Amazing exhibitions to see as we head #BackToMuseums - Museums Association

Amazing exhibitions to see as we head #BackToMuseums

Monet, monkeys and movie magic: there's a show to suit every taste this summer. See where your free entry card can take you
Back to museums
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Eleanor Mills
The Artes Mundi 9 exhibition is opening at the National Museum of Cardiff on 19 May. Left to right: Firelei Báez, Untitled (City Incinerator 'B'), 2021 and Untitled (A Map of the British Empire in America), 2021
The Artes Mundi 9 exhibition is opening at the National Museum of Cardiff on 19 May. Left to right: Firelei Báez, Untitled (City Incinerator 'B'), 2021 and Untitled (A Map of the British Empire in America), 2021 Photography by Polly Thomas

With Scottish museums already able to open and venues across England and Wales set to welcome visitors back from Monday, there's a panoply of magnificent exhibitions to look forward to.

We know this is just the tip of the iceberg of the incredible shows museums are lining up to ease us out of lockdown this summer. If your institution is planning something special that you'd like us to share, tell us about it at

Celebrate going #BackToMuseums

As a Museums Association member, you get free or discounted entry to more than 900 museums, galleries and heritage sites across the UK, including all of the paid-for shows listed here.

Join today and start planning your post-lockdown diary.



The Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure, National Museum of Scotland

A selection of objects from the Hoard showing the great range and variety of materials National Museums Scotland

29 May–12 Sept
Admission free, advanced booking required

Forced to cancel last year, the museum's long-awaited summer blockbuster, The Galloway Hoard, showcases one of the richest collections of Viking-age objects ever found in Britain or Ireland, which transformed our understanding of Scotland’s connections to the wider world at this time.

Buried around 900AD, near present day Dumfries and Galloway and found by a metal detectorist in 2014, the hoard includes more than 100 objects, from silver, gold and jewelled treasures to rare surviving textiles and Scotland’s earliest examples of silk. On display too are these intricately-crafted beads and curios that were found bundled and strung together within a lidded vessel.


Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two)

These menacing 'dynamotion' skeletons appeared in Harryhausen's 1950s Sinbad movies

Open until Feb 2022
Admission £14-£12, free with MA card, advance booking required

This retrospective of the American 20th-century special effects trailblazer, Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013), continues its run at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two).

With masterpiece models from classic stop-motion animation films such as Jason and the Argonauts, this exhibition demonstrates how Harryhausen set the bar for such reputable movie makers as Tim Burton, George Lucas and Aardman Animations.

The show has received exceptional reviews across the board, including in Museums Journal.



AI: More than Human, World Museum Liverpool

2065 is an open world video game by artist Lawrence Lek set in a speculative future

18 May – 31 Oct
Admission £12-£5, free with MA card, advance booking required

Digital innovations across the museum sector have advanced beyond our wildest dreams in the last year, but what about scientific developments in artificial intelligence? This travelling exhibition (on show at the Barbican, London, in 2019) examines the mindblowing scientific and artistic advancements in technology. For those old enough to have enjoyed the Matrix movies, the World Museum in Liverpool shows us that that reality might be one step closer than we might like to imagine. Crucially, this interactive exhibition asks visitors to analyse if artificial intelligence is a force for good or evil, as well as identifying the ethical arguments entwined within.


Monet in Mind, Ferens Art Gallery

Antibes (1888), Claude Monet © Courtauld Institute of Art

17 May – 4 July
Admission free, advance booking required

A welcome collaboration between the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull and London's Courtauld Institute of Art, whose gallery doors are closed during a refurbishment until late this year, this exhibition of impressionist masters, including work by Claude Monet, brings mediterranean seascapes to this seaside city. Monet in Mind includes this serene painting on loan from the Courtauld, Antibes (1888), which displays the great painter's use of subtle colour variations to depict the changing effects of light. Other artists on show include Walter Sickert, as well as contemporary landscape painters, Beatrice Bright and Derwent Lees.


Phoebe Boswell: Here, New Art Exchange

Digital artist Phoebe Boswell is the focus of the New Art Exchange’s latest show

18 May – 24 July
Admission free

The New Art Exchange continues its excellent programming with an exhibition of the draughtswoman and digital artist Phoebe Boswell. Her work combines drawing, animation, sound, video and explores what it means to belong and to be free. Born in Nairobi but brought up in the Arabian Gulf, Boswell says that she felt "amputated from Kenya". This show examines the fragility of her Kenyan identity, her work ignited with a delicate search for belonging.


