If you normally hear about those exhibition tickets after they’ve sold out, read Ed Vaizey’s guide to the best shows and exhibitions to see, watch and do in 2020 – and never experience FOMO again.
Taken from the February issue of Country & Town House, coming soon to newsstands. Subscribe here to get your copy first.
The Best Shows in 2020 to Book Tickets to Now
Riches galore await art lovers as we slip quietly into 2020. While politicians are #GettingBrexitDone, you will have lots of time to feast on blockbuster art shows.
Andy Warhol at the Tate Modern
For the first time in 20 years Tate Modern is hosting an Andy Warhol exhibition. You can enjoy his iconic images of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s soup tins alongside lesser-known works such as the Latino drag queens from his Ladies and Gentlemen series, not exhibited for 30 years. Warhol is, of course, a perennial crowd pleaser and long after his death remains a potent influence on the pop culture he effectively spawned. It opens in March – expect queues around the block for what is set to be one of the best shows of 2020.
Titian at the National Gallery
At the other end of the spectrum, also opening in March, the National Gallery will show Love, Desire, Death – six paintings by Titian. All commissioned in 1551 by the future King Philip of Spain, they depict classical myths taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. What’s extraordinary is that these six paintings have not been in the same room for almost half a millennium – they were last together in the 1580s. Two are coming from Boston and Madrid, but amazingly one will travel just a couple of miles, from London’s Wallace Collection. Under the terms of the Wallace bequest, Titian’s masterpiece was never supposed to leave the building – but a recent court judgment has ‘reinterpreted’ the will, meaning Perseus and Andromeda can now join their long-lost relatives, albeit temporarily.
British Baroque art at Tate Britain
Other traditional delights await. Tate Britain, the dowager aunt to Tate Modern’s with-it millennial, will have a major show of British Baroque art, Power and Illusion, covering the restoration of Charles II in 1660 through to Queen Anne’s death in 1714. And autumn heralds a new JMW Turner exhibition – appropriate in the year he appears on the new £20 note.
Cecil Beaton at the National Portrait Gallery
Astonishingly, the National Portrait Gallery will close for three years in June, in order to carry out a major £35.5m refurbishment, including a new entrance, so attending its two fantastic exhibitions in the first half of the year is an enjoyable way to say au revoir. A major showing of Cecil Beaton’s photographs, Bright Young Things, includes work from the 1920s, when he established himself as Vogue’s star photographer. It also features paintings from his circle of friends, such as Rex Whistler and Augustus John. Secondly, as with the Titian show, David Hockney: Drawing from Life reunites the artist’s drawings from all over the world for the first time in 20 years – including portraits of Celia Birtwell and his mother – in all about 150 works spanning 50 years.
The Geffrye Museum Reopens as The Museum of the Home
As one door closes, another reopens. The Geffrye Museum returns this summer after an £18m refurbishment, which includes a new name. Since visitors couldn’t pronounce Geffrye, and had no idea what it was, the museum has been rebranded more prosaically as The Museum of the Home. Originally opened in 1914, this rebirth over a century later sees the museum double in size. As well as charting domesticity from 1600, it explores topical 21st century issues such as homelessness, immigration, mental health and the environment. And since its entrance is right opposite the hipsters’ gateway, Hoxton station, it could be the cool new venue for 2020.
The Story Museum in Oxford Reopens
Another reopening to celebrate is that of the Story Museum in Oxford. Originally a virtual resource, it found physical premises in 2014 and doors open in April for a fully whizz-bang, immersive experience for all the family. The museum will present distinct narrative worlds, participatory installations and gallery spaces that encourage visitors of all ages to connect with stories. It’s supported by many of the UK’s leading children’s authors and illustrators, with patrons including Malorie Blackman, Philip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo, Chris Riddell and Cerrie Burnell. Highlights include the Whispering Wood, where trees talk, and the Enchanted Library: eight immersive rooms in which visitors can step inside an iconic children’s story – whether it’s Horrid Henry’s bedroom or moving between worlds in His Dark Materials.
Electronic at The Design Museum
The Design Museum in Kensington is under new management, recruiting Tim Marlow from the Royal Academy to take over from director Deyan Sudjic. In spring it will focus on the design of the dance floor – but think rave and techno, not Strictly. Evoking the experience of a being in a club, this Electronic exhibition will transport you through the people, art, design, technology and photography that have been capturing and shaping the electronic music landscape. You’ll travel to dance floors from Detroit to Chicago, and Paris to Berlin, as well as the UK’s own thriving scene. Lose yourself in a mesmerising 3D Kraftwerk experience and discover the stories behind the instruments that made it possible. It’s even got an age rating – no one under 12.
Best Theatre in 2020
Enough of museums. You’ll want to take in a few plays and catch the best shows of the year. One of London’s newest theatres, the Bridge, opened by ex-National Theatre duo ‘the two Nicks’ – Starr and Hytner – has some compelling shows this year, including Roger Allam in a new Caryl Churchill play, A Number, about genetically modified people.
There’s also La Belle Sauvage, a stage version of Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust, in which there will be puppets; and Paula Vogel’s They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, co-directed by Marianne Elliot, in which there will be dancing – by the audience. You have been warned.
The National Theatre programme doesn’t disappoint, either. In Jack Absolute Flies Again, Richard Bean adapts Sheridan’s The Rivals, set during the Battle of Britain (2020 is its 80th anniversary year). The lyricist, novelist, poet and playwright Kate Tempest – one of my favourites – will make her National Theatre debut in June with Paradise, a potent and dynamic reimagining of Philoctetes by Sophocles. Lucy Kirkwood has a new play, The Welkin, which takes place in 1759 and stars Maxine Peake. And The Seven Streams of the River Ota will return home to the National, where it first played in 1996, to mark 75 years since the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.
Pretty Woman: the Musical is coming to the Piccadilly Theatre from America, produced by singer/songwriter Bryan Adams. And Whoopi Goldberg stars alongside Jennifer Saunders in Sister Act at Hammersmith’s Eventim Appollo, for just 39 performances this summer in what is sure to be one of the best shows of 2020. Not to be missed – but given what else is happening, will you have the time?