London exhibitions have kicked off 2022 with panache. From a fascinating exploration into the history of male style at the V&A to Tate Modern’s groundbreaking show on Surrealism, by way of retrospectives on Francis Bacon and Beatrix Potter and celebrations of Bob Marley and Amy Winehouse, the capital is packed with culture this season. Here are the must-see art exhibitions in London to have on your radar this Spring…
The Best Art Exhibitions in London To See This Spring 2022
Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art 1950s-Now
Until 3 April
This group exhibition celebrates the relationship between the Caribbean and Britain in art from the 1950s to the present day. Paintings to photography, fashion to film, by the likes of Aubrey Williams, Claudette Johnson, Sonia Boyce, Claudette Johnson, Peter Doig and Grace Wales Bonner, are displayed in loosely chronological order. Each helps to explore different themes including the role of culture in decolonisation; the social and cultural significance of the home; the reclaiming of ancestral cultures; and the sociopolitical struggles that Caribbean-British people face. Running alongside the exhibition, a free display Sixty Years: The Unfinished Conversation looks at diasporic identity with significant works including Chris Ofili’s No Woman, No Cry (1998).
Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child
9 February - 15 May
This is the first retrospective of Louise Bourgeois to focus solely on the sculptures she created with fabrics and textiles during the final two decades of her career. Featuring over 90 extraordinary works, made from clothing, linens and tapestry fragments, the exhibition addresses her exploration of identity, sexuality and memory, amongst other things, and what the artist called “the magic power of the needle… to repair the damage.” A highlight is her Cells installations, for which Bourgeois has hung configurations of old dresses, slips and nightwear in reference to her personal history.
Fashioning Masculinities: The Art Of Menswear
In Partnership With Gucci
Victoria & Albert Museum
19 March - 6 November
In what promises to be a blockbuster show, Fashioning Masculinities celebrates the power, artistry and diversity of male attire and appearance over the centuries. Myriad looks by designers and historical treasures have been collated to spotlight how designers, tailors, artists and their clients have all played a pivotal role in the metamorphosis of menswear. Displayed across three galleries, contemporary looks by designers such as Gucci and Harris Reed sit alongside outfits worn by Billy Porter, Renaissance paintings and classical sculptures. All pay homage to masculine sartorial self-expression at its finest.
Surrealism Beyond Borders
24 February - 29 August
Billed as ground-breaking, this exhibition looks at Surrealism beyond 1920s Paris. Instead, it presents this radical movement as one that transcends time and place, placing it as a state of mind rather than a style. To do this, over 150 works from artists spanning more than five decades have been collated from countries as diverse as Buenos Aires and Cairo to Mexico City and Seoul. Painting and photography, sculpture and film… all serve to show why the movement took root at different times, in different places, and how it was used by artists around the world in their struggle for political, social, and personal freedom.
America In Crisis
21 January - 3 April
This group photography exhibition turns the lens on the United States, bringing together the work of 40 leading American photographers who have captured social change in the country over the past four decades. It takes the original 1969 ‘America in Crisis’ project for Magnum Photos as its starting point, which turned a critical eye on the US during what was a time of social, political and cultural upheaval. Fast forward to 2022, and this exhibition opens up the dialogue between then and now, with new works by contemporary photographers taken during another tumultuous time for the US. Expect to see imagery by all the greats including Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt and Mary Ellen Mark, and today’s luminaries, such as Sheila Pree Bright, Stacy Kranitz Kris Graves, Balazs Gardi and Zora J Murff.
Simone Fattal: Finding A Way
Until 15 May
This is the first solo presentation in the UK of Lebanese American artist Simone Fattal. Here, the artist has drawn on sources from war and conflict to ancient religions and mythologies, reimagining the brick-lined Gallery 2 space as a gigantic kiln and filling the space with ceramic figures, alongside other elements of an ancient landscape. These include a Mesopotamian ziggurat temple, a delicate ceramic ladder and a series of carved architectural stelae (stone or wooden slabs); while black-and-white etchings, drawn from the artist’s memories of Damascus, appear as maps or windows for the voyager.
Van Gogh Self-Portraits
The Courtauld Gallery
3 February - 8 May
The inaugural show at the newly refurbished Courtauld Gallery was always going to be sensational – and indeed it is. This is the first ever exhibition dedicated to Vincent van Gogh’s self-portraiture, with more than 15 paintings – many rarely, if ever, lent before – tracing the arc of Van Gogh’s self-representation during his short years as a painter. The centrepiece is, of course, the iconic Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear from The Courtauld’s own collection, though other works include Self-Portrait with a Dark Felt Hat, painted in Paris in 1886, and Self-Portrait with a Palette, painted at the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in September 1889, just before his death.
Gainsborough’s Blue Boy
The National Gallery
25 January - 15 May
A century ago, Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy was sold to an American railroad tycoon who took it back home to California. It may have fetched the highest price ever paid for a painting, but the sale was met with a huge outcry. So much so that it was hung in the National Gallery for three weeks as a public farewell. 100 years on, to the day, the painting temporarily returns to these shores and the cultural institution where it was last seen, giving viewers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this storied masterpiece.