Tudor Power and Glory: The Field of Cloth of Gold, Royal Armouries Museum

The new display uses incredible objects from the Royal Armouries collection to tell the story of The Field of Cloth of Gold Royal Armouries

Opens 19 May
Admission free

The Field of Cloth of Gold was one of the most amazing political and sporting events ever staged. In the 1500s rulers across Europe began to view peace-making as a new way of establishing power, but bringing nations together after centuries of warfare was a difficult task. Held in the summer of 1520, the Field of the Cloth of Gold was the culmination of years of diplomacy and months of preparation. Two weeks of friendly jousting, tourneys, foot combat and banquets between the former enemy nations aimed to cement the recent peace between Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France. Knockout items from the Royal Armouries collection, including armour belonging to and worn by Henry VIII and this extraordinarily intricate horse armour from 1510, tell this Tudor success story.


Artes Mundi 9, National Museum Cardiff

Firelei Baez - Untitled (A Correct Chart of Hispaniola with the Windward Passage), 2021

19 May - 5 September
Admission free

The ninth edition of the acclaimed Artes Mundi exhibition and associated prize celebrates work by some of the world’s best international contemporary artists. Visitors can explore the fantastical paintings of Dominican Republic-born and New York-based artist Firelei Báez (pictured above); a new immersive installation by South African artist Dineo Seshee Bopape; Japanese artist Meiro Koizumi’s haunting video triptych, Angels of Testimony, which tackles the legacy of the Second Sino-Japanese War; Puerto Rican artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz's five film and video works; an installation of paintings by Prabhakar Pachpute — whose family worked in the coal mines of central India for three generations — drawing on shared cultural heritage with the Welsh mining community; and pieces by Carrie Mae Weems that reflect on the late civil rights activist John Robert Lewis and her recent public art campaign on the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of colour. The Artes Mundi 9 Prize winner will be announced on 17 June.


Dafydd Williams, malum, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery

Dafydd Williams, Head, 2019. Photograph on Silk Baryta

Until 20 June
Admission free  

Inspired by the dramatic lighting employed by the high renaissance master Michelangelo baroque master painter Caravaggio, the Swansea-based artist Dafydd Williams’ photographs depict a contemporary male-male relationship. The title of the show, malum, translates doubly from Latin as both “apple” and “evil” and aims to comment on the discriminatory attitude towards homosexuality over the centuries. Williams’ ties this to his photographic series, which establishes unapologetic views of a male-male relationship within the visual lexicon of the baroque masters.   


Matthew Barney: Redoubt, Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre

A still from Matthew Barneys new film, which uses choreography to weave together the story of Diana and Actaeon, cosmology and modern American political narratives © Matthew Barney, courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussel

19 May – 25 July
Admission £12, free entry with MA card, advance booking required

Matthew Barney: Redoubt reveals a major new direction in the work of a The contemporary art megastar Matthew Barney shows new work in London for the first time in 10 years. Renowned for his exquisite visuals, Barney has made a new film that follows a sharp-shooter in her pursuit of wolves across the winter wilderness of Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains accompanied by two dancers. The film is accompanied with a series of sculptures cast from fallen trees and more than 40 engravings and electroplated copper plates. The film has been hailed as "breathtakingly beautiful" by the New York Times.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly in League with the Night, Tate Britain

Razorbill, 2020 Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

17 May - 31 May
Admission £13, free entry with MA card, advance booking required

Even after 10 years of being familiar with Lynette Yiadom-Boakye's work and knowing that she paints fictitious people, the characters seem so lifelike it's difficult to believe she really has made them up, but she has. Created from found images and her own imagination, the figures in Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings are not real people. Both familiar and mysterious, they invite viewers to project their own interpretations, and raise important questions of identity and representation. Yiadom-Boakye's rich deep paintwork lend her subjects almost tangible life as they gesture and languish against dark backgrounds. Make sure you catch the last two weeks of this Tate Britain show.

Dub London: Bassline of a City, Museum of London

Channel One Sound System-Notting Hill Carnival 26 August 2019 Photograph by Eddie Otchere commissioned by Museum of London.

