Stephen Palmer selects:
Andrew Grassie, Maureen Paley, London
This beautifully considered exhibition of seven small paintings sees Andrew Grassie focus on the studio as a place of creative and narrative possibility. Each work shows the same view of Grassie’s studio, but in each the space has been arranged as if occupied by a different artist. In one scene propped and prepared canvases in various states suggest the realm of a minimalist abstract painter, in another a mallet is left idly on the floor amongst evidence that a sculptor is at work casting cubistic plaster blocks. Whether Grassie has actual artists in mind or if these scenes represent different states of his own artistic ambitions isn’t clear, but the space depicted in the last work (pictured above), where a small painting that looks curiously like the ones on show here hangs above a brightly lit table in an otherwise empty studio, must surely be a portrayal of his own working set up.
18 November 2017 – 7 January 2018. www.maureenpaley.com
Tim Head: Beautiful Weapons, Parafin, London
I’m most familiar with Tim Head’ paintings from the late 1980s, works such as the 1987 John Moores Painting Prize winner Cow Mutations, which referenced patterns and textures derived from mass produced packaging of the day. ‘Beautiful Weapons’ brought together paintings from this period with a series of recent large-scale digital prints exploring how we perceive virtual or computer screen space. Using saturated digital colour and maze-like or overly complex geometric structures, these works manage to capture a kind of confusing uneasiness that virtual space can invoke and, whilst originally constructed in the digital space they allude to, you only really ‘get’ what the works are about when you stand in a room surrounded by them. Seductive and repellent in equal measure.
28 September – 18 November 2017, www.parafin.co.uk
Nathalie Du Pasquier: From time to time, Pace London
‘From time to time’ brought together over 50 works created since 2008, a period when Natalie Du Pasquier says she made a shift from representational painting to working abstractly. The installation cleverly blurred the lines between these two modes as well as between painting, design and sculpture. At the heart of the show, a room within a room installation focused on a series of still life-like compositions of geometric forms rendered using isometric perspective, while recent flatter, yet equally geometric paintings were exhibited in the space outside this room, alongside the abstract sculptural objects – also made by Du Pasquier – they depict. Du Pasquier’s site-specific installation, Other Rooms, which continues at Camden Arts Centre until 14 January 2018, is also a must see.
27 June – 4 August 2017, www.pacegallery.com
Rivane Neuenschwander: The Reading Box, The Moon, Misfortunes And Crimes, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London
In an exhibition that also included an installation based on the game War (known in the UK as Risk), a chilling four-screen video projection of animated drawings accompanied by a buzz saw soundtrack, and screen printed works on paper that examine childhood fears, it was Rivane Neuenschwander’s Tabloid series of paintings that caught my attention. The works reference Latin American Ex-Voto paintings, replacing the saints who appear in the originals with a strange and otherworldly egg, but these scenes of apparent domestic violence and bloodshed put me in mind of the graphic film title sequences of Saul Bass with a spattering of slasher horror thrown in.
3 October – 11 November 2017, hwww.stephenfriedman.com
David Hockney, Tate Britain, London
Tate Britain has hosted several excellent retrospective shows this year, but it’s the David Hockney exhibition chronicling his 60-year career that makes my list (despite his questionable taste in tabloid reading). I really enjoyed seeing the work he made just after leaving the Royal College (Flight into Italy – Swiss Landscape with its Morris Louis-esque Alpine landscape in particular), the composite Polaroid and photo collage pieces, and even his recent iPad paintings. But for me it was the room of double portraits in which Hockney informally posed friends and acquaintances amongst the carefully composed and somewhat immaculate settings of their home surroundings that really made the show.
9 February – 29 March 2017, www.tate.org.uk
Laura Robertson selects:
Adrián Villar Rojas: The Theater of Disappearance, National Observatory of Athens, Greece
Planting an expansive and lush vegetable garden during one of the hottest and driest months of the year, and digging in protected soil; emptying a respected museum of its artefacts; creating an alternative museum of Greek history during a major national crisis. Brazilian artist Adrián Villar Rojas’ extraordinary, essential The Theater of Disappearance in Athens also took place in three other cities – Los Angeles, New York, and Bregenz, Austria – and in three completely different formats in 2017. Central to all four works was a challenging of institutional ideas; Villar Rojas questions why we want to preserve some histories and forget others, and highlights the inherent danger of being selective about the past.
