30 unmissable new art exhibitions in London to see this summer

The capital’s world-class galleries and museums promise a packed season of not-to-be-missed shows, installations and retrospectives

The new London art exhibitions this summer are quite extraordinary in their depth and breadth, with something for every art lover and culture seeker. We see the first ever exploration of the gardens of the Bloomsbury group and a stunning retrospective of visual activist Zanele Muholi. Not to mention a once-in-a-lifetime look at the last three decades of Michelangelo’s career and the chance to marvel at the private photography collection of Sir Elton John and David Furnish.  These are the new London exhibitions to add to your must-see list this summer.

The Glossary Edit

London Art Exhibitions for Summer 2024

Fragile Beauty: Photographs from the Sir Elton John and David Furnish Collection

V&A Museum
18 May – 5 January 2025

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Versace Dress (Back View), El Mirage 1990 ©Herb Ritts Foundation, Courtesy of Fahey Klein Gallery, Los Angeles

This rare glimpse into the private photography collection of Sir Elton John and David Furnish, in partnership with Gucci, promises to be one of the most talked about new exhibitions in London this Summer. Fragile Beauty: Photographs from the Sir Elton John and David Furnish Collection brings together an unrivalled selection of 300 prints by 140 of the world’s leading modern and contemporary photographers – Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, William Eggleston, Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, Zanele Muholi, Ai Weiwei and Carrie Mae Weems among them. A must-see celebration of John and Furnish’s passion for the medium and a chance to appreciate their expert eye as collectors over the past three decades.

Now You See Us: Women Artists in Britain 1520 – 1920

Tate Britain
16 May – 13 October

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Angelica Kauffman, R.A, Colour 1778-80 © Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photographer: John Hammond

The impressive group show Now You See Us: Women Artists in Britain 1520 – 1920 provides an overview of 400 years, charting womens’ journey to become recognised as professional artists, many defying societal norms to do so. You’ll see works – over 200, in fact – by all the big names including Artemisia Gentileschi, Angelica Kauffman, Julia Margaret Cameron and Gwen John, as well as others by female artists who are only now being rediscovered. The exhibition begins in the Tudor court, taking the visitor through the 17th and 18th centuries to the Victorian period, which saw a vast expansion in public exhibition venues, before ending in the early 20th century with women’s suffrage and the First World War.

Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence

V&A Museum
Until 22 September

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James Barnor, Shop assistant posing in front of the United Trading Company headquarters, Accra, 1971

Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence is a richly historical display is one of the new exhibitions in London this Summer that you won’t want to miss, spotlighting the architectural style that developed in the hot, humid conditions of West Africa and India in the 1940s. Led by British architects Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, the look was minimalist, but it incorporated cutting-edge approaches to climate control. The pair worked primarily in India and Ghana where the functional aesthetic became popular after independence, where it was considered a symbol of the modernity, internationalism and progressiveness of these new countries. 

Art Without Heroes – Mingei

William Morris Gallery
Until 23 September

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Kokeshi artisan Okazaki Ikuo at his studio in Zao Onsen, Yamagata Prefecture © Okazaki Manami

Art Without Heroes is the largest UK exhibition to shine a light on Mingei, a folk-craft movement that developed in Japan in the 1920s and 30s. First coined by philosopher Yanagi Soetsu, ‘Mingei’ means ‘the art of the people’ and focuses on the overlooked beauty of art and crafts that are practical and used in daily life. Ceramics, woodwork, paper, toys and textiles have all been brought together – some from private collections – to give a context and greater understanding of a movement whose principles remain relevant to craft, manufacturing and material consumerism to this day.

