The 11 best exhibitions of 2017

Icon for My Man Superman (Superman never saved any black people – Bobby Seale) detail, 1969, by Barkley Hendricks | Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power exhibition at Tate Modern, London, 12 July – 22 October 2017

In London an exhibition uncovered an entire lost history – and brilliance – of the sorrowful, shattering art of black power in Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at the Tate Modern. Music and immediacy dominated EVERYTHING AT ONCE, the ambitious group exhibition presented by Lisson Gallery and The Vinyl Factory at the Store Studios on The Strand. Photographers added another layer to the story of seismic events at the Whitechapel Gallery’s fascinating exhibition A Handful of Dust and climate change on our planet is evoked in John Akomfrah’s immersive, six-channel video installation Purple at the Barbican’s Curve gallery.

In no more than 50 paintings a fascinating show at the Royal Academy of Arts, America After the Fall, looked at American painting from the Wall Street crash and the great depression to the second world war. An exhibition by father and son duo Andy and Peter Holden celebrated the life of birds: Natural Selection was a project commissioned by public art powerhouse Artangel and sited within London’s former Newington Library. Filmmaker Wim Wenders shared the thousands of Polaroids he took while making his classic films in Instant Stories at the Photographers’ Gallery and interestingly what we learned from the British responses to the 1960s Italian arte povera movement in Poor Art | Arte Povera at the Estorick Collection is that they are very poor.

This year documenta 14, under the working title ‘Learning from Athens’, split its exhibition between the Greek capital and its traditional capital, Kassel. In Athens, we picked a single project, Mary Zygouri’s The Round-up Project: Kokkinia 1979 – Kokkinia 2017. Zygouri’s work engaged years of research into the remaining archives of first Greek performance artist Maria Karavela (most of which was recently destroyed by a fire) whose remarkable 1979 performance Kokkinia reenacted the events of the 1944 communist-led uprising in the working-class neighbourhood of Athens where German soldiers executed hundreds of people and placed more into concentration camps. The Round-up Project was consisted of educational workshops at local schools, a public performance involving the community in the area of Kokkinia and an exhibition at the Museum of the Kokkinia Blockade to echo both Karavela’s iconic work and Michel Foucault’s notion of a “history of the present”.

In the small town of Megara in mainland Greece where little is happening but dreams eventually come true, we caught up with the rare opportunity to see a wonderfully organised and engaging exhibition with Works by sculptor Kostas Vrytias from 2008-2017, curated by the sculptor (and local) himself! This is a happy event not only for standing out as a professionally organised show and perhaps a once in a longtime  opportunity to see an art exhibition in such a small community but also for its vision to open up the imagination of the locals.

And last but by no means least, [un]known destinations, a group exhibition curated by art critic Dr Kostas Prapoglou at the former House of Zarifi in Athens, which was built in the second decade of 20th century, was the talk of the town. The exhibition brought together nine artists (referring to the nine decades of the building’s life) from Greece and Cyprus to reflect on architecture, social identity and collective memory.


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