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Top ten art exhibitions in London

Check out our critics’ picks of the best art currently on show in the capital at some of the world's best art galleries

By Time Out London Art |
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Shortcut it straight to the good stuff by heading to one of the very best art exhibitions taking place in the capital right now. From modern and fancy, to classical and serene, we've got your next art outing sorted. Or, if you're skint until pay day, how about trying one of London's many free exhibitions instead?

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The ten best art exhibitions in London

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'A portrait of Leonardo', attributed to Francesco Melzi, (c.1515-18) Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019
Art

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing

icon-location-pin The Queen's Gallery, St James's Park
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If you’ve ever seen Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’, then you know you’ve never really seen it. What you’ve really seen is a jostling crush of irritable tourists with their cameras obscuring your view of an enigmatically grumpy Renaissance woman somewhere in the distance. 

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Photo: Tate (Matt Greenwood)
Art

Mike Nelson: The Asset Strippers

icon-location-pin Tate Britain, Westminster
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Tate Britain is filled with the corpses of British industry, the long dead, rotting remains of this country itself. Strewn across the massive central Duveen Galleries are chunks of enormous abandoned machinery: presses, clamps, welders, cutters. Some have been left untouched, others have been piled on top of each other. T

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Gladys Nilsson, A Cold Mouth, 1968 © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York
Art

How Chicago! Imagists 1960s & 70s

icon-location-pin Goldsmiths CCA, New Cross
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While the world was patting New York, LA and London on the back for inventing pop art and conceptualism back in the late ’60s, a group of artists in Chicago were too busy having the time of their lives to care. The Chicago Imagists are criminally under-known – a bunch of friends turning acid trips and comic strips into vivid, hilarious, ridiculous painting – but this exhibition should go some way towards changing that. 

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Agnolo Bronzino, 'St. Sebastian' (c.1533) © Museo Nacional Thyssen- Bornemisza, Madrid
Art

The Renaissance Nude

icon-location-pin Royal Academy of Arts, Mayfair
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Before smartphones, sending a nude was seriously hard work. There were no quick pics in the bathroom mirror in renaissance Europe; instead, they had to rely on good old-fashioned pen and ink. This neat little show – dedicated largely to drawings, engravings and woodcuts from the time – explores the different ways that the nude was used back in the middle of the last millennium. 

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© Franz West Privatstiftung
Art

Franz West

icon-location-pin Tate Modern, South Bank
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Franz West took all the stuffy, conservative formality of the art world and told everyone where to shove it. The austere reverence of the gallery, the contemplative deification of the artist: West just couldn’t be arsed with it. Instead, the anarchic Austrian artist (1947-2012) created a body of work that’s playful and ludicrous, that feels like one drink too many in a Viennese bar, the art equivalent of a hangover you somehow don’t regret. 

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Mandy El-Sayegh at Chisenhale Gallery by Andy Keate
Art

Mandy El-Sayegh: Cite Your Sources

icon-location-pin Chisenhale Gallery, Mile End
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There’s some serious information overload in Mandy El-Sayegh’s art. News, magazines, the internet, pornography, advertising and poetry are all splashed across the gallery walls, glued and smudged in place. At the root of El-Sayegh's work is a particularly modern condition: how do we navigate a world so inundated with information. 

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Reuben Mednikoff, No Title (3 January 11am – 4 January 6pm), 1938. Oil on panel. Collection of James Birch.
Art

A Tale of Mother’s Bones: Grace Pailthorpe, Reuben Mednikoff and the Birth of Psychorealism

icon-location-pin Camden Arts Centre, Frognal
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We’ve all got mummy issues and daddy issues. That’s the whole point of parents: they mess you up enough that you spend the rest of your life striving to prove them wrong. Hell, my parents said an art history degree would be a waste of time, now look at me! Sure, I’m poor and miserable, but I showed them. Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff wanted to do more than just prove their parents wrong, though, they wanted to use their work to explore childhood trauma and how it manifests throughout life. 

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William Eggleston 'Untitled' (c. 1977) © Eggleston Artistic Trust. Image courtesy of Eggleston Artistic Trust and David Zwirner
Art

William Eggleston: 2¼

icon-location-pin David Zwirner, Mayfair
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The title refers to inches: two and a quarter inches (stop sniggering at the back). Medium-format cameras use 2.25-inch square negatives. You can blow them up real big, and the quality is amazing. US photography legend William Eggleston isn’t usually associated with this format, but these pictures, taken in 1977 are as glowingly, troubling beautiful as any of his work, doused in a light that’s sweet and sickly as barbecue glaze. 

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Mohamed Melehi 'Untitled' (1975). Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, photographed by CapitalD.
Art

New Waves: Mohamed Melehi and the Casablanca Art School

icon-location-pin The Mosaic Rooms, Earls Court
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It’s always nice when art comes along and rips you out of your comfort zone, drags you out of your knowledge bubble and tears you from the established canon. You get so used to your idea art coming from books and museums, and being so proscriptive as a result, that it can all get a little staid sometimes. But then something like this Mohamed Melehi exhibition shows up and gives you a bit of a jolt. 

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Sarah Cockings & Harriet Fleuriot 'Plasma Vista' (2016) © the artists
Art

Sarah Cockings & Harriet Fleuriot: Another Funny Turn

icon-location-pin Block 336, Stockwell
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Wandering bushes, two-faced hedges, burbling baths of purple water and spinning tornadoes of hair: Sarah Cockings and Harriet Fleuriot’s mesmerising show is a heady, trippy nightmare, a weird voyage into the surreal depths of the countryside. 

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