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The best free exhibitions in London – get your culture fix and keep your money for coffee

 (Max Göran, Exhibition View, brave and pathetic is better than drowning in shame, Cell Project Space, 2023)
(Max Göran, Exhibition View, brave and pathetic is better than drowning in shame, Cell Project Space, 2023)

New year, new you, and, as usual, London is 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.

Hunterian Museum

 (Hufton and Crow)
(Hufton and Crow)

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

Chris Ofili: Requiem

In this moving commission, Turner Prize-winning British artist Chris Ofili has created a giant art work across Tate Britain’s Northern Staircase to pay tribute to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. The dream-like, brightly-coloured mural gives a special nod to fellow artist Khadija Saye who was killed in the 2017 tragedy.

Tate Britain, ongoing; tate.org.uk

Materials and Objects

Eleven rooms of the Tate are dedicated to this visual exploration of the varied materials that artists have used over the decades. Expect to see works such as Doris Salcedos famous metal structures, Marcel Duchamp’s toilet seat and Sarah Sze’s installations.

Tate Modern, ongoing; tate.org.uk

Outernet: FLOW

FLOW designed by D'istrict (Outernet London)
FLOW designed by D'istrict (Outernet London)

Over the past year, Outernet’s Tottenham Court Space, The Now Building, has become London’s most visited attraction, being heralded for displaying extraordinary creative projects across its 360-degree, floor-to-ceiling, 16k definition screens. On Thursday it is launching , a new immersive film about the evolution of art which is a collaboration with award-winning Korean design studio D’istrict.

The Now Building, launches February 1; outernetglobal.com

Radical Landscapes

Chris Killip, Helen and her Hula-hoop, Seacoal Camp, Lynemouth, Northumberland,1984 © (Chris Killip Photography Trust/Magnum Photos, courtesy Martin Parr Foundation)
Chris Killip, Helen and her Hula-hoop, Seacoal Camp, Lynemouth, Northumberland,1984 © (Chris Killip Photography Trust/Magnum Photos, courtesy Martin Parr Foundation)

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, to February 18; wmgallery.org.uk

Quentin Blake: Now

Beloved 91-year-old British illustrator Sir Quentin Blake, who most famously brought to life Roald Dahl’s treasured worlds, is still making his humorous and lively drawings, and showing no sign of slowing down. In Now, see a snapshot of works created by Blake over the last year, which include both pen and watercolour pencil illustrations.

Cromwell Place, to February 18; cromwellplace.com

Artists making books: poetry to politics

 (Farkhondeh Shahroudi - © The Trustees of the British Museum)
(Farkhondeh Shahroudi - © The Trustees of the British Museum)

In this small display, the British Museum has brought together work of artists and poets from around the world and across history, to look at words as an extension of how they express themselves creatively.

British Museum, to February 18; britishmuseum.org

The Blush Upon Her Cheek

Ki Yoong, Ermine, 2024 (Courtesy of the Artist and STUDIO WEST)
Ki Yoong, Ermine, 2024 (Courtesy of the Artist and STUDIO WEST)

Responding to, and inspired by, Sir Peter Lely’s Windsor Beauties (a set of 1660s portraits that now sit in the Royal Collection) artists Leo Costelloe, Florence Reekie and Ki Yoong investigate “the cultivation and appreciation” of beauty in 11 portraits.

Studio West, to February 22; studiowest.art

Conversation Galante

In this group exhibition, eight painters including Nina Chanel Abney, Ana Benaroya, Katherine Bradford, and France-Lise McGurn explore themes of playfulness and intimacy.

Pilar Corrias, to February 24; pilarcorrias.com

Maha Ahmed: Where Worlds Meet

Maha Ahmed, Where two worlds come to meet, 2022 ©Maha Ahmed (Courtesy of Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery)
Maha Ahmed, Where two worlds come to meet, 2022 ©Maha Ahmed (Courtesy of Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery)

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; rbkc.gov.uk

Josefin Arnell, Max Göran: brave and pathetic is better than drowning in shame

JOSEFIN ARNELL, BEAST AND FEAST, INSTALLATION VIEW, 2023 (Photography credit: Jonas Balsevičius, all images courtesy of Cell Project Space)
JOSEFIN ARNELL, BEAST AND FEAST, INSTALLATION VIEW, 2023 (Photography credit: Jonas Balsevičius, all images courtesy of Cell Project Space)

Film director Josefin Arnell and visual artist Max Göran have a longstanding collaborative practice HellFun. But this new exhibition, which uses humour and absurdity to ask questions about class structures, fantasies, freedom, agency and cycles of violence, is the first time they present their work as solo artists, together, in the UK.

