The best free exhibitions in London right now - get your culture fix and keep your money for coffee

·8-min read
Alienarium 5,  Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Martial Galfione and Mike Gaughan. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. © The artist and Serpentine, 2022. (Press pack, Serpentine Galleries)
Alienarium 5, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Martial Galfione and Mike Gaughan. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. © The artist and Serpentine, 2022. (Press pack, Serpentine Galleries)

It’s the best time of the year. Summer is right around the corner, those mad sporadic showers have nearly all ended, and London is absolutely packed — with exhibitions, people, events and music.

But of course, it can all get a bit pricey. So if you want to have a great weekend seeing some of London’s best culture, but also want to save a few quid, look no further than this guide to the best art shows to see in the city, which are all absolutely free.

Shawanda Corbett at Tate Britain

Is Anyone Sitting Here? (From: “Late Night Rehearsal”) Courtesy the Artist and Corvi - Mora, London. Photo: Marcus Leith (Handout from Hele Rhys, Tate)
Is Anyone Sitting Here? (From: “Late Night Rehearsal”) Courtesy the Artist and Corvi - Mora, London. Photo: Marcus Leith (Handout from Hele Rhys, Tate)

Art Now is Tate Britain’s long-running exhibition series boosting rising stars in the art scene. Past shows include choreographer SERAFINE1369, Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe aka Cooking Sections, Scottish artist France-Lise McGurn and Polish-born Joanna Piotrowska.

Now it’s Shawanda Corbett’s turn to shine. The American artist is best known for performative pottery and pushing conversations around the body. At her Tate show, you can look forward to a short film (her first, with the catchy title Cyborg theory: the adequacy of tenderness to our antipathy), a jazz score (also written by Corbett) and a set of ceramic vessels – all running alongside each other to highlight human interaction.

Tate Britain, Millbank, May 28 – September 4 2022, tate.org.uk

Picasso Ingres: Face to Face at The National Gallery

Woman with a Book Pablo Picasso 1932, The Norton Simon Foundation (© Succession Picasso/DACS 2021 / photo The Norton Simon Foundation, Courtesy of The National Gallery)
Woman with a Book Pablo Picasso 1932, The Norton Simon Foundation (© Succession Picasso/DACS 2021 / photo The Norton Simon Foundation, Courtesy of The National Gallery)

Woman with a Book is one of Picasso’s most famous paintings, but did you know that it was based on a painting called Madame Moitessier by the 19th-century classical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres? Or that Picasso frequently referenced Ingres’ portrait for over a decade after first encountering the work?

Now an exhibition will explore the relationship between Picasso, the man whose work he repeatedly referred back to, and the elusive Madame Moitessier. It will be the first time that the two paintings have been brought together.

National Gallery, from June 3 to October 9, nationalgallery.org.uk

Age of Many Posts Weekender at Barbican Art Gallery

Only running for one weekend, artist Abbas Zahedi takes over the Barbican Conservatory with what promises to be a packed lineup of exhibitions, screenings, discussions, performances and workshops. Zahedi will call on his friends and associates to fill the weekend, which will investigate “the reality faced by artists working in the postwar period”.

While that may sound a tiny bit introspective, the activities are being held in the Barbican’s Garden Room and Conservatory, some of the best spots in London. Plus Zahedi’s track record (which includes exhibitions at Goldsmiths CCA, and residencies at Tate Britain and Battersea Arts Centre) indicates it’s going to be a treat.

Barbican, June 4-5, barbican.org.uk

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Alienarium 5 at Serpentine South

Alienarium 5,  Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Martial Galfione and Mike Gaughan. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. © The artist and Serpentine, 2022. (Press pack, Serpentine Galleries.)
Alienarium 5, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Martial Galfione and Mike Gaughan. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. © The artist and Serpentine, 2022. (Press pack, Serpentine Galleries.)

This is a major moment for art fans, as Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster has her first institutional solo show in London since TH.2058 at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2008. Showing nearly all new work, the art has been created to be site-specific and extends around the internal and external spaces of the South Gallery.

