Free exhibitions in London

Soaking up some culture in the capital needn't cost the earth

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London is awash with free exhibitions catering to every taste. Save your pounds for the gift shop and find out what you can see without paying an entrance fee, from major museum shows to niche exhibitions in specialist galleries.

Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology

  • Free

This exhibition promises to be a fascinating journey through the science of mental health from 1780 – right up to the present. Cleverly, the curators have chosen to focus on four key episodes, looking at such controversial therapies as Mesmerism (a kind of hypnotism), Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and the modish Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), using a variety of fascinating artefacts from the museum collection, before rounding up the latest thinking on the human mind and why it breaks down.

  1. Science Museum Exhibition Rd, SW7 2DD
  2. Fri Apr 18 - Tue Aug 12
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Secret 7"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Anyone who's familiar with the RCA's Secret Postcard exhibition and sale will be familiar with this concept, but this time round it's record sleeves. Seven tracks from seven well-known bands and artists are pressed into 700 7" singles, then creatives from around the world illustrate the cover artwork for one of the seven tracks, resulting in a very limited-edition piece of art that you can own, for the reasonable sum of £45. All the artworks will be on show for the weekend before being sold, fittingly, on Record Store Day (April 19), with sleeve and song both being kept secret until the purchase, and with all profits going to charity War Child. Tempted? You should be – artists this year include Jake and Dinos Chapman, Antony Gormley, Jeremy Deller and Paul Smith, so get down to Shoreditch to see them all. For full details see www.secret-7.com.

  1. Downstairs at Mother Biscuit Building, 10 Redchurch St, E2 7DD
  2. Sat Apr 19
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Richard Mosse: The Enclave

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Free

At the back of the NCP car park in Soho there’s an unexpected art experience waiting for you. There’s no room for cars here, only contemplation as you take in the beguiling photographs and immersive film installation by Irish artist Richard Mosse. Large format photographs of blisteringly beautiful vistas greet you at the bottom of the ramp. Unimaginable shades of reds draw you into picturesque landscapes of rolling hills and idyllic lakes. Then you’re struck by what these enthralling photographs are actually detailing as the images turn to more daunting scenarios. A human skull is nestled in dense ruby-hued vegetation. A man perches on top of a tree stump surrounded by vibrant magenta reeds, holding a machine gun, a look of tired absence glazed across his eyes. This is the wartorn eastern Congo; ravaged by constant conflict between militia, rebel forces, the Congolese national army and Rwandan refugees. Between 2010 and 2011 Mosse made several trips to the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly the region of Kivu, capturing these hidden pockets of turmoil with discontinued infrared surveillance film originally used by the military to detect camouflaged soliders from the air. This is what gives the images their troubling, rose-tinted allure. With a gut-wrenching soundtrack of radio static, Mosse’s eight doubled-sided screen projection is the masterpiece here. Electrifying crimson landscapes populated by weapon wielding figures skip over the screens, weaving you through th

  1. The Vinyl Factory Space Brewer Street Car Park, 17 Peter St, W1F 0AL
  2. Thu Apr 17 - Sat Apr 26
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3D: Printing the Future

  • Free

Yes 3D printing is slow, and yes, it’s incredibly expensive, but it’s also one of the most revolutionary inventions of our lifetimes. But is it really going to democratise the means of production and overhaul global capitalism? Or is it just overhyped Lego for the twenty-first century? Neither, says the Science Museum in this new exhibition which showcases some 600 objects that have been painstakingly printed using 3D technology. Apparently, the idea that the invention will replace mass production anytime soon is a gross exaggeration. But it has, in a few short years, found a stupefying array of playful, useful and even lifesaving applications. Among the pieces on display here, expect to see human organs printed with living cells, fuel- saving aeroplane parts and even artworks (pictured). Sound overwhelming? It is until you consider the exhibition houses just a tiny fraction of the estimated 5.2 million objects that were 3D printed in the UK last year alone.

