Top London Art Shows to See in 2017


Hello everyone

So, obviously, I will be continuing with my monthly ‘shows to see’ list in 2017. However, I appreciate some of you would like to know about the big headline-grabbing art exhibitions that have already been announced so I’ve compiled a list for you below.

Now, my 2015 list was a top ten London art shows to see that year. And my 2016 list was a Top 15. So, I’m not sure what having the 2017 list as a Top 21 says about me. I’d like to think it’s because I’m more aware, but I suspect it’s because I have an increasing inability to condense and filter.

But anyway

Hilarity aside, I do have a real issue with the list of exhibitions announced for next year from the big galleries – they are overwhelmingly of male artists, and largely white male artists. Previously there has been a good representation of female artists – mostly a result of the Tate’s push to platform female artists – but this year it’s not great at all.

I don’t blame the Tate for this fall away – they are, after all, putting on the only two solo shows by female artists in the list below. No, I’m looking at the other big guns who are really not making inclusion a priority.

Now, it’s hard for the National Gallery, I appreciate, given the period its permanent collection largely covers, but the Gallery is looking to move more to modern and contemporary art, and in those efforts I expect to see a desire to platform female artists. And when they announce such a show like Monochrome below, which will include the modern and contemporary era, the names they put out are ‘Picasso and ‘Gerhard Richter’. And this following on from Lucian Freud and Auerbach in Painters’ Paintings. Now, come on NG, you’ll need to do better than that. I want to see female artists included in these shows as a priority.

But, in truth, my real ire is with the Royal Academy.

They do not have the National Gallery’s excuse or restriction, yet I genuinely cannot remember the last time they put on a solo show by a female artist, especially in their Main Galleries. Not the year just gone. Not 2015 either. And I don’t remember a show in 2014 as well. It’s the men who’ve been front and centre, whether Kiefer, Weiwei or the machismo of Ab Ex. Similarly in their Sackler Galleries and, previously, Burlington House. Cornell, Hopper, Allen Jones. Hockney, Giorgione, Liotard. Diebenkorn, Rubens, Moroni

I mean, I’m fed up with it. What issue does the RA have with women because it’s glaring and worrying? They’ve tried to freshen up its list of Academicians. Well, hell, try freshening up your list of shows with diversity too!

So anyway, I’ve tried to look at the Top 20 with fresh eyes and patience, but know that overarching all of the below is an increasing frustration with the utter lack of gender diversity from institutions we look to to shape our cultural calendar. Here’s hoping the smaller independent galleries in the capital help break up the male dominance.

1. Modigliani, Tate Modern

(November 22 2017 – April 2 2018)

Amedeo Modigliani produced some of the most memorable art of the early twentieth century and this will be the most comprehensive survey of his work exhibited in the UK. And we’re going to have to wait until the tail end of next year for it. But what’s that about good things?

Experimentation remained central to Modigliani’s work throughout his (sadly) short career and this exhibition will place Modigliani’s work in context alongside his contemporaries such as Picasso and Brancusi. His sculpture, portraiture, nudes and paintings of young peasants reveal a body of work that borrowed from, and contributed to, the visual culture of his time.

2. Basquiat: Boom for Real, Barbican Centre

(September 21 2017 – January 28 2018)

Basquiat has had remarkably little exposure in the UK where there is not a single work of his in a public collection. His distinctive graffiti-style that developed from the post-punk scene in Lower Manhattan in the 1970s remains immensely influential to artists emerging today, so it’s great news that the Barbican is hosting this, the first large-scale exhibition in the UK of his work.

Basquiat: Boom for Real will bring together an outstanding selection of more than 100 works, many never before seen in Britain. It will also examine Basquiat’s relationship to music, text, film and television, placing his work within the wider cultural context of the time.

3. Wolfgang Tillmans, Tate Modern

(February 15 – June 11 2017)

Now, Wolfgang Tillmans has rightly earned praise as one of the most exciting and innovative artists working today and this show isn’t so much a survey, but a specific and (hopefully) thrilling display of his works over the last fourteen years. For not only did 2003 see his last show at Tate Britain, it was also when the US invaded Iraq, an event Tillmans sees as a destabilising moment and a take-off point for the political engagement and commentary in much of his work since then, which has included travelling to Haiti, assessing media reporting, and designing AIDS memorials.

