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When are London’s biggest art galleries reopening?

A number of major London galleries announced official reopening dates this week

Written by
Katie McCabe

Slowly, slowly, London is getting its galleries back. Some of the exhibitions that shuttered suddenly in March have returned and new art shows are, tentatively, being announced to the press. In mid-June, more than a dozen commercial galleries (the kind you find in clusters in Mayfair) reopened. These are classed as ‘non-commercial retail’, so visitors – and prospective buyers – can enter by appointment to view the art on display. But what is happening with London’s major public galleries, where the art is not for sale (at least, not to the general public)? 

Last week, on June 23, Boris Johnson announced in his speech at the House of Commons that ‘most leisure facilities and tourist attractions will reopen’ on July 4, a statement that included museums and non-commercial galleries. To reopen large galleries such as Tate Modern, the Serpentine and The National Gallery safely, directors needed more time to prepare. The good news is, many are announcing their scheduled relaunch dates this week. Here’s what we know so far:

Whitechapel Gallery

The East End gallery will be back in action on Tuesday July 14 with ‘Radical Figures: Painting in the New Millennium’, a group exhibition of figurative painting by Tschabalala Self, Daniel Richter, Dana Schutz, Michael Armitage, Tala Madani, Cecily Brown and others. ‘Radical Figures’ was on the long scroll of shows that closed abruptly in March, so this is a second chance to see what our reviewer called the ‘vicious, brilliant painting’ of Tala Madani. Also on view will be an installation from Portuguese artist Carlos Bunga and ‘In the Eye of Bambi’, a collection of contemporary art selected by Mexican visual artist and writer Verónica Gerber Bicecci. 

To minimise risk of infection, all visitors must book online for a timed entry to the gallery (even if the show is free), and are encouraged to wear gloves and masks. Front-of-house staff will be in PPE. Exhibitions will be experienced on a one-way system throughout the gallery, and hand sanitiser stations will be provided for the route. Even the gallery’s restaurant is reopening – but seating will be adapted to allow for social distancing.  

Serpentine Gallery

Image: Cao Fei 'Nova' (2019) Video. Image courtesy of the artist and Vitamin Creative Space
Image: Cao Fei 'Nova' (2019) Video. Image courtesy of the artist and Vitamin Creative Space

The Serpentine will open to the public on Tuesday August 4 with ‘Blueprints’ a large-scale solo exhibition by multimedia artist and filmmaker Cao Fei. Step into a recreation of Fei’s Beijing studio and stay for a stop-motion dystopia filled with giant rampaging turtles. Fei’s solo show will have a six-week run, after that, the gallery will reopen an exhibition by Amsterdam-based design duo Studio Formafantasma that blurs the boundaries between contemporary art, design and research. As with all Serpentine exhibitions, entry is completely free.  

Royal Academy of Arts

The 250-year old Royal Academy of Arts is reopening soon – its ‘friends’ (as in, paying members) get in first, on Thursday July 9, the general public can have access one week later, on Thursday July 16. If you’re kicking yourself for missing the four-star ‘Picasso and Paper’ exhibition, some good news: it’s been extended to August 2. The first phase of the RA opening will be four days a week (Thursday to Sunday, 11am to 4pm). As with the Whitechapel, it will have a one-way system, but mask wearing will be compulsory for all visitors, and cash will not be accepted. The shift in the schedule has changed the entire run of the RA’s 2020 programme. ‘Gauguin and the Impressionists’ was due to open March 28, but will now run from August 7 to October 18, a joint show of work by Tracey Emin and Norwegian artist Edvard Munch will go ahead as planned on November 15. Surprisingly, the Summer Exhibition 2020 will be happening, but on October 6. So summer isn’t cancelled it’s just… a little delayed. 


Masculinities: Liberation through Photography Installation View
Photograph: ‘Masculinities: Liberation through Photography’ by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

One of the biggest pre-lockdown shows ‘Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography’ will reopen to visitors on Monday July 13 at reduced capacity with timed entry slots, available to book here. A little later this summer, on August 11, you can check out the first UK commission from Nigerian-American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola at The Curve gallery, which, luckily, already has a one-way system. For the first time, the Barbican’s big plant-filled Conservatory will be open to the public during the week but again, you’ll need to book a (free) slot in advance. The big leafy tropical conservatory is ridiculously popular, and since lockdown has everyone obsessed with cheese plants, spaces are going to go quick. 

The National Gallery 

The NG will be the first of the major London galleries to open its doors, on Wednesday July 8. The five-star blockbuster exhibition ‘Titian: Love, Desire Death’, which closed with the gallery in March, has been extended until January 2021. As our reviewer put it, ‘It’s taken 500 years for these pictures to be reunited, but it’s been more than worth the wait,’ so what’s another 111 lockdown days? 

As with the other galleries, safety measures will be in place, and masks are recommended. Bookings must be made in advance even though entry remains free. The gallery will be open seven days a week, but with tweaked opening hours to prevent staff from travelling at peak times (11am to 4pm daily, except Fridays, when it’s open until 9pm). It will be adopting a one-way system, but with a choose-your-own-adventure twist: there will be three routes which take 25-35 minutes each. Take route A for Botticelli, Michelangelo and Raphael; route B for Hogarth and Turner; and route C for Rubens and Rembrandt. Routes B and C will also take you to the Impressionist galleries for a bit of Seurat and Monet. Before All This, the NG was due to have a solo show of works by the great Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi. An announcement is due on the Artemisia exhibition ‘shortly’. Fingers crossed. 

Tate Modern and Tate Britain

Image: ‘The Slippers of Cinderella’ 1894 Ink and watercolour on paper Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press
Image: ‘The Slippers of Cinderella’ by Aubrey Beardsley, 1894 Ink and watercolour on paper Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press

Tate announced today (Tuesday June 30) that it will reopen ALL galleries on Monday July 27, that includes Tate Liverpool, Tate St Ives and, most importantly, London’s Tate Britain and Tate Modern. Tickets for a planned time slot must be booked in advance, and you’ll be able to do so from next week. There’s no mention of face masks (WEAR A FACE MASK ANYWAY, GUYS), but social-distancing measures will be enforced to manage crowds. All the pre-lockdown Tate exhibitions will be making a return, including ‘Andy Warhol’ and Kara Walker’s ‘Fons Americanusat’ Turbine Hall installation at Tate Modern, and ‘Aubrey Beardsley and Steve McQueen’s ‘Year 3’ at Tate Britain. 

If you don’t feel comfortable visiting a gallery in person just yet, try a virtual tour

Want to know when you can finally watch a film in an actual cinema? Find out here

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