We're speeding towards Christmas, and London is, as ever, absolutely packed with things to do — whether that’s exhibitions, events, theatre or music.
But of course, it can all get a bit pricey. So if you want to have a great weekend seeing some of London’s best culture, but also want to save a few quid, look no further than this guide to the best art shows to see in the city, which are all absolutely free.
Not one for the squeamish: the Hunterian Museum reopened in May after a six-year hiatus and a £4.6m redevelopment. A museum of anatomical specimens, that is appropriately located in the building of the Royal College of Surgeons, expect to see body parts, bones and organs in glass jars and cabinets. “There are skulls, lips, teeth, tongues, throats, stomachs, intestines, testes, penises, and ovaries in varying states of health,” said The Standard. “Those are just the human bits.”
Named after the 18th century surgeon and anatomist William Hunter, the museum’s major update includes some much-needed contextualisation, so while gawping at the growths floating in ethanol and skulls shot through with Syphilis, museum-goers now get an explanation of Hunter’s not-always-ethical methods, and of some of his ideas that would not be deemed acceptable today.
Hunterian Museum; hunterianmuseum.org
Nikita Gale: Blur Ballad
Los Angeles-based artist Nikita Gale explores the relationship between materials and power. In their work, which in the past has included installations, films, photographs and collages, Gale examines physical boundaries, such as concrete and barricades, emotional boundaries, such as sound and lighting, and the tensions between structures and ruins.
Emalin, to December 9; emalin.co.uk
Vinca Petersen: Me, Us and Dogs
British visual artist Vinca Petersen became known for her photographs of the underground world of Nineties rave culture. Today Petersen’s work has evolved to focus on underrepresented communities, which ties in with her social activism. Me, Us and Dogs – which is being shown in conjunction with Russian graphic artist Victoria Lomasko’s paintings – draws on her extensive archive.
Edel Assanti, to December 16; edelassanti.com
Vincent Hawkins: Beyond the walls of one’s own making
Blurring the boundaries between painting, paper and sculpture, the third solo exhibition by London-based multidisciplinary artist Hawkins at Sid Motion is an exploration of the impact of different media and their relation to each other in his ever-evolving work.
Sid Motion Gallery, to December 16; sidmotiongallery.co.uk
Russell Young: Dreamland
Young has built a career exploring cultural icons, the nature of fame, and the souring of the American Dream (though the Yorkshire lad's own American dream, since he lives and works on the Californian coast, has long-since come true). The new show, at the new Maddox Gallery space on Berkeley Street gallery in Mayfair builds on his previous exhibition, and showcases a new body of work, featuring large-scale silkscreen paintings using images taken by the photographers Terry O’Neill and Gered Mankowitz.Maddox Gallery, Berkley Street, to February 7, 2024, maddoxgallery.com
Diego Marcon: Dolle
Visual Italian artist Diego Marcon uses film, video and installations to play with ideas around media, popular entertainment and morality. In Dolle, a 2.5-minute video playing on a loop, he uses an animation of two moles doing accounting to explore feelings of ease and unease.
Sadie Coles HQ, Kingly Street, to December 16; sadiecoles.com
Gareth Mason: Seeing Things
Acclaimed British potter Gareth Mason has spent his three-decade career playing with texture and colour to create ceramic sculptures that challenge the traditional aesthetics of his craft. Shimmering blues and silvers cover giant twisted urns with tiny bronze handles: Mason’s works delight and surprise.
Carpenters Workshop Gallery, to December 22; carpentersworkshopgallery.com
Igshaan Adams: Primêre Wentelbaan
Drawing on his experience as a practicing Muslim and a gay man born in apartheid-era South Africa, Igshaan Adams uses weaving, sculpture and performance to present a series of works that explore history, race, religion and sexuality in both personal and political contexts.
Thomas Dane Gallery, to December 16; thomasdanegallery.com
All Crescendo, No Reward
In this group exhibition artists Lynda Benglis, Walead Beshty, Matt Copson, Ida Ekblad, Matias Faldbakken, Nikita Gale, Isa Genzken, Guyton\Walker, Oliver Laric, Mike Nelson, Frances Stark and Nicole Wermers explore subjecthood and objecthood through moving images, sculptures, animation and music.
