London is experiencing a sizzling summer and I don’t just meant the hottest weather ever recorded in modern times.
The cultural scene in the capital is always pretty darn hot but this summer it’s proving to be a sizzler of epic proportions.
Here are 12 great shows which are blazing a trail across London’s arts and entertainment scene which I can strongly recommend this summer.
1. The Summer Exhibition – Royal Academy
The Summer Exhibition is always worth a trip although the quality of the art varies enormously from the slightly amateurish to international artists at the top of their game… and everything in between.
Sometimes it’s a ‘Marmite’ experience – and the 2022 show is no exception, but it is one of better shows of the last few years.
This year’s visual extravaganza is big on climate change and environmental themes with nods to Armageddon everywhere you look. This seemed strangely appropriate because I visited on a sweltering day in London when temperatures hit 40 degrees.
There are the usual surreal sights on display including two figures covered in flowers, a squashed-down head, and an inflatable Mickey Mouse in bright red hues.
There are artistic in-jokes and jibes at the establishment including a painting of a 18th Century lady with a raspberry bouffant and a Bird’s Instant Whip dress which is half advert, part oblique nod to the painters Boucher and Fragonard.
One of my favourite pieces was a bejewelled egg-shaped object studded with shiny gemstones. I’m not sure of its meaning but it’s a wonderful creation which looks like it belongs on a coral reef seabed.
Every inch of the gallery’s walls are jam-packed with paintings and creations but this year’s show does feel less frenetic with the larger works being allowed a little more breathing space.
The lesser known artists still have to struggle for our attention especially those who have their works placed up high, close to the ceiling.
It’s fun rating the paintings and seeing which works score most highly in the judges’ eyes. You can also debate which ones you’d like to buy for your wall at home as many of the pictures are for sale. Some are even affordable!
There’s also architectural models, sculptures and installations as an antidote to the endless wall-to-wall paintings.
Where and When: The Summer Exhibition is at the Royal Academy in London until 21 August, 2022. Admission charges.
2. The Burnt City – Punchdrunk – Immersive Theatre
Punchdrunk’s “The Burnt City” is a show that will challenge your conceptions about theatre with its promenade performances, immersive style and non-linear storytelling.
This is the story of the Fall of Troy which takes audiences on a journey from the battle field to the back streets of the city. You’ll follow your own route through the story across 80-90 rooms inside the sprawling former arsenal buildings at Woolwich.
You can meander and drop into bars, buildings, palaces and houses – and even join the action inside a nightclub.
If you haven’t seen a Punchdrunk production before, expect to wear a mask and make your own way through spectacular sets which recreate the story of Troy. Expect epic storytelling in an immersive world which is thrilling and engaging.
Where and When: “The Burnt City” runs throughout 2022 into 2023 at Woolwich Arsenal in London. Admission fees. Advance booked required. Nearest Tube is Woolwich on the Elizabeth Line.
3. Edvard Munch – Masterpieces from Bergen – Courtauld Gallery
Photograph – “The Four Stages of Life” and “At the Deathbed” by Edvard Munch c/o KODE, Bergen.
Over at the Courtauld Gallery, the king of Scandinavian angst – Edvard Munch – is making a big summer splash with “Masterpieces from Bergen”.
This impressive show boasts 18 rarely seen Munch paintings from KODE in Bergen – and concentrates on his lesser known works so don’t expect the artist’s familiar blockbusters like “The Scream”.
I loved this psychologically charged show which features some intriguing early works which set the foundations for Munch’s later expressionistic paintings.
There’s a wonderful, brightly-coloured self portrait of the man himself as well as several beautifully realised paintings of people on streets or in domestic settings.
Although this exhibition isn’t huge, it won’t disappoint if you’re a fan of the Norwegian artist.
Where and When: “Munch – Masterpieces from Bergen” runs from 27 May – 4 September 2022 @ The Courtauld Gallery, The Strand, London. Admission charges.
4. The Procession – Tate Britain
“The Procession” at the Tate Britain is a visual extravaganza and a real showstopper with its colourful characters, dioramas and a dive into black history.
It’s a work of jaw-dropping, vibrant glory populated by a cast of colourful, costumed mannequins.
Artist Hew Locke has created a visual tour de force which draws you into its characters’ fascinating story.
Lewis was born in Edinburgh but moved to Guyana (then British Guyana) with his family when he was five years old. There are echoes of Guyana’s colonial past, the slave trade, abolition and the colony’s independence from Britain.
His reflections on the former British colony and life past, present and future form the centrepiece of “The Procession”.
A journey to see “The Procession” is highly recommended, not least for its insights into a rotten, exploitative period of British history.