1 June – 24 September 2017, neon.org.gr/en/exhibition/adrian-villar-rojas-the-theater-of-disappearance
Video game as theatre production, microphones as sculptures, documentary in VR… This year the Sonica team laid out a superb selection of award-winning new works from around the world – a veritable gourmet picnic of visual arts, live theatre and electronic music. This festival represents the cutting edge of sonic artistic practice. If I had to pick one of the many acts that I continued to daydream about for weeks afterwards, it would be Shorelines at Tramway: a startling and almost pitch-black concert of choreographed strings, about the terror of Britain’s worst peacetime flood. Astonishing.
26 October – 5 November 2017, sonic-a.co.uk
Bedwyr Williams: Hypercaust, Storyhouse, Chester
“Pair of specs grabbed during scuffle… Church tries to ban sexy movies…” In Williams’ hilarious ode to Chester, real newspaper headlines have been selected from the city’s press archives and set against a more ancient place of gossip: the Roman Bathhouse. Anyone who’s been to the city will have seen the ruins, but here they’ve been brought back to life: a 3D recreation of what the steaming baths would have looked like, narrated by Williams in a droll voice. The artist connects modern and heritage Chester, reminding us that it is more than a living museum. An exciting commission to mark the launch of Storyhouse, the city’s new cultural hub. Read our Q&A with Bedwyr Williams for more about this commission.
27 October – 11 November 2017, www.storyhouse.com
Abandon Normal Devices, Castleton, Peak District National Park
Daan Roosegaarde’s Waterlicht was the perfect headline for a nomadic festival set this year in the stunning Winnats Pass valley. Thousands thronged to Castleton to experience an electric blue ‘sea’ above our heads: reimagining Ice Age water levels for a climate-aware audience. In the dark, and dressed for the cold, we snapped the undulating ‘waves’, made from LED tech and smoke, before descending into the (brilliantly named) Devil’s Arse cave system for concerts, raves and VR tours. Crazy, ambitious, and completely in tune with its location.
21-24 September 2017, www.andfestival.org.uk
Luke Ching, Open Eye Gallery, LOOK/17, Liverpool
Locking himself in a Liverpool hotel room for 24 hours, Hong Kong artist Luke Ching made a ‘pinhole room’ – or big camera obscura – and sat in the dark, surrounded by A3-sized photo sensitive paper, until the exposure was complete. His resulting black and white photo collages are mosaics of fleeting scenes; the dockside architecture glimpsed through his window, fractured visually and in memory. A beautifully sensitive response to LOOK/17’s theme, ‘Cities of Exchange: Liverpool / Hong Kong’, this body of work could have come from either city, yet captured tiny details unique to each. It also signified a physical, durational performance in a contemporary photography festival dominated by digital works. Bravo.
7 April – 18 June 2017, openeye.org.uk/whatson/culture-shifts-global
Fisun Güner selects:
Cézanne Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London
Yet another post-Impressionist exhibition, you say? Even after learning that there hasn’t been a survey of Cézanne’s portraits – anywhere – since 1910, I admit I found it hard to get too excited about paintings I feel I’ve known all my life. But that was frankly daft, because this is a survey that almost leaves you on your knees it’s that good. From the buttery impasto slabs contouring the rough features of uncle Dominique to the shimmering palette of his late portraits of his wife, his gardener and various elderly female relatives, Cézanne Portraits is way up there as the exhibition of the year.
