One of the best things about London as far as I’m concerned is the number of amazing free museums and galleries. Places like the the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Wellcome Collection and the Horniman Museum don’t cost a thing to get into if you want to see their permanent collections. They also often have a changing series of temporary exhibitions as well. Some of these are free to visit as well, while others come with a heftier price tag, and whether you like space, fashion, art, history, photography, travel, politics, or any number of other things, there is undoubtedly something awesome going on in a museum somewhere in London that will interest you.
Over the years, I’ve been several of these temporary exhibitions and so this is my guide to what’s going on in London’s museums and galleries and the kinds of thing you can find. I’ll try and remember to update it as often as possible.
The City Garden, The City Centre
The City Centre is round the corner from the Guildhall, a short walk from Bank station. Since I was in the area one weekend at the end of May, I decided to duck in with some friends to check out the City Garden installation. Artist Rebecca Louise Law has created a exhibit of flowers, hanging from the ceiling of the ground floor of the centre. In all honesty, I was a bit underwhelmed. The flowers had already been hanging for a month by the time I got there and they were more sparse and not as colourful and Instagram-worthy as pictures I had seen had led me to believe.
What was more interesting, however, was the floor below. Here the walls the covered in pictures of green spaces in the city and, most impressive of all, was the Square Mile – a model version of central London. We spent a while here spotting our usual haunts.
When: 23rd April – 25th September 2016
How Much: Free!
Travel Photographer of the Year 2015, University of Greenwich
The Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition displays the winning images from the annual competition. Categories include “Mankind”, “Land, Sea, Sky”, “Journeys & Adventures”, “Places & Experiences”, “Wildlife & Nature” and “Shaped by Light”. There was also a category for images captured on an phones or tablets (which made me feel like I really need to step up my iPhone photo game) and another for photographers under 18 (the youngest photographer on display was 8 years old) which made me feel like a massive underachiever.
The photos were beautiful and seriously impressive and it actually reminded me of the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum – except there were more pictures of people… and it was free. Greenwich may have been a bit of a hike but I discovered it was a very nice place. Between the exhibition and the area, it was definitely worth the trip.
When: 22nd July – 4th September 2016
How Much: Free!
Yayoi Kusama, Victoria Miro Gallery
A short while ago, I spotted an amazing picture on Instagram, with the photographer standing in amongst lines and lines of lit up pumpkins. It looked really cool but when I looked up the location it looked like it was in Scandinavia – shame. The picture was from an exhibition by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Then the other week, I spotted one of my friends had posted an almost identical image. The show was in London, at a gallery near Old Street. I arrived to find a long queue and the guy on the door told me it was about 40 minutes. Still, I figured it would be worth it and so I stuck around. 20-25 minutes, I was in.
Once inside, I found three “infinity” rooms. Each of these was a small box room, designed to look infinitely bigger than they actually were. The Chandelier of Grief was a room with a few chandeliers and a lot of mirrors, which made the chandeliers multiply in number and made it hard to spot where the walls of the room actually were. Where the Lights in My Heart Go was an outside box with holes in the walls – when the door was closed it felt like I was surrounded by a starry night and had to hold my hands out so I could figure out where the walls were without bumping into them. Then there was the piece de resistance: All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, where there were the lines of pumpkins, which made for the perfect photo. You had to queue for each room as only a few people were allowed into each (1-2 in the pumpkin room) but it was totally worth it. And not just for the photos – those rooms really played with your perspective.
In addition to their rooms, there were “infinity” paintings in different colours with similar ringed patterns that went on forever, a pond full of what looked like heavy silver balls that were actually floating on top of the water and bronze pumpkins sculptures.
When: 25 May – 30 July 2016
How Much: Free!
Vogue 100: A Century of Style, National Portrait Gallery
2016 marks the 100 year anniversary of Vogue magazine and, to celebrate, British Vogue and the National Portrait Gallery has launched an exhibition consisting of nearly 300 prints from Vogue’s archive.
The images are organised according to decade, although the later years are the ones closest to the entrance which didn’t quite make sense to me, as I ended up working backwards chronologically. I should have walked started at the other end, in 1916. Every room had a few paragraphs on the wall, giving details about the era: the key photographers, trends and developments, as well as the historical context. Each image had a small information plaque close by with details of the photographer, model and date as well as a little background information. I liked the fact there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of information and you could focus on the photos of models, celebrities and public figures. It wasn’t just famous faces that were pictured – images that the magazine published showing the consequences of the second world war were also included in the display, as well as a collection of Vogue magazine from every year since 1916.
When: 11 February – 22 May 2016
How much: £17 (£19 with donation)
Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Natural History Museum
Every year the Natural History Museum exhibits the works of the the winners and runners-up of its Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. The exhibition starts of in London before touring around other UK cities.
The competition welcomes entries of wildlife and landscapes from anyone, whatever their age and whatever their level of photographic experience. The beautiful images are displayed lit up in in a dark room and each accompanied by a small plaque indicating the photographer and the technical details behind the composition. Some of the images are truly awe-inspiring. I found the photojournalism pieces particularly poignant as they addressed serious issues facing our wildlife and natural environment and was particularly impressed with the young photographers works. Despite their ages and fewer years of experience, you couldn’t tell the difference between their works and those of much more experience photographers. Admittedly this did make me feel somewhat unaccomplished, but I didn’t mind! Be prepared for this one to be really busy.
