What to see: Exhibitions 2018

Published 6 December 2017

It's time to fill those 2018 diaries with the year's standout shows. From Picasso to Tolkien via Virginia Woolf and Frida Kahlo, here are just a few highlights of 2018's exhibitions calendar.

Too cool for school

The essence of cool is hard to define, but there's a distinct seam of it running through 2018’s exhibitions calendar. You can clink glasses with the bohemians of fin-de-siècle Paris at the Scottish National Gallery’s exhibition of Toulouse-Lautrec; party with some of the hippest musicians of the 20th century at a show marking 100 years since jazz reached Britain at Two Temple Place; and remind yourself of the radicalism of Pop Art at Pallant House.

Elsewhere, find yourself bewitched by the modernity and glamour of 1930s cinema at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, and wear your best black and shades for the urban noir of America’s Cool Modernism: O'Keeffe to Hopper at the Ashmolean Museum.

Life through a lens

Photography features prominently in 2018 – beginning, of course, with German artist Andreas Gursky’s major show at the Hayward, marking the gallery’s highly anticipated reopening.

The National Portrait Gallery, meanwhile, looks at the origins of art photography via the work of four celebrated figures of the Victorian era, and Tate Modern takes things further with Shape of Light, which entwines the histories of photography and abstract art from the early 20th century to now and positions work by the likes of Man Ray and Thomas Ruff against abstract paintings, sculptures and installations.

At The Hepworth Wakefield, focus shifts to Ray’s muse, Lee Miller, who documented the emergence of a strand of Surrealism in London in the 1930s. A summer exhibition presents her photos of – and collaborations with – artists including Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst alongside their own paintings and sculptures.

Exploring the human form

The body is celebrated in all its complexity at All Too Human, Tate Britain’s exhibition of work by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and others who sought to represent the fleshy reality of life; and one of the most prominent observers of the human figure, Pablo Picasso, goes under the microscope at both Tate Modern and The Lightbox.

Still deemed too risqué for display in some quarters, the intense and explicit work of Austrian painter Egon Schiele is as potent today as it was when he first rose to prominence in the early 20th century – and on the centenary of his death, as well as that of his mentor, Gustav Klimt, a clutch of exhibitions survey his unflinching depictions of the human form. At Tate Liverpool, Life in Motion places a number of Schiele's nudes in dialogue with the work of American photographer Francesca Woodman, highlighting how Schiele’s approaches and ideas continue to influence contemporary art, while Klimt / Schiele at the Royal Academy offers insights into the pair’s relationship through rare and fragile drawings taken from the Albertina Museum in Vienna.

Style and substance

Fashion trailblazers of all kinds are celebrated throughout the year, not least Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, whose enduring visual influence is explored in a vivid exhibition at the V&A bringing together personal artefacts and clothing never before seen outside her home country.

Meanwhile, the subversive power of the apparently modest t-shirt is the subject of a fascinating exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum – which later turns its attention to hugely successful Irish designer Orla Kiely, whose instantly recognisable signature patterns have permeated contemporary fashion and homeware.

Works on paper

Bookworms rejoice: 2018’s exhibitions calendar is a real page-turner. Literary-minded shows include a chance to see works by William Blake inspired by Sussex at Petworth House; a look at the significance of TS Eliot’s seminal poem The Waste Land at Turner Contemporary; and an unmissable feast for Lord of the Rings fans as Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth comes to the Bodleian Libraries, featuring manuscripts, art, maps, letters and artefacts relating to Hobbiton and beyond.

At the Foundling Museum there's a collaborative project between acclaimed nature writer Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris which argues for a return of the natural world to children’s stories; and Tate St Ives looks to the lighthouse with an exhibition inspired by the writings of Virginia Woolf. Supported by an Art Fund Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grant, the Woolf show tours to Pallant House and the Fitzwilliam Museum later in the year.

Remembering the First World War

Four years of exhibitions marking the centenary of the First World War come to a close in 2018 with shows considering the conflict’s impact. Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One at Tate Britain explores how artists responded to Europe’s physical and psychological scars, while Generation Hope: Life after the First World War at IWM London takes visitors from 1918 to the heart of the ‘roaring’ twenties, showcasing developments in art, literature, film, fashion and technology as people tried to shape a new world.

Elsewhere, the American Museum in Britain looks at how American involvement in the war affected its outcome – and the touring poppies make their final stops.

The great outdoors (and indoors...)

From epic exteriors to intimate interiors, several exhibitions celebrate great architecture and design. In Monet & Architecture, the National Gallery looks at the artist’s relationship to the built environment, while Sir John Soane’s Museum examines the 'radical moment' of postmodernism and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts explores the superstructures of the 1960s to 90s.

Elsewhere, we zoom right in to the centrepiece of many a comfortable home: the iconic Chippendale cabinet. On the 300th anniversary of furniture maker Thomas Chippendale’s birth, Harewood House – where he received the largest and most lucrative commission of his career – stages a series of exhibitions dedicated to his work, while The Hepworth Wakefield explores artists’ influence on interiors in a new collection display, Celebrating 300 Years of Thomas Chippendale.

Riding the waves

Finally, stories of the sea abound, as exhibitions look at fabled voyages and those who made them. The V&A are the first to set sail with Ocean Liners: Speed & Style, which showcases the design and daring of some of the world’s greatest vessels and considers their impact on the cultural imagination, while the National Maritime Museum Cornwall closes in on perhaps the most famous of them all: the Titanic.

Later in the year, Oceania at the Royal Academy marks 250 years since Captain Cook’s expedition to the South Pacific and celebrates the art of the region they encountered.

Watch this space:

There are plenty more shows to be announced, so keep an eye on artfund.org for the latest news and exhibition previews.

We'll also be updating you with details on the 2018 ARTIST ROOMS programme; where you can see work by the artists who represented Scotland and Wales at Venice Biennale 2017 in the UK; and the Royal Academy's plans for its 250th anniversary celebrations, including a major Tacita Dean show at the RA and exhibitions nationwide.

Enjoy free entry to hundreds of museums and galleries across the UK, plus 50% off major exhibitions, with a National Art Pass.

Back to top