Beatrix Potter: Drawn To Nature
Victoria & Albert Museum
12 February - 8 January 2023
The V&A has teamed up with the National Trust to present the first ever exhibition to tell the complete life story of one of our best loved children’s authors – Beatrix Potter. Playful and interactive, visitors will be entranced by the displays. Rarely seen personal mementoes include letters, family photos and early sketchbooks; these sit alongside artworks from her most famous books including The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck and the sketches and stories that inspired them. All bring to life not just Beatrix Potter the storyteller, but also the natural scientist and the legacy of her conservation work in the Lake District.
Francis Bacon: Man And Beast
29 January - 17 April
An Irish-born horse breeder’s son, he was to go on to become one of the most important painters of the 20th century. This is the first ever exhibition to shine a light on Francis Bacon’s fascination with animals and their uninhibited movement, and how this curiosity is reflected in his depiction of the human figure. Some 45 paintings have been chosen, spanning his earliest works in the 1930s right through to the final painting he ever made in 1991, via a trio of paintings of bullfights from 1969. Each reflects Bacon’s deep held view that humankind is fundamentally an animal – a belief that lay at the heart of his oeuvre.
The National Gallery
Until 18 April
American artist Kehinde Wiley may have painted Barack Obama in 2017, becoming the first Black artist to paint an official portrait of a president of the United States. But he is also much revered for reimagining Old Master paintings by positioning people of colour in the poses of historical, religious or mythological figures, thereby raising questions surrounding power and privilege. For this exhibition, in the National Gallery’s Sunley Room, The Prelude, Wiley has turned his attention from portrait to landscape painting, referencing historical land- and seascapes by the likes of Turner, Claude and Vernet to, again, challenge conventions and start conversations.
24 February - 29 August
This major exhibition gives a whole new spin on our relationship with plants and fungi, presenting them as so much more than a resource for human consumption, tools or decoration. Expect a series of new commissions and installations, from the likes of Patricia Domínguez and Joseca, a Yanomami artist whose drawings combine images of shamanic plant spirits with everyday scenes from the Amazon rainforest. Also on display are intriguing botanical specimens and historic works, from Wellcome’s collections and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. All encourage the viewer to not only rethink the way we see plant life but also our own relationship with the natural world and the fragile state of the environment.
Wildlife Photographer Of The Year
Natural History Museum
Until 5 June
More than 50,000 submissions from 95 countries were entered into the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, which is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum. This extraordinary exhibition showcases 100 of the most powerful images, each chosen for its originality, narrative technical excellence and ethical practice. Included are the works of the two Grand Title Winners: underwater photographer and biologist Laurent Ballesta, who captured camouflage groupers exiting their cloud of sperm and eggs in French Polynesia, in Creation; and ten-year-old Vidyan R Hebbar, whose Dome home image is of a tent spider as a tuk-tuk passes. A true insight into the magic and magnitude of nature.
Amy: Beyond The Stage
Until 10 April
Her powerful voice and soulful lyrics rendered Amy Winehouse one of the greatest musicians of our time. This exhibition – organised in collaboration with the Amy Winehouse Estate – is a celebration of the hugely popular jazz singer. An unprecedented collection of unseen personal belongings has been brought together to chart her extraordinary journey. There are recordings and teenage notebooks from the early years, which shine a light on Winehouse’s musical influences from Dinah Washington to Mark Ronson, 1960s pop to Motown. Stage costumes, handwritten lyrics and her blue Daphne Fender Stratocaster guitar give further insight into the legacy and creativity of such a cultural icon.
Bob Marley: One Love Experience
2 February - 18 April
The Saatchi Gallery sees the celebration of another musical great, Bob Marley. Making its global debut, the One Love Experience is an exploration into the life and times of the legendary reggae singer. Each room of the exhibition represents a different element of Marley’s life; there’s the One Love Music Room, for example, which commemorates his multiple achievements through accolades and art installations. Visitors will be able to celebrate Marley’s musical catalogue in the Soul Shakedown Studio, a live listening experience, and delve deeper into his other personal joys (football, family…) in The Beautiful Life. For a unique understanding of one of the world’s most recognised artists in music history, this is it.
Postwar Modern: New Art In Britain 1945-1965
Barbican Art Gallery
3 March - 26 June
A deep dive into how the Second World War changed art in Britain and how artists had to make sense of an entirely new world. Though certainty may have gone, this exhibition makes the argument that it was replaced by hope for a better future, which in turn prompted an abundance of imagery, forms and materials. Focusing on 48 artists – David Hockney, Gillian Ayres, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud included – it explores the subject matter that most preoccupied them (the war-torn streetscape, imagined future horizons…). In addition, this compelling show shines a light on the artists who came to the country as refugees from Nazism or as migrants from falling empires, as well as overlooked female artists.
Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art
Two Temple Place
29 January - 24 April
This engaging exhibition examines how ceramics have been reimagined by Black women over the past seven decades. More than 80 works by artists Ladi Kwali, Phoebe Collings-James, Shawanda Corbett, Jade Montserrat, Bisila Noha and Dame Magdalene Odundo are on display at the neo-Gothic mansion-turned-cultural space. Opening with Kwali’s work, the visitor will be able to see how she influenced a new generation of female artists working with clay in radical ways. Incorporating performance, sculptural installation and moving image, as well as preparatory drawings and archival material, this show traces post-colonial, gender and class perspectives, looking at how they have been reflected in ceramics over the years.