Finally things are getting back to normal and we couldn’t be more impatient (safely) to get into the capital’s museums and galleries to revisit old favourites and catch new shows. Here are the exhibitions you should see over the summer.
Public galleries and museums
A Year in Art: Australia 1992
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
A year late but none the worse for that, and possibly even better, the latest showcase of contemporary architecture in Kensington Gardens is splendid, and references London locations where communities have come together in the past and present. Made by the youngest pavilion architect yet, Sumayya Vally of the South African practice Counterspace, it reaches out to the rest of London in the form of architectural fragments placed in other neighbourhoods from Notting Hill to Deptford.
Kensington Gardens, to October 17
Claudia Anduja: The Yanomami Struggle
More than 200 photographs filling the Barbican Curve space, some hanging from the ceiling, attest to 50 years of work by the Swiss-Brazilian artist Claudia Andujar, who has been depicting the indigenous Yanomami people, who live in the Amazonian rainforest on the border of Brazil and Venezuela, since 1971. Her distinctive pictures, experimental but empathetic, can be troubling and have an acknowledged ethical complexity, but they powerfully capture both the Yanomami way of life and their struggle, in a way that they themselves believe important.
Barbican Curve, to Aug 29
Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life
The French designer and architect Charlotte Perriand carved out an internationally acclaimed career from the early 20th century onwards, in a time when women in the industry were routinely overshadowed by their male collaborators. Now her name is only known to design aficionados. This beautiful show at the Design Museum, which features such elegant items as her Chaise long basculante from 1928 and her Cantilever bamboo chair from 1940, aims to change that.
Design Museum, to Sept 5
This is the first time an artist’s exhibition has ventured out from the purpose-built gallery at the newly restored Pitzhanger Manor, and into the grounds. Contemporary artist Julian Opie has created a new body of work, including site specific pieces, focusing on architecture, people and nature - perfect for the country home of the renowned 18th century architect, Sir John Soane.
Pitzhanger Manor, to Oct 24
A long overdue survey exhibition for the extraordinary Portuguese artist, based mostly in Britain since the 1950s. With more than 100 works, including collage, paintings, large-scale pastels, ink and pencil drawings and etchings, it will explore her deeply personal, highly political work in relation to Rego’s life, and reveal her rich range of references from history painting to comic strips.
Tate Britain, from July 7 to Oct 24
One of the most innovative artists and designers of the 20th-century avant-garde, the trail-blazing Sophie Taeuber-Arp merrily criss-crossed the borders between abstract art, design and craft. This is the first major exhibition in the UK to encompass Taeuber-Arp’s career as a painter, architect, teacher, writer, and designer of textiles, marionettes and interiors, with more than 200 objects from collections across Europe and America.
Tate Modern, from July 15 to Oct 17
Unearthed: Photography’s Roots
Dulwich Picture Gallery’s first major photography exhibition looks at plants and botany in the artform, which came into being less than thirty years after the institution’s own founding. Stunning close-ups of plants and veg by modernist photographic greats like Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham are shown opposite works by recently discovered pioneers like the gardener Charles Jones, Anna Atkins’s contemporary Cecilia Glaister and Japanese artist, Kazumasa Ogawa.
Dulwich Picture Gallery, to Aug 30
After a year of necessarily finding the beauty in ordinary things, a show devoted to the French painter Jean Dubuffet seems pretty apt. Famously the founder of the Art Brut movement, he railed against conventional standards of beauty and aimed to capture the gritty gorgeousness of everyday life. And he was sticking butterflies on canvas decades before Damien Hirst.
Barbican Art Gallery, to Aug 22
Rubens: Reuniting the Great Landscapes
It may be only two paintings but give yourself at least half an hour to contemplate these two masterpieces, one of which belongs to the Wallace Collection, the other to the National Gallery, reunited (as they would have hung in Rubens’ home) for the first time in more than 200 years. New scholarship has revealed that the two landscapes depict viewpoints visible in the other painting, and contain countless echoes of the other. Look out too for the shaft of light cutting through the dark forest in the Wallace’s picture, and the white foam on the water of the little brook in the National’s.
