Blockbuster exhibitions to see this summer

Published 12 June 2019

Get out and explore this summer with our pick of the season’s blockbuster exhibitions – fly to the moon, lose yourself in the light and colour of Olafur Eliasson, and much more.

Summer’s here and things are brightening up.

Your must-see exhibitions for the weeks ahead include Bridget Riley’s dazzling optical art at the Scottish National Gallery, Olafur Eliasson’s joyfully immersive installations at Tate Modern, and Cindy Sherman’s startling photography at the National Portrait Gallery.

And even if the weather outside isn't cutting it, things are still hotting up: discover Pompeii just before the volcano erupted at the Ashmolean Museum, and explore how fire has inspired artists including William Blake and JMW Turner at the Royal West of England Academy.

All of these shows are 50% off with a National Art Pass – and don't forget you can browse our full listings for even more exhibitions to see this summer.

Olafur Eliasson, Your spiral view, 2002

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life

Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson returns to Tate Modern after his hugely popular glowing sun installation in 2003 with an exhibition that bursts out beyond the gallery’s walls, and includes work born from collaborations in fields ranging from sustainability to architecture. Featuring paintings, sculptures and installations from the last 30 years, the exhibition showcases the elements of shared experience and participation that characterise Eliasson's work, and also gives visitors an insight into how his work evolves behind the scenes in Studio Olafur Eliasson.

Polychrome mosaic emblema (panel) showing fish and sea creatures, 100–1 BC Pompeii, House of the Geometric Mosaics

Last Supper in Pompeii

When Mount Vesuvius erupted and blotted out Pompeii, it brought an end to a town of insatiable foodies. A thriving exporter of wine, olives and fish sauce throughout the Mediterranean, Pompeii was typically Roman in its enthusiasm for the culinary traditions of other peoples – and its passion for gourmet goods is evident in everything from the frescoes that were found in wealthy villas to the remains recovered from kitchen drains. This exhibition brings Pompeii's passion for food and excess to life, and features objects that have never before left Italy – including luxury dining-room items and carbonised food which was left on the tables during the eruption.

Noda Satoru, Golden Kamuy, 2014 onwards

Manga マンガ

Manga fans are in for a treat this summer. Whether you’re into graphic novels, gaming, cosplay – or simply drawn to the distinctive artwork – this exhibition at the British Museum is the largest of its kind outside of Japan. As well as exploring the history of the global phenomenon, starting with comic and dramatic designs from the 18th century, the show allows visitors to ‘manga-fy’ themselves in a special photo booth, explore a recreation of the oldest surviving manga bookshop in Tokyo, and sample the immersive world of comic conventions such as Comiket and World Cosplay.

Keith Haring, Ignorance = Fear, 1989

Keith Haring

Barking dogs, crawling babies and flying saucers are some of the iconic motifs of Keith Haring – a defining figure in New York’s 1980s counter-culture. This is the first major UK exhibition of the American artist who collaborated with Andy Warhol, Vivienne Westwood and Madonna, among many others. Alive with the energy of the era and deeply engaged with key issues of the day, from AIDS to nuclear disarmament, Haring's work ranges from large-scale paintings and immersive installations to murals and chalk drawings on the New York subway.

Nadège Mériau, Au centre de la Terre II, 2011

Fire: Flashes to Ashes in British Art 1692-2019

Prepare to get elemental this summer with an exhibition exploring how, over the last four centuries, British artists have responded to and recorded all things fiery. From natural events to human rituals, fire has always fascinated with its beauty, power and potent symbolism. This exhibition includes a wide range of media, from drawing and painting to sculpture, photography, film and installation, and features work by artists including Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, William Blake, Jeremy Deller, Cornelia Parker, David Nash, JMW Turner and Joseph Wright of Derby.

Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #21, 1978

Cindy Sherman

The groundbreaking photography of Cindy Sherman, in which she manipulates her own appearance and images from cultural sources, plays an enthralling game with identity. This major retrospective brings her landmark series Untitled Film Stills (1977-80) to the UK in its entirety for the first time. In more than 70 images, Sherman performs as archetypal characters inspired by 1950s and 1960s films. Among other highlights, her version of Madame Moitessier by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres will be displayed alongside the original portrait of 1856.

Bridget Riley, Ra, 1981

Bridget Riley

You'll be as dazzled by the breadth and range of Bridget Riley's 70-year career as much as by her optical illusions in this comprehensive exhibition – the first ever in Scotland. As a major practitioner of ‘Op art’, Riley questions the fundamental nature of perception – how we see. Highlights include her iconic black-and-white abstract paintings from the 1960s, explorations into colour, and wall paintings. There are also studies revealing her working methods and a selection of recent works.


The Moon

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, which landed the first humans on the moon, in the UK’s biggest exhibition dedicated to all things lunar. From a Mesopotamian tablet showing how lunar eclipses were considered bad omens, to the ‘Snoopy Cap’ Communications Carrier worn by ‘Buzz’ Aldrin during the first moon landing, 180 objects explore the cultural and scientific story of our relationship with the moon over time and across civilisations. Other highlights include a rare lunar meteorite and the earliest known drawing of the moon’s surface made from telescopic observations in 1609.

Back to top