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.

Disobedient Objects

  • Free

A selection of objects from the 1980s to now that detail the history of protest and the role these objects played in making change happen. Including woven barriers, political videogames, an inflatable general assembly (a creation by Greta Hansen that brings together and covers a public gathering, a bit like a marquee), experimental activist bicycles and much more.

  1. V&A Cromwell Rd, SW7 2RL
  2. Fri Aug 1 - Sun Feb 1
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An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Free

You’re using your knowledge of the alphabet right now, but there’s no need for us to dwell on it much once we’ve graduated from spelling tests to spellcheck, other than trying to remember whether it’s T for Tango or T for two. The Wellcome Collection clearly doesn’t agree, though, and has taken letters into its own hands; while its main exhibition space gets a multimillion- pound makeover, it’s brightened a long, plain hall with

  1. Wellcome Collection Euston Rd, NW1 2BE
  2. Fri Aug 1 - Sun Oct 12
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Truth and Memory: British Art of the First World War

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Free

The war was just too big, confided William Kennington after he had completed his masterpiece ‘The Kensingtons at Laventie’ in 1915, one of the first things you’ll see in the ‘Memory’ section of this captivating two-part show. The authorities had hoped that Kennington would make more paintings to rival his pin-sharp, quietly devastating depiction of his unit – knackered, wounded, each soldier caught in a moment of reflection after

  1. Imperial War Museum Lambeth Rd, SE1 6HZ
  2. Fri Aug 1 - Sun Mar 8
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Gilbert & George: Scapegoating Pictures for London

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Free

Never have kisses seemed more self-consciously sardonic than in Gilbert & George’s ‘Scapegoating Pictures for London’. Each multi-panel photomontage bears the artists’ signatures along with a couple of Xs. These are constants in a shifting sea of inflammatory signifiers. It’s the old contemporary art ‘light touch paper, stand well back’ trick, repeated, scaled up and repeated again for good measure. In fairness, they’re answering

  1. White Cube Bermondsey Bermondsey Street, SE1 3TQ
  2. Fri Aug 1 - Thu Aug 28
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What's Love Got to Do with It

  • Free

Ah amour, there’s nothing quite like it to put a smile on your face and skip in your step. Coinciding with the Southbank’s Centre’s ‘Festival of Love’, the Hayward’s Project Space has gone all gooey-eyed with this group show about how we express love. 

  1. Hayward Gallery Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX
  2. Fri Aug 1 - Sun Aug 31
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Toy Stories

  • Free

Of all the material possessions we get attached to over the years, it's our childhood toys that end up in the loft for decades because parting with them is just too hard. Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti visited more than 50 countries to create portraits of children with their most prized belongings, and this exhibition tells the story of 21 kids from a wide range of backgrounds. Different tastes and economic statuses mean that the

  1. V&A Museum of Childhood Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9PA
  2. Fri Aug 1 - Sun Dec 14
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The Cornershop

  • Free

It has taken artist Lucy Sparrow seven months to create soft, furry replicas of more than 4,000 pieces of merchandise for her latest project, but now her vision is in place and she's ready to share it with us: a shop in which every item, from the tampons to the till, is made from fabric. A derelict cornershop in Bethnal Green has been lovingly restored to house Sparrow's cuddly creations: fuzzy fishfingers, plump pick 'n' mix, spongy Spam and

  1. The Cornershop Wellington Row, E2 7BB
  2. Sat Aug 2 - Sun Aug 31
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Giulio Paolini: To Be Or Not To Be

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Free

Right at the start of this excellent retrospective is a lifesize image of Giulio Paolini, arms folded, wearing some cool shades (pictured). He’s facing you, except he stands partially hidden behind the bars of a wooden stretcher. Dating from the mid-1960s, it’s a typically stylish, typically thought-provoking piece by the seventysomething Italian conceptualist, encapsulating ideas that have occupied him throughout his career: that the artist

  1. Whitechapel Gallery 77-82 Whitechapel High St, E1 7QX
  2. Fri Aug 1 - Sun Sep 14
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Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright

  • Free

To mark of the 450th anniversary on April 23 2014 of William Shakespeare’s birth,  this display in the V&A’s Theatre galleries explores Shakespeare’s works as the inspiration for a multitude of theatrical interpretations over the centuries and across the globe.The show’s centrepiece is Shakespeare’s First Folio. Published in 1623, this collected edition of 36 plays contains the first known versions of many of Shakespeare’s works,

  1. V&A Cromwell Rd, SW7 2RL
  2. Thu Jul 31 - Mon Sep 22
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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

  1. Science Museum Exhibition Rd, SW7 2DD
  2. Fri Aug 1 - Tue Aug 12
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Close and Far: Russian Photography Now

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Free

Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (1863-1944): interesting name, interesting man. A Russian aristocrat whose chemistry studies enabled him to finesse an early twentieth-century method of colour photography, he was also an astute self-publicist who finagled a commission from Tsar Nicholas II to travel the Russian Empire (by private rail car), photographing his far-flung subjects in their bucolic idylls. He did a suspiciously good job – if sowing fields

  1. Calvert 22 Calvert Avenue, E2 7JP
  2. Fri Aug 1 - Sun Aug 17
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Sickboy: Make It Last Forever

  • Free

Vivid paintings that capture the ephemeral qualities of our daily existence are juxtaposed by personal paraphernalia for the street artist's first London show.

  1. The Outsiders 8 Greek St, W1D 4DG
  2. Fri Aug 1 - Sat Aug 30
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Donald Silverstein: Jimi Hendrix

  • Free

These previously unseen archive images taken by the late American photographer in London in 1967 form a mesmerising portrait of the legendary Jimi Hendrix. The shoot produced one of the most famous images of the twenty-five year-old musician that was released as a poster insert for Electric Ladyland in 1968, yet the other images from the session were never used and have been kept safely by Silverstein's family for the past fifty years. 

  1. Snap Galleries 12 Piccadilly Arcade, SW1Y 6NH
  2. Fri Aug 1 - Sat Aug 23
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Marina Abramović: 512 Hours

  • Free

For six days a week, eight hours a day, the doyenne of performance art, Marina Abramovic will be at the Serpentine Gallery. Although there will be nothing in the gallery, the Belgrade-born artist will be interacting directly with gallery visitors for a total of 512 hours. As an expert of durational performance, she’s sat on a chair for 736 hours and 30 minutes staring at gallery visitors for her retrospective at New York’s MoMA, so expect

  1. Serpentine Gallery Kensington Gardens, W2 3XA
  2. Fri Aug 1 - Sun Aug 24
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A Puffin Book

  • Free

It's so easy to fall in love with a good children's book that we often remember them more clearly and fondly than our real-life childhood acquaintances. This free exhibition of archive material relating to classic Puffin’s stories, including 'Watership Down', 'Charlotte's Web' and 'The Borrowers', will bring all those literary friends right back to you.  Michelle Magorian will appear at the exhibition on July 23 (6.30pm, £5, book ahead) to

  1. Waterstone's Piccadilly Piccadilly, W1J 9HD
  2. Fri Aug 1 - Sun Aug 24
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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.

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