Ranjit Singh: Sikh, Warrior, King

Wallace Collection
Until 20 October

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William Willoughby Hooper (1837-1912) and George Western (1837-1907), A Nihang bodyguard serving in the Nizam of Hyderabad’s irregular Sikh army, c. 1865 © Toor Collection

An exploration into the life and legacy of Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), founder of the Sikh Empire – a kingdom which impacted the destiny of the Mughal and British empires, and shaped the future of the Indian subcontinent. Following decades of unrest due to Afghan invasions, Singh emerged as the Punjab region’s undisputed Maharaja by the turn of the 19th century. It was a meteoric rise to power and one which heralded a golden age of prosperous trade, flourishing arts and a formidable army. The colourful exhibition Ranjit Singh: Sikh, Warrior, King tells Singh’s extraordinary life story, featuring historic objects from his court, courtiers and family members, including incredibly fine miniature paintings and exquisite jewellery, as well as arms and armour including a sword glittering with gold and gemstones.

Expressionists: Kandinsky, Münter and The Blue Rider

Tate Modern
Until 20 October

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Erma Bossi, Circus 1909 Lenbachhaus Munich, on permanent loan from the Gabriele Münter and Johannes Eichner Foundation, Munich

Expressionists: Kandinsky, Münter and The Blue Rider is the story of a group of friends and close collaborators – aka The Blue Rider – who came together in the early 20th century. In their own words, they were “a union of various countries to serve one purpose”. Their aim? To transform modern art. The collective of highly individual creatives rallied around Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter, experimenting with colour, sound, light and performance. The show draws on the unparalleled collection at the Lenbachhaus in Munich, alongside rare loans, with works by Kandinsky and Münter, as well as Franz Marc, Paul Klee, Wladimir Burliuk and Maria Franck-Marc on display, brought together in the UK for the first time in over 60 years to reflect a key moment in early modernist art.

Enzo Mari

Design Museum
Until 8 September

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16 animali (16 animals), 1959, produced by Danese Milano. Photo Federico Villa

Hans Ulrich Obrist and Francesca Giacomelli have curated a one-of-a-kind exhibition about the greatest Italian designer of the 20th century – Enzo Mari – who could also add artist, teacher and theorist to his cap. During his prolific 60-year career, he became as famous for his belief in the social responsibility of design as he did for his work. This retrospective celebrates both, with hundreds of his projects – from furniture to conceptual installations – on display; in addition, several newly commissioned pieces pay tribute to Mari’s life and legacy. No design aficionado will want to miss this new exhibition in London.

Zanele Muholi

Tate Modern
6 June – 26 January 2025

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Yaya Mavundla, Parktown, Johannesburg, 2014

Tate Modern’s exhibition presents Zanele Muholi’s extraordinary career to date with 260 photographs on display. Describing themself as a visual activist, Muholi has been documenting and celebrating the lives of South Africa’s Black lesbian, gay, trans, queer and intersex communities from the early 2000s. On display will be the series Only Half the Picture and Faces and Phases, both of which capture the fortitude of the photographs’ subjects in the face of prejudice, intolerance and violence. Other standouts include Brave Beauties, which celebrates empowered non-binary people and trans women, and Somnyama Ngonyama, meaning ‘Hail the Dark Lioness’, in which Muholi turns the camera on themself.

Gardening Bohemia: Bloomsbury Women Outdoors

Garden Museum
15 May – 29 September

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Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell in a Deckchair, 1911 © Philip Mould & Company

The Garden Museum presents Gardening Bohemia: Bloomsbury Women Outdoors about the gardens of the Bloomsbury group, for what promises to be one of this summer’s must-see new London exhibitions. The show will focus on four women and their outdoor spaces – the writer Virgina Woolf and her garden at Monk’s House in East Sussex; Woolf’s sister, the painter Vanessa Ball, whose garden and studio was in nearby Lewes; patron of the arts and photographer Lady Ottoline Morrell, who presided over Garsington Manor; and last but not least, Vita Sackville-West and her extraordinary gardens at Sissinghurst Castle. Photographs, paintings, textiles, garden tools and correspondence have all been curated to show how for each woman her garden was a place of both sanctuary and creativity.

