t’s been a tough couple of years for London’s cultural institutions and, whether your interests lie in art, theatre, dance or history, the thought of all those priceless pieces lying unappreciated and unloved behind locked doors is a fate no one wishes to see repeated. Happily, with lockdowns (hopefully) in the rearview mirror, London’s galleries, museums and theatres have an incredible year of culture planned. Here’s our guide to the best exhibitions, plays, performances and shows to save the date for in 2022.
Romeo and Juliet, Royal Opera House
When: 10 January - 25 February 2022
About: For 57 years, Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet has been a classic of modern ballet and a signature of the Royal Ballet’s repertoire. Revived for 2022, Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers take to the Royal Opera House’s stage in designs by Nicholas Georgiadis, transporting audiences to Renaissance Verona as Sergey Prokofiev’s powerful score soars throughout, guiding the young couple from first meeting in a crowded ballroom, through a passionate love affair to their inevitable tragic end.
A Number by Caryl Churchill, Old Vic
When: 24 January - 19 March 2022
About: Lennie James and Pappa Essiedu star in Caryl Churchill’s 2002 drama A Number. Brought to Waterloo’s Old Vic by director Lyndsey Turner, Churchill’s seminal play examines the fraught relationship between father and sons – or, more accurately, clones – the complexities of human identity and the balance of nature versus nurture.
Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, Royal Academy
When: 29 January - 17 April 2022
About: Fans of Francis Bacon will know already how the animal kingdom inspired and informed the artist’s evocative work, often blurring the lines between creature and human. Now, in an exhibition encompassing the Irish painter’s prolific 50-year career, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast explores Bacon’s lasting fascination with animals and their movement, and how this influenced and shaped his unique approach to capturing the human form. With around 45 of Bacon’s works on display, the exhibition will include some of the artist’s first studies, dating from the 1930s and ‘40s, as well as his final painting and a triptych of bullfights, created in 1969, both of which have never been displayed to the public before.
Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature, V&A
When: 12 February 2022 - 8 January 2023
About: One for all the family, the V&A’s Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature celebrates one of the most beloved children’s authors of the 20th Century. In collaboration with the National Trust, this exhibition uncovers Potter’s work as a scientist and conservationist, exploring the locations and creatures that inspired childhood favourites like Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck.
The World of Stonehenge, British Museum
When: 17 February - 17 July 2022
About: Informed by recent scientific and archaeological discoveries, the British Museum’s landmark exhibition The World of Stonehenge uncovers new insights into one of Britain’s most mysterious monuments. Discover the history of Britain and Europe from 4000 to 1000 BC and the human story of Stonehenge through fascinating found objects, including the Nebra Sky Disc – the world’s oldest surviving map of the stars – and Seahenge, a 4,000 year old timber circle, on loan for the first time.
Surrealism Beyond Borders, Tate Modern
When: 24 February - 29 August 2022
About: Born in Paris in the 1920s, Surrealism came to define an era of art that bit back at authority, tapping into the unconscious, subverting reality and bringing dreams into the waking world. Surrealism Beyond Borders branches out beyond the birthplace of the legendary art movement, exploring how artists worldwide have found inspiration and unity through Surrealism, featuring art spanning a period of over 50 years from cities including Prague, Lisbon, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Tokyo and Cairo.
Dance Reflections by Van Cleef and Arpels, across London
When: 10 - 23 March 2022
About: In collaboration with Sadler’s Wells, Tate Modern and the Royal Opera House, the Dance Reflections by Van Cleef and Arpels festival comes to London for its inaugural edition, celebrating and supporting boundary-pushing work in modern dance. Presenting a comprehensive view of dance from the 1970s to today, Dance Reflections will feature eight dance companies performing in 17 works across two weeks, alongside artist forums and film screenings, revisiting classics while amplifying future voices of the art form.
Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear, V&A
When: 19 March - 6 November 2022
About: Contemporary menswear has never been so fun. As the boundaries of gender in dress begin to blur more with each sighting of Harry Styles in a dress, designers are becoming more creative than ever when it comes to the staid suit-shirt-and-tie trifecta, but this is nothing new. Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear, opening at the V&A in March, takes a closer look at the construction and performance of masculinity through the work of designers, stylists, tailors and artists – and their clients and sitters – and how it has been unpicked at the seams time and time again.
