The Beautiful South: The best exhibitions to see in the South East of England in 2016

By Richard Moss and Kate McNab | 06 January 2016 | Updated: 31 March 2016

The best exhibitions to see in the South East in 2016 - updated throughout the year


a colourised screenprint of a glamorous woman
Andy Warhol, Farah Ashraf Pahlavi © The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts
The big new spring show at Oxford's Ashmolean Museum is  (February 4 – May 15 2016) which presents, for the first time in public, an important private collection of artworks by the pop art pioneer who died in 1987.

Warhol exhibitions are fast becoming like Turner and Pre-Raphaelite shows in English museums and galleries - such is their ubiquity - but this show promises to reveal the artist’s lesser known works whilst also spanning his entire output - from iconic 60s pop pieces to the experimental works of his last decade.

There’s also an intriguing installation in the pipeline with  (February 4 – April 10) in which the Turner Prize winner responds to the Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean Museum collections with a twenty minute, two screen video that “figuratively reconstructs” the Knossos Labyrinth within the museum’s computer server, to create “a virtual chamber” through which museum objects “digitally flow, clatter and cascade”. (Talulah) gosh.

Summer brings a haul of archaeological treasures from the seabeds of the Mediterranean in  (June 21 - September 25).

Among the pearls of the Ancient world recovered from the ocean floor is an example of a Byzantine ‘flatpack’ church sent out across the seas by the Emperor Justinian (c. 482–565), in an effort to fortify and regulate Christianity across his empire.

The autumn show is  (October 20 2016 - January 15 2017) featuring over 100 spectacular objects including dream-books, talismanic charts and amulets from Morocco to China.  

It’s going to be an interesting year at the city’s temple de art-moderne, Modern Art Oxford, where they are celebrating 50 years in the business with a year-long programme of interlinked exhibitions under the moniker of .

a film still of an eye
Yoko Ono, Eyeblink, 1966 © Yoko Ono
First up is  (February 6 – March 20) featuring works that are old and new to the gallery by the likes of Douglas Gordon (24 Hour Psycho), Yoko Ono (Eye-Blink) and Elizabeth Price (Sleep) alongside new pieces by Pierre Huyghe, John Latham, Dog Kennel Hill Project and Viola Yeşiltaç.

Heading into the cloisters, quadrants and dreaming spires, the Christchurch Picture Gallery has (March 3 – June 6) which includes the gallery’s very own Filippino Lippi painting The Wounded Centaur (one of their collection highlights) which has an intriguing unfinished drawing of the Triumph of Love (?) hidden on its reverse that will be visible to the public for the first time.

At the North Wall Arts Centre (April 27 – May 21) celebrates the life and work of the English sculptor who died in 2014 aged 94 by bringing together work from his whole career for the first time, from early abstractions in wood, through to his magnificent bronze, Dancing Phoenix.

a drawing of lots of bees
Kurt Jackson: Bees (and the odd wasp) in my Bonnet at Oxford University Museum of Natural History© Kurt Jackson
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History brings attention to the art of one of our great contemporary painters of the natural environment in  (until September 29), which brings together paintings, sculpture and museum collections to explore their diverse and beautiful world.

Alongside (until May 16) showcases the incredible diversity of the world’s bees - from the largest, to the smallest, to the most beautiful.


Over the border from Ox into Bucks, the MKG in Milton Keynes, continues its major gallery redevelopment, but a series of small archival exhibitions online and in MK Gallery’s Project Space called  (until March 31 2017) keeps the flames alive by looking back at some of the gallery’s major exhibitions whilst the main building is being expanded.

The Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury has  (until March 5) offering the chance to see stunning and exciting contemporary images including portraits, landscapes, architecture, advertising and fine art.

a photo of four tiles with Islamic script on them
An Islamic tile as featured in Islamic Art at Bucks Museum
Spring brings  (March 26 — September 24) with treasures including carpets, paintings, furniture, metalwork, jewellery and calligraphy from across the Near East, Pakistan and Muslim India whilst  (July 2 2016 – January 7 2017) charts the influence of the county on the great children’s author.


Reading Museum's (until May 8) features the best of the gallery's twentieth century landscape paintings including works by Eric Ravilious, Paul Nash, Joan Eardley and David Bomberg, as well as a chance to see the huge Reading Tapestries by John Piper.
At Windsor Castle they are getting in on the Shakespeare400 celebrations –  marking the death of the Bard – with  (February 13 2016 — January 1 2017) an exhibition of paintings, documents and artefacts examining his life, work and connection to the Royal court.