Spread across two floors, the show is a rambunctious series, which includes moving image installations, a “showdown between the horse beyond reach, and the emancipating, CO2-emitting automobile”, and “daytime party murder scene”.

Cell Project Space, to February 25; cellprojects.org

Arctic Adventure

Arctic Adventure photo experience at Fujifilm The House of Photography (PA)
Arctic Adventure photo experience at Fujifilm The House of Photography (PA)

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; fujifilm-houseofphotography.com

Martin Parr: sports & spectatorship

Bristol. Playing bowls. 1995-1999 (©Martin Parr / Magnum Photos)
Bristol. Playing bowls. 1995-1999 (©Martin Parr / Magnum Photos)

Over the course of Martin Parr’s five-decade career, he has become known for producing quirky, humorous and sharply perceptive depictions of everyday life. In sports & spectatorship, his works are focused on various sports and their respective fans. The photographs, which have been selected from across his stellar career, cover everything from football, golf, horse racing, tennis and rugby.

Rocket Gallery, to February 29; rocketgallery.com

Oren Pinhassi: After Pleasure

 (Courtesy of Edel Assanti. Photo by Tom Carter)
(Courtesy of Edel Assanti. Photo by Tom Carter)

This series of new and recently produced sculptures from Tel Aviv-born, New York-based artist Oren Pinhassi asks questions about living ecologies, organic environments and the relationship between the body and ideas.

Edel Assanti, to March 2; edelassanti.com

The Way of All Flesh

The eclectic group exhibition, which features 36 artists, contemplates existence and morality, with works that range from a love-heart cushion stabbed through with iron spikes and a giant lycra snake-shaped installation.

Saatchi Gallery, to March 3; saatchigallery.com

Uncharted Streets

Charlie Phillips Notting Hill Carnival , 1968 (Courtesy of the artist and Centre for British Photography)
Charlie Phillips Notting Hill Carnival , 1968 (Courtesy of the artist and Centre for British Photography)

Curated by the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum alongside the Centre for British Photography, this exhibition showcases the work of Kurt Hutton, Bill Brandt, Edith Tudor-Hart, Charlie Phillips and Markéta Luskačová - five international artists who each made a huge impact on the development of British photography.

Centre for British Photography, to March 8; britishphotography.org

Yoko Matsumoto

Yoko Matsumoto, Shapes in Nature V, 1985 (© the artist. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick))
Yoko Matsumoto, Shapes in Nature V, 1985 (© the artist. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick))

Both abstract paintings and works on paper from Japanese artist Yoko Matsumoto, who famously spent 25 years studying the colour pink, will be displayed here in her first UK solo exhibition.

White Cube Mason’s Yard, to March 9; whitecube.com

Five by Five

Tamara Al-Mashouk, I'd search forever, I want to remember; Water Containers, 2023 (Courtesy of the artist and Incubator Gallery)
Tamara Al-Mashouk, I'd search forever, I want to remember; Water Containers, 2023 (Courtesy of the artist and Incubator Gallery)

Five by Five involves partnering five celebrated artists - Maggi Hambling, Mona Hatoum, Georgie Hopton, Abigail Lane and Ingrid Pollard - with emerging artists of their choosing. They have chosen (respectively) Jelly Green, Tamara Al-Mashouk, Alice McCabe, Rebecca Hancock and Matthew Arthur Williams. The resulting collaborations comprise paintings, sculptures, photographs, video and installations.

Incubator, to March 10; incubatorart.com

Pesellino: A Renaissance Master Revealed

FRANCESCO PESELLINO, FRA FILIPPO LIPPO AND WORKSHOP ANGEL (LEFT HAND), 1455-60 (© THE NATIONAL GALLERY, LONDON)
FRANCESCO PESELLINO, FRA FILIPPO LIPPO AND WORKSHOP ANGEL (LEFT HAND), 1455-60 (© THE NATIONAL GALLERY, LONDON)

It’s fantastic to see a space dedicated to the work of Italian Renaissance painter Francesco Pesellino (circa 1422–1457) who was struck down cruelly young by the plague aged 35. Colourful, dynamic and well-crafted, Pesellino’s reimaginings of biblical scenes and religious excursions deserve to be more widely celebrated.