This more than just a piece of art… it’s an epic creation which cuts across art forms from painting and sculpture to textiles and costume design.
Where and When: “The Procession” is @ Tate Britain, Millbank until 23 January 2023. Admission is free.
Read the Tammy Tour Guide blog post – The Procession
5. Tiffany and Co. – Virtue and Virtuosity – Saatchi Gallery
“Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” over at the Saatchi Gallery this summer where the massive Tiffany exhibition is guaranteed to blow your mind.
This sparkler of a show is a departure for the gallery which is more commonly associated with provocative contemporary art.
But the Saatchi has transformed itself into a fashion gallery where you can enjoy a dazzling display of over 400 objects from the famous jewellery house’s archives.
This exhibition tells the story of Tiffany and Co. from New York City in 1837, starting with its historic archive and moving up to modern times and today’s celebrities’ passion for its luxury jewellery.
Walking through this beautifully presented show, you’ll see high jewellery designs, tiaras, colourful Tiffany lamps, and brooches.
There’s an immersive blue-lit enchanted forest with huge sparking rings set in cases like treasures from a fairytale. This is great fun if you enjoy taking selfies and video for your social media.
The climax of the show is a mock-up of the Tiffany store in Manhattan and a thrilling display of mementoes from the film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” starring Audrey Hepburn. There’s the original script, screen writer’s typewriter, and Oscar statuette as well as a feast of footage from the movie.
When you thought the show couldn’t get any better, the final room showcases the exquisite Tiffany Diamond, one of the world’s most famous yellow diamonds. Just don’t ask how much this stunning necklace is worth!
6. Cabaret – The Kit Kat Club – The Playhouse Theatre
It’s been called the “theatre event of the year” and I’m not going to disagree with the critics who lauded this new production of “Cabaret” with armfuls of awards.
The Playhouse Theatre has been turned into the Kit Kat Club in an amazing transformation which throws you straight into the action as if you’re an audience member at the club in 1930s Berlin.
Presented in the round with a rotating stage and smokey interior, the production design has a ‘wow’ factor that takes your breath away.
This is the only time I’ve seen a stage production of “Cabaret” shake off the shackles of the fabulous film and come out from underneath its shadows. This “Cabaret” reclaims the original theatre show, giving it a brilliant modern twist, helped by a gifted cast and sensational direction.
“Leave your troubles outside” and come see this groundbreaking show…
Where and When: “Cabaret” is at The Playhouse Theatre which is located between The Strand and London’s Embankment. Performances are currently booking until 19 November 2022. Admission prices.
7. Damien Hirst – Natural History – Gagosian Gallery
Lovers of contemporary art, should head over to the Gagosian Gallery where the “Natural History” exhibition showcases Damien Hirst’s groundbreaking works using formaldehyde.
There’s a variety of preserved animals from sharks to sheep and even doves and a zebra, some of which are bisected, and sliced into cross sections, or flayed.
The highlight is Hirst’s infamous“The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”, a 14-foot long tiger shark preserved in a tank of formaldehyde. It still strikes a nerve 30 years on.
The works span a 30 year period, and whilst not all of them are new, it’s the first time that so many of them have been gathered together.
This show gets my award for being the coolest in London – in more ways than one – because it has superb air conditioning, if you want to escape the oppressive summer heat!
Where and When: Natural History is @ the Gagosian Gallery on Britannia Street near King’s Cross. The gallery is open 10:00-18:00 Monday to Friday but check times before travelling.
8. Milton Avery – Royal Academy
Milton Avery is one of North America’s greatest 20th Century colourists but he’s often eclipsed by US artists who came after him. They owe him a huge debt especially Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman for whom he was a mentor.
Avery’s career fell between the American Impressionists and Abstract Expressionism, leaving him to forge a strongly independent path.
This is the first comprehensive exhibition of his work in Europe and it’s worth the long wait. It brings together around 70 paintings from the 1930s to the 1960s including seascapes, scenes of everyday life and abstract colour experiments. They are really fabulous…
I love Avery’s glorious seascapes and would have one hanging on my wall any day, if it weren’t for the prices his work is now commanding.
The colours in his work are amazing and there’s a real sense that this is where Mark Rothko got some of his colour block ideas from.
Just look at the two works above, one of which features Rothko’s trademark burgundy stripes.
This long overdue celebration of an American master is well worth a trip. After all, his paintings were in Rothko’s words full of a poetry that “penetrated every pore of the canvas to the very last touch of the brush”.
Where and When: Milton Avery is @ the Royal Academy on Piccadilly in London until 16 October. Admission charges. Why not combine this show with a trip to the Summer Exhibition at the RA?
