5 amazing art shows to see this October

5 amazing art shows to see this October

28 Sep 2023

As autumn advances, it’s the perfect time of year to immerse yourself in the colour and craft of this month’s exhibitions

Embroidered bag, 2008 by Karam Al-Maloukh (silk, textile and cardboard), made in Al-Naqab prison. Image: courtesy of Karam Al-Maloukh

1. Sew powerful

If you’re in the Cambridge area, don’t miss the final month of Material Power: Palestinian Embroidery at Kettle’s Yard. Looking at 150 years of clothing and crafts in Palestine, this exhibition reveals how embroidery is both a traditional skill and a medium for political statement. While sewing is often seen as women’s work in the region (and elsewhere), other pieces tell different stories, such as the handbag above made by Karam Al-Maloukh for his fiancée. Incarcerated in an Israeli prison for three years at the age of 17, he was taught to sew and embroider by fellow inmates, including long-term political prisoners, who were adept at making gifts for loved ones in the outside world.

Until 29 October


Nature morte au bougeoir (The Candlestick), 1900 by Edouard Vuillard. Image: Google Art Project

2. Decades of change

Take a trip through 80 years of art at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. Its current show Decades |The Art of Change 1900-1980 spans a period of extraordinary social and artistic upheaval via 100 works. Each is groundbreaking in its own way, from experiments in colour by Edouard Vuillard (above) and Henri Matisse in the 1900s, through to the radical abstraction and minimalism of 1970s pieces such as Fred Sandback’s Untitled, 1971 – two elastic cords stretched across the corner of a room. See, too, electrifying pieces by Piet Mondrian, Francis Bacon, Elisabeth Frink, Eduardo Paolozzi, Yayoi Kusama, Man Ray and Salvador Dali.

Until 7 January 2024 


Tom Wood’s Disembarking, landing stage (change in the weather), 1994. Image: © Tom Wood Archive ​

3. Meet ‘Photie Man’

Irish photographer Tom Wood has had major retrospectives of his work shown in London, France and China – yet never before in Merseyside, the area he’s spent years capturing on film. The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool is rectifying that with its current show Photie Man: 50 Years of Tom Wood. Roaming football grounds, shipyards, nightclubs and buses to capture everyday life, Wood was dubbed ‘Photie Man’ by locals. ‘The energy of Liverpool and its people has informed all this work – it was everywhere I went, everywhere I looked,’ he has said.

Until 7 January 2024


Kind of Blue, 2020 by Claudette Johnson. Image: Private collection © Claudette Johnson. Image courtesy of the artist and Hollybush Gardens, London. Photo: Andy Keate

4. Claudette at The Courtauld

Manchester-born artist Claudette Johnson MBE joined the West Midlands-based collective BLK Art Group as a student during the 1980s. Her 1982 lecture on the depiction of Black women in Western art at the group’s first National Black Art Convention helped inspire a generation of Black feminist artists. Often overlooked in the intervening decades, Johnson’s art is now enjoying a revival of interest, as her new solo show at London’s Courtauld Gallery, Claudette Johnson: Presence, attests. Her frequently larger-than-life studies of Black sitters brim with humanity, intimacy and power. In Kind of Blue, above, a reclining adolescent boy subverts the usual trope of recumbent females in Western art, his quiet but commanding figure set against vivid expanses of blue gouache in what Johnson has called ‘a play between empty and full’.

Until 14 January 2024


Family Group in a Landscape by Frans Hals, about 1645-48. Image: Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

5. Still laughing

Frans Hals is perhaps best known for The Laughing Cavalier – but there’s far more to the great 17th-century portrait painter than one winning work. Also a master of group portraits like the one above, Hals captured his subjects’ expressions and poses with an immediacy and naturalism that were groundbreaking for the time. His unconventional style, loose brushwork and lively characterisations were hugely influential, and would later inspire the Impressionists. The National Gallery’s new Credit Suisse Exhibition: Frans Hals is the biggest survey of his work in more than three decades, bringing together some 50 paintings from around the world, including rarely loaned pieces like the aforementioned Cavalier

Until 21 January 2024


For more inspiring shows, see The Arts Society Magazine, available exclusively to members and supporters of The Arts Society (to join, see theartssociety.org/member-benefits). And for our online monthly ‘5 amazing art shows to see’, sign up at theartssociety.org/signup

About the Author

Claire Sargent

is a freelance editor and writer with a keen interest in culture and conservation


Become an instant expert!

Find out more about the arts by becoming a Supporter of The Arts Society.

For just £20 a year you will receive invitations to exclusive member events and courses,  special offers and concessions, our regular newsletter and our beautiful arts magazine, full of news, views, events and artist profiles.

Find out more