The show will bring the full range of Tillmans’ work to the fore, covering not just photography and film, but also reflecting his growing interest in abstraction, as well as portraiture, landscape and still lives. Also, Tillmans will also be taking over the South Tank performance art space in the Tate Modern in March for ten days with a specifically-commissioned installation featuring live music events.

4. Alberto Giacometti, Tate Modern

(May 9 – September 10 2017)

So, the Tate Modern’s big summer draw for 2017 is a major exhibition on Giacometti, which will explore the full evolution of Giacometti’s work and the development of his distinctive style.

The Tate has been given unparalleled access to the Fondation Alberto and Annette Giacometti collection and archive for this show so we will be treated to an impressive display, from his first works of art through his surrealist compositions, to his later instantly recognisable works. And we’re promised that the show will include some previously unseen plasters and drawings alongside more familiar bronze sculptures and oil paintings.

5. Rachel Whiteread, Tate Britain

(September 12 2017 – February 4 2018)

Hallelujah! A major solo exhibition by a female artist in a prominent gallery! And it’s a show I am looking forward to for this show will span Rachel’s thirty-year career, and promises to bring together both her large and small-scale works in the range of materials she characteristically uses, including plaster, resin, rubber, concrete and metal.

It will be the most substantial showing of Rachel’s work to date and will include work not previously exhibited. Highlights will include a restaging of the artist’s first solo show in 1988, large-scale works that have rarely been seen in the UK, and documentation of House 199304, which existed only for a few months before its controversial destruction, and helped win Rachel the Turner Prize in 1993.

6. Jasper Johns, Royal Academy

(September 23 – December 10 2017)

Art shows that link together (if only by accident) are always a great way of giving context. And so we have Jasper Johns, a contemporary of Robert Rauschenberg (whose terrific retrospective continues at Tate Modern) who together were at the forefront of a generation of artists who were responding to the dominance of Abstract Expressionism, which of course was the subject of the RA’s recent blockbuster exhibition.

Jasper Johns is regarded as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, and has remained central to American contemporary art since his arrival in New York in the 1950s. His treatment of iconography and appropriation of objects and symbols, such as his iconic flag and target works, made the familiar unfamiliar. From his innovations in sculpture to his use of collage in paintings, this show will give focus to different chapters of Johns’ career.

7. David Hockney, Tate Britain

(February 9 – May 29 2017)

I’ve no doubt this will be big. I mean, I know it’s going to be big in size as this is a huge retrospective of this popular artist’s work to tie in with Hockney’s upcoming 80th birthday. But I’ve no doubt too that this will be immensely popular so we might have to prepare for crowds.

Presented as a chronological overview, the exhibition will trace Hockney’s artistic and career development from the 1960s to the present day, and from the full range of Hockney’s output, including painting, drawing, print, photography and video. And the Tate is going to great efforts for this show with major loans from private collections – including works never displayed in public before – uniting with iconic paintings from museums around the world.

8. Michelangelo – Sebastiano: A Meeting of Minds, National Gallery

(March 15 – June 25 2017)

This major exhibition will focus on the extraordinary artistic relationship between Sebastiano del Piombo and Michelangelo from the 1510s through to the 1540s, two great artists who met when Sebastiano came to Rome just as Michelangelo was putting the final touches to his decoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. They two became friends and collaborated on several works, with Michelangelo providing the younger artist with drawings and ideas.

The exhibition will focus on two key collaborations between the two artists – first, the Raising of Lazarus (1517–19), painted for the Cathedral of Narbonne, which is part of the National Gallery’s collection, and second, an exceptional loan in the form of the Pietà for San Francesco in Viterbo (c.1512–16).

9. Cezanne Portraits, National Portrait Gallery

(October 26 2017 – February 11 2018)

The National Portrait Gallery is to stage the first exhibition devoted entirely to portraits by Paul Cézanne. This show will bring together, for the first time, over fifty of Cézanne’s portraits from collections across the world, including works never before on public display in the UK.

