The Top Exhibitions To See In London In October 2023

The Top Exhibitions To See In London In October 2023

Looking for an awesome London exhibition this October? Here's our roundup of must-see shows in the capital — plus a bonus one from further afield.

1. Troubled times: Philip Guston at Tate Modern

© The Estate of Philip Guston

After a controversial delay, we finally get the chance to see this much anticipated retrospective of an artist whose career cast an eye across the anxious and turbulent times he lived through in America, including racism and the social and political change that came about in the 1960s. Such turmoil us reflected in Philip Guston's intense, often pink hued, paintings. Tate Modern will also has a new Turbine Hall installation by artist El Anatsui, known for his large-scale tapestries that incorporate found objects relating to colonialism and consumerism.

Philip Guston at Tate Modern. 5 October-25 February, £20
Hyundai commission: El Anatsui at Tate Modern, Turbine Hall. 10 October-14 April, free.

2. Colourful couple: Annie Morris & Idris Khan at Pitzhanger

Courtesy Annie Morris, Photographer: Stephen White & Co

Artist couple Annie Morris and Idris Khan bring their diverse practises together at Ealing's Pitzhangar. Morris' seemingly teetering sculptures of colourful spheres reference her personal loss and the fragility of life, while Khan's often monochrome pieces use language and words embedded within the pieces to express his emotions. All exhibitions at Pitzhanger have the added benefit of being designed to interact with the neoclassic architecture of what was John Soane's country home.

Idris Khan & Annie Morris: When loss makes melodies at Pitzhanger. 4 October-7 January, £9.

3. Mini masterpieces: South Asian miniatures at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes

One of the contemporary works in the show. © Shahzia Sikander.

The tradition of South Asian miniature painting is filled with beautiful intricate details, and this exhibition — easy to reach by train from Euston — brings together 16th century works with contemporary artists that have been inspired by this genre to create their own works, alongside sculpture, film and installation pieces.

Beyond the Page: South Asian Miniature Painting and Britain, 1600 to Now at MK Gallery. 7 October-28 January, £11.50.

4. Fancy a cuppa?: Cha, Chai, Tea at Horniman Museum

A watercolour of people producing tea. Courtesy Horniman Museum.

We all enjoy a good cuppa — it's a tradition that unites many cultures, but it's also a drink whose history is steeped with imperialist violence and colonialism. As well as looking back across history Tea (Cha, Chai, Tea) shows us how the beverage we drink today is produced, and introduces the workers who make it possible.

Tea (Cha, Chai, Tea) at Horniman Museum. 7 October-7 July 2024, free.

5. Light show: UVA at 180 Strand


Time to be immersed in sound, light and darkness, and have your sense of reality and perception challenged. United Visual Artists are a collective who create impressive immersive installations — and UVA: Synchronicity sees eight of them in the subterranean spaces at 180 Strand. They blew us away back in 2014, and this time it's a much larger exhibition — so we expect to be impressed.

UVA: Synchronicity at 180 Strand. 12 October-17 December, £20.

6. Power of photography: Hiroshi Sugimoto at Hayward Gallery

© Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Whether an empty theatre or a perfect split between ocean and sky, Hiroshi Sugimoto captures it in black and white — gives his images a cinematic quality. Spanning his 50-year career, Hayward Gallery has brought together his most ethereal, beautiful and meditative photographs.

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine at Hayward Gallery. 11 October-7 January, £18.

7. Fantastic beasts: Wildlife Photographer of the Year at Natural History Museum

© Atsuyuki Ohshima.

From savage deaths to cuteness overload, the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition takes us through the full range of animalistic emotions. Creatures you've never heard of, and shots that are so impressive they have us wondering how the photographer pulled it off, await at Natural History Museum in one of our favourite annual photography exhibitions.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year at Natural History Museum. 13 October-3o June, £15-£17.50.

8. Amazing anime: Japan - Myths to Manga at Young V&A

© Studio Ghibli 1988

From Hokusai's famous print of the Great Wave to the fantastical films made by Studio Ghibli, this exhibition is a whip through Japanese cultural history — exploring how Japanese folklore has translated into contemporary culture, technology and design in what is the first temporary exhibition since the excellent refurb of the Young V&A.  

