Well folks, it’s finally happened: the U.K. government has given museums the green light to reopen to the public, and the culture-starved among us have engaged in a battle royale to secure tickets to see the best of what the country’s institutions have to offer.
From the main contenders (Heather Phillipson at Tate Britain and David Hockney at the Royal Academy) to the lesser-known gems (Shara Hughes at the Garden Museum), here are 11 exhibitions not to miss in the U.K. this spring.
Garden Museum, London
May 17–June 15
For the New York artist’s first museum exhibition in the U.K., Shara Hughes has created a new series of site-specific works for the Garden Museum. Four large-scale paintings of flowers as well as works on paper will hang in the magnificent setting of the nave of the museum, a deconsecrated medieval church.
Mercedes Azpilicueta: Bondage of Passions
May 19–July 4
As part of her ongoing quest to dig out subversive and contested histories, the Amsterdam-based artist Mercedes Azpilicueta has offered a speculative vision of the real-life Catalina de Erauso, a 17th-century Spanish nun who moved to the New World and lived under male identities, and eventually became a ruthless lieutenant in the Spanish colonial army. Through a series of Jacquard tapestries, sculptures, costumes, and props, Azpilicueta recenters unheard voices from the past.
180 Studios, London
May 17–August 1
For his largest solo exhibition to date, the Japanese audio-visual artist Ryoji Ikeda has filled the inside of 180 Studios with a series of mind-bending digital sculptures. Including flashing strobe lights and sound frequencies the human ear struggles to comprehend, the spectacular exhibition tests the limits of the human senses.
Walter Price: Pearl Lines
Camden Art Center, London
May 21–August 29
For his first institutional exhibition in the U.K., the U.S. artist Walter Price is showing paintings, works on paper, and sculptures created during his 2020 residency at Camden Art Center and during lockdown in New York. Some of the more remarkable new works possess a more subdued palette than we expect from the painter, whose rich language of symbols usually dances over bright fields of color. The resulting works echo his own exhaustion with relentless cycles of consumption, as well as with being a Black man invited to occupy and contend with “white” spaces.
Artes Mundi 9
National Museum Cardiff
March 15–September 5
The biennial exhibition and prize Artes Mundi 9 brings a top selection of international artists to the National Museum Cardiff in Wales. Artists include Firelei Báez, Dineo Seshee Bopape, and Carrie Mae Weems. Their presentations explore themes such as the legacy of colonialism, environmental change, and intergenerational trauma and healing.
Houghton Hall, Norfolk
May 19–September 26
The British sculptor and Turner Prize-winning artist Tony Cragg has taken over the grounds and interiors of Houghton Hall in Norfolk with a series of spectacular sculptures. Cragg has curated the selection himself, from monumental bronze and steel sculptures in the gardens, to smaller pieces inside the grand house’s state rooms and galleries.
David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy 2020
Royal Academy, London
May 23–September 26
David Hockney is showing 116 iPad paintings at the Royal Academy that chronicle the arrival of spring in Normandy last year. The colorful paintings of flowers in bloom express optimism about the future and hope for renewal.
Pakui Hardware: Virtual Care
Baltic Center for Contemporary Art, Gateshead
May 18–October 3
Artists Neringa Cerniauskaite and Ugnius Gelguda, who together go by Pakui Hardware, are presenting their first solo exhibition in the U.K. at Baltic. Their site-specific commission transforms the space into a quasi surgery room, where technological tools and robotic surgeons are responsible for caring for abstract resin bodies. The poignant installation probes issues around virtual care at a time when people have been largely separated.
Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
May 22–December 31
The V&A is finally opening its long-anticipated Alice in Wonderland exhibition, which will trace the story of Alice from her 19th-century origins to the global cultural phenomenon she is today. The exhibition will also include a VR experience in which visitors can travel down the rabbit hole themselves and try their hands at a game of croquet with the Queen of Hearts.
Tate Britain, London
May 17–January 23, 2022
Heather Phillipson, the artist behind the monstrous whipped cream sculpture on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth, has utterly transformed the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain. In her signature style, she has created three distinct environments that through lighting, soundscape, and installation imagine alternative realities that hint at (but do not explicitly evoke) contemporary anxieties about environmental collapse and technological takeover. Within the unsettling installation, familiar industrial materials like fuel tanks and a collapsed silo have been remade into strange beasts, while animal eyes peek out at you from behind LED screens.
Masterpieces From Buckingham Palace
Queen’s Gallery, London
May 17–January 31, 2022
This is a rare chance to catch a glimpse of some of the most important works from the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace while its Picture Gallery is undergoing renovations. Masterpieces acquired by generations of royals are on view, including works by Titian, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Jan Steen.