May's Must-See Exhibitions in London
London’s art scene is in perpetual motion and with each passing month a slew of new shows and gallery spaces open and old ones vanish. We make sure to keep our eye on the ever-changing programme of exhibitions, pop-ups and events in the capital so that we can share with you our absolute must-see shows. These are our top 5 recommendations for shows closing during May and June that we urge you to catch before they end. From retrospectives and solo shows to immersive group exhibitions and historical works brought back into the limelight, May is going to be a fantastic month for art lovers in London.
‘Vivienne Westwood Corsets: 1987 to Present Day’ at London Craft Week
Closing 21st May
London Craft Week has made its mark in the capital since February 2015, fighting for - and winning - its spot on the London ‘Week’ calendar among Fashion Week and Frieze Week. This year there are dozens of events occurring across London to celebrate British and international craftspeople, designers, and artists. One event we think should not be missed is ‘Vivienne Westwood: Corsets - 1987 to Present Day’, a show diving deep into the designer’s signature silhouette and its historical influences. Westwood passed away in December 2022 and this curated retrospective celebrates her genius approach to underwear-as-outerwear and will make for a sort of pilgrimage for any fans of the British fashion legend.
Magdalena Abakanowicz ‘Every Tangle of Thread and Rope’ at Tate Modern
Closing 21st May
Also closing on May 21st is Tate Modern’s retrospective of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s soft fibre sculptures (nicknamed ‘Abakans’) - ‘Every Tangle of Thread and Rope’. The Polish artist was born in 1930 and some of her earliest textile works and drawings are also on display among her better-known three-dimensional work from the 60s and 70s. It is rare that so many of Abakanowicz’s sculptures are seen together, and Tate Modern have expertly turned their Blavatnik Building gallery into a forest of Abakans. Since its opening in November 2022, this exhibition has received great praise in the press and isn’t one to miss. Abakanowicz is celebrated as one of Poland’s most eminent artists and sadly passed away in 2017.
Peter Doig at The Courtauld
Closing 29th May
Scottish painter Peter Doig is one of the 21st Century’s most well-respected painters, having exhibited at several of the world’s most revered gallery spaces including Tate Britain, Saatchi Gallery, and Whitechapel Art Gallery, winning the coveted John Moores prize in 1993, being nominated for the Turner Prize in 1994 and holding records at auction for prices reached for living European artists. Doig’s solo show is the first exhibition to come to the Courtauld Institute of Art following its recent redevelopment. ‘The Morgan Stanley Exhibition: Peter Doig’ presents new work by Doig including work made after the artist’s relocation to London from Trinidad. Informed by the collection of the Courtauld Gallery, Doig’s works in this show have garnered high praise in the press including 5 star reviews from the Evening Standard, The Independent and Time Out.
‘Thin Air’ at Beams
Closing 4th June
London has been seeing a new wave of immersive gallery spaces, from Lightbox and Frameless to Tate’s successful ‘Infinity Mirror Rooms’ exhibition by Yayoi Kusama. The newest contender in this space is ‘Thin Air’ at Beams in the Royal Docks, an experiential exhibition exploring the interplay between light, space, and sound. Running since mid-March, the expansive show covers over 55,000 square feet of gallery space and has been celebrated by London Live and It’s Nice That as ‘hands down the coolest thing I have ever seen’ and ‘a must-see’. It features work by talented international artists: 404.zero, James Clar, Robert Henke, Kimchi and Chips with Rosa Menkman, Matthew Schreiber, S E T U P, and the UCLA Arts Conditional Studio.
‘The Ugly Duchess: Beauty and Satire in the Renaissance’ at the National Gallery
Closing 11th June
Closing in mid-June, the National Gallery’s ‘The Ugly Duchess: Beauty and Satire in the Renaissance’ has been guiding visitors through the Quinten Massys’ famous 1513 artwork ‘An Old Woman’ since the spring. The world-famous face’s popularity skyrocketed following the release of John Tenniel’s illustrated edition of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ in 1865, where Massys’ ‘Old Woman" was used as the inspiration for his Dutchess. Acting as a conduit for conversations about Italian and Dutch cultural exchanges and a symbol for Renaissance attitudes to age, femininity, and the grotesque, the painting has been reunited with its painted counterpart, ‘An Old Man’, for the first time in 15 years in this exhibition, as part of an exciting loan from a private New York collection. Also included in the show are two drawings after Leonardo da Vinci, adding further star-value to this soon-to-close exhibition.