Yinka Shonibare: Suspended States

Serpentine South
Until 1 September

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Yinka Shonibare CBE RA brings his interdisciplinary practice to Serpentine South with Suspended States, his first solo institutional exhibition in London in over 20 years. It also marks a return to the gallery for the British Nigerian artist, who first exhibited here in 1992 as a finalist in the Barclays Young Artist Award. The show includes installations, sculptures, pictorial quilts and woodcut prints exploring, amongst other things, “systems of power, debates about statues and their place in our cities, and the European legacy of war and consequential attempts at peace.” Shonibare incorporates his signature use of Dutch wax print throughout the exhibition, the storied batik-like fabric a symbol of the tangled relationship between Africa and Europe.

Beyond Fashion

Saatchi Gallery
31 May to 8 September

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Yelena Yemchuk, Tokyo, 2017 © Yelena Yemchuk

This Saatchi Gallery must-see brings together the work of the most acclaimed fashion photographers around the world, taking the viewer from the glossy studio to the grassroots of street photography. Curated by Nathalie Herschdorfer, Director of Photo Elysée in Lausanne, Beyond Fashion showcases how fashion photography has developed from simply depicting clothing and accessories to exploring our aspirations and truly pushing the boundaries of creativity. Everyone but everyone features, with works by Nick Knight, Peter Lindbergh, Viviane Sassen, Paolo Roversi, Miles Aldridge and Ellen von Unwerth, and images of Naomi, Kate and Christy wearing the likes of Christian Dior, Commes des Garçons, Alexander McQueen and Valentino on display. A new London exhibition fashion lovers won’t want to miss.

In the Eye of the Storm: Modernism in Ukraine, 1900-1930s

Royal Academy
29 June to 13 October

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Alexandra Exter, Three Female Figures, 1909-10
Oil on canvas, 63 x 60 cm
National Art Museum of Ukraine

Collapsing empires, the First World War, the Ukrainian War of Independence… The first few decades of the 20th century were turbulent ones in Ukraine. But against this profound upheaval, the arts were flourishing and a wave of bold, modernist experimentation was taking place. In the Eye of the Storm: Modernism in Ukraine, 1900-1930s highlights the wide range of artistic styles and cultural identities that existed during the early 1900s, with more than 7o works across oil paintings, sketches, collage and theatre design, many on loan from the National Art Museum of Ukraine and the Museum of Theatre, Music and Cinema of Ukraine in Kyiv.

Naomi In Fashion

22 June to 6 April 2025

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Photo: Dave Benett/Getty Images for the Victoria & Albert Museum

Supermodel, entrepreneur, activist, innovator… Naomi Campbell is so famous, she need only go by her first name. Now into the fourth decade of her unequalled career, she has graced the cover of hundreds of glossy magazines, appeared in campaigns for every major fashion house and is the eternal queen of the runway. So it seems only fitting that she is to be honoured in a blockbuster exhibition at the V&A, Naomi In Fashion. Around 100 looks will be on display including pieces from Naomi’s own extensive wardrobe of haute couture and ready-to-wear. There’ll also be loans from global designers, in what promises to be a glittering celebration of one of the most influential figures in contemporary culture of our time and one of the best new London exhibitions opening this summer.

Francis Alÿs: Ricochets

Barbican Art Gallery
27 June to 1 September

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Ciudad Juárez, MX, 2013. Oil on canvas, 16 x 21 x 1.4 cm

Francis Alÿs comes to London with an exhibition (his first in the UK for almost 15 years) that will transform the brutalist architecture of the Barbican into a cinematic playground of children’s games. For the past two decades, the acclaimed Mexican artist has travelled to over 15 countries documenting children at play, from ‘musical chairs’ in Mexico, to ‘leapfrog’ in Iraq, to ‘jump rope’ in Hong Kong, and ‘wolf and lamb’ in Afghanistan. Now viewers will be able to see the results of this ever-evolving project with the UK premiere of Children’s Games, a multi-screen film installation that invites us to reflect on the spontaneous, self-organised nature of children at play. Francis Alÿs: Ricochets is also a chance to see other works from the artist’s 40-year career, from painting and drawing to animation, including pieces specifically commissioned for Barbican.