It’s an exciting cultural option for science fiction fans too, as the exhibition is all about deep space and alien life. It promises to be a “speculative environment” that opens up minds to “possible encounters with extraterrestrials” – fun!

There is a special VR experience that runs alongside the exhibition, but it can only be booked in person and there’s a limited number of slots available on the day. So if this sounds like your cup of tea, it’s best to turn up early.

Serpentine South Gallery, to September 4, serpentinegalleries.org

Simone Fattal: Finding a Way at Whitechapel Gallery

Portrait of Simone Fattal (Portrait of Simone Fattal 2021 Image and Art Direction: Europium (Julia Andréone and Ghazaal Vojdani))
Portrait of Simone Fattal (Portrait of Simone Fattal 2021 Image and Art Direction: Europium (Julia Andréone and Ghazaal Vojdani))

Simone Fattal, the celebrated Lebanese-American artist, is having her first solo exhibition in the UK at The Whitechapel Gallery. Expect a brick-lined room full of her ceramic figures, plus watercolours and collages. She explores themes of ancient landscapes, her memories of Damascus, gardens and spirituality and has drawn on everything from wars, to ancient religions to Sufi poetry to migration to create her work.

While you’re at the gallery there’s a tonne of other (free) stuff to check out too: an archival show about three legendary art dealers, a collection of work selected by painter Hurvin Anderson, plus the exhibition We Get to Choose Our Families, an LGBTQAI+ exploration of family ties.

Whitechapel Gallery, to June 14, whitechapelgallery.org

Among the Machines at Zabludowicz Collection

Among the Machines, exhibition view,Zabludowicz Collection, London. Photo: Tim Bowditch (Among the Machines, exhibition view,Zabludowicz Collection, London. Photo: Tim Bowditch)
Among the Machines, exhibition view,Zabludowicz Collection, London. Photo: Tim Bowditch (Among the Machines, exhibition view,Zabludowicz Collection, London. Photo: Tim Bowditch)

It’s a conversation that’s been cropping up a lot: AI, human interaction and what the future holds for us all. Now you can think about it in a gallery setting too. Among the Machines features 13 artists, including Rebecca Allen, Ian Cheng and Jake Elwes, who all bring technology to life in some form.

There are video installations, sculptures, “interactive computer works”, and augmented reality experiences for your smartphone. It all sounds like a fun way to explore our co-existence with other lifeforms, and our potential demise.

Plus, while you’re there don’t forget to pop by the 360: Lauren Moffatt exhibition. There are only a few days left, so you’ll have to go soon. You get to enter a moonlight forest where you are mirrored by a flower-like creature – all in virtual reality, of course.

Zabludowicz Collection, toJuly 17, zabludowiczcollection.com

Larry Bell at Hauser & Wirth

Larry Bell, No Entry. Photo: Alex Delfanne. Larry Bell © Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth (Handout / Larry Bell © Larry Bell Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth)
Larry Bell, No Entry. Photo: Alex Delfanne. Larry Bell © Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth (Handout / Larry Bell © Larry Bell Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth)

Los Angeles artist Larry Bell shares some of his new work in this Hauser & Wirth exhibition. Its title, Deconstructed Cube Series, is a true description - imagine giant panes of coloured glass reorganised to form abstract cube-shaped sculptures.

Bell was a major player in California’s ‘Light and Space’ movement and it’s always a treat to see his work on this side of the pond (his last London show wasin 2017 at White Cube). The exhibition is also extremely Instagrammable, if that’s your sort of thing.

Hauser & Wirth, to July 30, vip-hauserwirth.com

Céline Condorelli at South London Gallery

Céline Condorelli, Installation shot, Andy Stagg, 2022. Courtesy of South London Gallery (Handout from Maisie Post, South London Gallery)
Céline Condorelli, Installation shot, Andy Stagg, 2022. Courtesy of South London Gallery (Handout from Maisie Post, South London Gallery)

There’s loads of great stuff to see at South London Gallery: a “playground” by Céline Condorelli that inspects culture and society, a film installation by French-British artist Alice Theobald about her experience as a bilingual Franco-British person in the UK and a “sound work” by Shamica Ruddock.