English National Ballet: The Forsythe Evening, Sadler’s Wells
When: 31 March - 10 April 2022
About: The English National Ballet returns to Sadler’s Wells to pay homage to renowned choreographer William Forsythe in a programme celebrating Forsythe’s devotion to and curiosity for ballet. Refreshing and energetic, Forsythe’s choreography frames the classicism and athleticism of modern ballet within the context of contemporary neo-soul and house music. Including tracks by James Blake, Khalid, Barry White and Lion Babe, the Forsythe Evening promises to deliver a triple bill of ecstatic and invigorating dance, bringing the art form firmly into the 2020s.
Football: Designing the Beautiful Game, Design Museum
When: Opens 8 April 2022
About: With a unique ability to transcend borders, belief systems and backgrounds, football truly unites people from all walks of life and design has played a fascinating role in this dynamic. From super stadiums and boot technology, to badges, kits and colours, the Design Museum’s next blockbuster exhibition unpicks how design has driven the beautiful game forward, pushing it to emotional and technological limits in the pursuit of sporting excellence.
Raphael, National Gallery
When: 9 April - 31 July 2022
About: No matter how au fait you are with Renaissance art history, it’s likely you know the name Raphael. A true Renaissance master, throughout his prolific – though short – career, he mastered architecture, poetry, painting and archaeology, leaving behind a lasting legacy that has shaped contemporary Western culture as we know it. In one of the first exhibitions to explore Raphael’s complete career across painting and drawing, sculpture, tapestry and prints, poetry and architecture, the National Gallery presents a look at the acclaimed work of the young man long considered the paramount painter of the High Renaissance.
Walter Sickert, Tate Britain
When: 28 April - 18 September 2022
About: Widely recognised as one of the most influential and gifted British artists of the 20th Century, Walter Sickert imbued his colourful and complex work with a theatricality born from his beginnings as an actor, ever-evolving alongside his oeuvre. Marking the first major retrospective of Sickert’s work at Tate Britain in over 60 years, this exhibition explores the artist’s radical, idiosyncratic approach to subject and setting. From his fascination with early celebrity culture to his studies of detailed sketches and use of news photography for inspiration, Sickert’s work reflects his place as a truly modern artist reckoning with a rapidly changing world.
Cornelia Parker, Tate Britain
When: 18 May - 16 October 2022
About: Celebrating one of Britain’s most venerated contemporary artists, Tate Britain’s exhibition will offer guests the chance to experience the captivating large-scale installations of Cornelia Parker. Bringing together works such as 2015’s immersive War Room and Magna Carta, and renowned suspended installations Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) and Thirty Pieces of Silver (1998-9) alongside Parker’s films, prints, drawings, photographs and embroideries, this comprehensive exhibition will overflow its designated space, infiltrating the permanent collection and presenting guests with a fresh perspective as they directly juxtapose Parker’s work with the historical art it references.
Madama Butterfly, Royal Opera House
When: 14 June - 6 July 2022
About: One of Italy’s most popular and powerful operas, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Madama Butterfly – inspired by 19th Century European perceptions of Japan – returns to the Royal Opera House for 2022. Starring Dinara Alieva and Lianna Haroutounian in the titular role of Giacomo Puccini’s heartbreaking masterpiece, a young geisha falls victim to the clashing worlds of East and West when her new American husband deserts her, leaving her pining in hope of his homecoming, only for him to return years later to take their son away. Arias crescendo and fall as hope turns to despair, evoking the shifting perspectives of Puccini’s Japanese backdrop and the brutal heartbreak of a woman thrown to the wayside by the man she loved and longed for.
Summer Exhibition 2022, Royal Academy
When: 21 June - 21 August 2022
About: Returning for summer after a two-year shift to wintertime, the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition is one of the most joyful displays of art and creativity on the capital’s busy social and cultural calendar. Themed around Climate for 2022, the Summer Exhibition will present a wide array of artworks across all media from painting and sculpture, to photography, film and print. With household names and leading artists shown alongside recent graduates and emerging talent, most of the work on display will be available to buy, giving guests the opportunity to support artists and the RA’s charitable work.
The Seagull, Harold Pinter Theatre
When: 29 June - 19 September 2022
About: Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke makes her West End debut as Nina in an 11-week run of Chekhov’s tragic comedy The Seagull. Thoroughly modernised for the 21st Century by Anya Reiss and directed by Jamie Lloyd, this tale of passion and longing confronts the paralysing notion of the relentless passage of time and the misguided hope of unrequited love. Appearing alongside Clarke is a who's-who of great British talent, including GOT colleague Indira Varma, Sophie Wu (Fresh Meat), Tom Rhys Harries (White Lines) and Daniel Monks (The Normal Heart). Theatre fans, this is not one to miss.
