhibition. They’re worth the wait, but it’s what comes before - a neatly put-together show that highlights not just Peter Carl Fabergé’s glorious creative vision but also the genuinely stratospheric heights to which his artists and artisans rose in the pursuit of beauty - that actually blows your mind.

V&A, to May 8

Lubaina Himid

A Fashionable Marriage (Lubaina Himid)
A Fashionable Marriage (Lubaina Himid)

A major exhibition for the Turner Prize-winning artist which takes in recent work and a selection from across her career that will unfold (appropriately for someone initially trained in theatre design) via a sequence of scenes.

Tate Modern, to May 22

Amy: Beyond the Stage

Amy Winehouse was hugely influential (handout)
Amy Winehouse was hugely influential (handout)

Too much is perhaps written about the undeniable tragedy that marked Amy Winehouse’s life, and certainly not enough about the glory of it and the inspiration that is her musical and aesthetic legacy. This new exhibition at the Design Museum aims to change that, celebrating her by unravelling the creative process behind her music with hand-written lyrics, teenage notebooks, iconic looks and fantastic photographs.

Design Museum, from November 26

A Year in Art: Australia 1992

Untitled (Alhalkere), 1989 by Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Estate of Emily Kame Kngwarreye)
Untitled (Alhalkere), 1989 by Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Estate of Emily Kame Kngwarreye)

This free exhibition brings together artworks that reflect debates around Aboriginal and Torres Straits islander land rights in Australia. Taking as its starting point the 1992 High Court ruling in favour of Torres Strait Islander land-rights activist Edward Koiki Mabo, which overturned terra nullius (‘land belonging to no-one’ - the British justification for colonising the land now known as Australia), it explores artists’ response to the relationship Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have with their lands, as well as the ongoing impact of colonisation in Australian society today.

Tate Britain, to spring 2022

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms

Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life, 2011/2017 (Yayoi Kusama)
Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life, 2011/2017 (Yayoi Kusama)

Expect the socially distanced queues to snake round the building for this always magical pair of installations by the celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Deploying mirrors, lights and crystal chandeliers, Kusama creates a wondrous experience that can’t fail to enchant visitors of all ages. You’ll definitely need to book well in advance, but the good news is that these two rooms are in situ for a year, so plenty of time to get to them.

Tate Modern, to June 12, 2022

Alice: curiouser and curiouser

Bob Crowley’s Red Queen costume for the Royal Ballet (Royal Opera House / ArenaPAL)
Bob Crowley’s Red Queen costume for the Royal Ballet (Royal Opera House / ArenaPAL)

It may feel like an impossible thing to believe, even before breakfast, but this long-awaited show only has a month left to go. Looking at the huge cultural impact of Lewis Carroll’s curious tale it explores its influence in art, fashion, design, photography, performance and more. Highlights include paintings from the American surrealist Dorothea Tanning, photography from Tim Walker and Julia Margaret Cameron, fashion from Vivienne Westwood and designs from Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet based on the story.

V&A, to December 31

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