Free at Last: Brilliant Things to Do This May

Pin It
18 - Volker Hinz_ Grace Jones at _Confinement_ the
Volker Hinz, Grace Jones at 'Confinement' theme, Area, New York, 1984© Volker Hinz

With summer on the horizon, and culture once again picking up pace, don’t miss our list of excellent ways to spend your May, spanning films and exhibitions through new food destinations and rooftop cocktails


Night Fever: Designing Club Culture at V&A Dundee: May 1, 2021 – January 2022
While nightlife remains on hold, the V&A Dundee’s latest exhibition is the ideal place for the dance deprived to lose themselves in club culture and the radical creativity it’s spawned. The display takes a deep dive into “the progressive and subversive history of nightclub design, and its far-reaching influence on popular culture”, from the 1960s to today. Spanning Studio 54, the Haçienda, Berghain and beyond, it will consider different venues’ innovative merging of architecture, art, fashion, graphics, lighting, performance and sound in the quest to provide an “immersive sensory experience” for clubbers.

Stop Painting: An exhibition by Peter Fischli at Fondazione Prada, Venice: May 22 – November 21, 2021
At the Fondazione Prada’s Venetian venue, Ca’ Corner della Regina, the Swiss artist Peter Fischli has dreamed up a forthcoming exhibition spotlighting what he terms “a kaleidoscope of repudiated gestures” within the history of painting. The show will be divided into five sections, marking key technological and social changes that led to paradigm shifts in the medium across the past 150 years. From Niki de Saint Phalle firing paint from a gun to Lynda Benglis’ upending of paint cans onto the floor, from Marcel Duchamp’s “readymades” to John Baldessari’s bringing together of text and image, it promises to be a colourful celebration of paint’s most riotous innovators. 

Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street at The Design Museum, London: May 18 – October 24, 2021
Good news for sneakerheads: a soon-to-open exhibition at London’s Design Museum is set to explore the many ways in which the humble trainer has challenged performance design, inspired subcultures and influenced the fashion industry. Take a plunge into the extraordinary design process behind some of the world’s most technically inventive shoes, from Adidas’s extraordinary FutureCraft.Strung shoe-making robot to the very first biologically active trainers, conceived by MIT Design Lab and Biorealize for Puma. Learn about the ludicrously lucrative resale market, remember some of high fashion’s most iconic sneaker moments, and rediscover the collaborations and celebrity endorsements that helped shape sneaker history.

Danielle Mckinney: Saw My Shadow at Fortnight Institute, New York: April 10 – May 15, 2021
In New York, a solo show by rising American artist Danielle McKinney at Fortnight Institute offers a welcome moment of calm. McKinney’s richly hued paintings centre on women “lost in their own lush solitude” (in the words of Asiya Wadud in the show‘s accompanying text), whether reading, sprawling across a table or daydreaming alongside a pet bird. Each work serves as an ode to leisure and embracing one’s inner-dialogue, encouraging viewers to take pause and reflect while providing a sumptuous visual feast for the eyes.

Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy at Whitechapel Gallery, London: May 19 – August 29, 2021
The British Surrealist Eileen Agar is the subject of a much-anticipated retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery. A combination of order and chaos, Agar’s work traversed the realms of painting, collage, photography and sculpture, “[fusing] vivid abstraction with imagery from classical art, the natural world, and sexual pleasure”, the press release informs. The show will trace Agar’s career from her early days teaching at the Slade and her dabblings in Cubism to her inclusion in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition and her later abstract works, revealing her to be “one of the most dynamic, bold and prolific artists of her generation”.

Frank Bowling at Hauser & Wirth, New York/London: May 5 – July 30, 2021/May 21 – July 31, 2021
Over the course of his six-decade career, the inimitable Frank Bowling has “relentlessly pursued a practice which boldly expands the possibilities and properties of paint” says Hauser & Wirth, where a two-part exhibition of the Guyana-born British artist’s work will show simultaneously in the gallery’s London and New York spaces. The display will explore Bowling’s evolving investigations in paint across the decades, disclosing how “his dynamic engagement with the materiality of his chosen medium, and its evolution in the broad sweep of art history” has resulted in his breathtakingly original and potent creative output.

