The best exhibitions of the year

I asked some visual arts tutors to tell me what they thought the best exhibition they went to this year was, and these are the results: some of them are still on, so seek them out!

Richard Liley, OCA art tutor picks Edward Burra: ‘The best exhibitions are the one’s that stay in your memory and you tend to mull them over. I went to a number of exhibitions this year which were excellent and some were fascinating experiences such as the Rain Room at the Barbican Curve Gallery – but they were just experiences.’

The show that stands out in my mind was the Edward Burra at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, West Sussex ,which finished on 19 February 2012. Burra’s work has a psychological effect on you. It is rather like the threatening atmosphere of a film like Deliverance or the Omen. Even an innocent landscape has a sense of foreboding. There is also the enigma of the man who was so dreadfully ill with pernicious anaemia and arthritic hands –yet managed to travel the world and hang out with the ”bright young things”.

The show attracted one of the highest visitor numbers for any provincial gallery this year and the venue itself is wonderful with an excellent permanent collection.

Linda Khatir, Course Leader, Fine Art, says: ‘My favourite exhibition of 2012 was Matisse, Paires et series at the Pompidou Centre Paris. Matisse was truly a master of colour, but there was far more to this show than pure visual pleasure. I passed several pairs and series before pausing at ‘Lorette with a green dress‘ (1916) and ‘the painter in his studio’ (1917). In the latter Matisse had painted himself painting the former. The painting of Lorette with a green dress is clearly visible in the painting and in the painting of the painting. This modest and poetic self-portrait clearly references another great European painting, Velasquez’ ‘las Meninas’. Both these works call up the philosophical concepts of meta-painting and meta-narrative; paintings within paintings, and stories within stories, which in turn relate to the (heraldic) concept of mise en abyme, where a thing is depicted inside itself, a view within a view ad infinitum … head spinning stuff!’

Hayley Lock selects Isa Genzken which is still on at Hauser & Wirth, 33 Savile Row, London (15 November 2012 – 12 January 2013) ‘The first thing that hits you as you walk by the North Gallery window at Hauser & Wirth in Savile Row London is the riot of colour and cool shaded Nefertiti busts performing procession like in seven parts an outward gaze at their distant audience. At the foot of each column is the repeated image of herself, the artist framed as the Mona Lisa. Once inside the vast space you become wary of the opposing columns to the right (also on castors) that are like a lot of Genzken’s previous signature pieces, vividly coloured perspex covered plinths housing beautiful and carefully selected everyday objects in their bellies such as globes and plastic figurines, objects repeated throughout the show in both her paintings, collages and sculptural structures. Sandwiched between are Genzken’s floor based collages spanning the floor; busy totemic snapshots of the artists personal life, poster sized reproductions of Renaissance portraits, adverts and clashing patterned wrapping paper painted over in thick white paint demonstrating clearly her use of photography, sculpture and painting all seen overlapping, colliding, linked and stacked. This has been my most favourite show this year because it is exciting, lively, colourful, playful, anarchic, stable as well as precarious, tricky and fun.’

Angela Rogers chooses ‘These Associations’, Tino Seghal in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall. ‘The curator Jessica Morgan said that art that avoids looking like art is increasingly difficult to achieve in the 21st century. There is a willingness to accept almost any event or gesture as art. This is the context for the art of Tino Seghal. Seghal works with participants to make interventions in museums and galleries, where his communications and games take the public by surprise. Although over time the disarming effect of, in this case conversations with strangers, must diminish over time especially when it’s taken up by the media. The participants, often dancers or singers, help devise the work and bring their own stories. On this October Saturday, there were about 30 participants in the Turbine Hall. Dressed in ordinary clothes they were unrecognisable, until they all moved at once,like a herd of deer alerted by a sound. Then, dispersed amongst the crowd, they began to sing, their voices coming from everywhere. The lights went off and we all listened,in that great space in the dark. The most reported aspect of Seghal’s piece were the conversations between volunteers and visitors. This chimed with my experience at the event…. the experience of art is so contingent upon the viewer and what they bring to it.’