26 October 2017 – 11 February 2018, www.npg.org.uk
America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s, Royal Academy, London
I’m not sure I can convey how much I loved ‘America After the Fall’, nor just how fascinating it was. Introducing an overlooked decade in American art, its brilliant strength lay in its ability to tell multiple histories in visual form. This was the era of the Depression, Dust Bowls, a revitalised KKK, the Harlem Renaissance, jazz and swing, the Federal Art Project, and the darkening threat from Europe. Organised in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago, it was the first time Grant Wood’s American Gothic had travelled outside North America – but this survey was much bigger than any one single painting, and went beyond the mere 45 canvases featured.
25 February to 4 June 2017, www.royalacademy.org.uk
Rachel Whiteread, Tate Britain, London
Some artists, though surprisingly few, have more than one idea, while others just have the one. Rachel Whiteread belongs to the latter fraternity, and you could say that she’s been ploughing the same furrow for years. But what a deep and rich furrow it is. Her 2005 Tate Modern Turbine Hall commission, apparently consisting of giant piles of frosted ice blocks, might have been disappointing, but this exhibition presents such a variety of casts in such an extraordinary variety of materials that it comes as a shock of pure delight. That it’s presented in one big gallery, so that you’re intrigued, seduced and provoked all at once, is down to ingenious curating.
12 September 2017 – 4 February 2018, www.tate.org.uk
Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
Käthe Kollwitz is one of history’s greatest printmakers, and to appreciate her technical mastery and the extraordinary detail of her exquisite draughtsmanship you really need to see her work in the flesh and, till now, this has been a rare privilege. A committed socialist, the German artist depicted the poverty and desperation she witnessed daily as a doctor’s wife in a working-class district of Berlin at the end of the 19th century and the first four decades of the 20th. Luckily, this exhibition is currently travelling to venues across the UK with its final destination, from September 2019, at the British Museum, which owns the collection.
13 September to 26 November 2017, ikon-gallery.org
Portraying a nation: Germany 1919 – 1933, Tate Liverpool
The photographer August Sander was paired with the Neue Sachlichkeit painter and printmaker Otto Dix in two extraordinarily powerful exhibitions. Sander’s coolly ‘objective’ portraits, in which he amassed an exhaustive typology that categorised his subjects by class and professional status, provided a brilliant counterpoint to Dix’s expressive, caricaturist works of shell-shocked and wounded soldiers, war widows, prostitutes, femme fatales and all the wild excesses of the Weimar Republic. Wall text provided a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the Nazi rise to power, shaping the context in which we viewed the work and serving to create a compelling portrait of a nation on the edge of an abyss.
23 June to 15 October 2017, www.tate.org.uk
Pippa Koszerek selects:
Ulises Carrión, Elisabeth Wild, and Koken Ergun at Documenta 14, Kassel
The best thing about the vast – and sometimes overcrowded – curatorial programme of Documenta 14 was the introduction and reappraisal of several lesser-known artists whose works previously belonged to a more underground (or ignored) history of art. In his 1981 video work Gossip, Scandal and Good Manners, the brilliant and witty Mexican artist Ulises Carrión (1941-89) presents and analyses the evidence gathered during an experimental performance work which involved enlisting friends and artists to spread rumours around the Amsterdam arts scene. Sat on a plinth by a staircase in Documenta Halle, Carrión’s performance-to-camera was worth the 45 minutes invested by those who picked up the headset and broke through what at first appeared to be a dense academic lecture. Elsewhere, in the Neue Galerie Elisabeth Wild’s collages (Fantasias, 2016-17, pictured) quietly enthralled and seduced, while at the Fridericianum, the nationalistic celebrations and propagandistic messages captured in Köken Ergun’s I, Soldier were terrifyingly transfixing.
10 June – 17 September 2017, www.documenta14.de
Wagner / De Burca, Bye Bye Deutschland! Eine Lebensmelodie 2017, Elephant Lounge, Skulptur Projekte Munster 2017
There was a beautiful simplicity to Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca’s site-specific installation in Munster’s Elephant Lounge. The uncanny daytime experience of stepping off the picturesque streets and into the atmospherically lit and intimate nightclub only served to heighten the encounter with Wagner / De Burca’s film, a cross between a documentary and a romantic musical. Interweaving the stories of two Schlager music cover artists, who we see performing this infamous popular music genre on the stage, in a TV studio and within the magical-realist setting a park, it is a portrait of Germany (and Munster) rarely seen within the contemporary art sphere. Through a sensitive engagement with people and place, the artists immerse us in the escapism and fantasy of this sometimes contested music genre.
