Cultural Wednesday’s Best London Exhibitions

London’s museums and galleries are awash with brilliant exhibitions this autumn. Here is Cultural Wednesday’s Best London Exhibitions Autumn 2020 with my highlights. Some blockbusters that were due to show in the Summer have moved to Autumn in addition to the gems that were already planned.

Assume that you need to book, even if entry is free you will probably need a pre-booked ticket. Click on the blue words to be taken to the museum booking sites.

Artemisia Gentileschi paintings at National Gallery London
Artemisia at the National Gallery

Table of Contents

Barbican Art Gallery

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer until 3 January 2021

Michael Clark is so much more than just a dancer, he has collaborated with some of the biggest pop stars and fashion designers as well as throwing great shapes on stage.  The Barbican is doing that tricky thing of trying to convey a lifetime of live performance in an art gallery.  Make sure that you take your own wired headphones with you as without them the exhibition makes little sense.

  • Barbican Art Gallery, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS
  • Open: Monday – Friday 11am – 7pm, Weekends 10am – 7pm
  • Admission: Adults £15 (£17 at weekends)

British Library

Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights until 24 February 2021

Boy do I have a rich stash of stories to tell about things that happened to women in the workplace back in the last century that would make your hair stand on end.  Hopefully the worse of them would no longer be tolerated, things have moved on but there is still a long way to go.  This is the issue tackled by Unfinished Business at the British Library it looks at how much things have changed but how much further there is still to go.  Exhibits range from the first edition of Mary Wollstenecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women to a No More Page 3 T-shirt worn by Caroline Lucas MP for a debate on media sexism in 2013.

  • British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB
  • Open: Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm
  • Admission: Adults £15
  • members go free

British Museum

Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution until 24 January 2021

Say Tantra and you think Sting.  Head along to this exhibition to learn that Tantra is in fact a series of texts that preach radical change and support of the underdog.  So radical are the ideas that it has been the fuel behind a series of revolutions over the years, including the Indian fight for independence.  Art works from the seventh century to the present day tell a story that is so much more than superstar sex.

Arctic: Climate and Culture until 2 February 2021

The brief foray that I have made into the Arctic Circle left me in awe of both the beauty and the people who make the arctic their home.  Arctic: Climate and Culture warns of the threat to the Arctic and celebrates the rich cultural history.

  • British Museum, Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG
  • Open: Daily 10am -5pm (8.30pm on Friday)
  • Tantra: Adults £15
  • Arctic: Adults £18
  • Members go free

Foundling Museum

The Covid Letters until 11 April 2021

Way back in March Boris Johnson sent a letter to every household in the UK urging us to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. Artist Jonny Banger invited young people aged under 16 to customise the letter. Covid Letters is a collection of 200 of these ranging from toddler scribbles to heart felt protest.

  • Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ
  • Open: Weekends 10am – 5pm
  • Admission: Adults £10.50, under 21 free

Guildhall Art Gallery

Noël Coward: Art and Style until 16 May 2021

100 years ago Noël Coward had his West End debut at the tender age of 19, the plays and songs that he went on to create had a huge influence on art and culture beyond the stage. This exhibition looks at the glittering world which he inhabited and influenced.

Imperial War Museum

Refugees and Ai Weiwei until 31 May 2021

The Imperial War Museum is always thought provoking and interesting.  An enormous Ai Weiwei installation ‘The History of Bombs’ is adorning the central atrium until 24 May 2021.  Refugees come under the spotlight in a series of three exhibitions that are on until the end of May 2021.  Refugees may dominate the headlines but they are nothing new people have fled their homes in the face of war and natural disaster for centuries, this series of timely exhibitions takes an unflinching look at a thorny issue.

Museum of London Docklands

Havering Hoard until 18 April 2021

In 2018 a Bronze Age Hoard was discovered in by the Thames in Havering, it is largest ever found in the capital.  453 objects all tangled together, nobody knows how they came to be in Havering, it is a mystery waiting to be unravelled.  You can take a look at the swords, axe heads and assorted metal working kit at the Museum of London Docklands where it is on display until it moves into its new home at the Havering Museum.

