The exhibitions you must see this August

Published 12 July 2021

From whimsical sculptures at Tate St Ives to a tapestry superstar at Dovecot Studios, and shoes galore at the Fashion Museum, these are the exhibitions to see this month.

August has a reputation for being quiet – not so. This month you can explore the evocative portrait painting of Lucian Freud at Tate Liverpool, or dive into the rich history of Japan’s capital city at the Ashmolean in Oxford.

This month’s must-see exhibitions also include two poignant film works exploring varying forms of migration: Lumen by Sutapa Biswas at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and Vertigo Sea by John Akomfrah at Towner Eastbourne. Both works have been supported by Art Fund and form part of unmissable exhibitions.

Whether you’re interested in history and culture, pop art and fashion or sculpture and painting, this list has something for everyone to round off a summer of art.

These are our picks to get you started, but don’t forget there’s so much more out there to enjoy. Keep an eye on our full exhibition listings to plan your summer adventures and sign up to Art in Your Inbox for updates on what to see.

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Lucian Freud, Girl with a White Dog 1950-1. Lucian Freud in Focus at Tate Liverpool 6 July 2021 - 16 January 2022

Lucian Freud: Real Lives

50% off exhibitions

Celebrated for his distinctive style of portrait painting, Lucian Freud captured the likenesses of famous faces including the artist Francis Bacon in 1952 and supermodel Kate Moss in 2002, as well as those of his close friends and family. This major exhibition covers his entire career, from early experiments with surrealism to intimate portraits.

Sutapa Biswas, Housewives with Steak-knives, 1984-85, Oil, acrylic, pastel, pencil, white tape, collage on paper mounted onto stretched canvas, 2450 x 2220mm, © Sutapa Biswas. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2020. Photo: Andy Keate

Sutapa Biswas: Lumen

Free to all
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A major player in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s-70s, Sutapa Biswas often explores themes of dislocation and belonging in her work. This exhibition includes the new film Lumen, supported by Art Fund, which looks at the complex issue of migration, as well as a collection of drawings, photography and moving image.


Tokyo: Art & Photography

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Tokyo is constantly reinventing its image, from the home of the historic Tokugawa shoguns in the 1600s to the dynamic centre of art and culture it is today. Explore 400 years of one of the world’s most vibrant and creative cities through photography, film, woodwork, historic folding screens and more, in this fascinating exhibition.

Haegue Yang, Installation view of The Great Acceleration, Taipei Biennial 2014, Taiwan, 2014. Photo: Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Haegue Yang: Strange Attractors

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A collection of intriguing creature-like objects have taken up residence at Tate St Ives, courtesy of sculpture and installation artist Haegue Yang. The South Korean artist is known for manipulating ordinary household objects to create whimsical sculptures, exploring themes of enlightenment and mysticism through immersive art.

Greenham Common protester, Roger Tooth, 1982. Courtesy, Guardian News & Media Archive

The Picture Library

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Explore the constantly evolving landscape of photojournalism in this exhibition of images drawn from the Guardian’s picture library. The exhibition demonstrates the power of imagery to enhance certain narratives in the news, and particular highlights on display include photos from strikes, demonstrations and protests over the years.

Leather boots printed with ‘A Rake’s Progress’ by William Hogarth, 2015. Made by Dr Martens.


Free exhibitions
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Featuring exquisite designs by names such as Vivienne Westwood, Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik, this exhibition charts the evolution of popular footwear over 300 years. There are shoes worn by ballerinas, monarchs, artists and even a Strictly Come Dancing contestant, plus the exhibition includes a pair of red velvet mules dating back to the 1690s.

John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea, 2015. Three channel HD colour video installation, 7.1 sound. 48 minutes 30 seconds.

John Akomfrah: Vertigo Sea

Free to all

Examining the relationship humans have to nature and destruction, this exhibition includes a film work supported by Art Fund. Vertigo Sea by artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah explores how we are connected to the sea, and its role in a dark history of slavery, migration and conflict on water.

Archie Brennan, Muhammad Ali 1973

Archie Brennan: Tapestry Goes Pop!

50% off exhibitions

Fun fact: the celebrated tapestry weaver Archie Brennan also holds the title of Mr Scotland as one of his great accolades! His influence on modern weaving had a huge effect on textiles in the 20th century, and due to his unusual choice of medium (tapestry), he is considered an unrecognised star of pop art – until now. This exhibition was made possible thanks to the brilliant funders who supported Dovecot Studios' Art Happens crowdfunding campaign, and includes over 80 delicate tapestries plus a whole hoard of archive material spanning Brennan's career.

Samson Kambalu, Elephant Quilt 1 (detail), 2021

Samson Kambalu: New Liberia

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Contemporary artist Samson Kambalu creates a 'utopia of racial justice' with a multimedia installation at Modern Art Oxford, drawing on the influence that the Black Lives Matter movement and Covid-19 pandemic have had on attitudes towards race and discrimination in the UK. The exhibition combines video, text, images and sculpture, and includes elements of Kambalu’s own heritage growing up living under a dictatorship.

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