Roger Mayne: Youth

The Courtauld
14 June to 1 September

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Children in a Bombed Building, Bermondsey, London 1954. Vintage gelatin silver print, 28 x 19.5cm © Roger Mayne Archive / Mary Evans Picture Library

Roger Mayne was famous for capturing young people growing up in poor urban communities in the mid-1950s and 1960s. In Roger Mayne: Youth, the first exhibition of his work since 2017, around 60 images are on display – almost exclusively vintage photographs – including his iconic depictions of children and teenagers roaming and playing on the streets in west London. Viewers will also see an almost entirely unknown series of photographs of Mayne’s own family home in Dorset, as well as those taken on his honeymoon in Spain in 1962. A fascinating retrospective of one of the best-known British social documentary photographers of the 20th century.

Henry Moore: Shadows on the Wall

The Courtauld
8 June to 22 September

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Henry Moore, Four Figures in a Setting, 1948

On display in The Courtauld’s The Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery, Henry Moore: Shadows on the Wall focuses on Moore’s fascination with images of the wall, during and immediately after the Second World War. The exhibition – a collaboration with the Henry Moore Foundation – uses his series of Shelter drawings as a point of reference, in which Moore drew figures sheltering from the bomb raids in the London Underground. An interesting new perspective on Moore’s fascination with bricks and walls (their texture, mass and volume) and how the walls in his drawings might in some way bring a greater understanding of his most individual and monumental Post-War sculpture projects.

Discover Degas & Miss La La

The National Gallery
6 June to 1 September

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Jules Chéret Folies-Bergères. Miss Lala, 1880

As you might have guessed, Edgar Degas’s famous oil on canvas ‘Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando’ takes centre stage in Discover Degas & Miss La La. The subject of the radical Impressionist masterpiece is the talented aerialist Miss La La, or Anna Albertine Olga Brown (1858‒1945). Degas captured her doing one of her most perilous, death defying acts – suspended from a rope held between her teeth by a leather mouthpiece, as she was hoisted up towards the ceiling of the Cirque Fernando. This new exhibition brings together unseen drawings and unpublished photographic portraits to shine a light both on the fearless circus performer and the painting.

Michelangelo: The Last Decades

The British Museum
2 May – 28 July

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Michelangelo: the Purification of the Temple © The National Gallery

In 1534, Michelangelo left his native city of Florence for Rome after being summoned by Pope Clement VII to paint a fresco of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. It was a move that not only brought him a wealth of new commissions, but also saw him reunited with old acquaintances and friends. The landmark show Michelangelo: The Last Decades explores these final thirty years of the artist’s life and work in the Eternal City. A highlight will be the two-metre-high Epifania (about 1550-53) as well as a series of preparatory drawings for the Last Judgment. There’ll also be studies for his grand architectural projects, poems and intimate letters that help the visitor look beyond the Renaissance artist to understand more of his personality and beliefs.

Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII’s Queens

National Portrait Gallery
20 June to 8 September

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Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII’s Queens is the first exhibition of historical portraiture since the NPG reopened last year. It chronicles the representation of Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr, all of whom were married to Henry VIII, throughout history and popular culture. Works span those by Hans Holbein to contemporary photography by Hiroshi Sugimoto, and include drawings, paintings, costume and film. All serve to show how the stories of these women have inspired writers and artists over the centuries and how their life, legacy and portrayal has changed the landscape of English history.

Summer Exhibition

Royal Academy
18 June to 18 August

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Installation view of the Summer Exhibition 2022 at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 21 June – 21 August 2022 Photo: © Royal Academy of Arts, London / David Parry

The Royal Academy’s multi-room art extravaganza, the Summer Exhibition, returns to the capital with the 256th Summer Exhibition. It is coordinated by British artist and Royal Academician Ann Christopher who plans to “explore the idea of making space, whether giving space or taking space.” Ann will work alongside this year’s Committee members and Royal Academicians Hurvin Anderson, Assemble, Anne Desmet, Hughie O’Donoghue, Cornelia Parker and Veronica Ryan, with each responsible for a particular gallery space. We can expect a display of around 1,200 thought-provoking works in what is the world’s largest open submission contemporary art show (the RA anticipates receiving up to 16,5000 entries), the majority of which will be for sale.