19 May to 5 Sept
Admission free, advance booking required

The genre of dub music is done justice in this new show at the Museum of London. With roots in Jamaican reggae, dub has influenced the history of music across genres ranging from drum and bass, garage, hip-hop, pop and even punk. This broad ranging exhibition looks at how the music and culture around dub has helped shape communities over the last 50 years. Highlights include the iconic speaker stack belonging to Channel One Sound System that has appeared yearly at Notting Hill Carnival since 1983 and a bespoke record shop created with Papa Face of Dub Vendor Reggae Specialist with a selection of 150 vinyl records available to listen to – don't forget to bring your own headphones – chosen by 15 London-based independent record shops.

A close-up of the Miracle Window at Canterbury Cathedral, early 1900s © The Chapter, Canterbury Cathedral

Thomas Becket: Murder and the Making of a Saint, British Museum

20 May – 22 Aug
Admission from £17, free entry with MA card, advance booking required

Thomas Becket was brutally murdered inside Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 in a scandal that shook the middle ages. Originally due to open in October 2020 but delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, this exhibition marks 850 years since the former Archbishop of Canterbury was killed on 29 December 1170 in his own cathedral. The murder was possibly on the orders of his bitter rival and former friend King Henry II. This is the first ever major UK exhibition on the life, death and legacy of Becket, told through more than 100 objects, including seven of the original 12-part, 800-year-old Miracle Window, which describes Becket's post-mortal ascension to saintly status via the miracles he's supposed to have performed.

Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word, British Library

A series of calendrical and astronomical tables, 15th century

18 May - 6 June
Admission £8, free entry with MA card, advance booking required

Catch this thoughtful exhibition, Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word, at the British Library before it shuts. An opportunity to explore the history, culture and traditions of Jewish people through the ages and from all corners of the world spanning science, religion, law, music, philosophy, magic, alchemy and Kabbalah. Treasures on show include the first Gaster Bible, a 10th-century Hebrew fragmentary manuscript with Islamic style gilded decorations; a letter to Henry VIII written by an Italian rabbi in 1530 regarding biblical laws that could support Henry VIII’s claim to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon; and a rare uncensored copy of the Babylonian Talmud, the ultimate guide to Jewish religious law, which was written in 13th century.

Monkey Business, Horniman Museum & Gardens

Mandrill © National Museums Scotland

Opens 17 May
Admission £8-£4.50, free entry with MA card, advance booking required

Take your little monkeys to see this family-friendly exhibition at the Horniman Musuem in south London, where there's also a Butterfly House. From the tiny mouse lemur to the mighty gorilla, learn how primates have evolved and adapted over time in this fun, engaging show, Monkey Business. Discover how primates live, move, eat, play and interact. Toured from National Museums Scotland, this show provides a brilliant chance to see collections – including 60 taxidermy specimens – from further afield.

Refugees: Forced to Flee, Imperial War Museum London

German civilians, fleeing the Soviet advance, pick their way across the River Elbe on a partially destroyed railway bridge at Tangermünde, May 1945 © IWM

19 May - 13 June
Admission free, advance booking required

German civilians fleeing the Soviet advance as they pick their way across the River Elbe on a partially destroyed railway bridge at Tangermünde in May 1945 – this is one of the images on display in the hard-hitting, upfront exhibition, Refugees: Forced to Flee, at IWM London. The exhibition explores a century of refugee experiences, from Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews and the Kindertransport, to the Calais Jungle and the treacherous Mediterranean crossings through photographs, oral histories, documents and objects. The show reframes common perceptions around refugees by focussing on deeply personal experiences of people who have been forced to flee their homes and the challenges they face in making their journey to safety and re-settling. The exhibition also highlights the UK’s response to refugee crises over the last 100 years. 

Zanele Muholi, Tate Modern

Julile I, Parktown, Johannesburg 2016 Zanele Muholi

19 May - 31 May
Admission £13, free entry with MA card, advance booking required

Artist-activist Zanele Muholi's photographs document and celebrate the lives of South Africa's Black lesbian, gay, trans, queer and intersex communities. With over 260 photographs on show, this exhibition presents the full breadth of Muholi's career to date, and most-importantly tracks the inequality and injustice towards South Africa's LGBTQIA+ community, which remains a target for violence and prejudice till the present day. Muholi's dramatic photography should not be missed.

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