  • Museum of London Docklands, No.1 Warehouse, West India Quay, E14 4AL
  • Open: 11.30am – 3.30pm Monday – Friday, 10am – 6pm weekends
  • Admission: Free

National Gallery

Titian: Love, Desire, Death until 17 January 2021

Titian died 500 years ago this year aged only 37.  To mark the occasion the National Gallery is having a bit of reunion.  Prince Philip of Spain asked Titian to paint a series of six paintings of classical myths.  These been scattered across the globe for at least 400 years, now they are all together in the same room. 

Artemisia until 24 January 2021

Artemisia challenged convention by becoming a successful artist in the 17th century.  Not only was she successful she also defied the tradition of depicting women as meek creatures.  Her women are strong and in control.  More importantly they actually look like women rather than some male fantasy of a woman.  A brilliant show.

Opening hours have been extended for Artemisia, you can now visit from 9am - 9pm every day but tickets do need to be pre booked

Sin until 3 January 2021

Sin in all its artistic glory is celebrated in this small, free exhibition.  The Garden of Eden looks dreamy but in the bushes Adam and Eve are committing the original Sin about to bring it all to an end.  Sin is explored in art ranging from the medieval to the modern day.  Just a joy.

Sensing the Unseen  Step into Gossaerts Adoration until 28 February 2021

Just in time for Christmas the National Gallery has an interactive immersive exploration of Gossaerts Adoration.  We are promised sound, video and in depth exploration of this 500 year old depiction of the Three Kings.  The exhibition will be in Room 1, right next to the shop, and free.

  • National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN
  • Open: from 7th July daily 11am – 4pm
  • Titian: Love, Desire, Death tickets from £8
  • Artemisia tickets from £20
  • Sin and Gossaerts Adoration: Free

National Army Museum

Germany Foe – Friend until 1 July 2021

In 1945 Germany was a defeated foe in the 75 years that followed more than a million British soldiers served in Germany.  When they left Germany was one of our staunchest allies.  This exhibition looks at the lives of the British soldiers in Germany and the changing nature of their role.

  • National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, SW3 4HT
  • Open: Tuesday – Sunday 10.30am – 3.30pm
  • Admission: Free

National Maritime Museum

Exposure Lives at Sea opens 20 November 2020

We rely on the sea to supply us with food, the transport goods and services, for energy and yet all that most of us ever see is the waves gently lapping on our holiday beach.  Exposure Lives at Sea takes us on a photographic journey on board fishing boats, oil rigs and deep under water.  

Natural History Museum

Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature until August 2021

Find out how real animals have inspired mythical beasts and legends and celebrate how real life explorers have discovered new plants and animals. Book ahead, this has been postponed from the Spring and looks to be extremely popular.

Orleans House Gallery

Pink table and chair on black and white baroque tiles Alice in Hackneyland X Orleans House Gallery
Alice in Hackneyland at Orleans House Gallery

Octagon 300 until 21 March 2021

A fabulously ornate octagonal banqueting house is all that is left of Orleans House, once home to the King of France. To celebrate 300 years of rococo glory Alice in Hackneyland have recreated the time that Queen Caroline came to dine in purest pink. Go for one of London’s most spectacular rooms and for one of the best art installations I have seen this year. Afterwards make sure you visit the tea rooms for really good cake.

  • Orleans House Gallery, Orleans Road, Twickenham TW1 3BL
  • Open: Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
  • Admission: Free

Pitzhanger Manor

Hogarth: London Voices, London Lives until 31 December 2020

Sir John Soane builder of Pitzhanger Manor bought William Hogarth’s series of painting The Rakes Progress to hang in the house. Now for the first time in 200 years they are back but this time accompanied seven contemporary artists to give commentary on live in London today.