The National Gallery, to March 10; nationalgallery.org.uk

Emalin: 118½

Leopold Thun and Angelina Volk’s Emalin, one of east London’s leading young galleries, is now opening its second branch in the tiny 18th century Shoreditch Clerk’s House. Its inaugural exhibition, which will feature 15 artists including Tolia Astakhishvili, Ceidra Moon Murphy, Sung Tieu, and Marina Xenofontos, is set to explore the slightly dry, though intriguing, themes of domesticity and the historical authenticity of materials.

Emalin The Clerk’s House, to March 16; emalin.co.uk

Doron Langberg: Night

Doron Langberg: Basement (© Doron Langberg Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro)
Doron Langberg: Basement (© Doron Langberg Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro)

Through a series of large-scale tableaux, Israeli-American painter Doron Langberg explores the feelings and spaces that stir after hours: he depicts nightclubs and midnight beach scenes, and in doing so asks questions about the physical and psychological freedom provided by these liminal late night spaces.

Victoria Miro, to March 28; victoria-miro.com

Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter, Aladin (Aladdin), 2010 (© Gerhard Richter 2024)
Gerhard Richter, Aladin (Aladdin), 2010 (© Gerhard Richter 2024)

Gerhard Richter’s works are always a treat: here, new and recent paintings as well as drawings from the German visual artist are on display, which continue his career-long exploration of perception and abstraction.

David Zwirner, to March 28; davidzwirner.com

The Hudsons, Family Ties

Richard Hudson, Knot Marble (Courtesy of the artist and Claridge's ArtSpace)
Richard Hudson, Knot Marble (Courtesy of the artist and Claridge's ArtSpace)

Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst curates this multidisciplinary exhibition of work by three artists from the same family: sculptor Richard Hudson, and his sons Henry and Richard WM. The Hudsons use a range of materials – including clay, plasticine, scagliola, and wood – to explore nature and natural forms.

Claridge’s ArtSpace, to April 14; claridges.co.uk

Bloomberg New Contemporaries

Every year, Camden Art Centre celebrates exciting up-and-coming talent in its New Contemporaries show. This year’s show features 55 emerging artists whose wide-ranging works tackle issues including climate change, identity politics and kinship.

Camden Art Centre, to April 14; camdenartcentre.org

Turner and Bonington: Watercolours from the Wallace Collection

J.M.W. Turner, Hackfall, near Ripon, c. 1816 (The Trustees of the Wallace Collection)
J.M.W. Turner, Hackfall, near Ripon, c. 1816 (The Trustees of the Wallace Collection)

Travel around Europe in this one-room “small gem of an exhibition”: a display of watercolours by Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828) and JMW Turner (1775-1851) which are on show for the first time in 17 years.

The Wallace Collection, to April 21; wallacecollection.org

Ainu Stories: Contemporary Lives by the Saru River

Ainu Stories Contemporary Lives by the Saru River (The Cipsanke boat festival in Nibutani. Image: Ogawa Masaki)
Ainu Stories Contemporary Lives by the Saru River (The Cipsanke boat festival in Nibutani. Image: Ogawa Masaki)

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, to April 21; japanhouselondon.uk

Michèle Lamy & Loree Rodkin x Rick Owens

Portrait of Michele Lamy (Photography by Tim Verhallen, courtesy of the artist)
Portrait of Michele Lamy (Photography by Tim Verhallen, courtesy of the artist)

French designer Michèle Lamy is a fixture of Paris’s fashion and art crowd. Not only is she the life partner of fashion designer Rick Owens, but over her six-decade career she has worked as a cabaret dancer, lawyer, producer, entrepreneur, artist and model. She also makes jewellery with celebrated designer Loree Rodkin, whose earrings, ring and bracelets were worn by Michelle Obama to Barack’s inaugural ball. At Carpenter’s Workshop their rings are on show alongside some of Owen’s own design pieces.

Carpenter’s Workshop, to April 26; carpentersworkshopgallery.com

Wendell Castle: Suspended Disbelief

Suspended Disbelief, exhibition view, photography by Benjamin Baccarani (Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery)
Suspended Disbelief, exhibition view, photography by Benjamin Baccarani (Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery)

The works of sculptor Wendell Castle (1932-2018), one of the founding fathers of the American Art Furniture Movement, could be best described as ink splashes rendered in 3D. Here a range of the astonishing sculptural design pieces, created over his celebrated career, are on display.