Lee Miller – Fashion in Wartime Britain at Farleys House & Gallery, Sussex: May 20 – August 8, 2021
Lee Miller is associated with many things – her famous World War Two reportage, her Surrealist photography and indelible ties to the movement, even her cookery – but few know about her important contribution to fashion photography in wartime Britain. This is something a new exhibition at her former home, Farleys House & Gallery in Sussex, looks to rectify, with its showcasing of Miller’s most memorable sartorial snapshots – the majority of which haven’t been seen since they were first printed in British Vogue nearly 80 years ago.

PHASE 03: AN EXHIBITION at Power Station of Art, Shanghai: Until July 25, 2021
The Shanghai Biennale’s main exhibition has just opened at the PSA, marking the concluding months of the art event’s 13th edition. Expanding upon the biennial’s theme, Bodies of Water, the show asks us to examine the “living collectivity” between our own bodies and “the other bodies, climates, ecosystems and technologies that surround us”. The display features the work of 64 artists, from Ayesha Tan Jones and Cecilia Vicuña to Feliciano Centurión Joan Jonas, each centred, in one way or another, on “the caring-based approaches which negotiate our entanglement in extended ecosystems of interdependency”.

Miles Aldridge – Virgin Mary. Supermarkets. Popcorn. Photographs 1999 to 2020 at Fotografiska New York:  May 7 – October 17, 2021
At Fotografiska New York, an explosive new show celebrates the extravagant universe of the British artist and photographer Miles Aldridge. Described as a “best-of” of Aldridge’s oeuvre, the retrospective will feature over 50 works, shot entirely on film, from across the artist’s two-decade career. These will range from his cinema-inspired tableaus, which pay homage to the many filmmakers who’ve influenced him (Hitchcock, Lynch, Fellini et al), to his extraordinary portraiture, which captures such seminal figures as Donatella Versace and Marina Abramović in his singular, highly dramatised style.

Tête-à-Têtes – Part II at David Hill Gallery, London: Until July 30, 2021
David Hill Gallery in London has just opened the second of its group exhibitions of West African portraiture, currently viewable by appointment only. The display brings together a wonderful array of imagery from some of the region’s most influential and important photographers, including the coolly insouciant studio photography of Sanlé Sory and Malick Sidibé, and Rachidi Bissiriou's candid, street-shot portraits.

Yto Barrada at Pace Gallery, East Hampton: May 12-23, 2021
French-Morrocan artist Yto Barrada uses her thought-provoking, multidisciplinary practice to investigate “cultural phenomena and historical narratives”, drawing on her personal history for the purpose. This summer marks a new exhibition of her work at Pace Gallery’s East Hampton space, including a dreamt selection of collages made using naturally-dyed velvets, photograms of sweet wrappers that “explore the idea of the void”, and a number of paper collages that “respond to the aftermath of the catastrophic 1960 earthquake in the Moroccan city of Agadir”.

SUN RISE | SUN SET at Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin: Until July 25, 2021
In Berlin, the Schinkel Pavillon’s latest offering presents viewers with a chance to enjoy works by beloved artists old and new, from Henri Rousseau and Max Ernst to Ryuchi Sakamoto, Rachel Rose and Torbjørn Rødland. Described as part utopian, part dystopian, the exhibition and “its abstract yet coherent storyline” is said to be both an exciting experience for the senses and “an intense report on the current state of the world”. Suffice to say, our curiosity is piqued.

Aubrey Beardsley: The R.A. Walker and W.G. Good Collection at Shapero Rare Books, London: From May 13, 2021
Londoners, don’t miss the opportunity to view a little-seen collection of illustrations by the decidedly avant garde Art Nouveau master Aubrey Beardsley, on display (and for sale) in Shapero Rare Books on New Bond Street. Highlights include his magnum opus, the illustrations for Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, enacted in his sinewy, splendidly stylised lines, and a rare illustrated first edition of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, featuring Wilde himself among the drawings’ ink-rendered protagonists.

Nicholas Daley: Return to Slygo at NOW Gallery, London: May 18 – July 4, 2021
Ascendent UK designer Nicholas Daley is taking over NOW Gallery for the next couple of months with an all-engulfing exhibition designed to provide a “welcoming space for the local community and visitors alike”, while offering insight into “the rich and diverse references” behind his finely crafted menswear designs. Expect to enjoy a multi-sensory installation that “celebrates the coming together of [Daley’s] multicultural Jamaican-Scottish roots with his passion for music”.


