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London art exhibitions calendar

Our handy calendar of the must-see art shows coming to town in 2016

© Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Get your diary out for a new season of must-see art in 2016, including some of the top art exhibitions, exciting new gallery openings and upcoming photography in London. Keep your eyes peeled and your paintbrush poised - or, if you can’t wait that long, check out the best new art this week to satisfy your creative cravings sooner. 

Art shows opening in May 2016

Mona Hatoum

Mona Hatoum made a name for herself in the 1980s with performances including a gruelling hour-long barefoot trudge through the streets of Brixton with DM boots attached to her ankles. Since then, her work has been a no-holds-barred exploration of human fragility and strength, often inspired by her own story (born in Beirut in 1952 to a Palestinian family, she settled in England in the mid-1970s after war broke out in Lebanon).

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Tate Modern , South Bank Until Sunday August 21 2016

George Shaw: My Back To Nature

For the past two and half years, George Shaw has enjoyed one of the best gigs in art as artist-in-residence at the National Gallery. This is our opportunity to see how the artist, a Coventry lad who studied at the RCA in the 1990s, has been inspired by the collection. Shaw's paintings often depict the council estate of his childhood, or nature on the fringes of the urban world, so how the mythological and religious imagery of the NG has filtered into and fired his imagination should prove fascinating to behold.

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National Gallery , Trafalgar Square Until Sunday October 30 2016

Painting with Light

The Tate focuses on its stellar collection of Pre-Raphaelite art (again!) with a show that brings out the big guns of the movement, such as John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and their Aesthetic Movement and British Impressionist chums including Whistler. Subtitled 'Art and Photography from the Pre-Raphaelites to the modern age', this exhibition has an interesting new focus, however, in looking at the dialogue between early photography and British art.

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Tate Britain , Westminster Until Sunday September 25 2016

Jeff Koons: Now

Having opened his Newport Street Gallery with work by the respected by relatively unknown John Hoyland, Damien Hirst is following up with a real biggie – Jeff Koons. It makes perfect sense. Koons has been a huge influence on Hirst, who first saw the work of the American artist in Charles Saatchi's 'New York Art Now' show during his second year at Goldsmiths college in 1987.

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Newport Street Gallery , Lambeth Until Sunday October 16 2016


Cornelia Parker has lined up a stellar cast of artists and designers to contribute to this show, which is based on the history of the Foundling Hospital. Responding to the theme of 'found' are Ron Arad, Phyllida Barlow, Jarvis Cocker, Richard Deacon, Tacita Dean, Jeremy Deller, Edmund de Waal, Brian Eno, Wolfgang Tillmans, Mona Hatoum and many others.

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Foundling Museum , Bloomsbury Until Sunday September 4 2016

Art shows opening in June 2016

Bhupen Khakhar

The Tate showed Bhupen Khakhar as early as 1982, and again in 'Century City' in 2001, yet the Indian artist remains relatively unknown. This retrospective looks set to change that while also bringing a heartening dose of fantastical storytelling to the summer of art. Born in 1934 in Bombay, Khakhar depicted the ordinary lives of workers and tradesmen of modern India while revealing diverse art-historical influences, from Indian miniature to pop art. Marking his coming out as a gay man, his most famous work, 'You Can’t Please All' (1981) is also his most confessional; Khakhar was similarly forthright about his battle with cancerin paintings such as 'Idiot' (2003), painted the year he died.

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Tate Modern , South Bank Wednesday June 1 2016 - Sunday November 6 2016

Alex Katz: Quick Light

As he approaches his ninetieth year, legendary New York painter Alex Katz shows no sign of slowing down. ‘I don’t think of myself as an old man,’ he told us when we spoke to him last year. And he certainly doesn't paint like one – nailing his signature, stylish, stripped-back-to-the-essentials portraits and landscapes with extraordinary aplomb. Making reference to the Serpentine's parkland setting, this show includes an installation of landscapes from recent years shown alongside a selection of works from the past two decades. It'll be a summer highlight, for sure.

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Serpentine Gallery , Knightsbridge Thursday June 2 2016 - Sunday September 11 2016

Mary Heilmann

Arriving like a heady blast of ozone comes this retrospective of the US artist who, for the past five decades, has dazzled with witty, exuberant, sensuous paintings. Heilmann, born in San Francisco in 1940, has forged a singular path, riffing on various styles of abstraction – hard-edge painting, expressionist brushwork, the dot, the splodge, the stripe, the dribble – in a deceptively casual manner.