From Bucks we hop down to Kent where the wonderful gem that is Mascalls Gallery in Paddock Wood has  (March 3 - April 2), an open submission exhibition of Kent-based illustrators, which is followed by  (April 16 - June 25) showcasing the "gutsy and vibrant, edgy and sometimes grungy" paintings of an artist who captures the colour and vibrancy of life on the Thames.

Part of Morrocco's studio, including pots, brushes, rags and a mountain of discarded paint will be in the gallery alongside his drawings and monumental canvasses.

The late summer show is  (August 27 - November 2016) which will revisit the impressive roster of artists (Barbara Hepworth, LS Lowry, John Piper and Roland Collins) whose work has featured over the years.

Winter brings  (November 19 - December 17) a beautiful exploration of lithographs and etchings of an artist whose stained glass windows in the nearby All Saints Church at Tudeley are a must visit for fans of heavenly art.

Not so far away, Tunbridge Wells Museum has  (until April 17) which brings together examples of the Polish folk art Wycinanki, from the collections of the Horniman Museum and Gardens – including work by renowned artists such as Apolonia Nowak from the Kurpie region and Helena Miazek from Lowicz.

a round blue papercut artwork with a Madonna and child at its centre
Wycinanki: Apolonia Nowak, Madonna and Child, Kurpie region, 2008© Horniman Museum
At Turner Contemporary (until May 8) brings a selection of the Danish artist’s atmospheric films, installations and photography to the first floor gallery spaces.

Inspired by his research into JMW Turner, Koester’s eponymous film The Other Side of the Sky (2015) explores old JMW's depiction and experience of storms via the analogy of psychedelic trips.

Summer will have visitors  (May 21 — September 25) which is the first UK exhibition to explore how artists have responded to the phenomenon of the circle, the disc or the sphere. With the focus on 20th century artists, the show features works by Barry Flanagan, Anish Kapoor, Barbara Hepworth, Paul Nash, David Batchelor, Richard Long and Ben Nicholson, among many others.

a colourful painting of a seascape with towers in the distance in broad washes of green and red
JMW Turner, Vermilion Towers© Tate London, 2015
Autumn brings  (October 8 2016 – January 8 2017), which promises the fullest survey of the artist’s watercolours of Margate yet to be shown at the gallery - among more than 70 works in both oil and watercolour.

Sussex by the Sea

In Sussex we start in the East at Jerwood Gallery in Hastings where the wonderfully titled  (January 30 — April 17) is a publicly sourced but carefully curated show of paintings celebrating the talents of the man who put everything into his art

A short drive down the coast, Bexhill's De La Warr Pavilion hosts the meditative, place-inspired sculptures of London-based Brazilian artist, (January 30 – April 10) who has developed a fitting new series of garden and seaside-inspired works for the Modernist venue.

At Towner Eastbourne, (January 23 – April 3) is the Hayward Touring exhibition focusing on socially engaged art practices in a global context via the work of 50 works by 26 internationally celebrated artists. A variety of media will be on display by the likes of Mohamed Bourouissa, Omer Fast, Jenny Holzer, Imran Qureshi and Józef Robakowski as well as famed conceptualists Ana Mendieta, Robert Smithson and Nancy Spero.

(February 6 – May 2) then offers another welcome chance to see the results of the Sir Kenneth Clark-commissioned scheme during World War Two to paint the “places and buildings of characteristic national interest”.

a watercolour of a yard with fairground figures and horses propped up on barrels etc
Barbara Jones, Savages Yard, Kings Lynn, Norfolk, 1942 © The Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Featuring works by John Piper, Kenneth Rowntree and Barbara Jones, along with a number of lesser-known contributors, the exhibition also includes the contemporary artworks of Conrad Atkinson, Richard Long, David Nash and Laura Oldfield Ford.

Over at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, spring brings  (April 30 2016 – January 8 2017), an intriguing and colourful exploration of the contemporary fashions currently gripping Casablanca in Morocco, Lagos in Nigeria, Nairobi in Kenya and Johannesburg in South Africa.

And if you’re in Brighton this spring seek out Fabrica whose Ron Haselden: Luminary (April – May 2016) is a spectacular new sculptural work comprising twelve, ten-metre high ‘light’ drawings of older people spilling out of the gallery and into the streets of the seaside city.

Heading north into the Sussex Downs to the beautiful Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, spring brings Edward Johnston: A centenary of the Underground typeface; (until September 11) and The Village of Type: A public programme of contemporary lettering across Ditchling (dates TBC).

