The Top 10 London Art Exhibitions of 2013

After the art powerhouse that was 2012 with shows by Hirst, Freud and Hockney, and exhibitions on Bronze and the ridiculously popular Rain Room, it was always going to be a difficult act for 2013 to follow. But this year has had some sterling exhibitions and it’s been another fantastic year for art.

We’ve put together our top 10 of the major exhibitions of the year, and we’ve also included a top 5 of shows at smaller venues.

Top 10 Blockbusters

1. Light Show @ Hayward Gallery
Why we loved it: Even though it opened at the beginning of the year, this was always going to be difficult to beat. The variety of art on display and the number of different works that had us staring in awe was never matched by any other exhibition. Easily the most exciting and engaging art exhibition of the year. 

2. Visions of the Universe @ National Maritime Museum
Why we loved it: Spectacular images of galaxies, nebulae and the Martian surface had us gazing into the heavens in wonderment. Breathtaking photographs showed us both the beauty of the universe and humanity’s achievement in imaging it.

3. Landmark @ Somerset House
Why we loved it: Landscape photography is often seen as a vanilla genre but this exhibition showed us that it can be as inventive as any other subject. From oil spills to hundreds of sunsets grouped together, this was a who’s-who in the world of international photography and its diversity was hugely impressive. 

4. Barocci: Brilliance and Grace @ National Gallery
Why we loved it: It’s usually prudent to roll your eyes when an exhibition talks about a ‘lost genius’ or ‘forgotten master’ but in this instance they were spot on. Barocci was an excellent Renaissance painter well ahead of his time, experimenting with shadows and light in a way that hadn’t been seen before. Also worth a mention here was the excellent Murillo exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery whose two versions of the immaculate conception were awe-inspiring.

5. Klee @ Tate Modern
Why we loved it: A remarkably diverse and talented artist’s varied portfolio was brought to bear in this sensational retrospective filled with brilliant works that all started with Klee’s simple philosophy of ‘taking a line for a walk’. Operating on the fringes of representational art, Klee was able to use a simple style to create complex themes.

6. Sebastiao Salgado: Genesis @ Natural History Museum
Why we loved it: This was clearly a great year for photography with three entries in our top six. Salgado’s black and white photographs imparted great emotion into his landscapes and portraits of natives. This massive exhibition was filled with so many first-rate images that those that were merely good felt underwhelming in comparison.

7. Memory Palace @ V&A
Why we loved it: This inventive concept of a graphic novel turned into an exhibition was unique and surprisingly effective. The artworks and story blended well and the innovative idea of merging two disparate mediums made for a unique experience. Elmgreen & Dragset’s Tomorrow also used a similar concept of crossed mediums, and was equally engaging.

8. Becoming Picasso @ Courtauld Gallery
Why we loved it: Just by taking a one-year snapshot of Picasso’s life, this show managed to highlight everything that made him such a talent. It had all the signs of a great painter growing and developing into one of history’s most important artists.

9. Michael Landy: Saints Alive @ National Gallery
Why we loved it: What a breath of fresh air this exhibition by Michael Landy was. By picking up on the violence depicted in classical art his kinetic sculptures were loud, crude and interactive — everything you wouldn’t expect from an exhibition at the National Gallery.

10. Lichtenstein @ Tate Modern
Why we loved it: His trademark use of Ben-Day dots often pigeon hole Lichtenstein as a one trick, albeit highly valued, pony. This show gave us greater insight into his work, including different styles including landscapes and nudes. But it’s the war and romance room filled with his classics that took top billing, and well and truly lived up to it.

It was such a strong list of exhibitions this year that great shows by George Bellows and Manet at the Royal Academy, and the fun and interactive Red Never Follows at Saatchi gallery were unable to break into our personal top 10.

Museum/Gallery of the Year

National Maritime Museum
This Greenwich treasure started brilliantly with the latter half of the Ansel Adams exhibition. It finishes strongly with an excellent exhibition on Turner’s seascapes. In between we had the majestic Visions of the Universe and the opening of a new permanent gallery to Nelson. A sensational year for this institution with all exhibitions hitting the mark.

Top 5 Independent Exhibitions

1. Artists Anonymous @ Berloni
Why we loved it: We visited this gallery, transformed into a disturbing house, on our own and it was a nerve-wracking experience that got darker as we progressed, and as its latent threat was realised. A truly thought-provoking and challenging exhibition.

2. Beastly Hall @ Bexley Hall Place
Why we loved it: Taxidermy in art and distorted animal sculptures are en vogue at the moment and this collection had all the big name artists in this field. A grand setting only added to the macabre yet enjoyable collection ranging from skeleton cartoons to a swarm of suspended flies.

3. Urs Fischer @ Sadie Coles
Why we loved it: Walking through a rainbow rainstorm of over-sized, multi-coloured rain drops is an unforgettable experience. That’s easily enough to sell this fun yet deeply layered exhibition that makes great use of this large gallery space.

4. David Breuer-Weil: Project 4 @ The Vaults
Why we loved it: The tunnels near Waterloo station make for an atmospheric setting, as we experienced creepy art and a zombie adventure. This exhibition made full use of the space to showcase the excellent paintings and sculpture of a talented artist.

5. Leon Kossoff @ Annely Juda Fine Art
Why we loved it: One of Britain’s greatest living artists filled two floors with densely layered drawings and paintings that recreate the energy and excitement of our city in his inimitable expressive style.

These are our top picks for this fantastic year in art.  But if you have any other exhibitions you think deserve a mention, let us know in the comments below.

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