What Were The Best Exhibitions Of 2017?

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 16 months ago

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What Were The Best Exhibitions Of 2017?

What were the best exhibitions of 2017. Read on and see what captivated us this past year in another great year of exhibitions for London - if you want to find out more click on each exhibition and it will take you to our full length review. Just to build the suspense we'll do our top 10 in reverse order.

10. Superflex at Tate Modern

Swinging is fun, no not that kind.

What can be better than the pure joy of a swing? A swing you can have a conversation on and is inside the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, that's what. Three-person swings are both inside and outside the gallery. We had so much fun in this installation and it's the type of fun, memorable and accessible art we expect from the Turbine Hall.  Superflex at Tate Modern, until 2 April 2018, free.

9. Opera: Passion, Power and Politics at V&A

The music and the set design are superb. Image copyright V&A

The V&A has changed the benchmark for any show that features music with their use of locational audio — headphones that change the music depending on where you are in the exhibition. The soundtrack is so clear that we can close our eyes and imagine ourselves in an opera house as Verdi's chorus of the Hebrew slaves resonates in our ribcage and stirs our soul. Ignore the cluttered curation and let the opera lift you away to another world.
Opera: Passion, Power & Politics at V&A, until 25 February 2018, £19.  

8. Harry Potter: A History of Magic at The British Library

The legend of Harry Potter meets ancient history. Image copyright The British Library.

Make potions, learn all about fantastic beasts and the power of magic. Is this Harry Potter or historical literature? It's actually both, as the wizarding world meets the legends of our own. We're not the biggest Harry Potter fans but we were left spellbound by the combination of the thorough research expected of a British Library exhibition coupled with the inventive and interactive design of the exhibition.  Harry Potter: A History of Magic at British Library, until 28 February 2018, £16.

7. Whales: Beneath the Surface at Natural History Museum

We were dwarfed by these underwater giants.

The big news at the Natural History Museum was the unveiling of Hope the Blue Whale, replacing the beloved Dippy. To accompany the grand reveal there's an excellent exhibition about these giants of the deep including the skeleton of the whale that famously got stuck in the Thames, a heart the size of our torso and a shoulder blade towering over us. The scale of these gargantuan underwater creatures is really brought home and the show is replete with fascinating cetacean facts. Whales: Beneath The Surface at Natural History Museum, until 28 February 2018, from £11.50.

6. David Hockney at Tate Britain

A mesmerising walk down the same road in four seasons.

Vivid landscapes blind us with their bright colours, cool portraits have their sitters relaxing, and a mesmerising video travels down the same road in all four seasons. David Hockney may be in his eighties now but his desire to keep experimenting seems to have no end, and it's a large part of what makes this show so inspiring. David Hockney at Tate Britain, now finished.

5. America after the fall: Painting from the 1930s at Royal Academy of Arts

Beautiful paintings at every turn, including this one by Edward Hopper. Copyright the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

A woman stands in the light outside a cinema and we wonder what she's thinking, a domestic scene of a farming couple is filled with hidden meaning and a car careers up a hill brazenly unaware it's heading for a collision. 45 American paintings capture the spirit of coming out of the Great Depression, coming together for our top painting exhibition of the year. America after the fall: Painting from the 1930s at Royal Academy of Arts, now finished.

4. Robots at Science Museum

See how the future looked in the past with these old school robots and some of their newer cousins.

Fist bumping a robot is one of the highlights of our year. Throw in a creepy animatronic baby and famous robots like the Terminator and we were in automaton heaven. The history of robots is a lot older than we had thought and a 16th century automated monk as a devotional object was just one of many surprises in this electric exhibition. This show was a glimpse at our future and it was both inspiring and terrifying at the same time. Robots at Science Museum, now finished in London, but is showing in Manchester until 15 April.

3. The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 at Barbican

Kick off your shoes and head into the tea house in an immersive show.

Walk around houses with books on the stairs, climb inside a tea house and watch a surreal film of a family so violent that the house collapses around them. This was an example of how immersive exhibitions can create unforgettable experiences, and it was coupled with the chance to learn about the fascinating philosophy of architecture as art that Japan ascribes to. The Barbican is now playing host to an excellent Basquiat exhibition that narrowly avoided making this list.  The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 at Barbican, now finished.

2. Venom: Killer and Cure at Natural History Museum

Hello little ant. Oh your bit is the most painful in the world. Goodbye. Copyright trustees of Natural History Museum.

In a great year for this museum, here's its second entry in our top 10. Pain rankings of bites and stings mean we are always going to stay well clear of bullet ants, a giant spider crawls in front of us and there's a chance to learn about the medical uses of venom. This is a fascinating, grisly and creepy exhibition that arachnophobes should steer clear of but everyone else should rush to see. Venom: Killer and Cure at Natural History Museum, until 13 May 2018, from £9.

1. Age of Terror: Art after 9/11 at IWM London

This heavyweight exhibition blew us away. One that etches into the memory. Copyright Omer Fast.

9/11 shook the world and even artists struggled with how to process it. Here we have a show of artists trying to make sense of our crazy time. Often they struggle and it's fascinating to see how this uncertainty channels their creativity. This is the most important show you'll see this year (or next) and it shows that art can be political, powerful and relevant — that's why it's our exhibition of the year. Other critics have been lukewarm, but they are wrong — go see it. Age of Terror: Art after 9/11 at IWM London, until 28 May 2018, £15.


So there's our list and the best thing is six are still open so you have the chance to still catch them. Do you agree with our choices? Did your favourite not make the cut? Let us know in the comments.

Last Updated 02 January 2018