TOP 16 UNMISSABLE EXHIBITIONS THIS MAY 2023
London's Best Art Shows this May
Whether you fancy injecting Bowie into your eyeballs or pondering smartphone's impact within an arty hellscape, the capital has you covered this May, and we’ve rounded up the best 16 shows to check out.
It includes Gilbert & George’s new, free gallery; UV-light painted landscapes and shows which induce trance states plus world travels with Sir David Attenborough and an Ugly Duchess.
There are also a gaggle of immersive exhibitions beckoning us to leap inside paintings; AI shows offering to guide our digital avatars around artists’ minds; powerful installations to explore and retrospectives of some of the most influential artists of the 20th Century.
So point your eyes here and then take them there.
Aladdin Sane : 50 Years
There are some exciting Ch-Ch-Changes at The Southbank Centre in the colourful shape of the Aladdin Sane exhibition, celebrating the 50th anniversary of David Bowie’s iconic, 1973 album. The show centres around one of the most influential pop culture images of the last half century, Brian Duffy’s portrait of a lightning bolt faced Bowie as his alter ego, for the album cover. It’s curated by the V&A’s Geoffrey Marsh and Brian’s son, Chris. And the experience is accompanied by a free exhibition exploring Bowie’s 50-year relationship with the centre as well as talks, two nights of club music, and poetry events.
Southbank Centre, Exhibition Space, Level 1, Royal Festival Hall. Until 28 May. £5 pp
Sarah Sze - The Old Waiting Room
Writer Zadie Smith has compared Sarah Sze’s immersive sculptural installations to being inside an exploded smartphone, and the artist’s exciting, new show conveys the volatility of life in the age of the smartphone.
Transforming Peckham Rye Station’s large, Victorian waiting room - which has been empty for nearly 50 years - Sze has created a model of the fragile world, illuminated by flickering videos and bound together by found materials to express the way our digital world both swaddles and suffocates us.
Peckham Rye Station, London. 19 May - 16 September. FREE
Expect large-scale laser light sculptures, UV light-painted landscapes and trance states with heightened imagination via sounds played at specific frequencies. Taking advantage of more than 55,000 sq ft of interconnecting, cavernous environments at Royal Docks’ The Beams venue, this exhibition brings together works by seven global, contemporary artists and collectives and explores the boundaries between art and technology, using light, atmospherics, sound and experimental new media. The Beams, Thameside Industrial Estate West End of Thames Refinery, Factory Rd, London E16 2HB. Until 4 June. Adult tickets from £20. Concessions £17. Children (4-16) £10.
BBC Earth Experience
Travel the world and seven continents in one, visually delicious immersive experience through the hit BBC series, Seven Worlds, One Planet. With bespoke narration from Sir David Attenborough himself and hosted at Earl’s Court's purpose-built Daikin Centre, you will experience the incredible diversity of the seven continents through multiple, multi-angle, 360-degree screens, meeting the extraordinary animals which inhabit them. The event - suitable for all age groups - also boasts breakout zones where you can dive into the depths of Water World, marvel at the sweeping landscapes of the Vista Stage, and test your bravery by getting close to creepy crawlies in the Micro Life zone.
BBC Earth Experience. The Daikin Centre, Earl’s Court, Hammersmith, London SW6 1TR. Until 31 July. Adult £28.50 children under three go FREE
Gilbert & George's New Own Free Gallery
Everybody’s favourite, besuited art duo, Gilbert and George launched their own museum on April Fool’s Day, around the corner from their London home and studio.
The pair have transformed a former, Spitalfields brewery into the three-storey Gilbert & George Centre, and in keeping with their “art for all” mission, the venue will be completely free .
The grand, emerald iron gates (designed by the pair) will open every Friday to Sunday, for visitors to enjoy three exhibition spaces, a research centre and film room all dedicated to the duo’s art, which they have been making for more than 50 years, since meeting at St Martin’s School of Art. Find our more, HERE
The Gilbert & George Centre, 5a Heneage Street, London E1 5LJ.
Opens every Friday - Sunday. FREE.
New York artist Mika Rottenberg will be showing her labyrinthine video piece, Spaghetti Blockchain (2019) in a new, multi-channel format across the world’s largest wrap-around screens at Outernet Arts every Sunday until 7 May.
The free, immersive experience explores our obsession with producing and consuming products in a dizzying and often overwhelming journey through colourful, ASMR performances, Siberian Tuvan throat singers to the CERN antimatter factory and a mechanical potato farm harvester. The screens and space are filled with overwhelming colour, constant movement, ear-tickling effervescence and deep, singing tones.
Outernet London, Charing Cross Rd, London WC2H 8LH, UK. Until 7 May. FREE.
This free, Wellcome Collection exhibition explores our relationship with milk and its place in politics, society and culture.
Featuring more than 100 items, including historical objects, artworks and new commissions, it asks why Brits regard cow’s milk as essential for a healthy diet? When did breastfeeding become a political subject? And how has milk been used to exert power or provide care?
The Ugly Duchess - Beauty and Satire in The Renaissance
This fascinating, FREE exhibition explores one of the National Gallery’s most famous faces, Quinten Massys’s 16th-century depiction of an old woman, known as ‘The Ugly Duchess’. The piece is displayed alongside Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘grotesque’ heads, as well as other important artworks that look at how women, old age and facial difference were satirised and demonised in the Renaissance, shaping attitudes that still exist today.