Cézanne painted almost 200 portraits during his career, including 26 of himself and 29 of his wife, Hortense Fiquet. Cézanne Portraits will explore Cezanne’s development chronologically, with an examination of the changes that occurred with respect to his style and method, and his understanding of resemblance and identity.

10. Queer British Art, Tate Britain

(April 5 – October 1 2017)

2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of decriminalisation of male homosexuality and so, to mark this anniversary, Tate Britain is hosting the first exhibition dedicated to queer British art. The works on display will be drawn from the period between 1861 (when the death penalty for buggery was abolished) to 1967, and will demonstrate how art and artists expressed gender and sexuality, explored desires, experiences and sense of self, and how that expression became more overt as society became more progressive – from covert images of same-sex desire such as Simeon Solomon’s Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene 1864 through to the open appreciation of queer culture in David Hockney’s Going to be a Queen for Tonight 1960.

The show will feature works by major artists such as Francis Bacon, Keith Vaughan, Evelyn de Morgan, Gluck, Glyn Philpot, Claude Cahun and Cecil Beaton, and a highlight promises to be section focusing on Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set who were well-known for their bohemian attitude towards sexuality and for women who defied convention.

11. Grayson Perry, Serpentine Gallery

(June 8 – September 10 2017)

I’m not entirely sure London was crying out for another Grayson Perry show but, well, the guy’s so popular that it doesn’t surprise me. And this show over the popular Summer season will see this national treasure (poor guy) present an exhibition of new works.

Now, obviously Grayson has been fronting television shows and books about key themes in our contemporary society such as masculinity, and the link between popularity and art, so expect these themes to be represented and examined here across his familiar wide range of media, such as ceramics, bronze, printmaking and tapestry.

12. Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, Tate Modern

(July 12 – October 22 2017)

With a specific focus on the period 1963 to 1983, this show will explore how ‘Black Art’ was defined, rejected and redefined by artists across the United States. This was not an easy categorisation for artists at the time and there was fierce debate about what it meant to make and show art, as a Black artist, who that art was for, and how it should relate to the Civil Rights movement and other campaigns for racial empowerment. These debates remain pertinent today.

Most of the works will be on display in the UK for the first time, and will introduce the public to American artists such as Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, Lorraine O’Grady and Betye Saar.

13. Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the Mask, Another Mask, National Portrait Gallery

(March 9 – May 29 2017)

Two women from different countries and different generations but the NPG appreciates that these two female artists explore similar themes in their work around gender, identity, masquerade and performance. And so the Gallery is collating together over 100 works by the British contemporary artist and French surrealist, some of which have not been seen before, to explore their common ground.

Wearing, in fact, has always acknowledged the influence of the French surrealist in her work, mst notably in the work, Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face, which is a reconstruction of Cahun’s self-portrait Don’t kiss me I’m in training of 1927, and forms the starting point of this exhibition, the title of which, Behind the mask, another mask, adapts a quotation from Claude Cahun’s Surrealist writings.

14. The American Dream: Pop to the Present, British Museum

(March 9 – June 18 2017)

It’s been a while since we’ve had an art exhibition to get excited about at the British Museum but this show on the evolution and developments in printmaking in the USA since the end of WW2 looks to be a good one.

Starting with the explosion of pop art in the 1960s, the exhibition includes works by the most celebrated American artists. From Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg to Ed Ruscha, Kara Walker and Julie Mehretu. Taking inspiration from the world around them – billboard advertising, global politics, Hollywood and household objects – these artists created highly original prints, the inventiveness and technical ingenuity of which reflecting reflects America’s power and influence during this period. Many of these works though also address the deep divisions in that society that continue to resonate with us today.

15. Roger Mayne, The Photographers Gallery

(March 3 – June 11 2017)

Roger Mayne is best known for his pioneering body of work of community life in London’s Southam Street in the 1950s and early 60s. His humanistic approach to his subjects has influenced subsequent generations of photographers and made a significant contribution to post-war British photography.

