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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

© 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. 

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. 

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)? 

William Hogarth 'A Rake’s Progress, 3: The Orgy' (1734) © The Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum.

Hogarth: Place and Progress

Sir John Soane’s Museum, Holborn
5 out of 5 stars

With impeccable timing, Sir John Soane’s Museum has gathered together for the first time all of William Hogarth’s series, including ‘A Rake’s Progress’ and ‘Marriage A-la-Mode’. The timing is great because the highlight here is ‘Humours of an Election’ (1754), in which a bogus general election goes from bad to worse, amid corruption, violence and national division, and in which literally every other character looks like Boris Johnson, including some of the animals. 

United Visual Artists Installation view of Vanishing Point at Towner Art Gallery, 2013-14
Art, Contemporary art

United Visual Artists: Other Spaces

180 The Strand, Strand
4 out of 5 stars

At one point in their show, United Visual Artists make your stomach turn. The walls of the room collapse around you, or split wide open, or spin sickeningly. But it’s not real. It’s a trick of perspective that reaches through your eyes and tickles your brain. The laser installation, inspired by the perspective tricks of the Renaissance, is a good example of what this collective (led by Matt Clark) does. 

William Blake 'Newton' (1795 – c.1805) © Tate

William Blake

Tate Britain, Millbank
4 out of 5 stars

For a man who casts such a huge, dark shadow over the history of British art, William Blake’s drawings, paintings and etchings are quietly unobtrusive little things. The poet, artist and printmaker (1757-1827) spent his life huddled over, creating mesmerising, tiny works to illustrate poems and histories. 

Olafur Eliasson 'Your uncertain shadow' (2010) © Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life

Tate Modern, Bankside
5 out of 5 stars

Olafur Eliasson does epic like few others. The Danish-Icelandic artist was last at Tate Modern in 2003 with 'The Weather Project', a monumental installation that transformed the Turbine Hall into a pulsating, hazy sunset. This time, they’re showing 40 works, including many large-scale installations, made throughout his career. 

Courtesy the artist & Zabludowicz Collection. Photo: Tim Bowditch

Shana Moulton

Zabludowicz Collection, Kentish Town
4 out of 5 stars

Anxiety is at epidemic levels. The painful agoraphobic stress of contemporary life is everywhere, and we’re all looking for a mindful way to escape it. American video artist Shana Moulton uses a character called Cynthia as an avatar for all of that modern angst. 

Credit: copyright Caroline Coon all rights reserved. images courtesy the artist and TRAMPS New York and London. photography Richard Ivey
Art, Contemporary art

Caroline Coon

Tramps, Islington
4 out of 5 stars

Caroline Coon has painted a vision of herself with a single, monstrous, enormous, gnarled, veined, manly hand. It’s one of the first things you see in this show (which opened back in October but is on through to December). Her naked body is thin, angled, fragile; her skin hangs loosely, her face is heavily lined. But that hand is something else.

© 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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