  • Pitzhanger Manor, Mattock Lane, Ealing W5 5EQ
  • Open: Thursday – Sunday 11am – 7pm
  • Admission: Adults £7.70, under 18 free

Queens Gallery

Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace until 31 January 2022

Man looking at paintings masterpieces from Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace houses one of the greatest art collections in the world.  The Queen has got the decorators in next year and so the paintings from the Picture Gallery are moving next door to the Queen’s Gallery where we can all see it.  Expect Titian, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Rubens, Jan Steen, Van Dyck and Canaletto among others.

  • Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace SW1A 1AA
  • Open: Thursday – Monday 10.30pm – 4.45pm
  • Admission: Adults £16
  • Have your ticket stamped and it becomes an annual pass

Royal Academy

Masked man looking at Oh Lord won't you buy me by Ron Arad at Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me by Ron Arad

Summer Exhibition until 31 December

2020 has turned most things upside down and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is no exception.  Just as all the works are usually sold and the doors are closing this year the Summer Exhibition opened.  More of an Autumn Exhibition but it is its usual glorious mis-mash of the great and good artists hanging next to unknown with most works for sale. If you can’t get up to the Royal Academy the summer exhibition is online this year, including the opportunity to buy the works on show.

Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch until 28 February 2021

Tracey Emin has been fascinated by Edvard Munch since she was a teenager.  She has chosen works by Munch to hang alongside her most recent paintings.  Both artists are masters at exploring the dark reaches of the soul, the perfect show for now when we are all having time to reflect and soul search.

  • Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD
  • Open: 10am – 6pm
  • Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch:  Adults £19
  • Summer Exhibition: Adults £22
  • Members go free

Sir John Soane’s Museum

Langlands and Bell until 3 January 2021

Sir John Soane’s Museum is all about architecture so it is fitting that Langlands and Bell’s work is showcased here. They explore the web of relationships between people and buildings and fit perfectly in the eclectic collection at the Soane. If you can’t get to London then you can explore the exhibition online.

  • Sir John Soane’s Museum, 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP
  • Open: Thursday – Saturday 10am – 4pm
  • Admission: Free

Tate Britain

Steve McQueen Year 3 until 31 January 2021

Steve McQueen photographed every London Year 3 class and those photographs fill the central galleries of the Tate Britain, literally a snapshot of who young London is.  Even better every child depicted in the photos has been given the opportunity to come and see themselves hung on the wall, Tate Britain has echoed to the joyous sounds of Year 3’s recognising themselves.  Joyous and free.

Turner’s Modern World 28 October 2020 – 7 March 2021

Turner's Modern World at Tate Britain
Turner’s Modern World at Tate Britain

We are all familiar with the Impressionists but way before them J M W Turner was using swirls of paint to create an impression of the world.  He lived at the peak of the industrial revolution.  Everywhere he looked the world was changing; sailing boats become steam ships, the railway started to criss cross the countryside and factories were opening up. 

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly in League with the Night 2 December 2020 until 9 May 2021

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye specialises in portraits of imaginary people, how fantastic is that. They spring from her imagination and experience. In imagining people she challenges our perception of identity and representation.

  • Tate Britain, Millbank SW1P 4RG
  • Open: Daily 10am – 6pm
  • Turner’s Modern World: Adults £22
  • Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Adults £13
  • Steve McQueen: Free
  • Members go free

Tate Modern

Bruce Nauman until 21 February 2021

Black Marble under Yellow Light by Bruce Nauman
Black Marble under Yellow Light by Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman uses sound, film and neon to produce works that sometimes deeply disturbing and sometimes beautiful.  I found that when you stood and admired the beautiful you were assaulted by the sounds of the disturbing from the adjoining room.  Some have loved this show, I found too disquieting at a time when I crave comfort.

