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The ten brightest art exhibitions of 2016

Written by
Time Out London Art

Banish the January blues with our guide to the most colourful cultural offerings of the year ahead.

1. Electronic Superhighway

You’d expect YouTube, Instagram, image manipulation and the Dark Web to feature in a show about how the invention of computers and the internet have impacted on artists and irrevocably changed the terrain of contemporary art. And they do, in work by current art world darlings such as Jon Rafman, Ryan Trecartin and Hito Steyerl. What the Whitechapel’s ambitious first show of 2016 also offers, however, is a surprisingly extensive history of the subject. The exhibition kicks off with the very recent stuff before taking you back to the paleolithic period (1966), when the group Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT), founded by engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer and including artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, staged ‘9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering’ in New York, a groundbreaking series of events that challenged the conventions of art by incorporating new technology.

Whitechapel Gallery. Jan 29 to May 15.


Wassily Kandinsky, 'Murnau The Garden II', 1910. Photo © Merzbacher Kunststiftung

2. Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse

Blossoming with over 120 works by Claude Monet and his near contemporaries, including Pierre Bonnard and Wassily Kandinsky, this bountiful show reveals how artists have been inspired by gardens and how gardens helped to shape the development of art from the 1860s to the 1920s.

Royal Academy of Arts. Jan 30 to Apr 20.


Betty Woodman: ‘Red White and Blue Vases’, 2013. © Betty Woodman. Photograph: Bruno Bruchi

3. Betty Woodman

Ceramics, art’s hottest trend of 2015, storms into the new year with this survey of Betty Woodman. The US sculptor is no pottery upstart, though. Woodman has worked with clay since the 1950s, creating jazzy mixed-media pieces that combine ceramics and cloth, and sample everything from Minoan and Egyptian art to the paintings of Picasso and Matisse.

ICA. Feb 3 to Apr 10.


Nikolai Astrup: ‘Midsummer Eve Bonfire’, before 1915. The Savings Bank Foundation DNB/The Astrup Collection/KODE Bergen Art Museum, Norway

4. Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928)

The name doesn’t mean much over here but in his native Norway, Nikolai Astrup is as famous as his contemporary Edvard Munch. You won’t find any anguished ‘Screams’ in this show of the painter and printmaker, though. Astrup focused on a handful of motifs including lakes, mountains and meadows of marsh marigolds. His is a deeply felt and affecting evocation of landscape imbued with memory and more than a little Nordic magic.

Dulwich Picture Gallery. Feb 5 to May 15.


Eugene Delacroix: ‘The Death of Sardanapalus (reduced replica)’, 1846. © Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania

5. Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art

The audacious, under-appreciated Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix gets his rightful moment in the spotlight in the National Gallery’s major spring show. Expect high drama, fantasy, violence, sex and sensuality from a true trailblazer.

National Gallery. Feb 17 to May 22.


William Morris, John Henry Dearle, Morris & Co 'The Orchard', 1890. © Victoria & Albert Museum

6. Botticelli Reimagined

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), Florentine painter of exquisite mythological scenes (including that sad-eyed Venus being born from a sea shell) was immensely popular during his lifetime. He’s also rare among early Renaissance artists in that his work continues to achieve popcultural fame well into the twenty-first century – via Dolce & Gabbana, Gaga and many others. Bringing together the biggest haul of Botticellis we’ve seen in London for decades, the V&A’s expansive show is a chance to marvel at the strange, otherworldly beauty of the master, while looking at his influence, not just on art, but on film, photography, fashion and design.

V&A. Mar 5 to Jul 3.


Tina Barney: 'The Red Sheath', 2001. © Tina Barney, Courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery

7. Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers

Martin Parr has spent his career casting a quizzical eye over Britain, so he’s the ideal curator for a show that examines how international photographers have captured the social, cultural and political identity of the UK since the 1930s. It should make for a unique ‘outsider’s view’ of Britain, from the Outer Hebrides to Dover, covering an epic sweep of fairly recent history – from the coronation of George VI in 1937 to surveillance photos of looters taken during the 2011 London riots.

Barbican Art Gallery. Mar 16 to Jun 19.


Mary Heilmann: 'Crashing Wave', 2011. © Mary Heilmann. Photo: Thomas Müller

8. Mary Heilmann

Arriving like a heady blast of ozone comes this retrospective of the US artist. Born in San Francisco in 1940, Mary Heilmann has forged a singular path, riffing on various styles of abstraction – hard-edge painting, expressionist brushwork, the dot, the splodge, the stripe, the dribble – in a blissfully insouciant manner. Prepare to be dazzled.

Whitechapel Gallery. Jun 8 to Aug 21.


Georgia O’Keeffe: ‘Abstraction White Rose’, 1927. © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

9. Georgia O’Keeffe

Landscape painter, flower painter, feminist artist… Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was all of these and more. Tate Modern’s retrospective aims to reconcile aspects of a forceful, though sometimes conflicted artist. Works on show will include her erotic flowers and haunting paintings of her beloved New Mexico.

Tate Modern. Jul 6 to Oct 30.


Jackson Pollock: 'Male and Female', 1942-43. © Courtesy of The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY and DACS London 2015

10. Abstract Expressionism

Abstract expressionism, with its love of spontaneity, automatic and unconscious forms, marks the moment when America took over from Paris as the crucible of modern art (whether or not you believe the theories about CIA involvement in its rise to prominence). This survey of the movement brings together the big deals, bad boys and prodigious boozers of the era – including Franz Kline, ‘Jack the Dripper’ Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. It’s sure to be a swaggeringly audacious show.

Royal Academy of Arts. Sep 24 to Jan 2 2017.

Find out more cool art happenings this year.

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