  1. Science Museum Exhibition Rd, SW7 2DD
  2. Fri Apr 18 - Sun Jun 1
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Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America

  • Free

Charles Saatchi - early patron of Damien Hirst and the YBA's - is at it again nurturing fresh talent. This time he's turned his sights towards Africa and Latin America, to find stunning colourful paintings by Boris Nzebo and creepy-crawly sculptures by Rafael Gómezbarros. SEE OUR PREVIEW OF THE SHOW HERE

  1. Saatchi Gallery Duke of York's HQ, King's Rd, SW3 4SQ
  2. Thu Apr 17 - Sun Aug 31
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Slim Aarons: Riviera

  • Free

Previously unpublished work by the late American society photographer, gives us exclusive access to the coastal playgrounds of the rich and famous. Shot between the late ‘50s to the mid-80s, these vibrant images capture the frivolity of the jet setting crowd.

  1. Getty Images Gallery 46 Eastcastle St, W1W 8DX
  2. Thu Apr 17 - Sat May 10
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Sarah Jones

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Free

Sarah Jones’s photographs draw you into luxurious darkness. The overwhelming desire is to get up close in order to let your eyes inch across textures and details – papery orchid petals, the lustrous coat of a horse. It’s here, nose to the wall, where the work becomes truly disconcerting. Because, while Jones’s images describe things with exacting clarity, the photos themselves are uniformly matt and beguilingly depthless. Over the past few years, the British artist has become something of a photographic Henry Ford, largely limiting herself to shades of black, and this show continues the moody monochrome vibe. A dash of colour comes courtesy of works from ‘The Rose Gardens (Display)’ series which appear to show municipal rose beds in the dead of night; in fact they were shot with bright studio lights during daylight. This day-for-night substitution is just one strategy used by the artist to cast doubt on what we are seeing. Doubling and mirroring also play a role in this show, giving Jones’s subjects an unsettling, almost mirage-like presence when witnessed en masse. The tendency here, as shown in photographs of textiles receding into darkness, is towards a kind of painterly romanticism, one that draws us towards the edges of things – and beyond that, the void. It’s this, along with the work’s combination of restraint and opulence that makes these bewitching images unique in contemporary British art. Martin Coomer

  1. Maureen Paley 21 Herald St, E2 6JT
  2. Thu Apr 17 - Sat Apr 19
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Rwanda in Photographs: Death Then, Life Now

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Free

The exhibition starts with a question, and a telling one: ‘When you imagine Rwanda, what do you see?’ Twenty years after the 1994 genocide with which it has become synonymous, the country is eager to show that it is more than just a one-time bloodbath. To that end, this is the first show outside the country of images by professional Rwandan photographers (plus some outside contributions). There are great pictures here, especially John Mbanda’s portraits of craftsmen in a Gakinjiro workshop and Nigerian Andrew Esiebo’s shots of prismatic barbershops. Painter Yves Manzi focuses on the change to the country’s appearance through new building, and can snap a long-horn cow like nobody’s business, while Uganda-born photojournalist Timothy Chester’s shots of a clothes distribution at a refugee camp are world-class. That’s all well and good, but the show’s rather laborious title pretty accurately nails its shortcomings. We aren't allowed to accept these pictures for what they are, but have to see them as markers of change. A similar problem affects the way they are hung. You feel bombarded at the beginning with saturated colour, before the dark notes well up again: muddy images of crushing poverty, Jean Bizimana’s shot of a lone, hooded child among tumbledown shacks. A better edit of this mass of images – many of them understandably on similar themes and similarly composed – would have given it a lot more dynamism. Ending on a monochrome quilt of portraits of genocide survivors by Jen

  1. Cultural Institute at King's Inigo Rooms, East Wing, Somerset House, WC2R 2LS
  2. Thu Mar 20 - Wed Apr 30
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Daydreams and Diaries: The Story of Jacqueline Wilson

  • Free

Jacqueline Wilson is one of Britain's best-loved children's authors, serving as Children's Laureate (2005-2007) and - perhaps even the Queen's a fan - being made a Dame in 2008. More importantly, her nearly 100 books have sold 35m copies, so such characters as Tracy Beaker, The Suitcase Kid and Hetty Feather - all featured in this exhibition - are probably familiar. But interestingly, the exhibition also focuses the author's life and inspiration: in fact, it is bookended by reconstructions of her childhood bedroom (along with early short stories and diaries) and of the study where she now writes. The importance of Nick Sharratt's illustrations is also recognised, with plenty of drafts and finished pictures on display.