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Whitechapel Gallery , Whitechapel Wednesday June 8 2016 - Sunday August 21 2016

Winifred Knights (1899-1947)

Dulwich Picture Gallery's mission to bring to attention under-appreciated British modernists continues with this retrospective of Winifred Knights. In works such as her best-known painting 'The Deluge' (1920) in the Tate collection, Knights marries a love of early Renaissance frescoes with cubist-inspired exaggerations of form. They're solemn, classical. What's radical about Knights's art, however, are themes of women's rights and independence. Knights was recognised during her lifetime: at the insistence of John Singer Sargent, she became the first woman to win the Prix de Rome scholarship in Decorative Painting awarded by the British School at Rome. This show seeks to establish her as one of the most original artists of the first half of the twentieth century.

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Dulwich Picture Gallery , Dulwich Village Wednesday June 8 2016 - Sunday September 18 2016

Vauxhall Art Car Boot Fair

Our favourite alternative art event returns on June 12 2016 with dozens of big names selling wares directly to the public, minus the stuffy atmosphere and astronomical prices of some commerical galleries. Last year saw Gavin Turk, Tracey Emin, Pam Hogg, Bob and Roberta Smith and Polly Morgan among the artists offering limited edition and one off creations from the boots of classic and vintage cars at this unique event. With works starting at £10 and reaching £1,000, the fair always attracts a big crowd, so we suggest you try to get there early.

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Brick Lane Yard , London Sunday June 12 2016

Opening of the new Tate Modern

You can’t miss the big art story of 2016: it’s ten storeys high. On June 17, a new Tate Modern will be unveiled when its extension, known as The Switch House (that’s the big, twisty building that’s been rising up behind the Bankside building for the past couple of years) opens to the public. 

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Tate Modern , South Bank Friday June 17 2016

Art shows opening in July 2016

David Hockney RA: 79 Portraits and Two Still Lifes

Critics' choice

After his mega 2012 RA show, David Hockney returns to the Royal Academy with a smaller show in the Sackler Wing of portraits made in Los Angeles over the past three years. The aquas and blues of the backgrounds immediately recall his seminal swimming pool paintings of the 1960s. Instead of bare-bummed beach boys, however, these relative small works are populated by Hockney’s current friends, family and acquaintances – including Barry Humphries, Lord Jacob Rothschild and super-gallerist Larry Gagosian.

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Royal Academy of Arts , Mayfair Saturday July 2 2016 - Sunday October 2 2016

Georgia O'Keeffe

Critics' choice

Landscape painter, flower painter, feminist artist… Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was all of these and more. She is also one of the most popular and accessible artists on the planet – her work being among the most widely reproduced of any twentieth century artist. It’s possibly due to the former that O’Keeffe has suffered critically over the decades; straitjacketed by categories that only partly explain her influence, she struggles to attain a singular presence in the history of modern.

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Tate Modern , South Bank Wednesday July 6 2016 - Sunday October 30 2016

Ragnar Kjartansson

Critics' choice

If you missed one of the standout shows of 2015, the Vinyl Factory’s presentation of Ragnar Kjartansson sensational musical installation, ‘The Visitors’, fear not as you’ll be able to experience it at the Barbican’s summer exhibition dedicated to the young Icelandic artist who has brought fun back to art. For his recent show at Palais de Tokyo, he transformed the galleries into living entities where the lines between fact and fiction were blurred. He’s played guitar naked in a bath, been the crooner of a big band, become a captain of a boat, and dressed up as a knight. 

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Barbican Centre , Barbican Thursday July 14 2016 - Sunday September 4 2016

William Eggleston Portraits

William Eggleston, the man widely considered the godfather of colour photography, is a geniune art world legend and as cool as many of the people he's shot over the years. Joe Strummer and Dennis Hopper are among the names that feature in this retrospective of Eggleston's portraits of musicians and actors. But rarely seen images of this Memphis-born artist's home life are likely to be as big a draw.

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National Portrait Gallery , Leicester Square Thursday July 21 2016 - Sunday October 23 2016

Further ahead

Abstract Expressionism

Critics' choice

Autumn 2016 at the RA is all about New York in the 1940s and ’50s, as this blockbuster survey of abstract expressionism brings together the big deals, bad boys and prodigious boozers of the era. It’s sure to be a swaggeringly audacious show. Abstract expressionism, with its love of spontaneity, automatic and unconscious forms, marks the moment when America took over from Paris as the crucible of modern art (whether or not you believe the theories about CIA involvement in its post-war rise to prominence). 

