The blockbuster exhibitions to have on your radar this winter 2020

Ellen Millard

7 December 2020

From Tracey Emin at the Royal Academy of Arts to a handbag retrospective at the Victoria & Albert Museum, a number of exciting new exhibitions are opening in the capital this season

7 December 2020 | Ellen Millard

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly in the League of the Night, Tate Britain

Complication, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

Artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye doesn’t need a real person to create her figurative artworks. In fact, she’d prefer not to have one. Each of her portraits, often completed in a single day, are literal figures of her imagination, a conglomeration of people she’s seen on the street, in photographs or in her dreams. As much a writer as she is an artist, the Britain-Ghanaian painter gives each artwork an elusive title — In Lieu of Keen Virtue; A Passion Like No Other — which acts as an extension of the painting. It is up to the viewer to decide what they mean, who the person is and how the two connect. At Tate Britain, the largest exhibition of the artist’s works has gone on display, with more than 80 portraits spanning from 2003 to the present day.

Price: £13
Dates: 2 December — 9 May
Location: Tate Britain, Millbank, SW1P

Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul, Royal Academy of Arts

Tracey Emin, It - didnt stop - I didnt stop, 2019 (Xavier Hufkens, ©Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2020)

The Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts has long been in the pipeline, but none could predict how its themes of grief, loss and longing would be as relevant for the now as they have become. Long fascinated by the works of Munch, Emin has chosen 19 of his oil paintings and watercolours to accompany 25 of her works, which include paintings as well as neons and sculptures. Interweaving the works across three galleries, the show highlights how both artists have explored the same emotional landscape within their artworks, 100 years apart from one another.

Price: £15
Dates: 7 December — 28 February
Location: Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, W1J

Chantal Joffe: Story, Victoria Miro

Chantal Joffe, Self-Portrait in Striped Shirt With Mum, 2019

Three decades ago, Chantal Joffe began painting portraits of her mother, Daryl. Some were from photographs, a family scene from Joffe’s childhood during the 1970s perhaps, while others were from life, with Daryl alone in a doorway, for example, or reclining on the sofa. The result is a series of figurative paintings that depict not just Joffe’s mother but her relationship with her, and the shift in dynamic as time has gone by. In January, a selection of these portraits will go on display at Victoria Miro gallery in an exhibition entitled Story, along with a series of large scale pastel self-portraits.

Price: Free
Dates: 27 January — 6 March
Location: Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, N1

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Jennifer Packer: The Eye is Not Satisfied With Seeing, Serpentine Gallery

Jennifer Packer, Jess, 2018

New York-based American artist Jennifer Packer has unveiled her first European exhibition of paintings and large-scale drawings at the Serpentine Gallery. A portrait and still-life artist who favours bright hues and challenges perspective, Packer favours a limited colour palette, to the result that her subjects often merge with the background, blurring the boundaries between figurative and abstract art. Using friends, relatives and lovers as subjects, the artist creates intimate portraits that invite the viewer to question the complexities of human emotions.

Price: Free
Dates: 5 December — 14 March
Location: Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, W2

Zanele Muholi, Tate Modern

Zanele Muholi, Ntozakhe II, Parktown 2016

A self-described visual activist, artist Zanele Muholi has been documenting the lives of LGBTQIA+ communities in South Africa since the early 2000s. The largest showcase of Muholi’s career to date has gone on display at Tate Modern, where more than 260 photographs are being exhibited. Key series of works include Brave Beauties, which celebrates empowered non-binary people and trans women, and Somnyama Ngonyama, an on-going self-portrait series which translates as 'Hail the Dark Lioness' and explores themes such as labour, racism, Eurocentrism and sexual politics.

Price: £13
Dates: 3 December — 6 June
Location: Tate Modern, Bankside, SE1

JR: Chronicles, Saatchi Gallery

JR, 28 Millimeters, Women Are Heroes, Action in Jaipur, Holi Fest, India, 2009, (©

Merging graffiti with photography French street artist JR spotlights communities across the globe by photographing them and then showcasing their images — sometimes illegally — in public spaces on a monumental scale. A TED prize winner and Oscar-nominated filmmaker, JR’s global art projects have created dialogue around social issues such as women’s rights, immigration and gun control. In January, Saatchi Gallery will present the largest solo museum exhibition of his work to date. Organised by the Brooklyn Museum and with major support from Art Explora, the show will chart his early years as a teenage graffiti artist in Paris to his large-scale architectural interventions across the globe.

Price: £9
Dates: 28 January — 11 April
Location: Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, SW3

Bags: Inside Out, Victoria & Albert Museum

Margaret Thatcher outside 10 Downing Street with Asprey handbag, following a meeting with the Queen, 1987. (©John Redman/AP/Shutterstock)

Rescheduled twice due to the pandemic, the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Bags: Inside Out will finally open its doors on the 12 December. Exploring the style, function, design and craftsmanship of the beloved accessory, the exhibition will showcase bags of historical note, such as Margaret Thatcher’s Aspen, Winston Churchill’s despatch box and Queen Mary’s WWII gas mask bag, along with culturally significant totes such as the Hermès Birkin and Carrie Bradshaw's Fendi Baguette.

Price: £12
Dates: 12 December — 12 September
Location: Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7

Remembering a Brave New World, Tate Britain

For the past four years, Tate Britain has commissioned an artist to decorate its grand façade for the winter season. This year, Liverpudlian artist Chila Kumari Singh Burman has adorned the column-fronted building with fluorescent effigies of Hindu deities in a nod to her Indian heritage. Unveiled in November to coincide with Diwali, the installation features multicoloured neon lights in the shape of pop cultural references, motifs from Indian mythology and childhood memories.

On display until 31 January, Millbank, Westminster, SW1P

Absolutely Augmented Reality, Hoxton253

Kuzma Vostrikov and Ajuan Song, Self Confidence

Combining fine art with photography, artists Kuzma Vostrikov and Ajuan Song have created a series of surreal portraiture that offers a new and intense view of the modern world. Combining theatrical and symbolic imagery with historical art references, the duo has produced a vibrant and super-charged exhibition, Absolutely Augmented Reality, which will go on display at Hoxton123 in January. The artists’ first major exhibition in the UK will include 20 of their favourite works from their book of the same name, which was published earlier this year.

Price: Free
Dates: 21 January — 18 February
Location: Hoxton 253 art project space, 253 Hoston Street, Whitmore Estate, N1


Read more: the most festive things to do in London this December 2020