Film aficionados have an exciting month ahead thanks to the arrival of many of the year’s most anticipated releases. First up there’s Apples by Greek writer-director, Christos Nikou, a beguiling musing on identity, memory and loss set amid a worldwide pandemic that causes sudden amnesia. Anna Kerrigan’s Cowboys sees a troubled but well-meaning father rescue his trans son from the repressive clutches of his ex-wife, resulting in a pertinent twist on the traditional western. Award-winning drama Charlatan, by Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, takes a biographical dive into the life of Jan Mikolášek, the early 20th-century healer who cured countless patients with his plant-based remedies.

When cinemas finally reopen on May 17, be sure to catch Chloé Zhao’s Oscar-winning triumph Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand as a “van-dwelling modern-day nomad”, and First Cow, Kelly Reichardt’s brilliant story of unlikely brotherhood in the old west – both of which demand a big-screen viewing.

For fantastic online watching, be sure to catch Hong Kong, Reimagined, an exciting showcase of “contemporary talents, classics, hidden gems and new releases from the region” as part of the Chinese Cinema Season. This includes Golden Gate Girls, the story of Esther Eng, the first queer Chinese film icon, to Echoes of the Rainbow, Alex Law’s moving drama about a family in 1960s Hong Kong, told through the eyes of the eight-year-old son.

Among this month’s must see documentaries, meanwhile, are Some Kind Of Heaven, Lance Oppenheim's fantastically entertaining peek behind the gates of The Villages in Florida, the world’s largest retirement community; The Human Factor, Dror Moreh’s “epic behind-the-scenes story of the United States’ 30-year effort to secure peace in the Middle East”; and last but not least, Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry by R. J. Cutler, a deeply personal account of the teenage star’s journey as she records her debut album and sky-rockets to fame thereafter.

Food & Drink

This month means we can finally eat indoors with loved ones once again, and there are plenty of  restaurants opening (and re-opening) to tantalise our tastebuds. German Kraft Brewery, the self-described purveyors of the UK’s “only proper German beer”, will open KRAFT Dalston, their first permanent restaurant and bar in Kingsland Locke, on May 17 – a collaboration with sustainable urban gin distillery Jim and Tonic and modern kebab house Le Bab. The Silver Birch in Chiswick will reopen its doors on May 19 with a delicious new spring menu by head chef Kimberley Hernandez (think: a Devon crab crumpet with celery and Pink Lady apple for brunch, and steamed ray wing with wild garlic and ginger relish for dinner). 

London chef Thomas Straker is currently running a pop-up restaurant, Right Then, in the garden at Carousel in Marylebone every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday until May 16. The weekly changing menu promises a combination of fresh flavours with some delightfully indulgent touches, from ‘Nduja and nettle pizzette to Sicilian-style meatballs with San Marzano tomato sauce. In King’s Cross, Shing Tat Chung, Erchen Chang and Wai Ting Chung, the team behind the Soho steamed bun hotspot BAO, will open their latest destination, Café BAO on May 17. Taking its cues from “Yōshoku cuisine and the Western style cafes commonly found throughout Asia”, the space will offer new dishes and old favourites alike, and a bakery counter for sneaky takeaways.

In Balham, new restaurant The Red Duck has just launched, delivering “modern Chinese cooking, with a focus on really well sourced ingredients”, courtesy of chef-proprieter Chi San. The menu’s highlights include Sichuan vegetable dumplings, fresh panko prawn balls with pickled cabbage, Char Siu pork with pickled chillis, and Jasmine-tea-smoked ribs.

This month also marks the arrival of The Standard Rooftop, offering Londoners an atmospheric, New York rooftop bar experience. Expect cocktails galore and a glorious view, courtesy of the bar’s prime location on the King’s Cross hotel’s tenth floor. Finally, in Oxford’s Jericho area, wine expert Kent Barker has just opened Wilding, a restaurant and wine bar, where locally-sourced food and a delectable selection of wines are carefully paired in “a creative, unpretentious and engaging way” for maximum enjoyment. Buon appetito!