Zabludowicz Collection, to December 17; zabludowiczcollection.com
Making their mark: women silversmiths from Oman
Tuful Ramadan (1949–2021), Mahfoudha al-Balushi (b. 1956) and Fatma al Najjar (b. 1992) are three entrepreneurial Omani women who have carved out careers as silversmiths in what is a typically male-dominated industry. Here, some of their exquisite works are on display, alongside scientific analysis of their designs, interviews with the two living silversmiths, and examples of iconic Omani jewellery from the British Museum’s collection.
British Museum, to December 17; britishmuseum.org
Francesca DiMattio: Wedgwood
Francesca DiMattio’s sculptures and paintings use space, structure and shape to play with ideas around femininity and domesticity. In Wedgwood, an immersive exhibition of new works, the American artist continues this exploration in flooring, wallpaper, reconstructed furniture and sculptures.
Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, November 16 to December 23; houldsworth.co.uk
NASA x Outernet London screening
NASA and Outernet London have joined forces to present a series of mind-blowing images every half an hour, every day. The collaboration sees footage of the galaxy from NASA and other space agencies presented on Outernet’s ginormous, 4-storey high, 16K wrap-around screens, making for astonishing and transportative viewing.
The Now Building, every half an hour, to December 31; outernetglobal.com
Rhea Dillon: An Alterable Terrain
Art Now is Tate Britain’s long-running exhibition series spotlighting rising stars in the art scene; this time, it’s Rhea Dillon’s turn to shine. The interdisciplinary artist and Central Saint Martins alum explores British and Caribbean identities using new and old sculptures which are being presented as “a conceptual fragmentation of a Black woman’s body”.
Tate Britain, to January 1, 2024; tate.org.uk
It’s always a good idea to visit Sir John Soane’s Museum, the Lincoln’s Inn Georgian home of illustrious architect John Soane (1753-1837) which is rammed full of his collections of paintings, sculptures, books and furniture. While you’re there, stop by this new fascinating exhibition of huge centuries-old linen transparencies (paintings on cloth). They depict the large-scale light shows which were popular during the Georgian era.
Sir John Soane’s Museum, to January 4, 2024; soane.org
Georg Baselitz: Sculptures 2011-2015
Over the course of his six-decade career, Georg Baselitz (b. 1938, Saxony, Germany) has been heralded for his figurative paintings and his sculptural works. At the Serpentine, both inky drawings and large-scale sculptures that have been selected by Baselitz are on show, creating the illusion of a “forest” of timber figures.
Serpentine, to January 7, 2024; serpentinegalleries.org
Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum: The Pavilion
Bloomberg’s East London offices sit directly above the Roman Temple of Mithras, which dates back to around AD 240. When the news corporation moved into the space in 2017, it promised to transform the ancient site and make it accessible to the public. Now exhibitions are also held in the remarkable space.
In Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum’s The Pavilion, archival animations and hand-painted furnishings are arranged in a wooden construction designed with Dutch artist Remco OsoÌrio Lobato. The structure evokes a cabinet of curiosities to consider the role that museum spaces play in the way visitors receive ideas.
London Mithraeum, Bloomberg SPACE, to January 13, 2024; www.londonmithraeum.com
Co Westerik: Centenary
Dutch visual artist Co Westerik (1924-2018) spent his career using painting as a means of exploring human beings’ inner lives. Centenary will bring together a selection of his unsettling, thought-provoking and intimate works.
Sadie Coles HQ, Davies Street, November 14 to January 13, 2024; sadiecoles.com
Solomon Garçon, Arms
London-born artist Solomon Garçon plays with scale, materiality and sound in this cross-disciplinary show. Expect “cadaverous” sculptures, installations made of chairs, and haunting soundscapes, which are all used by Garçon to reflect on the experimental qualities of digital and underground spaces, and the tension between covering and revealing, storing and sharing.
Studio Voltaire, to January 14, 2024; studiovoltaire.org
In the shade of the sun
Four new-generation Palestinian artists – Mona Benyamin, Xaytun Ennasr, Dina Mimi and Makimakkuk – present film, installation, music and gaming works to contemplate Palestine, history, politics and aesthetics. Curated by The Mosaic Rooms working alongside artist platform Bilna’es – an Arabic word that translates as ‘in the negative’ – expect a new sonic performance from Ramallah-based musician Makimakkuk, and an accompanying text from curator Adam HajYahia.