Mayne experimented with large photographic prints, mounting methods and installation based exhibitions at a time when there was little or no precedent for this within photography. These methods, alongside his considered and vocal debates on the topic helped to shift photography in Britain from a technical and commercial practice and position it within the wider arts.

16. America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s, Royal Academy

(February 25 – June 4 2017)

The 1930s was a period of immense economic, political and social turbulence in the USA, and this exhibition in the smaller galleries of the Sackler Wing of the RA will showcase forty-five seminal paintings by some of the foremost artists of the era. For the very first time, Grant Wood’s iconic painting American Gothic, 1930, will be exhibited outside North America.

The exhibition will also feature works by Thomas Hart Benton, Georgia O’Keefe, Philip Guston, Edward Hopper, Alice Neel and Jackson Pollock, and will demonstrate how artists experimented with styles ranging from Abstraction to Regionalism and Surrealism, in order to engage with issues including populism, labour and social protest.

17. Monochrome: Painting in Black and White, National Gallery

(November 1 2017 – February 18 2018)

Painters’ Paintings was one of the highlights of last year, in part because it was great to see the National Gallery take its much-desired first steps to expanding its examination of modern and contemporary art. And that promises to continue here in this show that will explore the tradition of painting in black and white from its beginnings in the Middle Ages through the Renaissance and into the 21st century.

And the curators are promising to bring together a great range of work to consider why an artist would reduce their colour palette so drastically, with some sixty painted objects being displayed, including works on glass, vellum, ceramic, silk, wood, and canvas by such exceptional artists as Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt van Rijn, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso and Gerhard Richter.

18. Dali/Duchamp, Royal Academy

(October 7 2017 – January 7 2018)

Another one for the smaller Sackler Wing at the RA, this show focuses on the rather surprising friendship between Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dalí. Now, through their work we’d probably see them as complete opposites yet this show, which will take their friendship as its starting pint, will look to show how their shared outlook and attitudes on much in art and life can be seen in their works.

A focused selection of approximately sixty paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings and films from these two of the twentieth century’s most famous artists will bring to life the myriad of connections between these two very different, yet equally humorous, creative and intelligent minds.

19. Howard Hodgkin: Absent Friends, National Portrait Gallery

(March 23 – June 18 2017)

Given the abstraction in Howard Hodgkin’s work, it’s probably no surprise that this will be the first exhibition to focus on Hodgkin’s portraits. After all, so abstract is Howard’s work that this important aspect of Hodgkin’s work has been largely overlooked.

But the NPG is looking to bring his portraiture centre stage by bring together over 55 works from collections around the world, from across Howard’s career, to explore his important contribution to our understanding of what constitutes a portrait, and, most interestingly, the role of non-figurative aspects such as colour, memory, emotion, process and imagination in painting portraits. 

20. Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932, Royal Academy

(February 11 – April 17 2017)

2017 marks a hundred years since the Russian revolutions so there’s going to be a lot of Russian art about this year. Hence why in addition to this show at the RA, there’s also Red Star over Russia at Tate Modern, on the creation and development of Soviet art, and there’s also a dedicated show on the Russian-born conceptual artists Ilya and Emilia Kabokov, also at Tate Modern next autumn. But this show at the RA looks to be my preferred choice.

This exhibition will focus on the key years between 1917 and 1932, the year Stalin’s violent suppressions of the Avant-Garde began. In these years, barriers were opened and the possibilities for building a new proletarian art for the new Soviet State were extensive. Included in the display will be works from artists such as Chagall, Kandinsky, and Malevich.

21. Fahrelnissa Zeid, Tate Modern

(June 7 – October 15 2017)

There are many elements and influences in Turkish artist Fahrelnissa Zeid’s large-scale abstract paintings, including many Byzantine, Arab and Persian, as well as stylistic elements developed in Europe during the post-war period. And though she was immensely influential on a younger generation of artists in Europe and the Middle East during her lifetime, this will be the first major retrospective dedicated to her work.

This show will examine the development of both her figurative and her abstract work, the themes she explored and the techniques she experimented with throughout her career, focusing on how her practice both related to and diverged from popular art movements at the time.

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