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curators holding artefact at Fantastic beasts exhibition at Natural History Museum
Photograph: Jeff Spicer-Getty

Seven exciting museum exhibitions to look forward to in 2021

Fantastic beasts, a history of sneakers and a big trippy tribute to ’Alice in Wonderland’. It’s all going to happen. Probably.

By Katie McCabe
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Trying to see a museum exhibition in 2020 was like playing a game of cultural Whack-a-Mole (now you see them, now you don’t!). If you were lucky, you might have scored a time slot to see the Design Museum’s sensational ‘Electronic’ exhibit or the British Museum’s ‘Arctic’ display between lockdowns. Just as we were getting used to wandering around these half-empty landmarks in a mask, they’d suddenly shut up shop again.

But for every exhibition you missed last year, there will be a shiny new one to make up for it in 2021, whether it’s the V&A’s deep dive into the abject weirdness of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or the welcome return of the ‘Museum of the Home’ (formerly known as the Geffrye Museum).

Launch dates may be tenuous, but London’s museums are still working away behind closed doors so there will be something to see when they finally reopen. It might not seem like it now, but there’s a lot to look forward to. You’ve got some time on your hands; might as well spend it booking tickets for the good stuff.

London museum exhibitions to look out for in 2021

Concept art by Mary Blair for Walt Disney's 1951 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland
Concept art by Mary Blair for Walt Disney's 1951 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland
Concept art by Mary Blair for Walt Disney's 1951 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland © Disney

1. ‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’

News Art

This blockbuster show from the V&A charts the evolution of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ from private manuscript to global phenomenon. Fall down the rabbit hole and explore the novel’s reinterpretations in art, theatre, fashion and dance, from Salvador Dalí’s surrealist paintings to Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet adaptation and Vivienne Westwood’s Alice-inspired collection. Due to open March 27 2021 at the V&A. Maybe

Erumpent horn
Erumpent horn
Photograph: Jeff Spicer, Getty

2. ‘Introducing Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature’

Museums Natural history Natural History Museum, South Kensington

The beasts will be back for this new exhibition mixing real specimens with a mystical twist from fictional Magizoologist Newt Scamander’s world. The show’s big 2020 launch was scuppered by changing tiers and the eventual lockdown, but when it returns, it will showcase some of the most enthralling creatures that have ever lived on our planet, such as a Galápagos marine iguana, as well as imaginary fauna, like an Erumpent horn and the dragon skull from Professor Lupin’s classroom. If you know any Potter-obsessed children, book it immediately. Reopening date tbc

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Photograph: Ninepal / Shutterstock.com
Photograph: Ninepal / Shutterstock.com
Photograph: Ninepal / Shutterstock.com

3. ‘Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street’

The humble trainer has come a long way since a certain Phil Knight began selling Japanese track shoes to college athletes out of the boot of his car in the 1960s. Learn how the footwear phenomenon has revolutionised sports, taken over the catwalk and spawned a $2 billion resale industry, at this collector’s item of an exhibition featuring cult classics, limited releases and innovative new designs from your fave sneaker brands. Just make sure to wear your freshest creps. April 2021 at the Design Museum

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bld0031_001
Geffrye Museum

4. The Museum of the Home relaunch

Museums History Hoxton

It used to be called the Geffrye Museum (after English merchant and slave trader Robert Geffrye), but that didn’t give much of an indicator of what it’s actually about, so the East End institution went and changed its name to the Museum of the Home. Housed in a set of eighteenth-century almshouses, this lovely little museum has for more than a century offered a vivid physical history of the English domestic interior. Displaying original furniture, paintings, textiles and decorative arts, the museum recreates a sequence of typical middle-class living rooms from 1600 to the present day. It’s been closed for refurbishment since January 2018, but is due for a big relaunch in Spring 2021

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Science Museum
Science Museum
Photograph: Climeworks

5. ‘Our Future Planet’

Want a touch more apocalyptic doom in your 2021? Try Science Museum’s free exhibition ‘Our Future Planet’, an investigation into the scientific fight against climate change. Apparently it’s the first major exhibit on ‘the subject of carbon capture and storage’, which sounds a bit like a disappointing school trip, but there will be some impressive technology on display that might just make you feel a glimmer of hope for the future. Look out for the prototype of Klaus Lackner’s Mechanical Tree, a device that sucks carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to combat polluted air. It opens March 2021 at the Science Museum

Photograph: Nero, Courtesy of the British Museum
Photograph: Nero, Courtesy of the British Museum
Photograph: Nero, Courtesy of the British Museum

6. ‘Nero’ (title tbc)

If you thought Julius Caesar was the real villain of ancient Rome, wait until you hear about Nero, the last male descendant of the first Roman emperor Augustus, who took the throne at age 16. He murdered his mother and allegedly his second wife. There’s even a claim that he started the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. Other sources argue he wasn’t such a monster after all, painting the ruler as an intelligent theatre-lover with great ‘social appeal’. The British Museum’s ‘Nero’ exhibition will pull together 200 objects and manuscripts to give a fuller picture of the controversial emperor, allowing visitors to make up their own minds. May 2021 at the British Museum.

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London Transport Museum
London Transport Museum
Photograph: Courtesy of the London Transport Museum

7. ‘Hidden London’

Okay, it’s not exactly new for 2021 but who doesn’t love wandering around an abandoned tube station? The ‘Hidden London’ exhibition at the London Transport Musem takes visitors on an immersive journey through secret subterranean railway passages using rare archive photos, vintage tube posters and a recreation of an abandoned ticket hall. One for the transport nerds, it’s full of great bits of tube trivia, like the story of Winston Churchill’s ‘secret’ Blitz shelter in Mayfair’s Down Street station, where he ate caviar and smoked cigars during wartime rationing, safe from the air raids above. The exhibition originally opened in October 2020, but has since been extended to December 2021 at the London Transport Museum

In the meantime, take a virtual gallery tour

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