The Mosaic Rooms, to January 14, 2024; mosaicrooms.org
AI: Who’s Looking After Me?
This fascinating and very topical exhibition takes a questioning and playful look at the ways Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already shaping so many areas of our lives from our healthcare and justice systems to how we look after our pets. Showcased at the Science Gallery London, it is being presented in collaboration with FutureEverything and features 12 artistic collaborations from artists James Bridle, Blast Theory, Air Giants, Wesley Goatley, Mimi Onuoha and more, working alongside King’s College researchers, hospital patients and young people in London. Entering the exhibition, visitors will first encounter Sprout, an inflatable, huggable robot that responds to human behaviour using AI.
Science Gallery, to January 20, 2024; sciencegallery.com
Springing to Life: Drawings by Leon Kossoff
British figurative painter Leon Kossoff (1926-2019), whose contemporaries include Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Keith Critchlow, spent his six-decade career depicting human-focused scenes: he painted cities, industrial scenes, gatherings and portraits, which can now be found hanging in the Tate, MoMA and The Met. Springing to Life presents a collection of his drawings in pencil, charcoal, pastel and crayon.
Annely Juda Fine Art, November 16 to January 20, 2024; annelyjudafineart.co.uk
Anna Mendelssohn: Speak, Poetess
The life of British writer and poet Anna Mendelssohn (who went by Grace Lake) was defined by her political radicalism: she dropped out of university in 1968 to engage in the student political uprising in Paris and would be sentenced to ten years in prison in 1972 for her involvement in a series of bombings in England that had been planned by British left-wing terrorist group The Angry Brigade.
Speak, Poetess will be the first time her writings are on show at a major institution. The works look at the impact of war, fascism and incarceration on language, history and society.
Whitechapel Gallery, to January 21, 2024: whitechapelgallery.org
Vincenzo De Cotiis: Archaeology of Consciousness
Architect and artist Vincenzo De Cotiis has been inspired by Roman ingenuity and Renaissance idealism to create this new body of work, a series of arches made of rare marble, recycled fiberglass, and Murano glass.
Ladbroke Hall, October 11 to January 28; carpentersworkshopgallery.com
In Genetic Automata, artists Larry Achiampong and David Blandy explore race and identity in four collaborative video works: A Terrible Fiction (2019), A Lament for Power (2020), Dust to Data (2021) and _GOD_MODE_ (2023), the duo’s latest film, a co-commission between Wellcome Collection, Black Cultural Archives (BCA), and Wellcome Connecting Science, which delves into the history of eugenics.
Much of the duo’s work uses 3D computer graphics to create their ambitious films, which touch on a wide range of topics including science, politics, history, education and class.
Wellcome Collection, to February 11, 2024; wellcomecollection.org
This new exhibition created in collaboration with Tate Liverpool brings together the works of more than 60 artists, all in some way responding to the show’s subheading ‘Art inspired by the land’. The pieces, which include works by artists including JMW Turner and Derek Jarman, investigate the concept of landscape and land from every possible angle.
William Morris Gallery, October 21 to February 18; wmgallery.org.uk
Maha Ahmed: Where Worlds Meet
Taking inspiration from both classical Japanese paintings and Persian and Mughal manuscripts, Pakistan-born, Dubai-based artist Maha Ahmed reflects on isolation and wonder in her elegant and serene paintings. Where Worlds Meet will be the first contemporary exhibition in Leighton House’s newly designed drawings gallery.
Leighton House, to February 25, 2024; rbkc.gov.uk
This interactive photography exhibition from Fujifilm will include several wintery-themed installations that have been created to make exciting backdrops for photoshoots: there will be a ‘yeti’s den’ with a huge pair of feet included, a colour-changing iridescent light wall, a recreation of the Northern Lights, a snow wall, and a mysterious kaleidoscope mirror ice feature.
Fujifilm’s House of Photography, to February 25, 2024, WC2E 9LH; fujifilm-houseofphotography.com
Ainu Stories: Contemporary Lives by the Saru River
The Ainu people are an ethnic group native to the north of Japan and its surrounding islands. In this special collaborative exhibition with the people of Biratori, Japan House presents a glimpse into their contemporary lives through a series of intimate video interviews.
Japan House, November 16 to April 21; japanhouselondon.uk