Brilliant Things to Do This May

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Ryan McGinley, Dakota Hair, 2004 © Ryan McGinley S
Ryan McGinley, Dakota Hair, 2004© Ryan McGinley Studios

From new theatre productions to solo shows from LaToya Ruby Frazier, Jenny Holzer, Cindy Sherman and more, here are our top tips for a marvellous month ahead


Fragile Beauty at the V&A, London: May 18, 2024 – January 5, 2025

Well-timed to open in the midst of Photo London (May 16-19), the capital’s annual photography fair, the V&A’s summer blockbuster Fragile Beauty will offer photography lovers the chance to see over 300 rare prints from Elton John and David Furnish’s extraordinary image collection. Tracing a line from the 1950s through to the present day, the chosen works will “explore the connection between strength and vulnerability inherent in the human condition.” Expect to see no fewer than 149 prints from Nan Goldin’s Thanksgiving series, alongside works from Robert Mapplethorpe, William Eggleston and Diane Arbus to Ryan McGinley, Tyler Mitchell and An-My Lê.

When We See Us: A Century of Black Figuration in Painting at Kunstmuseum Basel: May 25 – October 27, 2024

“In what ways have artists from the African continent and its far-flung diaspora processed the experience of the quotidian in their painting over the last 100 years?” This is the question posed by When We See Us: A Century of Black Figuration, coming soon to the Kunstmuseum Basel, following its acclaimed debut at Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town in 2022. The show will bring together over 200 works by 120 artists – including Michael Armitage, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Danielle Mckinney, Amy Sherald and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye – by way of response, providing a kaleidoscopic overview of Black figurative painting that “brings into focus the artists’ lived realities as subject of their own art.”

Cindy Sherman at Cycladic: Early Works at the Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens: May 30 – November 4, 2024

If you’re a Cindy Sherman fan bound for Athens in the next six months, head over to the Museum of Cycladic Art, where an upcoming exhibition will take visitors on an in-depth tour of the chameleonic US artist’s formative years, centring on her early exploration of female stereotypes. Spanning Sherman’s iconic series Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980) through Rear Screen Projections (1980), Centerfolds (1981) and Color Studies (1982), the show will examine the development of the artist’s practice, which sees her create self-portraits while adopting different personas to interrogate preconceptions surrounding identity.

Janette Beckman: Rebels at Foam, Amsterdam: May 10 – September 8, 2024

British photographer Janette Beckman is the ultimate chronicler of youthful rebellion. Best known for her arresting photographs of the emerging punk and hip-hop scenes in the 70s and 80s, she has continued to pursue themes of youth culture and social justice ever since – as evidenced in the first large-scale retrospective of her work, opening soon at Foam in Amsterdam. Aiming to highlight Beckman’s contribution to some of the 20th century’s most important subcultures through photographs and archive material, the show will also reveal the photographer’s ongoing interest in all who challenge social and political norms, from Black Lives Matter protesters to activists at the recent peace demonstrations for Gaza.

Beryl Cook / Tom of Finland at Studio Voltaire, London: May 15 – August 25 2024

At Studio Voltaire, a new exhibition will unite two cultural provocateurs for the very first time: Tom of Finland, that Finnish master of homoerotic illustration, and Beryl Cook, the late British painter renowned for her depictions of “larger-than-life women carousing in nightclubs, eating in cafés or enjoying ribald hen parties”. By presenting the work of these two artists in dialogue, the display will draw parallels between their like-minded investigations into gender, sexuality, taste and class, as well as their “distinct and coherent ways of hyperrealising the body … [in order to] celebrate pleasure and deny shame”. We predict camp excellence in abundance.