How much: £12
States of Mind – Yellowbluepink, Wellcome Collection
The States of Mind Yellowbluepink installation consisted of a room full of coloured mist. I arrived to be told that there was already a 45 minute queue (at 12.30/1pm), which would only get longer. The room itself was only small and so only a few people could go in at a time – there was so much thick mist that you would almost certainly bump into someone if there were too many people in there. Once I reached the front of the line and passed through two sets of doors (to keep the mist inside), I was welcomed by three different colours of mist – yellow, blue and pink … if you didn’t see that coming.
The installation is meant to be about consciousness and perception and, to be fair, it does play with your perception because you can barely see anything in front of you. I had to stick close to my friend otherwise I would have lost her. Together, we first went to find the other side of the room to gain some perspective. My eyes started to adjust but then more mist was pumped in, making it thicker. I must admit, we did just spend most of our time in there taking selfies and photos of each other. It was an Instagrammer’s dream. The room reminded me of the Color Run I did earlier in the year, when the air was filled with coloured powder as I ran through Wembley. Only this time there was zero exercise involved and I didn’t leave in desperate need of a shower, having been covered head-to-toe in said coloured powder. I liked it.
When: 15 October 2015 – 3 January 2016
How much: Free!
Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860, V&A Museum
This exhibition had a large collections of photos on display showing, unsurprisingly, scenes from Burma and India taken by a government/military photographer during the time of the British Empire: Captain Linnaeus. Most of these pictures were accompanied by short exerts detailing his photographic techniques, the impact of the British at the time they were taken and/or the cultural background of the places. It was interesting but I would have appreciated having a bit more to read about the cultural background and the history behind the places and photos.
When: 24 June – 11 October 2015
How much: Free!
100,000 Balloons, Covent Garden Piazza
If you were to venture into the Piazza in Covent Garden between August – September 2015, you’d come across quite a sight: white balloons. 100,000 of them to be precise. That’s not because a lot of children have let go of some helium balloons and no one can get them down, it’s an exhibition by French artist Charles Pétillon. This welcome invasion of balloons makes the place look like a load of clouds have got a bit lost and ended up low down in Central London. It was quite a sight and the perfect opportunity for many a keen Instagrammer.
When: 27 August – 27 September 2015
How much: Free!
What Is Luxury, V&A Museum
Although I did find some of the luxurious objects quite interesting, like lights made out dandelions, a golden elephant seat and a gold hat and watches, I did feel that they were all quite tenuously linked. Admittedly, the exhibition seemed a tad pretentious for my taste. Sorry V&A!
When: 25 April – 27 September 2015
How much: Free!
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, V&A Museum
Although initially dubious about the ticket price (which at £16 wasn’t ideal for a girl on a budget), I eventually caved after hearing so much about it. It took me all of two minutes to realise it was completely worth it. Many of McQueen’s designs, from a range of his collections were displayed in various rooms. The rooms themselves had been decorated with an amazing eye for detail, reflecting the character of the collections as well as really showing them off. The mannequins were also decorated though, sometimes with elaborate head pieces, often with gimp masks. Each outfit came with details about materials and who had donated it. These information plaques were interspersed with quotes from McQueen himself and videos from his totally unique shows. Each room had an introduction and were arranged by theme as opposed to show or chronology.
From dresses made from feathers to alien shoes which I’m not entirely sure I could stand in, let alone walk, every piece was unique and dynamic. Inspirations ranged from historical influences (there was Victorian Gothic aplenty) to McQueen’s own Scottish heritage (i.e. his MacQueen tartan) and many of the clothes had a darkness about them and they all appeared to empower the wearer and emphasise their sexuality. “I want people to be afraid of the women I dress” was one of McQueen’s quotes and that inspiration wasn’t difficult to see.
When: 14 March – 2 August 2015
How much: £16
Disobedient Objects, V&A
I had no idea what the Disobedient Objects exhibition was about before I went but I quickly discovered that it was a collection of objects used in campaigns and protests around the world. I’ve never seen anything like it. The exhibition room seemed rather small but it was all displayed very well. It still took a while to explore as I wanted to read everything about the objects themselves and the social movements they contributed to. It was definitely worth the visit.
When: 26 July 2014 – 1 February 2015
How much: Free!
Witches and Wicked Bodies, British Museum
The Witches and Wicked Bodies exhibition shows the representation of witches in art between the Renaissance period and the 19th century, from beautiful women luring men in to ugly and deformed hags causing all of man’s problems, and their treatment through the centuries. I did find it interesting to the extent that I am interested in the portrayal of women and many of the images captured witches from the Classical era – like Medea and Circe – which it kind of my thing. However, it wasn’t my favourite exhibition, particularly in comparison to the magnificent collections regularly on display at the British Museum. The only real problem was the lighting. They had turned the lights down low, I guess to set the atmosphere, but I would have given up some atmosphere in exchange for being able to read the less well lit-up descriptions (although there were only a few of these).
When: 25 September 2014 – 11 January 2015
How much: Free!
Damien Hirst’s Schizophrenogenesis, Paul Stolper Gallery
One weekend, on my way to the nearby British Museum, I stopped off to see Damien Hirst’s pharmaceutical-inspired Schizophrenogenesis exhibit. This consisted of giant pills, bottles and syringes and multi-coloured images of tablets decorating the walls, reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe images. The word ‘Schizophrenogenesis’ was lit up in neon at the end of the room. In Hirst’s words: “Pills are a brilliant little form, better than any minimalist art. They’re all designed to make you buy them… they come out of flowers, plants, things from the ground, and they make you feel good, you know, to just have a pill, to feel beauty.” I can’t say I was particularly taken with the exhibition, which didn’t really draw me in, but at the very least it provides for some great novelty photo taking.
When: 9 October 2014- 15 November 2014
How much: Free!