Summer has arrived in London and with it, a host of compelling art exhibitions across the capital’s museums and galleries. From an unprecedented deep dive into Iranian art and design over the past 5,000 years to Bridget Riley’s latest eye-popping optical illusions and a celebration of the country’s skateboarding scene, this season’s cultural calendar is the brightest, most dynamic yet. Here are the dozen shows worth pencilling in…
Best art exhibitions in London
Gagosian Grosvenor Hill
Until 18 September
Abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler played a pivotal role in postwar American painting, enjoying a six-decade career from the 1950s until her death in 2011. Imagining Landscapes: Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, 1952-1976 brings together 13 of her seminal paintings, several never exhibited before, all of which reference landscapes. From canvases she painted on her honeymoon in the southwest of France to the final work in the show, Sphinx (1976), each one is remarkable in its variety of colour and line. “I had the landscape in my arms when I painted it. I had the landscapes in my mind and shoulder and wrist,” she once said.
By appointment only
The Photographers’ Gallery
Until 1 February 2022
The Photographers’ Gallery is marking its 50th anniversary with a four-part exhibition that taps into rarely seen materials from the archive – curated by writer, academic and broadcaster David Brittain – exploring both key moments in the Gallery’s history and the landscape of photography. The first installment Photojournalism: a worthy art for a new gallery, which runs until 8 August, celebrates the inaugural years from the gallery’s first exhibition in 1971 onwards. The three subsequent displays – Fashion and Advertising: Anti-elitist art photography, Beyond documentary: from photography to photographies and The Archive: Collectors, critics and subversives – look at commercial photography, artistic developments, and the links between technological and aesthetic innovation.
Until 2 January 2022
A riveting exploration into the relationship between fashion designer and royal client, offering a peek into the illustrious world of ateliers and how they helped shape the public image of the British monarchy. The exhibition takes place in the palace’s historic orangery, with dazzling gowns and ensembles on display alongside unseen photographs, fabric swatches and original sketches by Sir Norman Hartnell and Belville Sassoon. Stars of the show include the taffeta wedding dress created by the Emanuel studio for Lady Diana Spencer when she married the Prince of Wales – complete with its 25-foot sequin encrusted train – and an extraordinary 18th century-style gown by theatrical designer Oliver Messel worn by Princess Margaret for a costumed ball in 1964.
Barbican Art Gallery
Until 29 August
Since the 1970s, Sao Paulo-based photographer and activist Claudia Andujar has tirelessly defended the rights and documented the lives of the Yanomami, one of Brazil’s largest indigineous peoples. This art exhibition brings together over 200 of Andajur’s photographs, many of them taken when she spent six years living with the forest-dwelling tribe, as well as drawings by Yanomami, a film and an audio-visual installation. The powerful exhibition not only highlights Andujar’s commitment to both art and activism, but also serves as a timely reminder of the climate emergency that affects the Amazon rainforest and its inhabitants, and how this humanitarian and environmental crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Victoria & Albert Museum
Until 12 September
It’s been 90 years since the UK last saw an art exhibition exploring Iranian art, design and culture from 3000 BC to the present day. This long overdue show delves into the V&A’s extensive archive, alongside major loans, to explore an ancient civilisation and its journey across the millenia into the 21st century. Visitors are transported to an Iranian city, where they’ll be able to explore all ten sections of the show, from Emerging Iran, a display of figurines and ancient artefacts from C.1500 BC, right through to Modern and Contemporary Iran with a series of works reflecting a period of social change from the 1940s onwards.
Until 17 October
One of the most innovative of the 20th century avant-garde movement, Sophie Taeuber-Arp was forever challenging boundaries and merging the lines between abstract art, design and craft. The interdisciplinary Swiss artist was an accomplished painter, architect, teacher, writer and designer, and this exhibition – the first to trace Taeuber-Arp’s career trajectory – collates more than 200 pieces to help us truly understand what a trailblazer she was. The exhibition is not without its poignant moments, not least the final room which displays the works Taeuber-Arp made while in exile during the Second World War, before her tragic death in 1943 aged just 53.
Until 4 September 2022
In the run-up to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in November, this exhibition takes visitors on a thought-provoking journey to look at the cutting-edge technologies and nature-based solutions developed by scientists in the race to remove excess carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere, whether that be preserving ancient woodlands or installing systems that prevent CO2 from leaving power stations and factories in the first place. Standout exhibits include enhanced rock weathering dust, which can be spread over agricultural land to absorb CO2, a bottle of vodka produced with captured carbon dioxide and Klaus Lackner’s mechanical tree – the first of its kind to directly capture carbon from the atmosphere.
Until 19 September
Working between Nairobi and London, Kenyan-born artist Michael Armitage’s vibrant works – which he paints on Lubugo barkcloth made by the Baganda people in Uganda – explore East African politics, culture and society, both past and present. This show – held just over a decade since Armitage graduated from the Royal Academy Schools – brings together 15 of his large-scale paintings, which are displayed alongside 31 further works by six contemporary artists, chosen by Armitage not just for their impact on his own work but for their role in shaping figurative painting in Kenya. Armitage has also selected a series of further pieces by three Kenyan artists to be displayed in the Dame Jillian Sackler Sculpture Gallery, just outside the exhibition.
Until 15 August
The artist and filmmaker Ayo Akingbade presents A Glittering City, two films which delve into the ideas of place and belonging, public space and gentrification. Akingbade’s documentary Fire In My Belly (2021) marks the culmination of a six-month collaboration with Whitechapel Gallery’s youth collective Duchamp & Sons, and deep dives into the issue of ‘community’ and what it means to these young Londoners. Dear Babylon (2019) – which comes after Akingbade’s Tower XYZ (2016) and Street 66 (2018) and completes her trilogy No News Today – is a film essay that follows art students as they investigate the future of social housing, speaking to tenants, architects and public sector workers along the way.
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Until 22 August
This latest display delves into the Gallery’s extensive collection to explore the nature of migration from the 17th century to the present day, by looking at the contemporary relevance of paintings by artists including Poussin, Canaletto, Pynacker and van de Velde. The exhibition has been co-curated by a group of Community Curators, aged between 29 and 69, who have tapped into their own personal stories and experiences of migration, spanning eight countries including Yemen, Sri Lanka, Italy, Pakistan and Ireland. Alongside the exhibition, there is a new animation commission, as well as an extensive programme of free events for all the family.
Until 19 September
Anyone who knows their kickflip from their goofyfoot (and indeed those who don’t) will enjoy this exhibition which celebrates the country’s evermore dynamic skateboarding scene – there are 750,000 skaters and 1500 active skate parks currently operating across the UK. Divided into three themes – the city as a playground; skateboard culture and how it has permeated fashion and video games; and specific stories from skate communities – the show brings together film, art, fashion, design and photography, all of which help us understand the subculture’s ethos and its enduring credibility. “Finally, an exhibition that celebrates the beautiful, multifaceted and diverse community that is skateboarding today,” says professional British skateboarder and Consultant Curator Helena Long.
Until 2 October
This latest art exhibition of Op Art artist Bridget Riley – her fifth solo show with David Zwirner, held at his impressive Grafton Street gallery in Mayfair – predominantly features the nonagenarian’s work from the last two years, which references her own practice and ideas during the course of her six-decade career. As ever, the canvases are an eye-catching mix of geometric patterns, lines and hues including Riley’s extension of her original dotted Measure for Measure series, with the addition of new colours and tones, as well as her recent Intervals paintings, which have only been seen before in London at Frieze.