The Infinite Woman at Villa Carmignac, Porquerolles Island, France: Until November 3, 2024

On the picturesque French island of Porquerolles, meanwhile, the Villa Carmignac’s latest exhibition is a century-spanning study of women’s depiction in art and its impact on global culture. With featured artists ranging from Sandro Botticelli and Egon Schiele, to Judy Chicago, Lee Bul and Zanele Muholi, the show “draws on ideas of myths and monsters in the representation of women to reflect on womanhood in all its many guises”. More than 80 works – traversing painting, drawing, photography, video, collage, sculpture, ceramics and textiles – make up the display, which illustrates “the elusive multiplicity of the feminine”.

Jenny Holzer: Light Line at The Guggenheim, New York: May 17 – September 29, 2024

In 1989, the fêted American artist Jenny Holzer staged a groundbreaking installation at The Guggenheim in New York, decorating the inner wall of its Frank Lloyd Wright-designed rotunda with flashing texts, shown on an LED display board. This month, the museum will reimagine the event, transforming the building with a display of scrolling texts taken from some of Holzer’s most renowned series, including Truisms and Inflammatory Essays. Alongside this, the museum will present a range of Holzer’s other work, from the 70s to the present, with the aim of spotlighting her “incisive use of the written word across time and media”. From May 16-20, meanwhile, be sure to catch the artist’s light projection For the Guggenheim, which will illuminate the museum’s exterior each day at sundown.

Indigenous Histories at Kode Bergen Art Museum, Norway: Until 25 August, 2024

Kode Bergen’s newly opened exhibition Indigenous Histories is a vital presentation of different accounts of indigeneity in art and visual culture, curated by a group of artists and researchers who are indigenous or of indigenous descent. Consisting of some 285 works in various mediums, dating from the period before European colonisation up until today, the show’s aim is to deliver a deliberately open-ended cross-section of indigenous experiences, histories and stories from South America, North America, Oceania and the Nordic region, conjuring gentle comparisons and juxtapositions.

LaToya Ruby Frazier: Monuments of Solidarity at MoMA, New York: May 12 – September 07, 2024

In New York, be sure to catch the soon-to-open survey of revolutionary American artist-activist LaToya Ruby Frazier. Through her intimate portraiture – which often features the artist herself, her family, and her community in Braddock, Pennsylvania – as well as text, moving image and performance, Frazier aims to “revive and preserve forgotten stories of labour, gender, and race in the postindustrial era”. For the MoMA show, she has reconceptualised her diverse bodies of work as a series of original installations, the result a compelling testament to her role as “a social advocate and connector of the cultural and working classes in the 21st century”.

Marc Quinn: Light into Life at Kew Gardens, London: May 4 – September 29, 2024

The British artist Marc Quinn boasts an enduring fascination with the link between humans and nature, a theme recurrent throughout his practice. Who better, then, to stage an exhibition at London’s Kew Gardens? With help from Kew’s scientists and horticulturists, Quinn schooled himself on a variety of plants from its collection, using this research to inform an impressive new series of 17 stainless steel and bronze sculptures, which will appear throughout the gardens. In the botanical institution’s Shirley Sherwood Gallery, meanwhile, visitors can peruse an array of new and existing paintings by the former YBA, as well as a selection of his drawings, sculptures and famed frozen works.

Tschabalala Self: Around the Way at EMMA, Espoo, Finland: May 8, 2024 – May 4, 2025

This month, a new exhibition at EMMA in Espoo – an easy day trip from the Finnish capital of Helsinki – will turn the spotlight on Tschabalala Self, offering viewers a chance to experience the ascendant US artist’s exquisite multi-material paintings and sculptures first-hand. Drawing on Self’s own experiences as a Black American woman, these expressive compositions depict figures in various states of abstraction and distortion to present “a new kind of narrative about the Black body”. 

Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion at The Met, New York: May 10 – September 2, 2024

Fashion’s most anticipated costume party, The Met Gala, is approaching fast, marking the arrival of the Costume Institute’s spring exhibition. Titled Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion, the exhibition will centre on 250 garments and accessories from the museum’s collection that take their inspiration from nature and are too delicate to ever be worn again. Despite this, the show looks set to be a thrillingly sensory affair, replete with “immersive activations designed to convey the smells, sounds, textures, and motions” of the pieces on display, which range from a 17th-century Elizabethan bodice to breathtakingly realised contemporary works by Alexander McQueen, Iris Van Herpen and many more.