  1. V&A Museum of Childhood Cambridge Heath Rd, E2 9PA
  2. Fri Apr 18 - Sun Nov 2
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Lucas Foglia: Frontcountry

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Free

Huge skies, rearing horses, jail cells and men in hats: at first glance all the mythic elements of the American West are present in Lucas Foglia’s photographs. Taken over several years in the vast, sparsely populated states of Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming, they hint at ways of life unchanged in a century or more: simple, noble, perhaps a little naïve. But all is not what it seems. In fact, these are communities in terrible flux, riven by a struggle between the past and the future, as a giant business machine tears apart the landscape in mines and power plants. Foglia’s great achievement as a photographer is to suggest these tensions as much by composition as by subject matter. A huge bearded man arcs backwards as he trains with weights, his shape echoed by the arch of the plastic shed he’s standing in. A coyote hunter balances precariously on a fence post, rifle in hand. A rodeo rider stretches a hamstring in a posture of mourning. Elsewhere there are nods to William Eggleston in the plastic primness of a bank loan office, and a high-school football game against a backdrop of towering peaks. And there is war: it’s never explicit, but it’s there in the bleak valleys and the billowing smoke from wildfires, even in a grimy digger toiling up a mountain of coal towards a strange, turret-like chimney. While this isn’t war photography per se, these are the people, Foglia seems to be saying, caught up on the US home front, a place as pitiless in its way as any in the

  1. Michael Hoppen Gallery 3 Jubilee Place, SW3 3TD
  2. Thu Apr 17 - Sat May 10
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Burnt Generation

  • Free

Experience Iran through the eyes of eight contemporary photographers including Azadeh Akhlaghi, Gohar Dashti, Shadi Ghadirian, Babak Kazemi, Abbas Kowsari, Ali and Ramyar, Newsha Tavakolian and Sadegh Tirafkan who’ve lived and worked in the country. This select group whose work has seldom been seen outside of Western Asia, present a range of themes from portraiture to documentary, offering a unique and personal approach that differs from the stereotypical representation.

  1. Somerset House Strand, WC2R 1LA
  2. Thu Apr 17 - Sun Jun 1
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The Great War in Portraits

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Free

Wars are remembered in numbers. Soldiers and civilians become figures and statistics. One hundred years after the Great War, it’s easy to lose sight of the reasons for conflict, to forget what started it all and how we justified sacrificing so many lives. The works in the National Portrait Gallery’s show of paintings from WWI put faces to the figures, but also let you make a connection to those tragedies – they help you grasp humanity a bit better. Like the war itself, the exhibition starts with royalty. King George V and Kaiser Wilhelm face forward with pompous pride and arrogance. We then encounter the commanding officers: stout men with steely eyes. There’s a constant divide here between power and its consequences. William Orpen’s depictions of generals and field marshals sit alongside the faceless corpse of a medic by Gilbert Rogers and CRW Nevinson’s brutal futurist machine gunners. It’s a contrast between the men in power, and the men who gave their lives. As the war wears on, the works become more harrowing. Henry Tonks’s depictions of soldiers with facial injuries are shocking, while Eric Kennington’s corpse-like survivors awaiting treatment stay with you long after you’ve left the gallery. The show ends with works by two German expressionists. The show ends with works by two German expressionists. In ‘Self- Portrait as a Soldier’ (1915) Ernst Kirchner depicts himself as a mutilated warrior drowned in blood-red light. Max Beckmann’s contorted monochrome hellscape is e

  1. National Portrait Gallery St Martin's Place, WC2H 0HE
  2. Thu Apr 17 - Sun Jun 15
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Liu Bolin: The Heroic Apparition

  • Free

Now you see him, now you don't. The Chinese artist, who’s become known as 'The Invisible Man’, creates mind-boggling photographic self-portraits where he disappears into his surroundings. Whether it’s in a supermarket, against a brick wall, at the bus stop or in front of the Hollywood sign, Bolin explores the relationship between the individual and consumer culture in a developing yet oppressive Chinese society.

