Indoor venues across the UK can re-open their doors to the public from May 17, for the first time since last year. There are still safety restrictions in place, including social distancing and the use of masks (keep up to date with the latest rules here), but the cultural world is roaring back to life. In this guide, our critics pick the summer’s must-see exhibitions – from May to August – and recommend the hottest tickets.
Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty
The first major British show in more than half a century for the provocative post-war French artist, who attacked conventional ideals of beauty, and mixed paint with pebbles, coal dust, and shards of glass.
Barbican Art Gallery, London EC2 (barbican.org.uk), May 17 – Aug 22
The Making of Rodin
The French sculptor is associated with bronzes and marbles, but this show foregrounds his creative process, focusing on his thrilling skill at modelling clay and terracotta.
Tate Modern, London SE1 (tate.org.uk), May 18 – Nov 21
Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms
Beg, borrow or steal a ticket for the chance to take a spectacular selfie inside one of two mirrored rooms by the 92-year-old Japanese artist, renowned for her obsession with polka dots.
Tate Modern, London SE1 (tate.org.uk), May 18 – June 12, 2022
See the eminent sculptor’s monumental forms in bronze and steel, like natural monoliths weathered over millennia, within the grounds of a Palladian stately home built for Britain’s first prime minister.
Houghton Hall, King’s Lynn, Norfolk (houghtonhall.com), May 19 – Sept 26
Lively portraits and drawings by the Welsh artist who held court among the Bohemian cafés and ateliers of 1910s and 1920s Paris, in which women featured more usually as models or mistresses.
Charleston, Nr. Lewes, East Sussex (charleston.org.uk), May 19 – Aug 30
Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy
Some welcome redress for Britain’s forgotten surrealist, an Edwardian heiress who grew up to paint alongside and share ideas with Picasso, Dalí and Henry Moore.
Whitechapel Gallery, London E1 (whitechapelgallery.org), May 19 – Aug 29
Lee Miller: Fashion in Wartime Britain
Miller is better known for her war photography, but this beautiful exhibition of more than 60 pictures, some unseen, shows her key contribution to Vogue and the fashion industry.
Farleys House and Gallery, Chiddingly, East Sussex (farleyshouseandgallery.co.uk), May 20 – Aug 8
Michael Armitage: Paradise Edict
A collection of recent, large-scale paintings by the exciting Kenyan-born painter, who divides his time between Nairobi and London, and paints on lubugo bark cloth, a material traditionally made in Uganda.
Royal Academy of Arts, London W1 (royalacademy.org.uk), May 22 – Sept 19
Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser
More than 300 glorious objects, including illustrations for the 1951 Disney adaptation, exploring the impact and legacy of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, which have inspired everyone from Dalí to The Beatles.
Victoria and Albert Museum, London SW7 (vam.ac.uk), May 22 – Dec 31
David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020
Feel-good, easy-on-the-eye iPad “paintings”, charting the advent of spring, produced by that natural-born optimist, David Hockney, while holed up at his home in Normandy last year.
Royal Academy of Arts, London W1 (royalacademy.org.uk), May 23 – Sept 26
More than 300 objects spanning five millennia of Iranian history, from the ancient civilisation that produced the earliest known writing, long before the Persian Empire, to the 1979 revolution and beyond.
Victoria and Albert Museum, London SW7 (vam.ac.uk), May 29 – Sept 12
This retrospective follows the French artist’s dizzying rise from graffiting the Paris ghetto to the vast-scale images he has papered on Nairobi slums and the West Bank wall, plus his monumental optical illusion for the Louvre Pyramid.
Saatchi Gallery, London SW3 (saatchigallery.com), June 4 – Oct 3
From the steel chairs she made with Le Corbusier, to her open-plan designs for offices and ski resorts, this retrospective highlights Perriand’s legacy in the male-dominated world of modernist design.
The Design Museum, London W8 (designmuseum.org), June 19 – Sept 5
Rego’s work has puzzled as many critics as it has enraptured since the Portuguese-born artist came to prominence in 1950s Britain. Her largest exhibition to date features more than 100 paintings, pastels, collages and etchings.
Tate Britain, London SW1 (tate.org.uk), July 7 – Oct 24
British Art Show 9
The country’s biggest touring exhibition of contemporary art, organised every five years, provides a definitive primer on exciting emerging talents. This year’s edition begins in Aberdeen, before travelling to Wolverhampton, Manchester, and Plymouth.
Aberdeen Art Gallery (britishartshow9.co.uk), July 10 – Oct 10, then touring until Dec 2022
Puppets and embroideries, as well as paintings and sculptures, by the overlooked Swiss-born abstract artist and designer associated with the Dada movement, honoured here in her first British retrospective.
Tate Modern, London SE1 (tate.org.uk), July 15 – Oct 17