The Glass Room, 69-71 Charing Cross Road, London (Oct 25 – Nov 12 2017)
For a few weeks, a phantom Apple-style store appeared on Charing Cross Road, suggestively promising glossy products and the latest technology. A project from Mozilla and Tactical Tech, ‘The Glass Room’ had its own tech specialists on hand to advise on how to better protect our privacy online, while numerous interactive screens allowed visitors to encounter artworks by artists and hacktivists. With the artworks exploring how our personal data is harvested and imagining future scenarios for its use, a daily programme of talks, workshops and film screenings elaborated on these ideas. Particularly poignant and terrifying, Nicholas de Pencier’s film Black Code looked at how the Toronto-based Citizen Lab track, tackle and expose digital espionage and the work of activists around the world who use social media to expose human rights abuses. For those who couldn’t make it to exhibition, there’s an 8-Day Detox Kit available free online.
25 October – 12 November 2017, theglassroom.org
Enrique Ramirez, Un Hombre que Camina (2011-2014), Viva Arte Viva, Venice Biennale
The breathtaking cinematography of Enrique Ramirez‘ film Un Hombre que Camina traces the slow, steady steps of a masked man walking into the horizon of the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia. Pulling a train of clothes behind him and wearing a traditional mask and headset (originally used in local dances to mock the colonial conquistadors) he narrates his journey between life and death. In many ways a choreographic piece, Ramirez’s powerful meditation on what it might mean to prepare oneself mentally to face death conveys an incredibly life-affirming sense of a person’s deep connection to place.
13 May – 26 November 2017, www.labiennale.org
FORT (Alberta Niemann and Jenny Kropp), Night Shift, Casino Luxembourg
Experiencing artist duo FORT‘s ‘Night Shift’ was like existing at the edge of a Hopper painting, as if walking through a film set of our lives – at once seeing a vision of the future, at once taken back to the Luxembourg of the 1980s. Climbing the stairs to the first floor spaces of Casino Luxembourg it felt strangely quiet and empty, two coats swinging from a coat rack, to and fro on an endless cycle. With a buzz of electronics, a small robot began to move around the space, bumping into walls. Wandering into the darkness of the main gallery space and, lit only by the light emanating from each artwork, everything felt familiar, yet unfamiliar. Luxembourg has the most passenger cars per inhabitants in the EU, which is perhaps why it felt natural to be standing before the eerie yet monumental simulacrum of a service station platform minus the petrol pumps. Even though – disclaimer! – I don’t actually drive.
28 January – 9 May 2017, www.casino-luxembourg.
Chris Sharratt selects:
True Faith, Manchester Art Gallery
This Manchester International Festival exhibition was billed as being about art influenced by Joy Division/New Order, but it was just as much about the art of Joy Division/New Order. With Martin Boyce’s 2002 installation Our Love Is Like the Flowers, the Rain, the Sea and the Hours throwing neon-gothic shadows across the first of two gallery spaces, the works by contemporary artists – including Slater B. Bradley’s grainy, Joy Division-soundtracked short film, Factory Archives and Mark Leckey’s mesmerising video collage, Dream English Kid – more than held their own. But it was the art project nature of the bands’ Factory Records’ years that resonated most strongly here. And, while there’s merit in the argument that Mancunians of a certain age can bang on about the Factory era a little too much, a gallery-style presentation of New Order’s pop videos was nevertheless a fizzingly exciting experience.