Wallace Collection, to Aug 15
The EY Exhibition: The Making of Rodin
There is something miraculous in a good sculpture, one that captures life and movement in solid, immoveable materials. This exhibition, created in collaboration with the Musée Rodin in Paris, celebrates the French master’s genius at modelling, delving into his process through more than 200 works including a large number of his original plasters, and many of which have never been seen before outside of France.
Tate Modern, Nov 21
Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms
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
Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy
As exhibition titles go it’s got to be one of the coolest, as befits Eileen Agar. This’ll be the largest exhibition dedicated to the artist, with more than 100 paintings, collages, photographs, assemblages and archive material. Mining subjects as diverse as classical art, ancient mythologies, the natural world and sexual pleasure, as well as her own biography, she wielded Cubist and Surrealist styles to create something unique.
Whitechapel Gallery, to Aug 29
Matthew Barney: Redoubt
Diana and Actaeon, cosmology and modern American political narratives are woven together in this film and installation, the first solo presentation by the American artist (best known, to be honest, as the ex-partner of Icelandic icon Björk) in Britain in a decade. A series of sculptures of cast from trees in a burnt forest complement a breathtakingly beautiful film following a hunter as she tracks wolves across the wintery Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. With dancers. Of course.
Hayward Gallery, to July 25
Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint
Even to an atheist, there’s something deeply shocking about the idea of murder on the steps of a church altar. This is the story of Thomas Becket - one of England’s most powerful clergymen - and his falling out with Henry II, which resulted in his brutal assassination in Canterbury Cathedral. The show brings together spectacular artworks, tracing this man’s journey from merchant’s son to Archbishop of Canterbury, and saint to traitor.
British Museum, to Aug 22
Mohamed Bourouissa, HARa!!!!!!hAaaRAAAAA!!!!!hHAaA!!!
This will be the first solo exhibition in a UK public gallery for the Algerian artist Mohamed Bourouissa, whose engaging, entertaining, moving and deeply humane work involves immersing himself within specific places and groups for long periods, to create beautiful film and installation portraits that explore collective histories, uses of public space, and representational identities.
Goldsmiths CCA, to Aug 1
Michael Armitage: Paradise Edict
A Kenyan-born artist who works between Nairobi and London, Michael Armitage has developed a name for himself as an exciting new painting talent with his dreamlike, colourful works made using Lubugo bark cloth, a culturally important material made of tree bark by the Baganda people in Uganda, which play with visual narratives and challenge cultural assumptions, exploring politics, history, civil unrest and sexuality.
Royal Academy, to Sept 19
Alice: curiouser and curiouser
It may feel like an impossible thing to believe, even before breakfast, but this long-awaited show is opening at last. 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, fo December 31
David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020
Just in time for the blossom to bloom comes this exhibition of new work from David Hockney, which does very much what it says on the tin. Holed up in a house in Normandy for the duration of lockdown, this most energetic of octogenarians used the time to create 116 new works on his iPad, observing the arrival and development of the rural French spring. This one should be a vivid, vibrant tonic.
Royal Academy, to Sept 26
Nero: the man behind the myth
Rather going against the current trend of exposing the darker sides of celebrated historical figures, this show sets out to balance our traditional view of the Emperor Nero, who “fiddled while Rome burned” and murdered his mother, his first wife and possibly his second wife. He also, apparently, established stable relationships with Rome’s greatest rivals, the Parthians, and implemented massive infrastructure projects, tax reforms, and military measures. Energetic leader or matricidal maniac?
British Museum, to Oct 24
5,000 years of art, design and culture is explored through more than 300 exquisite objects, from ceramics to textiles, photography to film, earrings to board games, in this mammoth - nay, epic - exhibition, focusing on the home of one of the great historic civilisations, little-known in the West. An eye-opener, for sure.
V&A, to Sept 12
Imagining Landscapes: Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, 1952-1976
Stunning show of more or less abstract works by the American painter, which includes a small group of canvases with drawn forms that Frankenthaler painted on her honeymoon with Robert Motherwell in the southwest of France. With an extraordinary variety of line and colour, as a group they tell the story of her development as a painter.
