What to see: Exhibitions 2017

  • 6 December 2016

From robots to rock stars, abstract art to anime – we take a look at must-see shows of 2017.

Made in America

A timely addition to the 2017 exhibition calendar, the British Museum's spring blockbuster will bring together works by Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha and Kara Walker to reveal how artists have responded to key events in US history over the last 50 years – from the assassination of JFK to the Vietnam War and the AIDS crisis, as well as their personal experiences with racism and gender inequality.

At the Royal Academy, the focus is the art of the 1930s – a decade when mass immigration, rapid industrialisation and economic uncertainty plunged the American nation into a state of flux following the Wall Street Crash. While Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Hopper all feature, the highlight for many is bound to be the first UK showing of Grant Wood’s iconic masterpiece, American Gothic.

The first major exhibition of Jean-Michel Basquiat will take place at the Barbican Art Gallery in 2017, showcasing the work of the pioneering prodigy of the downtown New York art scene who first came to prominence in 1978 when he and classmate Al Diaz graffitied enigmatic statements across the city. Research for the exhibition was supported by an Art Fund Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grant.

Also this year the Fashion Textile Museum hosts a celebration of Anna Sui, whose romantic rock-n-roll designs draw inspiration from US popular culture, while prints by one of the nation’s best-loved artists, Andy Warhol, tour the UK as part of the Art Fund supported initiative, Artist Rooms.

From Russia with love

The centenary of the Russian revolution in 2017 has prompted a flurry of exhibitions exploring the nation’s creative accomplishments. Kicking things off in February, the Royal Academy reveals how the fateful events of 1917 – which ended centuries of Tsarist rule and shook the nation to its core – inspired artists such as Kandinsky, Malevich and Chagall.

Tate Modern expands the scope of the investigation to include the years pre- and post-1917 (from the first revolution of 1905 to the death of Stalin in 1953), showcasing rarely-seen posters, photographs, and other graphic works, while at the British Museum, an Art Fund supported exhibition explores how Russia and other communist states radically restructured their economies to reflect Marxist ideology.

In an unusual twist on the theme, an exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts tells the fascinating story of how in 1907, King Edward VII commissioned Russian jewellery designer Peter Carl Fabergé to produce portrait sculptures of dogs and horses for the Sandringham estate as a gift for Queen Alexandra.

Gay pride

Fifty years since the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England, galleries across the country will reflect on the experiences of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) community. The first ever exhibition dedicated to queer British art takes place at Tate, featuring a series of deeply personal works created in the oppressive 100 years before the Sexual Offences Act was passed. A show at Walker Art Gallery will pick up where Tate Britain leaves off, bringing together works by David Hockney, Steve McQueen, LINDER and Sarah Lucas produced after 1967 and spanning to the present day. Works in this exhibition were funded through the Art Fund New Collecting Awards scheme.

At the British Museum, a fascinating object-led display aims to rectify what the novelist EM Forster described as ‘a great unrecorded history’, using an array of coins, medals and prints to tell LGBTQ stories dating back as far as the emperor Hadrian and his lover Antinous in AD117.

Girl power

Dulwich Picture Gallery starts the year with a Vanessa Bell retrospective that will testify to the full might of her artistic achievements, sadly often overshadowed by the fascination with her family life and romantic entanglements. Later in 2017 the gallery will display over 150 illustrations, drawings and paintings by Moomins creator Tove Jansson, giving the artist her first ever UK retrospective.

Gillian Wearing’s unusual self-portraits are brought together with those of French Surrealist Claude Cahun in a fascinating exhibition exploring identity and gender at the National Portrait Gallery, while at the Whitechapel, a showcase of photographic and video work by 17 female artists features pioneers such as Marina Abramović, Nan Goldin and the Icelandic Love Corporation.

Art in bloom

The British countryside has long been a source of inspiration to homegrown artists, not least John Constable, George Stubbs and Stanley Spencer. Their work is shown at Compton Verney this spring in an exhibition dedicated to rural life and landscapes, spanning from the 17th century to the present day. Research for the show was supported by an Art Fund Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grant.

At The Lightbox a tribute to 'sculptor of nature', Henry Moore, reveals how he used found objects – bones, skulls, flintstones, driftwood and shells – to inform his work. Meanwhile at Abbot Hall, there will be a display of paintings by George Shaw, inspired by his experiences walking in the forest as a teenager feeling that ‘something out of the ordinary could happen at any time’.

Jewels of Japan

In May, the British Museum is set to host an exhibition tracing the last 30 years of Katsushika Hokusai’s career, which will feature his dramatic depiction of a crashing tide (Kanagawa oki nami-ura) – acquired with Art Fund support – at its heart. Meanwhile, other examples of woodblock prints can be seen at Lady Lever Art Gallery in the autumn, where works owned by local collector Frank Milner reveal the celebrities, sports champions, fashion icons and villains of 19th century Japanese culture. 

The Barbican Art Gallery turns its attention to the extraordinary architectural designs that have been produced in Japan since the Second World War, as cities across the nation recovered from the bombing. These striking urban landscapes have become a popular mise-en-scene for anime films, a theme the House of Illustration will explore in its show devoted to the ‘backgrounds of Japan’. Also this year, the William Morris Gallery will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Frank Brangwyn’s birth by displaying his Japanese-style works alongside the prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige that inspired them.

Great Britons

British rockers, Pink Floyd, are the main act at the Victoria and Albert Museum this year, where an audio-visual exhibition will look at the music, staging and design behind the band’s success. At Tate Britain, David Hockney’s Los Angeles swimming pools and Yorkshire landscapes are brought together in a show celebrating his successful six-decade career, while Howard Hodgkin is the subject of three separate exhibitions in 2017; at the National Portrait Gallery, Victoria Art Gallery and the Hepworth Wakefield.

In June Grayson Perry promises to stage ‘The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’ at the Serpentine Gallery, showcasing a new series of works that he hopes will bring ‘non-traditional’ audiences into the gallery space. Perry says that his vision was to create the 'kind of art people like'. Yorkshire Sculpture Park will host a 'home-coming' for Turner Prize-winning artist Tony Cragg, who has been living in Germany for the past 40 years.

Best of the rest

Other highlights of 2017 include the UK’s first exhibition devoted to the Bruegel dynasty at The Holbourne Museum and a dissection of French modernism at the Ashmolean featuring works by Cezanne, Degas and Picasso. Meanwhile the Science Museum's display of 100 robots created over the past five centuries is set to include a 16th-century mechanical monk.

Get 50% off admission to exhibitions across the UK including those at the British Museum, the Tate galleries and the V&A with a National Art Pass.

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