9. Beyond Surrealism – Tate Modern
Everyone loves the Surrealists but this show is a little bit different to what you might be expecting. It focuses on the group’s long lasting influence on a wide range of international artists.
For those who prefer the original Surrealists, there are some iconic works including Salvador Dali’s lobster telephone and Magritte’s steam engine emerging from a household chimney.
Surrealism is presented as a state of mind designed to subvert reality and find the uncanny in the everyday. For many artists around the world, it has also been a way to challenge authority and imagine a new world.
The exhibition is a mixed bag but there is much to admire in this eclectic selection of post-Surrealists from places as diverse as Buenos Aires, Cairo, Mexico City, and Tokyo.
Where and When: “Surrealism Beyond Borders” is @ Tate Modern, Southbank, London until 29 August, 2022. Admission charge.
10. Future Shock – 180 The Strand
“Future Shock” is a hotly recommended show for anyone who loves immersive digital art and discovering unusual environments.
Once inside, you’ll make your way into a labyrinth of subterranean spaces which have been transformed through 25 installations which use digital technology, 3D digital mapping, lasers, holographic projections and electronic music.
This is a dizzying experience… and is sometimes slightly overwhelming with its sensory overload. But it’s an exhilarating journey through groundbreaking technology which shouldn’t be missed.
Lose yourself in a haze of smoke, oscillating blue lights and lasers or watch an immersive 360 degree film about a forest with overlapping narratives.
The future is a compelling array of shapes of images, technology and sound from some of the top international artists working in this field. Critics have dubbed it “awe inspiring” and “jaw dropping” – and it’s hard to disagree. It’s simply mind blowing…
Where and When: “Future Shock” is @ 180 The Strand, London until 28 August 2022. The gallery entrance is tricky to find.. it’s on Surrey Street, just off The Strand opposite the old Piccadilly Railway station entrance. Admission charges – book ahead.
Note: It may be less of an adventure if you are affected by strobe lighting and claustrophobic spaces.
11. The ‘New’ Courtauld Gallery
Expect a complete rehang of around 300 works which are presented in a much more engaging way. The whole building feels more spacious and easier to find your way around.
All the old favourites are on display, from Renoir, Manet and Gauguin to Van Gogh, Seurat and the Bloomsbury Group.
Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies Bergere” looks as fresh as when it was painted in Paris back in 1881. The powerful glare of the barmaid follows you around the gallery whenever you look back at the painting.
There are a couple of stunning Cezannes including the exceptional “Card Players”, one of the most evocative and timeless paintings in the gallery.
The refurbished stairwell lights up with a stunning, colourful mural of nude figures by the artist Cecily Brown which wraps its way along the curved wall space.
Elsewhere, the Renaissance art collection looks more beautiful and brilliant than ever, with lots to savour for lovers of early religious art. Don’t miss the excellent new basement shop – a great place for gifts.
12. Walter Sickert – Tate Britain
Over at Tate Britain, there’s a feast of British art with a major retrospective of Walter Sickert, who was closely associated with the Camden Town Group.
It’s the first major retrospective of Sickert in decades, and it’s dazzling to see the artist’s often radical and distinctive paintings.
There’s a strong focus on his theatre and music hall paintings with performers, acrobats and singers which capture a slice of life brilliantly. I love Sickert’s splashes of vibrant colours amidst the theatrical gloom.
Sickert’s intimate, domestic paintings are also highly engaging with their intriguing storytelling and characters, especially his series about an infamous London murder case.
His modern images of Amelia Earhart’s flight across the Atlantic and actress Edith Evans in “The Taming of the Shrew” reveal his interest in celebrities. Perhaps a first for modern art?
Much of Sickert’s art is complex and some of his greyish, ‘fuzzier’ works may not suit everybody’s taste, but there is still much to admire in this show.
Where and When: Walter Sickert is @ Tate Britain, Millbank until 18 September 2022. Admission charges.
Hot Hang-Outs – London
Whilst you’re enjoying your trip to London, why not road-check the exciting, new outdoor hang-outs which have sprung up in the last couple of years?
Top of my recommendations is the regenerated area called Coal Drops Yard, adjacent to the Regent’s Canal behind King’s Cross Station. It’s a brilliant place to chill out after a busy day of sightseeing.
This urban wasteland has been transformed into a leisure playground with sitting areas, bars, restaurants and specialist shops. The canalside walk is an interesting and easy stroll with narrowboats – and even a boaty book shop.
Granary Square is a cool place to meet up with friends and also boasts outdoor events including free cinema screenings in summer. The water fountains are great fun, if you feel like running through them on a hot day!