Events & Performances

There are all kinds of brilliant live events to tempt you out of the house this May. First, there’s Benedict Andrews’ take on Anton Chekhov’s final play The Cherry Orchard, at the Donmar Warehouse until June 22. Set in early 20th-century Russia, the play is a poignant and humorous exploration of a society in flux, centred around an aristocratic family facing the threat of financial ruin. At the Trafalgar Theatre from May 3 to August 10, now’s your chance catch Denise Gough reprising her Olivier Award-winning role as “a struggling actress whose life is spinning recklessly out of control” in Duncan Macmillan’s stirring play People, Places & Things. Isabelle Huppert stans, be sure to book your tickets for Mary Said What She Said, a Théâtre de la Ville–Paris production showing at the Barbican from May 10-12. Penned by Darryl Pinckney and directed by Robert Wilson, it sees the inimitable French actress take on the role of Mary Stuart, that troubled queen “whose passions cost her a crown”.

At the Royal Court from May 17, make sure to see Bluets, Margaret Perry’s adaptation of Maggie Nelson’s lyrical novel of the same title. Directed by Katie Mitchell, the play is a tale of “depression and desire, pleasure and pain, and a person possessed by a lifelong obsession with the colour blue”. From May 17-26, meanwhile, Charleston Festival returns to the former Bloomsbury bolthole with an exciting programme of conversations, performances and new commissions. Highlights include Judi Dench looking back across her remarkable acting career with close friend Bill Nighy, writer Olivia Laing in conversation with landscape designer Dan Pearson, and a recreation of the legendary 1965 debate between James Baldwin and the American conservative William F. Buckley, performed by Omari Douglas and Russell Tovey.

Finally, if you’re searching for a rousing dance production, look no further than May B by lauded French choreographer Maguy Marin, showing at Sadler’s Wells from May 21-22. Inspired by the works of Samuel Beckett, and set to music by Franz Schubert and Gavin Bryars, the timeless work features ten performers, their faces masked by clay, “journeying in stoic defiance of uncertainty towards a destination that will, quite possibly, always elude them”.


There’s a whole host of great new movies to keep you occupied this month, beginning with Love Lies Bleeding, the sophomore feature from British director Rose Glass. A high-octane sapphic love story meets gory thriller, it stars Kristen Stewart as a disengaged gym manager with a crime boss father, who falls hard and fast for an ambitious bodybuilder passing through town. A poetic new offering from Georgian filmmaker Elene Naveriani, Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry tells the story of a middle-aged shopkeeper whose quiet existence in a small town is rattled by an unexpected love affair. Then there’s La Chimera, the exceptional new film from Italian auteur Alice Rohrwacher. A beguiling work of magical realism with Fellini-esque undertones, it follows a group of lively tomb robbers in 1980s Italy, helmed by a brooding British archaeologist haunted by lost love.

Tiger Stripes, the first feature from Malaysian writer-director Amanda Nell Eu, channels all the intensity and anxiety of adolescence into a feminist body horror. Set deep in the heart of the Malaysian jungle, it centres on a 12-year-old girl in the throes of a primal transformation. UK filmmaker Luna Carmoon makes a similarly impressive debut with Hoard, a haunting psychological drama about a teenage girl’s reckoning with her traumatic childhood. While Gasoline Rainbow by American director duo The Ross Brothers provides a hearty dose of road movie nostalgia, following a group of high school students as they head for the Pacific coast in search of adventure.

For May’s must-see documentaries, be sure to watch Made In England: The Films Of Powell & Pressburger by David Hinton, in which the indomitable director Martin Scorsese reflects on the radical influence of British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. In Catching Fire: The Story Of Anita Pallenberg, Svetlana Zill and Alexis Bloom explore the life of the Italian-German actress and Rolling Stones’ muse through, never-before-seen home movies and family photographs. While Red Herring is the unmissable debut from young filmmaker Kit Vincent, who, in the wake of a terminal cancer diagnosis, turns his camera on his family with hopes of making sense of an “upended past and disrupted future”.