And for the first time, ‘The Ugly Duchess’ is reunited with her companion, 'An Old Man’ on rare loan from a private collection, with the pair parodying the traditional wedding portraits of the time. The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN. Until 16 June 2023. FREE
Immersive art experiences are beckoning us to leap into paintings all over the world, but Frameless is art immersion on steroids. Situated in Marble Arch, it is the largest, permanent multi-sensory experience in the UK. Boasting four, themed galleries - Beyond Reality, Colour In Motion, The World Around Us and The Art Of Abstraction - with some of the world’s greatest works of art exploding across the walls, floors and ceilings of a 30,000 sq ft space. You can step inside more than 43 masterpieces by 28 artists, including Kandinsky, Monet, Van Gogh, Klimt, Munch, Monet, Rembrandt, Dali and Cezanne with musical scores accompanying each brushstroke.
Frameless, Marble Arch, London W1H 7FD, UK
Van Gogh Exhibition: The Immersive Experience
This immersive juggernaut has been touring the world, welcoming more than 5 million visitors.
And it has found a new home at London’s Spitalfields.
Lose yourself in the iconic brushstrokes of more than 300 works, in this light and sound spectacular featuring two storey projections, plus a drawing studio and VR experience exploring his life and inspirations.
You can even enjoy a beautiful piano show from pianist Lara Melda while admiring Van Gogh’s work through cutting-edge 360° digital projections.
Van Gogh Immersive Experience, Commercial Street, London E1 6LZ, UK. Until 28 May.
David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (Not Smaller & Further Away)
Using large-scale projection in a remarkable new, immersive gallery space, David Hockney takes us on a personal journey from LA to Yorkshire, through 60 years of his art, with a specially composed score by Nico Muhly and commentary by the artist himself. Lightroom’s vast walls and revolutionary sound system enable us to experience the world through the eyes of one of the most influential artists for the 20th Century, from the Sixties to the present day.
David Hockney Lightroom Show, 12, Lewis Cubitt Square, London N1C 4DY, UK. Until 4 June.
Dali Cybernetics: The Immersive Experience
Discover the surreal universe of Spanish genius Salvador Dali in London's first, collective metaverse show, entered via an interdimensional digital arts portal, because doors are so last year. Explore his masterpieces through large-format projections, interactive installations, holograms, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. A virtual reality experience with total freedom of movement that will invite visitors to spend fifteen minutes in Dalí's digital universe. Each visitor will have a digital avatar to physically walk with their companions in a collective virtual space where the most recognized works of Dalí will come to life, immersing you in a world of melting clocks, space elephants and giant ants. Launched in Spain, the London show has proved so popular, its run as been extended until 17 April. Dali Cybernetics. 152 Brick Lane, London E1 6QL. Until 29 May.
Mike Nelson: Extinction Beckons
Constructed from materials scavenged from salvage yards, junk shops, auctions and flea markets, the immersive installations in this eerie and atmospheric exhibition represent the first major retrospective of work by internationally acclaimed British artist Mike Nelson. Weaving references to science fiction, failed political movements, dark histories and countercultures, they touch on alternative ways of living and thinking: lost belief systems, interrupted histories and cultures that resist inclusion in an increasingly homogenised and globalised world. The Hayward Gallery is completely unrecognisable in this disorienting and brooding show, which features sculptural works and new versions of key large-scale installations. Hayward Gallery, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XZ, UK. Until 7 May
Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms
The Instagram-friendly Infinity Mirror Rooms have no doubt saturated your social media pages for the past few months. But if you’re late to the party, the run has been extended until June to check out one of the most talked about shows of the past year.
The immersive installations of endless reflections include Kusama's Chandelier of Grief, a room which creates the illusion of a boundless universe ofrotating crystal chandeliers.
A small presentation of photographs and moving image – some on display for the first time – provide historical context for the global phenomenon that Kusama’s mirrored rooms have become today.
Tate Modern. Bankside, London SE1 9TG, UK. Until June.
Immersive experience studio, Pixel Artworks and visual light artist, Rupert Newman have launched Outernet London’s first interactive body movement artwork, Spaces In-Between.
The new show enables the public to synch their body movements with a breathtaking, digital light artwork on the largest digital canvas in the world, made up of 360-degree, four storey screens.
As you move, so will the digital screens in three, giant artworks, ‘Tessellations,’ ‘Transcendence’ and ‘A Step Beyond’ accompanied by music from composer Sarah Warne.
Spaces In-Between. Outernet, Charing Cross Rd, London WC2H 8LH, UK. Free. Until September.
Alice Neel: Hot off the Griddle
The Barbican presents the largest UK exhibition to date of American artist Alice Neel, whose vivid portraits captured the shifting social and political context of the American twentieth century. Describing herself as ‘a collector of souls’, Neel worked in New York during a period in which figurative painting was desperately unfashionable. Crowned the ‘court painter of the underground,' her canvases celebrate those who were marginalised in society: labour leaders, Black and Puerto Rican children, pregnant women, Greenwich Village eccentrics, civil rights activists and queer performers.
This exhibition brings together more than 70 of Neel’s most vibrant portraits, shown alongside archival photography and film, bringing to life what she called ’the swirl of the era’.
Alice Neel: Hot off the Griddle. Silk St, Barbican, London EC2Y 8DS, UK. Until 21 May