Gagosian Grosvenor Hill, to Sept 18
To Situations New
This exhibition inaugurates Mayfair’s latest new space, on St George Street, and takes as its starting point the back-of-an-envelope jottings of Emily Dickinson that comprise The Gorgeous Nothings, to delve into the innate poetry of abstraction. Features works by artists as diverse as Frank Bowling, Wassily Kandinsky, Etel Adnan, John Hoyland, Judith Lauand, Dawn Ng and Ben Nicholson, among others.
LAMB, to July 31
Rachel Kneebone: Raft
This solo exhibition of sculptures and works on paper by the British artist is titled after Théodore Géricault’s monumental painting The Raft of the Medusa (1818–19), depicting desperate bodies cast adrift following the wreck of a French naval frigate. Kneebone’s series of intricately worked ceramic sculptures probe the arc of human life: hope and despair; birth, growth and death.
White Cube Mason’s Yard, July 7 to Sept 4
A new series of large-scale figurative paintings by the Germany-based, Ethiopian artist. These images of intertwined bodies are deeply rooted in Ethiopian iconography but also carry the influence of German Neo-Expressionism and the London School of Painters. Despite their stylised forms these paintings are full of energy, rhythm and depth, and deal with representations of race and the politics of identity. Though he’s had a solo show at the Uffizi in Rome, this is Urgessa’s first solo exhibition in the UK.
Saatchi Yates, to Aug 26
Tala Madani: Chalk Mark
Inaugurating the gallery’s new Savile Row space and following on from her bold exhibition at Pilar Corrias in Eastcastle Street, Skid Mark (which closes on July 10) is this exhibition from the Iranian artist, which examines the ways in which children are controlled and cultured by their schooling. A series of paintings engage with the role of copying and repetition in learning, via repeated motifs that are deliberately undisciplined and unruly; children are depicted as accosted by education, which will no doubt be familiar to any parent who has had to home school this year.
Pilar Corrias Savile Row, July 8 to Sept 8
Urs Fischer: The Intelligence of Nature
A group of new paintings made over the course of the past year by the Swiss-born artist reflects the solitude experienced over that period, drawing on Fischer’s observation of the flows and patterns of nature and the increased time spent outside. The photographic backgrounds of these new works come from the exterior of the his Los Angeles home and garden; the interior spaces of home and studio; and snapshots from a recently discovered roll of film found at Fischer’s childhood home.
Sadie Coles HQ, open now
John Akomfrah: The Unintended Beauty of Disaster
One of the most consistently interesting artists working in video today, John Akomfrah creates meditative reflections on our collective consciousness (his Stuart Hall Project is still one of my favourite artworks of all time which is a lot for a 96 minute film about a cultural theorist). This new body of work, featuring footage filmed over the last six months, responds directly to the events of 2020, most notably the Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations against imperialist monuments.
Lisson Gallery, to July 31
Leilah Babirye: Ebika Bya ba Kuchu mu Buganda (Kuchu Clans of Buganda) II
A powerful exhibition of large-scale ceramic works, wooden sculptures, masks and vibrant paintings on paper by the Ugandan artist, who was forced to leave her homeland in 2015 after being outed as gay - she was granted asylum in the US in 2018. She uses found materials, burning, nailing and assembling to address the realities of life for gay people in Uganda and African in general. The use of discarded materials echoes the pejorative term for a gay person in the Luganda language, “ebisiyaga”, meaning sugarcane husk - the part of the sugarcane you throw away.
Stephen Friedman Gallery, to July 31
Paul Pfeiffer: Incarnator
This multi-media installation, part video, part sculpture, all weird and uncanny, is exhibited for the first time in London, and takes as its starting point the revered role of the ‘encarnador’ – a sculptor of holy Catholic figures intended as the focus of religious worship. Encarnadores are celebrated for having the power to apparently breathe life into inanimate sculptures with their final brushes of paint, creating life-like effigies that seduce the eye into believing consciousness has been awoken in carved wood and paint. And who is Pfeiffer’s idol here, depicted in sections? Justin Bieber.
Thomas Dane, to Aug 7