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The 10 best art exhibitions around the UK to see this summer

Support museums and galleries around the country by visiting one of these exhibitions opening this season

From May 17, museums and galleries around England are scheduled to welcome back visitors to explore their latest exhibitions. While London’s galleries tend to dominate conversations about art exhibitions, the UK is home to an abundance of exciting spots, hosting shows that explore the work of both local and global artists. From modern sculpture to pre-Raphaelite watercolours, there’s a broad spectrum of exhibitions to explore around the country. Plan a day trip or a mini staycation, and check out these intriguing new shows across the UK.

Lee Miller – Fashion in Wartime Britain
Farleys House & Gallery, East Sussex; 20 May – 8 August
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The Best Uk Art Exhibitions To See This Summer 2021Pin

Lee Miller is a name associated with a myriad of careers — war reporter, model, Surrealist artist and, in her final years, gourmet cook. Now, the Farleys House & Gallery has teamed up with the Lee Miller Archives, following their archiving of 3500 negatives of Lee’s fashion work last year, to host the first full survey of her work for British Vogue during World War II. From 1939 until just after D-Day, when she left Britain to cover the allies’ advance in Europe, Miller documented British fashion, charting the shifts in wartime style for nearly five years. Featuring many images that haven’t been seen since they were published in the magazine over 80 years ago, the exhibition firmly establishes Miller fashion ties and offers an interesting look into British wartime fashion.

Liverpool Biennial
Tate Liverpool; 17 May — 20 June
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Linder, Cakewalk Dégagé, 2010. Courtesy the artist and Modern Art, London
The Best Uk Art Exhibitions To See This Summer 2021Pin
Ithell Colquhoun, Scylla, 1938. Photo: Tate

The 11th edition of the largest festival of contemporary art in the UK returns to the Tate’s Liverpool outpost with a series of exhibitions of prominent artists. Titled The Stomach and the Port, the Biennial includes a collection of free exhibitions hosted across the city’s public spaces, galleries and museums. At Tate Liverpool, visitors can see sculptures and wallpapers by Jamaican-born artist Ebony G. Patterson, whose work explores historical representations of marginalised groups, as well as pieces by prominent feminist artists Linder, Judy Chicago and Jutta Koether. Sculptures cast from soap by Estonian artist Anu Põder and works by surrealist artist Ithell Colquhoun are also on show.

Haegue Yang: Strange Attractors
Tate St Ives; until 26 September

Over at the Tate’s Cornwall location, the museum resumes its exhibition of South Korean artist Haegue Yang after it was cut short by lockdowns at the end of last year. The largest exhibition of the celebrated artist’s work in the UK, the show includes new and existing works spanning installation, sculpture, drawing, collage and painting. Famed for creating immersive environments, Yang’s sculptures and installations often use industrially made objects combined with craft-based processes, reflecting on pagan cultures and their interconnectedness with seasonal rituals. The exhibition is in many ways tied to its location, with the Tate’s surrounding Cornish landscape and its ancient archaeological heritage acting as an important source of inspiration for Yang.

Alison Milner: Decorative Minimalist
Yorkshire Sculpture Park; 27 March – 27 June
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Alison Milner Decorative Minimalist, Installation view, Photo © Jonty Wilde, Courtesy the artist and YSP

Artist and designer Alison Milner applies the moniker ‘Decorative Minimalist’ to herself, due to her interest in exploring the geometry of nature and a simple use of materials. Hosted at the 500 acres of parkland in Yorkshire — which heavily influenced Milner — this latest exhibition sees the artist dive deep into the relationship between nature and the man-made. At the centre of the show is a large-scale, illustrated tile mural entitled Walk in the Park, which consists of 160 ceramic tiles designed to capture the soul of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The exhibition also includes other beautiful, crafts-inspired tile pieces, as well as works made with a range of sustainable and natural materials, such as clay, plywood and paper.

Portable Sculpture
Henry Moore Institute, Hertfordshire; Open now
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Andrea Zittel, A-Z Escape Vehicle Owned and Customized by Bob Shiffle, 1996. Steel, electronics, climate control, insulation, wood, glass, water and salt. 152.4 x 101.6 x 213.36 cm © Andrea Zittel, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.

The Henry Moore Institute will reopen this month with a group exhibition exploring sculptures that are designed to be moved. Featuring 15 artists, including Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder and Marcel Duchamp, and spanning works from 1934 to present, the show will counter the idea that sculpture is weighty and fixed with pieces that are deliberately mobile and adaptable. Exploring the connections between 20th century agile sculpture and social and political shifts, the exhibition will also present new work made specifically for the exhibition by James Ackerley and Claire Ashley.

Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life
The Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire; 21 May – 27 February 2022
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Barbara Hepworth with the Gift plaster of Figure for Landscape and a bronze cast of Figure (Archaean) November 1964. Photograph: Lucien Myers. © Bowness.
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Barbara Hepworth with the plaster prototype for the United Nations Single Form at the Morris Singer foundry, London, May 1963. Photograph by Morgan-Wells. © Bowness

To mark The Hepworth Wakefield’s 10th anniversary, the gallery is hosting the largest exhibition of sculptor Barbara Hepworth’s work since the artist’s death in 1975. Offering a deep dive into the Wakefield-born artist’s life and legacy, the show presents Hepworth’s most celebrated modern abstract sculptures alongside rarely seen drawings, paintings and fabric designs, thanks to loans from national public collections as well as private collections. Including pieces that have not been on public display since the 1970s, the expansive show explores the artist’s wide range of interests, from music to space exploration, as well as the relationship between her personal life and her work. The exhibition also features new commissioned works by contemporary artists Tacita Dean and Veronica Ryan, as well as works by Bridget Riley from the 1960s that are presented in dialogue with Hepworth’s work from the same period.

The Pre-Raphaelites: Drawings and Watercolours
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford: 18 May – 20 June

The famed Oxford museum has created a special exhibition displaying their internationally-renowned collection of Pre-Raphaelite works on paper. Exploring the impressive range of techniques and media used by the movement’s artist, the show includes works that span a sketch on the back of an envelope to ornate and famed chalk drawings. In addition to demonstrating the range of styles and mediums used by Pre-Raphaelite artists, the show also examines the ties between the period’s biggest names, from complex friendships to dramatic love affairs. The exhibition also draws on the movements close ties to Oxford — Thomas Combe, the senior partner of the University Press, and his wife, Martha, acted as key patrons to the young artists and were avid collectors and supporters of their work. A large share of the Ashmolean’s collection of Pre-Raphaelite works were posthumously donated by Martha Combe.

John Nash: The Landscape of Love and Solace
Tower Eastbourne, Sussex; 18 May - 22 September
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After years of living in the shadow of his famous brother and fellow artist Paul Nash, John Nash finally gets his time in the spotlight with this comprehensive major exhibition at the Eastbourne gallery. The first large exhibition of his work in over 50 years, the expansive show charts the artist’s career over seven decades, during which time he explored mediums ranging from oil paintings to wood engravings. Creating some of the most impressive depictions of the British landscape of the 20th century, Nash was one of the few British artists to be an Official War Artist in both the First and Second World Wars. Despite having no formal art school training, Nash was able to move across medium and subject, depicting war, landscapes and gardens throughout his career. This latest exhibition strives to contextualise Nash’s work, in particular focusing on his romantic relationships and the tragic loss of his young son.

Henry Taylor
Hauser & Wirth Somerset; 17 February – 6 June
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Henry Taylor, Untitled 2020
The Best Uk Art Exhibitions To See This Summer 2021Pin
Henry Taylor, Portrait of my cousin GF, 2020

While the exhibition of the American artist’s work has been available to view online since February, nothing beats seeing it in person. The California-based artist has taken over all five rooms of the Somerset gallery to present a major body of sculptural work and paintings that explore the breadth of the human condition, social movements and political structures. In part the result of an artist residency at Hauser & Wirth Somerset this winter, Taylor’s exhibition plays with traditional concepts of painting and explores the materiality of collected objects. The subjects of his works are diverse, spanning family members, peers and himself, but each seeks to understand the subject in its truest sense and in the context of their sociopolitical framework. Provocative and dense, the exhibition is a coming together of pre-existing and lockdown-inspired works.

Night Fever: Designing Club Culture
V&A Dundee; 1 May – January 2022
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Out at the V&A’s Dundee outpost, the museum is presenting the first major exhibition examining the relationship between club culture and design from the 1960s to now. Exploring the iconic clubs of New York, Berlin, London and more, the show explores how the adventurous and free-spirited nature of nightclubs have encouraged experimental and radical design. Spanning architecture, fashion, graphics and performance, the exhibition will delve into the many ways in which club culture and the design world are intertwined. The show also features an exclusive section on Scotland’s distinctive club scene, uncovering the culture’s built on an ethos of DIY attitude and the tightly knit network of DJs, clubs and promoters that kept the culture of the cities thriving.


Main image: Haegue Yang Installation view
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