Get us in your inbox

  1. ‘Rain Room’, 2012

    What’s this? Londoners queueing for hours on end to stand in the rain? Sounds like there’s something in the water. Naturally, though, there was more to Random International’s splash-hit installation than met the eye. Essentially a big, rectangular, upside-down water fountain, the piece used a set of depth-sensing cameras to shut off corresponding valves as visitors moved through it, simulating the experience of standing in a downpour without the associated inconvenience of soggy socks.

  2. Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s aviary, 2010

    The next time you hear someone decrying the state of popular music, feel free to remind them that French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot packed out the Barbican’s Curve gallery for three straight months with an aviary full of guitar-playing zebra finches. In fairness to B-M, radio-friendly tunes were never really the point of his simple-but-brilliant commission, which sought to explore the rhythms of nature. Quite the spectacle, but spare a thought for the unfortunate soul lumbered with the clean-up job.

  3. ‘Black Watch’, 2008, 2010, 2011

    Between two tours of duty of packed-out performances at the Barbican, Gregory Burke and John Tiffany’s blockbuster play about Scottish troops in Iraq picked up four Olivier Awards (including Best New Play) and more five-star reviews than you could shake an IED at. Based on interviews with former soldiers, the play’s physicality famously pushed performance spaces to their limits, using sound and lighting to visceral effect in its portrayal of life in the grimmest crevices of the second Gulf War.

  4. Photo: Lucie Jansch
    Photo: Lucie Jansch

    ‘Einstein on the Beach’, 2012

    Anyone who insists they don’t like opera should be encouraged to give this sprawling, five-hour work by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson a go. Its abstract dance routines and lack of narrative may not make them immediate opera converts, but they’ll certainly prompt them to re-evaluate their understanding of the form. Eschewing conventional orchestral arrangements in favour of synthesisers and choral music, ‘Einstein’ remains a hugely divisive piece, and the Barbican its obvious home in London.

  5. Photo: Elliot Wyman
    Photo: Elliot Wyman

    ‘Radical Nature’, 2009

    The natural world has always been a source of inspiration to artists and architects, but it wasn’t until we realised in the late ’60s how badly we were screwing the planet that it acquired a whole new political resonance. Bringing together work inspired by environmental activism, utopian thought and more, this remains one of the most sprawling shows in the Barbican’s history, largely thanks to a series of outdoor commissions that included ‘The Dalston Mill’ (a restaging of an iconic piece by American artist Agnes Dene), which saw a 20-metre-long wheat field spring up in east London.

  6. Photo: Angelos Giotopoulos
    Photo: Angelos Giotopoulos

    ‘Pina Bausch: World Cities’, 2012

    The Barbican put London’s Olympic spotlight to good use in 2012, launching some of the most innovative cultural events of the decade at a time when the whole world was watching. Among them was this series of ten works by hugely influential German choreographer Pina Bausch, launched in collaboration with Sadler’s Wells. Bausch’s pieces have been described as physical travelogues, embodiments of her company’s experiences in various parts of the world. A challenging entry point for Bausch newbies but thanks in part to stunning music and costume design the performances were never less than utterly beguiling.

  7. ‘Panic Attack!’, 2007

    At the time it seemed the British punk movement was about little more than teenage alienation, clothes held together by safety pins and snotty lyrics set to three lazily hacked guitar chords. Thirty years after the dust settled, though, it was clear that punk’s cultural influence still resonated far beyond the filth ’n’ fury headlines. From iconic album artwork by artists like Jamie Reid to pieces by punk contemporaries like Derek Jarman and Barbara Kruger, the breadth of work at this sprawling retrospective served to celebrate a one-of-a-kind aesthetic with rebellion and decay at its core.

  8. ‘This Is War!’, 2008

    This poignant, powerful three-part showcase of war photography comprised images by six reporters, but it was the work of Hungarian photojournalist (and co-founder of Magnum Photos) Robert Capa that drew the crowds. Capa’s portion of the exhibition included shots from the D-Day landings and the Spanish Civil War, among which was the famous (and endlessly controversial) photograph ‘The Falling Soldier’. The accompaniment of recently unearthed negatives from the day the shot was taken may have shed little light on whether or not Capa staged or misrepresented it, but it certainly didn’t lessen its intrigue.

  9. ©Duncan McKenzie
    ©Duncan McKenzie

    ‘Jeremy Deller’s Folk Archive’, 2005

    For many artists, winning the Turner Prize coincides with the exact same moment they disappear up their own fundament. Props to Jeremy Deller, then, for keeping it refreshingly real – this showcase of creations from non-professional artists (which he curated together with Alan Kane) appeared at the Curve just six months after he scooped modern art’s biggest prize. Featuring everything from Michael Jackson-lookalike scarecrows to fast food signs, the show’s eclecticism and humour earned it rave reviews.

  10. Antony And The Johnsons with the London Symphony Orchestra, 2008

    When musicians from wildly disparate genres get together, the results aren’t always fantastic. Thankfully, programmers at the Barbican have a knack for knowing what works, hence why this rare collaboration between Antony Hegarty and the LSO had fans from both camps scrambling for tickets. Showcasing tracks from Hegarty’s third studio album ‘The Crying Light’, the concert is remembered as one of the Barbican’s most compelling, and not just because of the moody orchestral cover of Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy in Love’ that came out of nowhere.

The Barbican's greatest hits

We pick ten landmark events that have established the Barbican as one of London’s most diverse destinations for arts and culture


One thing that sets the Barbican apart from London’s other cultural heavyweights is the sheer eclecticism of its programming. All in the same visit, you could quite easily catch a Hollywood blockbuster, an experimental dance performance, a gig by a chart-topping megastar and an abstract art show. You’d need a lie down afterwards, but still: it is possible.

Here are our ten favourite shows from the Barbican’s last ten years.

    You may also like
    You may also like
    Bestselling Time Out offers

      The best things in life are free.

      Get our free newsletter – it’s great.

      Loading animation
      Déjà vu! We already have this email. Try another?

      🙌 Awesome, you're subscribed!

      Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!