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Royal Academy of Arts , Mayfair Saturday September 24 2016 - Monday January 2 2017

Turner Prize

Over the years the coveted art prize’s annual exhibition has caused quite a stir. It’s been criticised for being sexist, politically incorrect, elitist and out of touch. Lack of sponsorship funds threatened the continuation of the prize in 1990 until Channel 4 stepped in to save the day. And Martin Creed’s winning exhibit in 2001 ‘The lights going on and off’ divided the art-loving nation. Celebrating its 32nd year, the Turner Prize returns to Tate Britain with four shortlisted artists all competing for the £25,000 prize money.

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Tate Britain , Westminster Tuesday September 27 2016 - Sunday January 8 2017

Guerrilla Girls

Critics' choice

The feminist activist group looks at the Whitechapel Gallery’s history of exhibiting female artists including Sophie Calle, Nan Goldin, Sarah Lucas and Bridget Riley for this Archive display. Founded in 1985 by an anonymous group of artists to expose the inequality of the male dominated art world, culture in general and politics, the Guerrilla Girls will don their gorilla masks and scan their critical eye over this east London institution. Will we like what they find?

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Whitechapel Gallery , Whitechapel Saturday October 1 2016 - Sunday March 5 2017

Picasso Portraits

The National Portrait Gallery's major autumn 2016 exhibition traces the development of Pablo Picasso through the portraits he painted throughout his life – from child genius to the most famous artist in the world. Featuring around 80 works, the show reveals the many ways in which he captured a sitter's likeness and rewrote the rules of portraiture – through caricature, formal study and spontaneous expression, sometimes from memory. Expect masterpieces such as his cubist portrait of his art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as portraits of Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Cocteau and Jean Cocteau among paintings of Picasso's acquaintances, friends, family members and lovers. Every Friday, 100 tickets for this blockbuster will be available for a bargainous £5.

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National Portrait Gallery , Leicester Square Thursday October 6 2016 - Sunday February 5 2017

Beyond Caravaggio

Critics' choice

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio remains art’s ultimate bad boy some 400 years after his death. A maverick and a murderer, he embodies the ‘live fast, die young’ mantra of rebels the world over. However, the drama of Caravaggio’s short life is more than matched by that of his art. A master of theatricality and illumination, Caravaggio revolutionised painting in Rome at the end of the 1500s by painting straight on to canvas and using ‘ordinary’ folk as models for religious characters. He set his scenes in recognisable contemporary surroundings and, by making his images appear like an extension of real space, places you, the viewer, right in the picture.

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National Gallery , Trafalgar Square Wednesday October 12 2016 - Sunday January 15 2017

Paul Nash

Critics' choice

Paul Nash (1889-1946) exerts a strong influence over British painting. If he’s overlooked it’s because, in his powdery vistas, he can come across as mild mannered – too English. Yet the eccentricity and romanticism of his quasi-mystical landscapes is never far from the surface, neither is his deep feeling for the land.

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Wed Oct 26 - Sun Mar 5

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection

Elton John has one of the best private collections of twentieth-century photography in the world, which may come as a surprise if you thought he just spent his money on CDs and flowers. He's lending around 150 key images for this major Tate Modern show, which focuses on the decades 1920 to 1950, when photographers and artists started to use the medium in earnest to create truly modern visions of the world. 

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Tate Modern , South Bank Thursday November 10 2016 - Sunday May 7 2017

Robert Rauschenberg

Critics' choice

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was an exceptionally versatile artist. His practice encompassed painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, installation and performance. After leaving the Navy in 1947 and a stint of studying in Europe, Rauschenberg enrolled at Black Mountain College where the influential abstract artist, Josef Albers, taught him and he met lifelong collaborators John Cage and Merce Cunningham. Back in New York during the height of Abstract Expressionism, Rauschenberg kicked around with fellow artists Jasper Johns (also Rauschenberg’s lover) and Cy Twombly. It was these formative years that spurred the protean nature of the American artist’s work that embraced political activism.This major retrospective, will bring all the elements of his six-decade career together including his innovative use of materials in the celebrated ‘Combines’ series and his constant adaptability in the epic project ‘Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange’, which involved making work in each host country he visited between 1984 and 1991.

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Tate Modern , South Bank Thursday December 1 2016 - Sunday April 2 2017

Find our favourite art exhibitions on now

Top 10 art exhibitions in London

Fancy seeing an art show this weekend but no idea where to go? Well look no further. You can't go wrong if you head down to one of our ten favourite art exhibitions taking place in the capital right now.

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By: Time Out London Art