Food & Drink

Foodies, you’ll be pleased to hear there are plenty of new culinary offerings to tantalise your tastebuds as summer dawns. Kemal Demirasal, the celebrated Turkish chef behind Notting Hill eatery The Counter, will bring the Greek and Turkish flavours of the Aegean to London’s west end on May 14 with his second restaurant, The Counter Soho on Kingly Street. Expect to sample mouthwateringly good mezzes like white chocolate baba ganoush and sea bass crudo, as well as grilled delicacies cooked on an open fire, from levantine chicken to tuna wagyu. Then head downstairs for a drink at Under The Counter, an accompanying listening and cocktail bar.

If you can’t resist risotto, then pay a visit to All’onda, the soon-to-open Fitzrovia restaurant inspired by founder Cordula Schulz’s passion for the Italian delicacy. There, the classic rice dish will serve as a springboard for exploring seasonal flavours and textures – cuttlefish ink, lobster and artichokes take centre stage on the opening menu, for instance – a concept that sounds both simple and delicious. 

Inspired by the golden era of Capri and the vibrant energy of the 1960s, Mimosa, the first UK outpost of the beloved collection of fine French restaurants, is now open in the suitably opulent setting of London’s Langham Hotel. The essence of the sun-drenched French Riviera is encapsulated by both its decor and its dishes, the menu offering up fine Mediterranean fare, spanning Riviera-style spit-roast coquelet with thyme and confit lemon, through gratinated taglioni with bechamel, white ham and Reggiano parmesan. At the restaurant’s dedicated bar, meanwhile, an order of Mimosa’s signature devilled eggs, with five toppings to choose from, is a must.

With dining areas on the ground floor and rooftop of a former Victorian police station on Kingsland Road, TT is a new venture from Sam Lone, the former head chef of Oren. With a changing menu designed around seasonal produce and an outdoor grill, the restaurant’s current offerings include: dry-aged ribeye with chimichurri; grilled mackerel with pickled chilli hot sauce; smoked oyster mushrooms paired with a rich Burford Brown egg yolk for dipping; and barbequed chicken thighs served with Tirokeftari, a spicy feta dip from Greece. We, for one, are sold.

For another intimate new rooftop destination, along with an indoor space for those inevitable cooler summer days, head down to Yasmin, the newly opened restaurant on the sixth floor of 1 Warwick in Soho. Chef Tom Cenci has dreamed up an array of scrumptious-sounding, Istanbul-inspired sharing plates for the purpose, from sumac-smoked duck and grilled corn salad to lamb rump skewer with pomegranate molasses, and a baklava ice-cream sandwich for dessert. 

Gouqi, a Chinese restaurant located just off Trafalgar Square, is the perfect spot for a special occasion, with high-end takes on classics like steamed royal dim sum, honey-glazed Iberico char siu pork, and Peking Duck. Opened last year by Chef Tong – former executive head chef at the Michelin-starred Hakkasan – the restaurant takes its name from an island in the East China Sea, famed for its picturesque fishing villages and eponymous goji berry shrubs. 

Last but not least, Dom Fernando’s Sri Lankan hotspot Paradise will reopen its (freshly renovated) doors on May 28, treating diners to a new six-course evening set menu from chef Alfie Bahnan. “The next chapter for Paradise will expand the kitchen's focus with the introduction of native culinary techniques,” the restaurant explains, “from heritage claypot cooking to marinating with in-house spice paste… [and] the ancient technique of bamboo grilling.” (Think: hand-chopped raw Texel mutton roll-tartare, served with tomato and garlic emulsion and smoked charcoal oil; and peanut, ambarella and bone-marrow curry topped by a juniper and coconut husk-smoked sirloin steak). Here’s to summertime indulgence!