30 June – 3 September 2017, manchesterartgallery.org
Diaspora Pavilion, Venice Biennale
With so much art to see and mull over in such a short space of time, the Venice Biennale experience can become a blur of national presentations and part-watched films. But the inaugural Diaspora Pavilion’s rich mix of installation, painting, film and photography gave good reason to pause and stay a while. Barbara Walker’s emotive wall drawings of black first world war soldiers; Barby Asante’s clever video interventions; Kimathi Donkor’s powerful history paintings; Khadija Saye’s intimate and evocative tintypes; Larry Achiampong‘s contemplative film installation. Presented by the International Curators Forum and featuring work by 19 artists, this was a busy, engaging and overdue exhibition with important things to say about race, migration and nationhood. A Biennale highlight.
13 May – 26 November 2017, www.internationalcuratorsforum.org
Claire Barclay: Yield Point, Tramway, Glasgow
The challenge for any artist presenting a solo show in Tramway’s vast exhibition space is, at the most basic of levels, how to fill it; how to turn its scale to artistic advantage. Claire Barclay’s answer was, in part, to imbue this former tram shed with the smell of industry – or at least the odour of used engine oil. Sitting in metal trays and soaking into dangling fabric, its presence offered metaphorical lubrication for Barclay’s non-functioning factory floor of intricately-machined aluminium rods, dislodged rubber drive belts and cast-concrete ‘sinks’. Charged with a tension and drama reflected in the show’s title, this series of eight sculptural installations captured a feeling of post-industrial fracture and our own complicated relationship with it. A quietly thrilling exhibition.
10 February – 9 April 2017, www.clairebarclay.net/Yield-Point
Soul of a Nation: Art in the age of Black Power, Tate Modern, London
With Donald Trump making no bones about his mission to put the white back in the White House, this survey of art made by mainly African American artists from 1963-1983 could hardly have felt more timely. The works on show here covered a large swathe of artistic and political approaches from the period, from Spiral group artist Romare Bearden’s photostat collages to Betye Saar’s sculptural assemblages. But across the years, the strong, defiant sense of this being art from another America – art that was not just excluded but largely ignored by art the establishment of the time – was clear at every turn. Historically compelling, visually stimulating, politically charged – ‘Soul of a Nation’ felt like exactly the kind of exhibition the institutional muscle of Tate should be used for.
12 July – 22 October 2017, www.tate.org.uk
Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen: The Aalto Natives, Finnish Pavilion, Venice Biennale
The 57th Venice Biennale wasn’t exactly full of laughs – not many exhibitions of contemporary art are, after all – but the diminutive Finnish Pavilion in the Giardini was a site of loud chuckles and broad grins thanks to Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen’s The Aalto Natives. An animatronic talking egg, dry ice, a film featuring Muppet-style puppets and a man with a cardboard box head – it was as entertainingly bonkers as that perhaps sounds. There was, of course, a serious underbelly to all this as the pair explored ideas of nationalism through the prism of creation and national identity myths. With its homemade feel and irreverent humour, it was a Biennale pavilion that couldn’t help but put a smile on your face.
13 May – 26 November 2017, frame-finland.fi/venice-biennale-2017
Selections written by: Fisun Güner (London); Pippa Koszerek (London): Stephen Palmer (London): Laura Robertson (Liverpool): Chris Sharratt (Glasgow)
1. Andrew Grassie, Studio Proposal 7, tempera on paper on board, 12.3×18.7cm (image), 24.3×30.7cm (framed), 2017. Courtesy: Maureen Paley, London; © Andrew Grassie
2. Adrián Villar Rojas, The Theater of Disappearance, 2017. Photo: © Panos Kokkinias; Courtesy: NEON
3. Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), Madame Cezanne, c.1886 (oil on canvas); 100.6×81.3 cm; Detroit Institute of Arts, USA; Bequest of Robert H. Tannahill
4. Elisabeth Wild, Fantasias, 2016–17, collages, installation view, Neue Galerie, Kassel, documenta 14, photo: Mathias Völzke
5. Slater B. Bradley, Factory Icon, 2000/2017, C-print mounted to 4mm Alu-Dibond, acrylic glass, oak. Courtesy of Slater Bradley Studio, Berlin and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo© Slater B. Bradley