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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 |

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

Pablo Picasso, 'Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe' after Manet I (1962) Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Marine Beck-Coppola © Succession Picasso/DACS 2019

Picasso and Paper

Royal Academy of Arts, Mayfair
4 out of 5 stars

Of all the things the world needs in 2020, another effing Picasso show is not one of them. There have been countless major Pablo exhibitions in London over the past decade. Hell, I’m tired of typing the word Picasso, let alone looking at the bloke’s art. But the British public seems to have the same appetite for Pablo as it does for binge drinking and vomiting on the high street on a Saturday night, and British art institutions just can’t seem to stop pulling the Picasso pints. 

© 2019 Photo: Hugo Glenndinning

Patrick Staff: On Venus

Serpentine Sackler Gallery, Hyde Park
4 out of 5 stars

Life is a mess of toxic, corrosive, acidic substances and ideas in Patrick Staff’s work. The young English artist has filled the Serpentine with barrels collecting steady drips of acid from leaking overhead pipes. The ground is a perfectly reflective sickly green, dragging you into a mirror world of grim gunge. And things only get nastier. 

Bridget Riley 'Blaze 1' National Galleries of Scotland. Long loan in 2017. © Bridget Riley (2016) All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy of Karsten Schubert, London.

Bridget Riley

Hayward Gallery, South Bank
4 out of 5 stars

Bridget Riley will make your eyes hurt and your brain ache. With her perception-altering lines and colours, it’s like the octogenarian grand dame of op art is reaching into your skull, grabbing a fistful of your optic nerves and twisting, pulling and yanking them in a million different directions. 

Anselm Kiefer (2019) © Anselm Kiefer. Image courtesy of White Cube (Theo Christelis)

Anselm Kiefer

White Cube Bermondsey, Bermondsey
4 out of 5 stars

A single nightmare recurs ceaselessly in Anselm Kiefer’s monumental, enormous new exhibition at White Cube’s cavernous Bermondsey gallery. The leading German artist paints a field – nothing specific, just variations on some anonymous field – over and over again.

Bhawani Das 'A Great Indian Fruit Bat'. Image courtesy of Private Collection

Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company

Wallace Collection, Marylebone
4 out of 5 stars

Colonialism didn’t just come for the minerals, spices and priceless artefacts, colonialism came for the art too. As the East India Company tightened its grip on the Indian subcontinent in the nineteenth century, it also grabbed at the arts of the places it was occupying. This gorgeous show brings together botanical, portrait and everyday scene paintings commissioned by wealthy European patrons.

Paul Gauguin 'Self-Portrait Dedicated to Carrière' (1888 or 1889). Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (1985.64.20) Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Gauguin Portraits

National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
4 out of 5 stars

It’s not easy to like Paul Gauguin. He was, in almost every way, an absolute prick. He abandoned his wife and five kids, liked to paint himself as Jesus, called provincial French people ‘savages’, married a child, used his Western dominance to shag half of Tahiti and died of syphilis as a miserable, lonely old man. So how do you deal with his art (in this case his portraiture)? 

Lucian Freud 'Reflection (Self-portrait)' (1985) © The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images.

Lucian Freud: The Self-Portraits

Royal Academy of Arts, Mayfair
5 out of 5 stars

Cruelty courses through Lucian Freud’s work. Think of the painter’s most famous images and you think of flesh rendered lumpily, grossly, aggressively; of sitters forced to lie in twisted shapes for hours to appease his need to stare and analyse; of fat rolls and zits, cellulite and pubes. 

Filippo Albacini (1777-1858), The Wounded Achilles, 1825, marble, Chatsworth House Photograph © The Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees
Museums, History

Troy: Myth and Reality

British Museum, Bloomsbury
5 out of 5 stars

Troy vey, this show is seriously big. I mean huge, grand, ambitious, sweeping, in-depth, enormous. But take a deep breath and set an afternoon aside because it’s more than worth your time. 

Dora Maar 'Untitled (Main Shell)' Centre Pompidou, MNAM-, Dist. RMN - Grand Palais/Jacques Faujour

Dora Maar

Tate Modern, Bankside
4 out of 5 stars

‘Lady artist deleted from history’ is a pretty familiar story. And it’s the one that, broadly speaking, underpins this show at Tate Modern. Dora Maar (1907-1997) was a female artist footnoted by history thanks to her gender and her relationship with Pablo Picasso. But the most interesting thing to emerge from this fascinating retrospective – the first ever held in the UK – isn’t simply that Maar is an artist forgotten, it’s that she is such a ridiculously prolific and varied artist forgotten. 

© Tim Walker

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things

V&A, South Kensington
5 out of 5 stars

Fantastical. Fairytale. Magical. Lot of words are used to describe the photography of Tim Walker, but rarely this one: sex. Yet as this exuberant solo exhibition at the V&A proves, the British photographer’s special brand of surrealism, honed over decades working for fashion magazines, is far from saccharine innocence. 

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