Unmissable art exhibitions in Britain in 2020

15 April 2020 marks World Art Day. Timed to coincide with Leonardo Da Vinci’s birthday, this annual event celebrates all that is good, great and ground-breaking in the art world.  But why stop at one day? The whole of 2020 will see show stopping and inspirational exhibitions coming to Britain, so why not experience some world class art, sculpture or photography during your trip to the UK this year?

Couple viewing The Hay Wain painting by English painter John Constable in the Sackler room of the National Gallery in London

Unmissable art in the capital

Go big at the Tate

The Tate galleries have a spectacular line up of upcoming exhibitions this year, from Steve McQueen and the inimitable Andy Warhol at the Tate Modern to Turner’s Modern World at the Tate Britain.

 

A touch of the surreal

You can experience a touch of the surreal in London this year at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, which will be exhibiting a range of outstanding work from British Surrealists, while the V&A will also offer a ‘mind bending’ look into the world of Alice in Wonderland, in Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser.

 

Art of the Royals

If you’re a Royal family enthusiast, you can dive into 500 years of British royal portraiture at the National Maritime Museum with this year’s Tudors to Windsors exhibition, opening in April. Alternatively, head to the Queen’s House to see Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I. On display together for the first time in over 400 years, the exhibition gives art lovers the chance to see three surviving versions of the famous portraits.

 

Gender and Performance Art

Stepping forward into the world of contemporary art, the Barbican will present Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery, which will look at how masculinity has been constructed from the 1960s through film and photography. For a taste of ground-breaking art by a world-renowned female artist, look no further than the grand retrospective from performance art pioneer, Marina Abramović. After Life will exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts this autumn, and will be the first collection of her life’s work in the UK.

 

Big names come to Britain

The Royal Academy will also host Gauguin and the Impressionists: Masterpieces from the Ordrupgaard this spring. Showcasing 60 impressionist masterpieces from artists such as Monet, Renoir and Gauguin, it is a chance to see works that are on display for the first time in British history.

Art fans will be no stranger to the work of British artist David Hockney, and this year will see the National Portrait Gallery host the first major display of his drawings in over two decades. Drawing from Life will show over 150 works, with the subjects ranging from the artist’s close friends and family to intense self-portraiture.

Marking 500 years since the death of Raphael, an artist who shaped western art and culture for centuries to come, the National Gallery will exhibit an extensive selection of drawings, sculpture, tapestry and prints, in a collection spanning his entire artistic life.

Wooden gilded statue from Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh exhibition

2020 will give lovers of ancient history one last chance to witness the dazzling collection of over 150 outstanding artefacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun, before their return to Cairo indefinitely. Hosted by the Saatchi Gallery, the exhibition includes around 60 items that have never previously left Egypt and showcases the incredible sights that met archaeologist Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon when they discovered the tomb in 1922. Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh is on display until 3 May 2020.

England’s exciting exhibitions

Gender discussions in the north

Female sculptors are being celebrated in the north of England this year, at both the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Baltic centre for Contemporary Art in Newcastle. Breaking the Mould: Sculpture by Women since 1945 will showcase a range of works across the park, aiming to inspire future generations of female artists, while Newcastle’s Baltic centre will host the first major exhibition in Europe for sculptor Huma Bhabha. Highlighting issues such as colonialism, war and memories of conflict, Bhabha uses materials ranging from clay and wire to animal bones and wood to create striking human figures.

Newcastle will also be the home of The Enchanted Interior, The Laing Art Gallery’s look into how pre-Raphaelite art depicted women as simply ornamental, and at the artists who challenged this. Another look into changing culture through art in Newcastle will be Art Deco by the Sea, which reveals the relationship between the art deco movement and British seaside culture during the 1920s and 1930s.

 

Buzzing cultural hubs

York is set to host a range of great exhibitions, including local artist Harland Miller’s biggest solo exhibition, York, So Good They Named It Once, at York Art Gallery. If you’re a culture vulture visiting the historic city, you can also check out the York Mediale, an international arts festival, with both exhibitions cementing York as Britain’s first and only UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts.

Moving across the art map of Britain to the west, Liverpool will be exhibiting some major works throughout 2020. Two highlights include a retrospective of Linda McCartney’s photography at the Walker Art Gallery, as well as the exciting Liverpool Biennial, the UK’s largest festival of modern visual art, which spans the entire city. This year’s festival is a discussion of bodies and how they connect to Liverpool and the wider world.

 

Colonialism, colours and craft

In addition to soaking up dramatic vistas in the Lake District, you can also enjoy Earth Photo, a photography exhibition in Grizedale Forest that will showcase striking imagery of people and the changing landscape of the modern world. Alternatively, head to Blackwell to take in The Arts & Crafts of Politics, which will reveal the social politics explored in the works of Arts & Crafts heroes such as John Ruskin, William Morris and Walter Crane.

Further south, Bath is set to host some boundary-pushing art this year, with the Victoria Art Gallery bringing an experiential exhibition for lovers of colour and bohemian Paris, as they showcase the wonderful world of Toulouse-Lautrec and other seminal artists from the period. Meanwhile, the Holburne Museum will display a collection of Grayson Perry’s ceramics in The Pre-Therapy Years.

The south coast will also be offering unmissable art, as 2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage – the journey that saw the first pilgrims venture over to America. The exhibition Settlement will tackle the issue of colonialism and how this is felt by indigenous people, presented in the historically salient location of Plymouth during their Mayflower 400 commemorations. And Bournemouth will take a look into the past at Russell Cotes Art Gallery with Beyond the Brotherhood, a celebration of the legacy of the pre-Raphaelite masters.

Scotland

The new and the abstract

Visitors to Aberdeen can enjoy the impressive Aberdeen Art Gallery in 2020. Having recently completed a £34million refurbishment, the Gallery is set to host a range of fascinating exhibitions this year. If you’re a photography lover, you can enjoy a look at Scotland through the lens of world renowned photographer Martin Parr until 23 February, while fans of the modern and abstract can catch Haroon Mirza’s Waves and Forms until June 2020.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

Edinburgh bound? The Scottish capital is bursting with unmissable art for visitors to enjoy. Catch Beyond Realism for a taste of world-altering Surrealism and Dada at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, or see Glaswegian artist Katie Paterson’s first major exhibition in Scotland.

Britain-wide

Want to make the most of Britain’s eclectic art offerings? Head to Art UK. This extensive online platform allows art lovers to search for UK galleries or explore a vast database of over 40,000 artists and 230,000 artworks to find masterpieces showing in Britain. And if you’re still planning your inspirational itinerary, you can enhance your trip by discovering art galleries in different regions of the UK, an easy way to plot an art-fuelled adventure around Britain, or learn more about the art itself, through the sites in-depth article collection.

27 Mar 2020(last updated)