Olivia Irvine chooses the Symbolists. ‘The best exhibition I have seen this year was Van Gogh to Kandinsky- Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880- 1910 which was on at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. I found it an emotionally satisfying exhibition. I think it is quite rare these days to have an exhibition that appeals to the emotions rather than the intellect. The exhibition was wide ranging in style, subject matter (there were cities, figures and abstracts as well as landscapes) and provenance. Included were artists from Scandinavia who are little known to British exhibition goers. Many of the paintings were arresting. They were beautiful, provoking and moving. I went three times so felt I could appreciate the nuances that were missed first time. They were paintings that demanded time for their full impact to be appreciated. Many would criticise this exhibition for not really being about symbols or even Symbolism, as there were some works that really had nothing to do with either. I would tend to agree with this but what sticks in my mind several months later is not the curatorship of the exhibition but the paintings themselves.’

Jim Unsworth chooses BRONZE at the Royal Academy. ‘I liked this exhibition because it encompassed the whole spectrum of human endeavour in regards to making sculpture in Bronze. In fact very little was made actually in bronze but from other much more plastic material such as clay and wax and found objects which had been subsumed into more permanent form. Different eras where placed together which gave a good insight into how makers had treated the same subject over a long period of time. Universal themes stood out as being constant in the psyches both of makers and society; the human form, animals, deities and others all emanating from sculptors from varied societies and with different intents. This was a very enlightening exhibition.’


  1. Richard Liley 20 December 2012 at 7:11 pm

    There is a section missing from my review of the Burra and it does not make sense.

    1. Jane 21 December 2012 at 9:14 am

      Sorry Richard, not sure what happened there. Corrected now.

      1. Richard Liley 21 December 2012 at 11:09 am

        Thanks Jane.

  2. Tracy Roberts 20 December 2012 at 10:10 pm

    I agree with Richard , what an amazing retrospective exhibition and a delight to discuss the work with him and meet other students . Edward Burra was not only technically brilliant , but able able to draw the viewer in using his detailed narrative , often rather macabre . The work is haunting , arresting and certainly stays in your memory .His dry humour , dedication and output is something to celebrate considering his physical condition . Personally I find his landscapes particularly inspiring and profound .

  3. anne 20 December 2012 at 10:44 pm

    I agree with Olivia; from Van Goch to Kandinsky was a most enjoyable exhibition. I was fortunate enough to listen to a lecture from Richard Thomson who helped curate the exhibition and this increased my understanding of the social climate at the time, and how the advances which were being made in science , technology and philosophy influenced the art of the day. Very educational and a bonus to be introduced to artists I hadn’t heard of before.

  4. Angie 22 December 2012 at 10:23 am

    I didn’t see any of these exhibitions, but Olivia Irvine has left me in no doubt about which one I am sorry to have missed. How refreshing to just hear about the effects the paintings had on her. Surely this is what art is really about.

  5. olivia irvine 30 December 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Fragility, vulnerability, psychology, philosophy, participation, history- it’s all here and more. I enjoyed looking at the image of ‘Lorette with a green dress’- the combination of bright green and pink against the plain black background is bold. I like what you say, Linda, about paintings within other paintings, metanarratives and mise-en- abyme (a phrase new to me).

  6. Alan 7 January 2013 at 12:01 am

    Roger Ballen in Manchester… The creeping malevolence of his work was heightened by the grey flats of the exhibition. The clincher was the screaming vocals of Yolandi from Die Antwoord projected onto the walls. Dirty, unpleasant, dysfuntional. Photography you want to wash your hands after.

    Low point- Helmut Newton in Berlin. I briefly worked with him in the late 90s in London. Nothing prepared me for the repetitive strain of nude after tedious nude in his ‘museum’/gallery. Head straight for the gallery book shop for a fist full of bargains…


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