Gavin Jantjes: To be Free! A Retrospective (1970 – 2023)

Whitechapel Gallery
12 June to 1 September

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Gavin Jantjes Amaxesha Wesikolo ne Sintsuku. Schooldays and Nights 1978. Charles Skinner Collection. Image courtesy the artist © Gavin Jantes, licensed by DACS

South Africa-born, London-based Gavin Jantjes is a painter, printmaker, writer and curator, whose work opens up conversations around, and representations of, Africa and its diasporas. In the 1970s and 80s, Jantjes’s engagement with anti-apartheid activism saw him politically exiled, with his work censored in his home country. Gavin Jantjes: To be Free! A Retrospective (1970 – 2023) explores the impact this had on his life and oeuvre; it is presented across the entire gallery space in a series of chapters, each one focusing on key evolutions in Jantjes’s multi-disciplinary practice. With this year marking the 30th anniversary of the first free elections in South Africa, To be Free! couldn’t be more timely.

Barbie: The Exhibition

Design Museum
5 July to 23 February 2025

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1984 Peaches ‘N Cream Barbie. © Mattel, Inc

Who would have thought a plastic doll, not much more than 11.5 inches tall, would be 2023’s biggest movie star? And yet here she is again, this time as the subject of Barbie: The Exhibition at the Design Museum to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the Barbie brand. This is a deep dive into the evolution of one of the world’s most famous dolls, exploring the story of Barbie through a design lens. Over 250 objects have been collated – some exceedingly rare – and the highlights are many. There’s the very first doll released by Mattel in 1959 (‘Number 1 Barbie’), the ground-breaking Day to Night Barbie from 1985 and the best-selling Barbie of all time, 1992’s Totally Hair Barbie, which sold over 10 million across the globe. There’ll also be Dreamhouses, vehicles and furniture plus, of course, six decades of Ken dolls.

Sergio Strizzi: The Perfect Moment

Estorick Collection
15 May to 8 September

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Giuletta Masina in Fortunella by Eduardo De Filippo, 1958

It wasn’t until passionate photographer Sergio Strizzi received his first movie-related commission in 1952, that the Italian still photographer found his calling. Strizzi went on to work on some of the most important film sets both in Italy and beyond, from the 1950s to the early 2000s. He photographed several James Bond films, and in 1979 Audrey Hepburn chose him to capture her for a feature in Life magazine. Over the following years he continued to collaborate with all the greats including Jon Huston, Terry Gilliam, Giuseppe Tornatore and Roberto Benigni. With some 80 images on display (the first survey of his work in the UK) now’s the chance to marvel at his illustrious career at the Sergio Strizzi: The Perfect Moment exhibition.

Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography

The King’s Gallery
17 May – 6 October

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William Hogarth, David Garrick with his wife Eva-Maria Veigel, c.1757–64

Never-before-seen photographs of the Royal Family by some of the world’s greatest photographers will be on display in the new London exhibition Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography at the King’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. Over 150 photographs, proofs and documents from the Royal Collection and the Royal Archives have been brought together. These include works by the most celebrated photographers of the time – from Sir Cecil Beaton and Lord Snowdon to Annie Leibovitz and Rankin – curated to show how photography has been used to shape the public’s perception of the British monarchy over the years. A compelling insight into royal portrait photography and the stories behind some of the most celebrated photographs ever taken of the royals.

The Lore of LOVERBOY

Somerset House
8 June to 1 September

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Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY, SS 2021 collection. Photographed by Tim Walker

Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY was founded by Glaswegian designer, illustrator, stylist and radical creative Charles Jeffrey. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the punk-inspired, gender-fluid fashion house, which Jeffrey launched after graduating from Central Saint Martins, its name taken from a monthly club night that Jeffrey began at Vogue Fabrics in Dalston. Jeffrey was one of Somerset House Studio’s original residents – the studio is still there, in fact – so it makes perfect sense that the maximalist, immersive exhibition The Lore of LOVERBOY should be here. Arranged across a series of spaces rendered in LOVERBOY style, with archival artefacts and newly commissioned works throughout, this new London exhibition is a behind-the-scenes look at the label beloved by everyone from Harry Styles to Tilda Swinton.

