Five autumn blockbusters

It's an exciting exhibition season ahead with star appearances from Ai Weiwei, Lee Miller and Francisco Goya.

1. Goya: The Portraits, National Gallery

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Francisco de Goya's portraits are not only technically brilliant, but rich with social commentary. Opting to forgo diplomacy and the tendency to flatter he was truly daring, especially considering that he earned his living as a portraitist to the Spanish royal family and high-ranking nobles. For example, popular opinion held that Charles IV's wife – Louisa – held all the real power, and Goya placed her at the centre of his group portrait. It is shown here alongside over 50 other of his most daring works (7 October to 10 January 2016).

2. ​Ai Weiwei, Royal Academy

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Ai Weiwei originally worked on this exhibition remotely from Beijing; he had been forced to remain there since 2011 thanks to a restrictive travel ban imposed by the Chinese authorities. With the news his passport had finally been returned in July, he announced that he would make the trip to London to see the show finalised in person. Included are sculptures such as Surveillance Camera and Video Camera – both masterpieces in marble craftsmanship – as well as Straight, which was constructed out of 90 tonnes of bent and twisted steel rods that Ai collected from buildings damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and then straightened by hand (19 September to 13 December).

3. Giacometti: Pure Presence, National Portrait Gallery

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Giacometti didn't follow any particular school but – working alongside the likes of Picasso, Miro and Ernst in the 1920s – developed his own distinct style that married modern and surrealist sensibilities. To mark the 50th anniversary of his death, the National Portrait Gallery presents over 60 paintings, sculptures and drawings produced between 1914 and 1966 that present this preoccupation with portraiture. The show focuses on his intense relationship with his sitters, such as his wife Annette and Isabel Nichol (who later became Francis Bacon's muse) and include two bronze busts of his brother Diego, created decades apart (15 October to 10 January 2016).

4. Lee Miller: A Woman’s War, IWM London

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Although often referred to as the model and muse of Man Ray, Lee Miller possessed astounding photographic skills of her own. During the Second World War she was hired by Vogue as an official correspondent, documenting field hospitals in Normandy, the horrors of Dachau and Buchenwald, and even Hitler’s own apartment. This exhibition focuses on her vision of gender during the conflict, examining the vital role women played throughout the period and the sizeable impact it had on their mobilised position in society (15 October to 24 April 2016).

5. Frank Auerbach, Tate Britain

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Despite painting daily, it can take Frank Auerbach months or years to complete a single work. This is not because of technique – the final piece will have usually been worked up in just a couple of hours – but because he is so rarely satisfied with what he has produced. Scraping back to the surface of the canvas, Auerbach repeatedly restarts the painting process afresh. This retrospective at Tate Britain brings together 70 paintings of the people and landscapes local to his London studio. Auerbach continually returns to the same set of subjects because he believes he must ‘try again and again’ until he gets them right. In fact curator of the exhibition, Catherine Lampert, has sat for him weekly for the past 37 years (9 October to 13 March).

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