Fons Americanus until 8 November 

Kara Walker’s vast fountain fills the Turbine Hall.  Taking its inspiration from the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace in form and scale it explores the interconnected histories of Africa, America and Europe.  Beautiful, thought provoking and free.

  • Tate Modern, Bankside, SE1 9TG
  • Open: Daily 10am – 6pm
  • Bruce Nauman; Adults £13
  • Members free


Filthy Lucre: Whistlers Peacock Room Reimagined until 11 April 2021

Whistler created the Peacock room just a few hundred yards away from the V&A without the owner of the house knowing.  The pair fell out over it.  Now the room is safely installed in the Freer Gallery in Washington.  This installation lovingly recreates room plus a bit of decay, adds a booming sound track and is fully immersive.  Sounds a little left field?  Don’t worry it is free and you might love it.

Bags: Inside Out opens 12 December 2020

The search for the perfect bag is never ending, even if you do find THE perfect one it wears out and you spend decades looking for its clone … just me?  I suspect that the queue for this exhibition devoted to bags in general but handbags in particular will long … book your tickets now.  Even now I am excited about the wonders that the exhibition shop will contain.  Definitely one of Autumn’s highlights for me.

  • Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL
  • Open: Wednesday– Sunday 11am – 7pm 
  • Handags Adults £12
  • Filthy Lucre Free
  • Members free 

Whitechapel Gallery

Kai Althoff goes with Bernard Leach until 10 January 2021

Kai Althoff is a German artist whose work has previously escaped my notice.  Bernard Leach is a British potter of stunning ability.  I would love to own a piece of his work.  This show has a mass of Kai Althoff work with a small selection of Bernard Leach pots curated by Althoff.  Not sure about the paintings but love and covet the pots.

Nalini Malani: Can You Hear Me? Until 6 June 2021

Nine projectors beam a series of short animations on the brick walls of the Whitechapel, the themes are often dark and brutal but the overall effect is mesmerising.

  • Whitechapel Gallery, 77 – 82 Whitechapel Road E1 7QX
  • Open: Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm
  • Admission: Free booking required

Whilst I am out and about stopping for refreshment at some of the excellent London Museum Cafés is always a pleasure. Membership or Friendship of most of the galleries and museums will get you into the exhibitions for free as often as you like, take a look at my guide to London Museum Membership for a full run down. Membership of the Art Fund will get you into many of the special exhibitions for half price.

Best London Exhibitions what to see at London Museum's and Art Galleries #London #LondonArt #Exhibitions


    • Catherine
      July 4, 2020 / 8:26 pm

      So good to have them back!

  1. July 6, 2020 / 4:00 pm

    I bet you’re very happy about this, which one are you going to first? If I was in London I’d love to see the Warhol. The last museum I went to in London was just before Christmas I discovered the Sir John Soane’s and I can understand why it’s not easy to manage in social distancing times.

  2. July 6, 2020 / 7:59 pm

    I’ve already booked my ticket for the Wallace Collection next week. Cannot wait!

  3. elinamic
    July 11, 2020 / 12:54 pm

    Thanks for sharing this guide! I love London museums and I can wait to be able to visit them again!

    • Catherine
      July 11, 2020 / 1:39 pm

      It has been a pleasure seeing them make reopening announcements

  4. October 31, 2020 / 3:26 pm

    Such an amazing choice of museums, I’d need to make a return visit or three.

    • Catherine
      November 4, 2020 / 10:48 am

      Fingers crossed that they will reopen

  5. December 14, 2020 / 3:11 pm

    I have recommended your blog, and especially your “to-do lists” to many friends, Catherine. They are such a huge help in screening the myriad of exhibitions and events on offer. Ellie and I had had several of the exhibitions above on our radar, but had been unaware of Sin at the National Gallery, Ai Weiwei at the Imperial War Museum, and Fantastic Beasts at the Natural History Museum. We’ve now put all three of those on our list.

    • Catherine
      December 14, 2020 / 3:44 pm

      Thank you Stefan, that made my day!

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