Best of 2017: Exhibitions

Best of 2017: Exhibitions

Art, Photography, Fashion… Read about some of our writers’ favourite exhibitions from this year:

Cézanne Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery

This new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery marks the first time in over a century that a major exhibition has been dedicated entirely to Cézanne’s portraits. It offers, then, a rarely seen glimpse into a more intimate side of his work as he portrays family, friends and the locals of Aix-en-Provence. The portraits are arranged chronologically, and the evolution in his painting through the years is made palpable; undertones of energy and aggression in his early portraits give way to measured application of mellow tones in later works. Cézanne Portraits has been singled out by numerous critics as being the show of the year, and it certainly lives up to expectations.

By Bruno Reynell


Dreamers Awake at White Cube

In Dreamers Awake, the White Cube gallery casts a feminine gaze over the artistic movement of Surrealism. By looking at the works of female artists working within the Surrealist tradition, with works spanning from the 1930s to contemporary times, Dreamers Awake testifies to the empowering nature of art. Often fetishized or mystified as the object of male desire, the female is here shown to take an active role and given agency in making art. Surrealist art becomes a vehicle for irony, self-expression, reflection and resistance. Dreamers Awake successfully captures this radical zeitgeist of Surrealism and attests to its all-enduring, progressive power.

Image credit: White Cube (George Darrell)


Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion at the V&A

In celebration of the French fashion house’s centenary, the Victoria and Albert presents a landmark retrospective of the couturier that started it all. The first of its kind in the UK, this exhibition profoundly examines the innovative spirit, the craftsmanship and the meticulous attention to detail that set Cristobal Balenciaga apart. A counterpoint to the highly feminine aesthetic of his rival Christian Dior, Balenciaga paved the way for a new kind of feminine silhouette, one that found its elegance in its revolutionary architectural shape. It also explores his legacy and how designers after him have worked in his tradition. A visual feast for the eyes, and a must-go for any lover of fashion.


Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into The Future at the Tate Modern

Well known for their installation art and the creation of fictional personas, the Kabakovs use their art to navigate the oppressive society of Russia. The exhibition traces the artistic progress of the Kabakovs, from their use of former Soviet Union visual culture to vilify the conventions of artistic practice to their large scale immersive installations. It also coincides with the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Interesting installations include Not Everyone Will be Taken Into The Future, 2001, which features an abandoned railway station used as a means to critique the arbitrary nature of artistic practice – how, over time, some artists get forgotten in the ebb and flow of history while others become canonised and memorialised and live on through their art.

By Kay Ean Leong

Celia Pym: Mending Days at the V&A

Have you ever had a bit of clothing you loved to pieces? Literally? Well Celia Pym has dedicated herself to making your favourite jumper or t-shirt or dress into a work of art. Mending Days aims to “[interrogate] our feelings towards care and repair”, and it is the artist herself who does just this. Participating in a Mending Day consists of a conversation with Pym herself: you talk about the holes and tears in the garment you have brought (it was probably moths), discuss repair options (thread colour is an important decision), and set a collection date. Easy.

By Jenna Mahale


Modigliani at the Tate Modern

More than just a simple display of the artist’s elongated sitters with blank dark eyes, the Modigliani exhibition marks a significant shift in attitudes. We have come a long way from censoring his work during his only solo exhibition in his lifetime – now we have the biggest collection of his nudes in one place to be appreciated by thousands. The soft, fleshy pinks, firm gazes and hints of pubic hair show realistic women with agency and power, thus rejecting centuries of tradition where the woman was simply a perfect, passive object available for the male gaze.

By Katya Lukina


Instant Stories. Wim Wenders’ Polaroids at The Photographers’ Gallery

Wim Wenders is best known for his films, but his polaroids aren’t bad either. Over 200 of them (landscapes and portraits) come together to trace his life, a diary of ‘innocence’, from New York and San Francisco to his European milieu. One does feel a bit intrusive, looking at some of the photos, and there is the sense that some of the glib titles were hastily chosen. Yet ephemerality is one of the central themes; polaroids are presented in their original form – small, faded, creased, precious. The exhibition charts technological developments, from early black and white iterations to colour. He has since given away his polaroid camera (to Patti Smith!), and declared photography over. Meanwhile, Instant Stories gives us more than enough to mull over.

By Wilf Skinner

Selfportrait, 1975 © Wim Wenders Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation

Featured image credit: V&A/ Hiro

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