The last essential stop in Sussex is of course Pallant House Gallery in Chichester where spring ushers in a strong programme of exhibitions beginning with a wonderful insight into the multifaceted world of John Piper.

(March 12 – June 12) is the first major exhibition to explore Piper’s textile designs and explores key motifs in the artist’s work such as historic architecture, abstract and religious imagery with fabrics displayed alongside key paintings and drawings.

a painting of a dog sat on an armchair before a window with a ship steaming past a lighthouse
Christopher Wood, China Dogs in a St Ives Window , 1926© Pallant House Gallery, on loan from a Private Collection
The major summer show is a comprehensive overview of the English painter  (July 2 – October 2) featuring over 80 works celebrating the magnitude of his achievement during the ten years before his untimely death in 1930, aged just 29.

Paintings, set designs and drawings created on both sides of the channel, are featured in the show which also explores Wood's immense personal struggles with opium, depression and the conflict between the reserved sensibility of his English heritage and the hedonism of the Parisian avant-garde.

The autumn exhibition  (October 22 2016 – February 19 2017) is the first major exhibition to explore how Modern British artists were drawn to the antique, and explores how they developed a distinctive form of modern art that referenced the past, whilst also reflecting social and artistic concerns of the 20th century.


At The Lightbox in Woking they continue to display the Ingram Collection of Modern Art in  (February 2 – April 10). Featuring some of Chris Ingram’s most recent acquisitions from up-and-coming artists, either fresh from University or made at the beginning of their art-making careers, the show includes works by artists such as Haroon Mirza, Suki Chan, Emma Vidal, Liseth Amaya, Miroslav Pomichal and Mark McWilliams.

a watercolour study of white nimbus clouds
John Constable, Study of Clouds, oil on paper, 1822© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Alongside, (February 13 — May 8) provides an in-depth examination of Constable’s fascination with weather and its ability to change a landscape – both in mood and physical appearance.

On show are works that range in medium from pen and ink studies to watercolour and oil sketches meant for his own personal use, to finished pieces meant for display.

At Watts Gallery near Guildford the spring brings a trio of intriguing exhibitions and displays including  (March 1 – June 5) which offers “an intimate view” of Watts’ landscape paintings which range from studies of Egypt, to the heart of the Surrey Hills and the peaks of the Alps.

(March 1 – June 5) brings together 20 landscapes, portraits, subject paintings and photographs by one of the most admired women artists of the 19th century who was also an integral part of the Pre-Raphaelite circle of Burne-Jones and Rossetti.

a painting of a people in medieval robes wandering through a spring garden with serving boys in medieval garb offering plates of food as a snowy scene can be glimpsed beyond the garden walls and entrances
Marie Spartali Stillman (1844–1927). The Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo, 1889.
Summer at Watts Gallery ushers in (June 14 - November 6) which explores some of the ways early photography was enjoyed by a society obsessed with the new technology.


At the ever exploratory John Hansard Gallery (February 13 - April 16) places the little-known drawings of Roland Barthes within a new projection works by self-confessed Barthes obsessive Victor Burgin.

The University of Southampton-based gallery will be upping sticks later in the year to a new city centre location in Guildhall Square – watch this space.

At Southampton City Art Gallery, (February 5 - June 4) explores themes of nature, emotion and individualism in some of the most iconic British works from the successive Romantic movements.

The exhibition travels from the high Romantic era of the early nineteenth century and the Pre-Raphaelites to the Pastoral Etchers, Neo-Romantics and environmentally engaged contemporaries. Artists include William Holman Hunt, JMW Turner, Paul Nash, John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Keith Vaughan and Christopher Le Brun.

a colour sketch of a man dresses in armour asleep next to a well as an angel stares at him from a church doorway
The Dream of Lancelot at the Chapel of the Holy Grail, Edward Burne-Jones (1896)© Southampton City Council
(April 2 - September 14) an exhibition developed with the Russell Cotes in Bournemouth, asks its audience to consider whether humans really are animals’ best friend with the help of artworks by   James Ward, Edwin Landseer, Alfred Munnings, Barry Flanagan, Henry Moore and Maggi Hambling.

We'll be updating this guide as more exhibitions are announced throughout the year - check back often to discover more amazing art near you.

Anything we've missed? Let us know in the comments below.

Explore more of our regional guides:

The best exhibitions to see in the East of England in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in London in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the Midlands in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the North in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in Scotland in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the South West in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in Wales in 2016

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