Africa Fashion, V&A
When: 2 July 2022 - 16 April 2023
About: This summer the V&A will be shining a spotlight on the vibrancy, innovation and global influence of contemporary African fashion. The exhibition, which will bring together more than 250 objects selected from the personal archives of African fashion creatives and 20th Century style icons, many of which will be on public display for the first time, will chart the evolution of the African fashion industry and its key figures over the last 70 years. Beginning with the first African designers to rise to global fame, such as Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah and Alphadi, the show will explore the impact of Africa’s period of liberation and independence, the continent’s cultural renaissance through fashion, music and art and highlight the modern designers, stylists and fashion photographers putting African creativity on a global stage.
Hallyu! The Korean Wave, V&A
When: 24 September 2022 - 25 June 2023
About: From K Beauty to BTS, the unique culture and lifestyle of Korea has been on an unstoppable mission for global domination over the past decade. This autumn the V&A will explore the origins of the country’s distinctive style, music and fan culture, its astronomic appeal across the world and the impact it will continue to have on the international cinema, beauty, fashion and creative industries.
Lucian Freud: New Perspectives, National Gallery
When: 1 October 2022 - 22 January 2023
About: Legendary British painter Lucian Freud needs no introduction – which is why it may come as a surprise that 2022 will see the first major exhibition of Freud’s work in more than a decade. This vast retrospective will tell the story of the artist’s disparate private and public lives through more than 60 paintings, from early, intimate works to his famed large-scale naked portraits. Aiming to set aside the celebrity that surrounded Freud, and often overshadowed his talent, New Perspectives contextualises his work in domestic and studio settings, revealing a different side of this much-mythologised painter.
Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination, Science Museum
When: 6 October 2022 - 4 May 2023
About: This blockbuster immersive exhibition from the creative minds over at the Science Museum promises to take visitors to the edge of our known universe – and beyond. Allow yourself to be guided through an unknown planet by artificial intelligence of alien origin while discovering how both scientists and science fiction creators use imagined worlds to better help us understand our own. Told through an interactive voyage which encompasses science fiction in all its genres – from movies and TV to books, artworks and photography – whether it’s giving little ones their first taste of Star Wars, Doctor Who or Frankenstein to uncovering under-the-radar works by Afrofuturist creators and exploring the human fascination with worlds outside our own, this is an exhibition sure to surprise and delight.
Cézanne, Tate Modern
When: 6 October 2022 - 12 March 2023
About: Often cited as the painter who bridged the gap between 19th Century Impressionism and the Cubism of the early 20th Century, Paul Cézanne had a profound impact on European art, paving the way for figures including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Piet Mondrian. However, as a young painter from Aix-en-Provence desperate to make it in the Paris art scene, much of Cézanne’s professional life was a struggle between seeking recognition and pursuing his own, innovative style. Showcasing his famed still lives, landscapes and portraits of bathers, many of which have never before been seen in the UK, this retrospective will interrogate how these tensions played out in Cézanne’s works and the comments he left about the world surrounding him.
Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924 - Today, Design Museum
When: Opens 14 October 2022
About: One of the most radical and influential art movements of the 20th Century, it’s difficult to understate the impact Surrealism has had on, not just art, but poetry, music, visual culture, photography and interior design over the past 100 years. Focusing on the way Surrealist creators reinvented everyday objects, this exhibition will bring together pieces by Man Ray, Le Corbusier, Ray Eames, Achille Castiglioni and many more, to explore the ways Surrealism upended notions of what our homes and public spaces could, and should, look like.
Making Modernism, Royal Academy
When: 12 November 2022 - 12 February 2023
About: Never heard of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Kӓthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin? You’re not alone. Despite being pioneering figures of the Modernist movement in the early 1900s, outside of their native Germany, their names and works have largely been omitted from the history books in favour of their male counterparts, such as Chagall, Manet and Matisse. Often side-lined because of their subject matter – self-portraiture, still life, childhood and depictions of the female body – this show at the Royal Academy will reframe these works in the context of their contribution towards new European approaches to art, giving their creators the spotlight they’ve long deserved.