Polly Braden: Leaving Ukraine

Foundling Museum
Until 1 September

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Polly Braden, Sofiia, 17, at home in Gipf-Oberfrick, Switzerland, July 2022 © Polly Braden

It’s been two years since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Polly Braden: Leaving Ukraine is a timely reminder, bringing the ongoing, intimate stories of displaced mothers, daughters, teenagers and babies in arms to the fore. Since the outbreak of the conflict, photographer Polly Braden has used her camera to document the lives of these women and children who have fled their home country and been unexpectedly scattered across Europe. Amongst the stories we learn about are the mother whose baby was born shortly after a perilous escape from Kherson to Warsaw; and two friends and their children who fled to Moldova, now struggling to find work in Italy.  A geographical and emotional journey.

Tavares Strachan: There Is Light Somewhere

Hayward Gallery
18 June to 1 September

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Tavares Strachan, Six Thousand Years (2018). Courtesy of Regen Projects Los Angeles

New York-based, Bahamian artist Tavares Strachan is known for shining a light on unsung explorers and cultural trailblazers. Through monumental sculptural pieces and large-scale collages to neon works, bronze and ceramic sculptures, and mixed media installations, the artist invites audiences to engage with these overlooked characters, taking them on a journey of discovery. At once playful and impactful, Tavares Strachan: There Is Light Somewhere  draws our attention not only to histories of colonialism and racism, but also on the universal desire for a sense of belonging.

Yoshida: Three Generations of Japanese Printmaking

Dulwich Picture Gallery
19 June to 3 November

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Yoshida Hiroshi, Kumoi Cherry Trees, 1926. Courtesy Fukuoka Art Museum.

The work of the Yoshidas has been brought together to showcase three generations of woodblock print artistry. Yoshida: Three Generations of Japanese Printmaking opens with Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950), before touching on the work of Fujio, Tōshi, Hodaka and Chizuko. It culminates with a new site-specific installation of cherry blossoms by the youngest member of the printmaking family, Ayomi (b.1958). The first exhibition of its kind in the UK, this is a wonderful insight into the specialised knowledge and skill behind this composite art form, as well as an opportunity to trace the evolution of Japanese printmaking across two centuries.

Storyteller: Photography by Tim Hetherington

IWM London
20 April to 29 September

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Storyteller: Photography by Tim Hetherington marks the 13th anniversary of the death of Tim Hetherington, the photojournalist, filmmaker and humanitarian who died while filming and photographing the Libyan Civil War in 2011. Through his work, Hetherington portrayed a deeper look into the human experience of conflict, often returning to the same places over several months or even years, to develop better connections with those whose stories he told. Expect to see images from across his career, cameras and diaries, as well as a number of his films, all of which are incredibly thought-provoking and, some, distressing (these are shown in a separate screening room).

Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024

National Portrait Gallery
11 July – 27 October

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Portrait of Fatima by Jamie Coreth, 2019 © Jamie Coreth

The prestigious competition returns for 2024, showcasing the very best in contemporary portraiture. Since it started over four decades ago, it has attracted a whopping 40,000 entries from more than 100 countries (anyone aged 18 or over can enter). This year 50 entries have been selected for final display in the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024 exhibition, chosen by a panel including artist Barbara Walker, Russell Tovey, Sir Tom Shakespeare and NPG’s contemporary curator Tanya Bentley. Three works have also been shortlisted for the prestigious Portrait Award – Zizi (2023) by Isabella Watling; Jacqueline with Still Life (20202) by Antony Williams and Lying (2020) by Catherine Chambers.

Main image: Sølve Sundsbø, Elena in Gaultier, Numéro #91, 2007 © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce
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