Amongst the many cultural offerings across our capital city, the free exhibitions in London are definitely worth bookmarking. Many of this season’s must-see shows don’t have an admission charge, meaning you can marvel at the National Gallery’s rare Renaissance masters, see Antony Gormley’s latest body of work at Gagosian and contemplate the meaning of beauty at Wellcome Collection – all without paying a thing. Here’s our guide to the best free exhibitions in London this Autumn.
Free Exhibitions in London
Until 5 December
Fresh from his hugely successful In The Black Fantastic show at Hayward Gallery, writer and curator Ekow Eshun presents Like Paradise at Claridge’s ArtSpace. The new must-see free exhibition in London brings together a series of works focusing on figures of colour within scenes of nature, who have hitherto been excluded from narratives about the countryside.
Expect multidisciplinary pieces from painting to photography – some specifically created for the exhibition – by an impressive roster of artists including Frank Bowling, Jade Montserrat, Miranda Forrester, Osman Yousefzada and Sola Olulode. All of them present their own unique perspective on the natural world, presenting it as a place of hope, renewal and liberation – a place of freedom.
Nicole Eisenman: What Happened
11 October - 14 January 2024
The French-born American artist Nicole Eisenman is known for her oil paintings and sculptures. In what promises to be one of the best free exhibitions in London this Autumn, Nicole Eisenman: What Happened brings together 100 works from her three-decade career. Not just her monumental canvases and sculptures, but also monoprints, animation and drawings.
The display serves to illuminate not just the breadth and inventiveness of her practice, it also highlights her unique ability to explore some of the most pressing socio-political issues of the day, often in a humorous way. Gender and identity, governmental turmoil in the US, the impact of technology… all are addressed by Eisenman here.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Until 7 January 2024
As well as being the house and museum of the British architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837), Sir John Soane’s Museum put on excellent temporary exhibitions. Currently it is Georgian Illuminations, a deep dive into the spectacular illuminations which were popular in the Georgian period. The exhibition focuses on specific, well-publicised light shows of the time, and the incredible temporary architectural structures that were erected specially for them, often designed by well-known architects including Soane.
Newly discovered vast linen transparencies, that were backlit and used in Georgian windows as decoration during the Napoleonic Wars, will be placed on light boxes and displayed for the very first time in the ground-floor Foyle Space. A contemporary piece – a spin on illuminated architecture – has also been commissioned.
Turner and Bonington
The Wallace Collection
Until 21 April 2024
Turner and Bonington is a one-room display of watercolour landscapes by J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828) in the gallery’s Housekeeper’s Room. There are ten works in total by the two artists, the first time they’ve been on display for 17 years, so definitely one to catch if you’re in the area.
There are four views of Yorkshire by Turner and five depictions of Normandy and Venice by Bonington. Hung together, they take the visitor on a wonderfully evocative journey from the rugged Yorkshire Dales and crab fishing on Scarborough beach to the grand canals of Venice and the gothic grandeur of Rouen cathedral.
Georg Baselitz: Sculptures 2011 - 2015
Until 7 January 2024
Serpentine continues its historic sculpture series with its first solo exhibition of German painter, sculptor and graphic artist Georg Baselitz, Georg Baselitz: Sculptures 2011 – 2105. With a career spanning 60 years, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Baselitz turned to sculpture, exploring the push and pull between figurative and abstract through his carved wooden figures and body parts.
Serpentine will be displaying ten of these sculptures, all never-before-exhibited, each one carved from a single tree trunk. In addition, expect over 60 related drawings in pencil, pen and ink, as well as a monumental nine-metre-tall sculpture Zero Dom (Zero Dome) in the Royal Park, presented for the first time in the UK.
Antony Gormley: Body Politic
White Cube Bermondsey
22 November - 28 January 2024
Body Politic at White Cube Bermondsey is a new exhibition from Antony Gormley and is a must-see free exhibition in London this Autumn. Widely acclaimed for his sculptures, installations and public artworks that investigate the relationship of the human body to space, this show turns its attention to our species’ connection to its industrially made habitat.
It’s a topic that Gormley is passionate about: our need for refuge and how it’s in dynamic tension with our need to roam. Five new bodies of work are on display through which Gormley sets out to test and question this flux between sanctuary and control, freedom and discipline. As the artist himself says, “Each part of this show is an attempt to assess and reflect on our present condition: us now.”
William Morris Gallery
21 October - 18 February 2024
Radical Landscapes is an exploration into art that’s inspired by the land. The exhibition- organised in collaboration with Tate Liverpool – considers the natural world as a source of artistic inspiration and social connection as seen through the lens of William Morris, who was one of Britain’s earliest environmentalists.
Work spanning two centuries has been collated by artists including J.M.W. Turner, Derek Jarman, Jeremy Deller and Veronica Ryan. These encourage the viewer to reflect on how British landscapes have been used across social, class and racial lines over the years, delving into notions of freedom, exploitation and trespass. It also looks at the current climate crisis, starting from Morris’s own love of the land.
The Cult of Beauty
26 October - 28 April 2024
An exploration into the ideas of beauty across time and cultures, The Cult of Beauty promises to be one of the best free exhibitions in London to see this Autumn. New commissions, contemporary artworks and archival material have all been brought together to explore three themes – The Ideals of Beauty, The Industry of Beauty and Subverting Beauty.
From an ancient Egyptian mirror through to modern-day works by photographer Juno Calypso and a multisensory commission Beauty Sensorium, over 200 objects will be on display. The visitor is invited to consider the influence of status, health, age, race, gender and morality on perceptions of beauty and to see it in a very different light.
Rafal Zajko: Clocking Off
Until 26 November
As part of its current season, which focuses on the theme of labour, the gallery is holding an exhibition by the Polish sculptural ceramicist Rafal Zajko, Clocking Off, exploring the subject of industrialisation and its relation to working-class heritage and queer identities. The centrepiece is a monumental, suspended sculpture of a swinging pendulum. Reminiscent of a beehive and finished off in copper and ceramic, and rhythmically driving back and forth through the gallery, the feeling inferred is one of perpetual exhaustion.
Additional sculptures also convey the stresses and strains of industrial labour, dripping artificial sweat throughout the day, in reference to the poor working conditions of factory employees and designed to encapsulate “feelings of homesickness and nostalgia, fears of post-industrial decline, the denigration of worker’s rights, industry, conflict and war.”
Until 28 October
Designer Jonathan Anderson – who helms London-based fashion label JW Anderson and is creative director at the Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe – curates On Foot. Pieces from his recent collections are displayed alongside iconic works of modern British art, all displayed at Offer Waterman as if the visitor was walking through the streets of London.
The show takes you from Mayfair, where the gallery is located, to Soho where the JW Anderson store has its home. Even the corridors, staircases, storeroom and outdoor bench have been taken over to represent aspects of the city. Artist Anthea Hamilton has collaborated with JW Anderson to produce a limited-edition version of the iconic pigeon clutch, available at the gallery and the JW Anderson Soho store.