Carpenter’s Workshop, to April 27; carpentersworkshopgallery.com

Atta Kwami, Dzidzɔ kple amenuveve (Joy and Grace) 2021-22: Maria Lassnig Prize Mural

The Serpentine’s public art mural is a bright delight. One of Ghanaian painter, printmaker, historian and curator Atta Kwami’s (1956 – 2021) last ever works, the prize-winning painted construction, which is titled Joy and Grace in the West African language Ewe, is just that.

Serpentine North Garden, to April 30; serpentinegalleries.org

Accordion Fields

Tim Stoner, Marbella Club, 2021/2023 (© The artists, courtesy of Lisson Gallery)
Tim Stoner, Marbella Club, 2021/2023 (© The artists, courtesy of Lisson Gallery)

This group exhibition, presented across both of Lisson Gallery’s London spaces, showcases the work of eight artists who have all cultivated their practices in London over the past three decades, as the city has gone through a number of radical socio-political shifts.

Lisson Gallery, February 23 to May 4; lissongallery.com

Aria Dean: Abattoir

Aria Dean: Abattoir (Courtesy of the artist and ICA)
Aria Dean: Abattoir (Courtesy of the artist and ICA)

In her first UK exhibition, American artist and writer Aria Dean explores modernity and death through the instantly recognisable and provocative architecture of an abattoir. The large animated film installation is accompanied by an immersive score (so described because it incorporates algorithmically generated sounds, field recordings and instrumentals) by Evan Zierk.

ICA, to May 5; ica.art

Art Now: Zeinab Saleh

Zeinab Saleh, Early morning, 2024 (Courtesy of the artist and Tate Britain)
Zeinab Saleh, Early morning, 2024 (Courtesy of the artist and Tate Britain)

Art Now is Tate Britain’s long-running exhibition series spotlighting rising stars in the art scene; this time, it’s Kenyan-born and London-based artist Zeinab Saleh’s turn to shine. Drawing on everyday experiences and memories, Saleh uses patterns and silhouettes in soft colours to create a feeling of otherworldliness and intimacy.

Tate Britain, to June 23; tate.org.uk

Leo Robinson: DREAM-BRIDGE-OMNIGLYPH

Leo Robinson: DREAM–BRIDGE–OMNIGLYPH, installation view, 2023 (Photo: Marcus Leith)
Leo Robinson: DREAM–BRIDGE–OMNIGLYPH, installation view, 2023 (Photo: Marcus Leith)

Bloomberg’s City of London basement is full of surprises. It not only consists of an art gallery, but it is home to parts of an ancient Roman temple and showcases a number of Roman artefacts too. Its next art commission is DREAM-BRIDGE-OMNIGLYPH, a collection of multimedia works from British artist Leo Robinson that explores ancient myths, personal identity, history, tradition and colonialism.

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE, to June 29; londonmithraeum.com

The Conservatory x Ranjani Shettar

Installation view of Ranjani Shettar: Cloud songs on the horizon (Courtesy Barbican Centre, KNMA, Ranjani Shettar © Max Colson, Barbican Art Gallery)
Installation view of Ranjani Shettar: Cloud songs on the horizon (Courtesy Barbican Centre, KNMA, Ranjani Shettar © Max Colson, Barbican Art Gallery)

Not that anyone really needs an excuse to visit the Barbican’s gorgeous conservatory, but the space now features five large-scale works from Indian sculptor Ranjani Shettar. The delightful sculptures, which have been inspired by nature, have been crafted by hand using materials - including wood, stainless steel, muslin - and techniques that are used in traditional Indian craftwork.

Barbican, to July 1; barbican.org.uk

Flaming June

Frederic, Lord Leighton PRA, Flaming June, c. 1895. (Museo de Arte de Ponce. Luis A. Ferré Foundation, Inc.)
Frederic, Lord Leighton PRA, Flaming June, c. 1895. (Museo de Arte de Ponce. Luis A. Ferré Foundation, Inc.)

Frederic Leighton’s most famous painting, the exquisite Flaming June, was originally part of the British artist’s submission to the RA’s Summer Exhibition in 1895. Now, 128 years later, it’s on show at the institution again (on loan from the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico), being shown alongside work from both Leighton and his contemporaries. For mega fans, there’s a curator’s talk about the iconic painting on March 15.

Royal Academy of Arts, February 17 to January 12, 2025; royalacademy.org.uk