Japan - Myths to Manga at Young V&A. 14 October-11 August 2024, £10.

9. Nature inverted: Mat Colishaw at Kew Gardens

© Mat Collishaw

Plants feed on insects, strange hybrid flowers are created digitally, and an animation of one of Britain's oldest oak trees makes it appear to be hovering between life and death. Welcome to the eerie world of Mat Collishaw who uses both art history and artificial intelligence to show us how art and nature have always been inseparable. The exhibition also includes one of his trademark zoetropes that allow flickering light to transform still sculptures into the illusion of birds in motion feeding on flowers.

Mat Collishaw: Petrichor at Kew Gardens. 20 October-7 April, £13.50-£21.50 (includes entry to the gardens).  

10. Move to the music: Turn it up at Science Museum

Visitors playing in the musical playground. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum Group

What is it about music that moves us — both physically and emotionally? Head to Science Museum to find out the science behind the reason why, create your own tunes, and see whether you can tell between human and machine generated music. There's also a robot that can play music and an organ powered by flames — now there's a tune that's really cooking.

Turn it up: the power of music at Science Museum. 19 October-6 May, £10.

11. Eye of the beholder: The Cult of Beauty at Wellcome Collection

© Juno Calpyso.

What is it that makes something or someone beautiful? We all have our opinions on what makes a looker, but how much of that is influenced by societal and cultural norms, and how have these been influenced by history and colonialism? Featuring over 200 items, including historical objects, artworks, films and new commissions this exhibition considers the influence of morality, status, health, age, race and gender on the evolution of ideas about beauty.

The Cult of Beauty at Wellcome Collection. 26 October - 28 April, free.

12. Fairy tales: Fantasy at British Library

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. © British Library.

The history of literature is full of tales that help us escape from reality, while also reflecting on the society in which we live. The British Library charts this history from the ancient tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight through to Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Filled with examples from across the world, it's a deep dive into all the realities that storytellers have crafted through the centuries.

Fantasy: Realms of imagination at British Library. 27 October-25 February, £16.

Short run exhibitions & art fairs

The virtual reality work from Sao Rafael gallery at StART fair.

Mid-October is when London becomes over-run with art fairs and the grand-daddy of them all is Frieze London in Regent's Park (11-15 October, £56) for the latest in contemporary art with over 160 galleries from more than 40 countries. At the other end of the park and almost as large is Frieze Masters (11-15 October, £56, combined ticket £90) which ranges from antiques right through to post-war artists. The free Frieze Sculpture exhibition runs in Regent's Park most of October too.

More bite-sized specialist fairs include the Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House (12-15 October, £25) with a free online version accessible to all. The Other Art Fair at Truman Brewery (12-15 October, £15) lets you deal directly with artists without going through galleries (and there are bargains to be found) while PAD London at Berkeley Square (10-15 October, £25) is for those more interested in design.

A snap from last year's Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair.

StART 2023 at Saatchi gallery (11-15 October, £15) mixes things up with both international galleries and artists present, and Women in Art Fair at Mall Galleries (11-14 October, £5) is a new offering that only showcases work by women identifying artists. If you find art fairs too busy altogether, Cornershop in Borough Yards, London Bridge (10-15 October, free) shows works from young galleries across London in a relaxed setting.  

Some art fairs are later in the month with the excellent Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair (26-29 October, £15) returning for those looking to buy original prints, and Affordable Art Fair returns to Battersea (19-22 October, £11-14) for those looking to spruce up their home with new works.

© Annie Trevorah.

If you prefer exhibitions over art fairs then Annie Trevorah will has her playful sculptures that imagine a sci-fi future where plants take over the world at Pump House Gallery (18-22 October, free), including a closing event where the artist is in conversation with Londonist art critic (and the author of this article) Tabish Khan (Sunday 22 October, 4-7pm - free).

O at Ugly Duck near London Bridge, Brink takes over the former tannery, filling it with the work of 21 artists that will include sculpture, painting and performance (7-9 October, free - booking required).

Last Updated 01 October 2023

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