The 30-minute soundscape invites listeners to “travel through sonic and cosmic worlds” – another off-world adventure from the safety of a London gallery.

South London Gallery, to June 5, southlondongallery.org

Hidden Masterpieces at Sir John Soane’s Museum

Hieronymus Cock, after the circle of Domenico Ghirlandaio, the Colosseum, Rome, view for engraving, c.1550 (Handout upon request)
Hieronymus Cock, after the circle of Domenico Ghirlandaio, the Colosseum, Rome, view for engraving, c.1550 (Handout upon request)

Even simply meandering around each crammed nook and cranny of the Sir John Soane’s Museum is an afternoon well spent, in this somewhat secret spot in the centre of Holborn. The neo-classical architect’s 18th century mansion is absolutely jammed full of paintings, sculptures, drawings and antiquities – all of which are simply part of the collection Soane built up over his life.

Now, Hidden Masterpieces invites guests to view drawings that are usually kept under lock and key. So if the idea of a Grinling Gibbons gets you going, this is the exhibition for you.

Sir John Soane’s Museum, to June 5, soane.org

Gallery 31: Piece of Mind at Somerset House Studios

Grand Motel Dubai, Luxo 54 - Suíte Arco-íris. Courtesy of Grand Motel Dubai. (Handout sent by Isis O’Regan)
Grand Motel Dubai, Luxo 54 - Suíte Arco-íris. Courtesy of Grand Motel Dubai. (Handout sent by Isis O’Regan)

Piece of Mind is an exhibition curated by the gallery Harlesden High Street, a space which provides resources for underrepresented artists. The show looks at domestic spaces and how their function is changing with societal and human advancements.

There is a range of multi-media works on show, all focusing on the bedroom as the stage of modern life. So why not spend your time out of your bed, having a peruse of someone else’s?

Somerset House, to July 17, somersethouse.org.uk

Bethany Williams at The Design Museum

From “All Our Children” collection. Image by Ruth Ossai, SS21. (Handout from Jordenne Murray / Design Museum)
From “All Our Children” collection. Image by Ruth Ossai, SS21. (Handout from Jordenne Murray / Design Museum)

Bethany Williams is best known for creating colourful clothes with both classic and modern silhouettes. The Design Museum celebrates the London-based designer in this exhibition that covers her garments, community projects, and her collaboration with Emergency Designer Network to create PPE during the pandemic.

Design Museum, to September 4, designmuseum.org

Virginia Overton at Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art

Virginia Overton: Animal Magnetism at Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art. Courtesy Goldsmiths CCA. Photo: Rob Harris. (Handout from Sasha at Goldsmiths CCA)
Virginia Overton: Animal Magnetism at Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art. Courtesy Goldsmiths CCA. Photo: Rob Harris. (Handout from Sasha at Goldsmiths CCA)

American artist Virginia Overton takes over the Goldsmith CCA in New Cross. Think raw construction materials reclaimed from industrial contexts, being used across a combination of sculptures and installations.

Drawing on her memories of her family’s farm in Tennessee, and looking at processes around industry and repair, this exhibition is incredibly phsyical – much of the work is new and has actually been made to respond to the space of the building.

Overton has previously shown work at White Cube and at Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Goldsmiths CCA, to July 31, goldsmithscca.art

Keith Cunningham at Newport Street Gallery

Installation view, Keith Cunningham: The Cloud of Witness (2022), Newport Street Gallery. Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates. (Handout from Rachel from Newport Street Gallery)
Installation view, Keith Cunningham: The Cloud of Witness (2022), Newport Street Gallery. Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates. (Handout from Rachel from Newport Street Gallery)

At this very well-appointed Lambeth gallery (owned by Damien Hirst), RCA-trained Keith Cunningham is showing 70 pieces of his work. The canvases are dark and moody, often depicting skulls, dogs or twisted human figures. One for fans of Francis Bacon and Leon Kossoff.

Newport Street Gallery, to August 21, newportstreetgallery.com/

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