  1. Scream 27-28 Eastcastle St, W1W 8DH
  2. Thu Apr 17 - Fri May 9
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Made in London: Jewellery Now

  • Free

'The thing with langoustines is that you have to buy them live, and then work out how to kill them. Last time I went to Billingsgate, I had to cycle home with one bobbing around in my rucksack.’ Noemi Klein is a jeweller, not a chef, but her work is inspired by a fascination with the ‘incredible geometry and constructions you find in nature’ – so much so that her gold rings are cast from moulds of langoustines and her bracelets from crabs’ legs. She is one of seven incredible jewellery designers celebrated in a new exhibition at the Museum of London. Alongside its Cheapside Hoard blockbuster show, the museum is hosting an exhibition of contemporary jewellery, featuring a mini-installation for each of seven London-based makers (Jordan Askill, Imogen Belfield, Rachel Boston, Duffy, Husam el Odeh, Noemi Klein and Frances Wadsworth-Jones) and investigating their imaginative processes, working methods and inspirations. A museum-based showcase of jewellery sounds like it could be about as compelling as a trip to H Samuel, but this one is quite different. Not just because of the jewellers participating – from the legendary Duffy, a caveman of a chap with waist-length hair who sculpts tremendous skull rings, to Frances Wadsworth- Jones, who’s made her name by beading exquisite brooches in the form of a pigeon shit – but because it reveals the unique ways in which they work, and brings to life their often eccentric influences. Klein has created a whopping great maximal version of one

  1. Museum of London 150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN
  2. Fri Apr 18 - Sun Apr 27
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Dieter Roth & Arnulf Rainer: Collaborations

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Free

You normally think of artistic collaborations as being harmonious, mutually supportive things – but not in the case of Dieter Roth and Arnulf Rainer. Their collaborative works from the mid-1970s to mid-’80s are antagonistic and aggression-fuelled, playful in a fraught, edgy sort of way.In virtually any of the scores of drawings and other works on paper on display, produced whenever the peripatetic Swiss-German Roth (who died in 1998) would drop by Rainer’s studio in Vienna, you can see the pair constantly vying to outdo each other – or not just outdo, but somehow obliterate the other’s presence. Photographs of one artist are physically defaced by the other, crude cartoon faces are drawn on top of colourful paint swirls, and endless scribbles and pencil scrawls manically encircle and negate each other in frantic, abstract flurries.Sure, sometimes you get the sense that it’s all a bit of a macho pissing contest, a blokey rivalry between two fêted artists luxuriating in the knowledge that almost anything they churned out would end up being critically lauded. And yet, exhibited together in large groups, the works start to reveal subtle depths, showing how Roth and Rainer together developed a dialogue of swirling, spontaneous gestures. The feeling is of returning to a state of childlike creativity, an elemental chaos from which occasional, discernible forms instinctively emerge. And a similar idea applies to the pair’s black-and-white videos, ostensibly featuring them performing s

  1. Hauser & Wirth 23 Savile Row, W1S 2ET
  2. Thu Apr 17 - Sat May 3
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Users say

4 comments
Charlotte Heath
Charlotte Heath

The map for Lethaby Gallery, Central St Martins is out of date - St Martins now in Kings Cross not Holborn!

Charlotte Heath
Charlotte Heath

The map for Lethaby Gallery, Central St Martins is out of date - St Martins now in Kings Cross not Holborn!

N. Al-Ageli
N. Al-Ageli

I attended a private viewing last night at the Reading Room Gallery in Soho, of an exhibition called "A Thousand Words". It is a collection of paintings by the Colombian artist Dairo Vargas reflecting on childhood. Really worth going to and most proceeds will go to Barnardo's Charity. The show is on until December 9 and open Monday to Friday 9am-6pm. Free entry.