The best exhibitions to see in 2022 from Stonehenge to Surrealism

You know it’s going to be a good year for art when choosing even your top 12 shows is agonising. We are in for a huge art treat in 2022, and a pleasingly diverse one, too. So while there are plenty of timeless crowd pleasers like Van Gogh and Raphael, we’ll also be introduced to new faces and less widely celebrated figures from far beyond the traditional Western canon. These are my top picks (and a few related exhibitions snuck in), but there are glories beyond.

Take one cluster of related shows: Francis Bacon’s obsession with animals is revealed in Man and Beast at the Royal Academy in January, while yet another exhibition of Bacon’s old mucker Lucian Freud opens in October, this time at the National Gallery. Postwar Modern, a show focusing on the milieu in which Freud and Bacon emerged is at the Barbican in February; and a survey of the great Walter Sickert, a formative figure for both artists, is at Tate Britain from April. And all this before we even think about shows of new art in the commercial galleries; truly, we live in a city in which great art is bountiful.

The World of Stonehenge

Who were the people that built Stonehenge and what were their beliefs? Through 430 works, including the Nebra Sky Disc, the oldest surviving image of the cosmos, the British Museum hopes to show us. Rather than reinforcing the mystery around one of the world’s most famous ancient sites, the exhibition will take us to the heart of the dynamic age during which it was built, reflecting radical changes in the society of the time. It will include Seahenge, the upturned oak surrounded by more than 50 wooden posts that was discovered on a Norfolk beach 20 years ago, and was probably a site for rituals.British Museum, Feb 17 to Jul 17,

Surrealism Beyond Borders

Surrealism is often explored through the Northern European artists of the Twenties and Thirties, who remain its most famous exponents. And while linchpins of that incarnation of the movement – Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, and the more recently celebrated women, like Eileen Agar – do feature in Tate Modern’s forthcoming show, it mainly explores Surrealism’s impact across the world, from Mexico to Egypt and Japan.

It reflects how the different artistic centres shared philosophies and visual styles but were often galvanised around radical political movements – proving that the irrational, the uncanny and the perverse are marvellous vehicles for the expression of resistance. In October, meanwhile, the Design Museum is showing Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design, 1934 to today, which should also be a must-see.

Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear

A huge, wide-ranging show exploring how fashion designers, artists and others have defined masculinity across the ages. The show features 100 looks, captured in historic and contemporary fashions, with items from, among others, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Tom Ford for Gucci (who sponsor the show) and Dolce & Gabbana, whose cape is shown alongside a marvellous painting by Sofonisba Anguissola, featuring an extravagantly attired Baroque prince. The art-fashion dialogue runs through the show, with images by artists who have captured the diverse contemporary construction of masculinities, including Isaac Julien and Zanele Muholi, and those who operate across the two disciplines, like artist-designer Grace Wales Bonner.Victoria & Albert Museum, March 19 to Nov 6,

The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Raphael

Postponed from 2020, this should be worth the wait. Raphael was the most celebrated artist of his age and the hero of art academies for centuries beyond it, but of the trinity of High Renaissance greats including his great rival Michelangelo and Leonardo, he’s now the least publicly celebrated. Perhaps, as Kenneth Clark suggested, it’s because he is “the supreme harmoniser”, out of step with fractured modern bombast.

But could that calm beauty, balance and radiance in his paintings, and the exquisite line of his miraculous drawings, be just what we need today? The 90 works here will include unprecedented loans from the world’s great collections and the National also promises innovative presentations on Raphael’s greatest masterpieces, the Stanze frescoes in the Vatican’s Papal Palace. The National doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to newfangled “experiences”; here’s hoping they get this one right.

Cornelia Parker

A long overdue retrospective of the British artist’s work, which can vary from subtle yet richly complex conceptual pieces to enormous room-filling installations, like Cold Dark Matter, her “exploded shed” which has proved such an enormous hit whenever it’s shown at the Tates. Parker can operate across registers from mischievous to sardonic to impassioned, but her work always takes unexpected routes into its subject matter, and has a nuanced view of Britishness amid more universal themes, whether it’s remembrance and memorials in War Room, the spectacular installation made with red paper from which poppies are punched, to nationhood and democracy in a 13-metre-long embroidery of the Wikipedia page for Magna Carta.

In the Black Fantastic

Curated by Ekow Eshun, this mouthwatering exhibition looks at how contemporary artists across the African diaspora are creating a new form of Afrofuturism. Drawing on elements of myth, spiritual tradition, speculative fiction, carnival and folklore, they address the histories of slavery and colonialism and contemporary inequities and build what Eshun has described as “new narratives of Black possibility”.

The list of 12 artists immediately suggests that it will be spectacular: Ellen Gallagher, Hew Locke, Wangechi Mutu, Chris Ofili and Kara Walker, to name a few, are making some of the most visually and conceptually rich art of our time. Earlier in the year, Locke will take on Tate Britain’s Duveens Commission (Mar 22 to Oct 23) – his long track record of dramatic installations and sardonic yet glittering takes on the history of imperial statuary make him the ideal artist for this space right now.

Carolee Schneemann

Remarkably, this will be the first major survey of the great feminist performance and video artist in the UK. Schneemann’s work blazed trails from the 1960s onwards and remains astonishing today. In Meat Joy, she and other performers covered their bodies in meat, fish and paint; in Interior Scroll, she removed said scroll featuring a male critic’s prudish rejection of her work from her vagina and read from it; and in Fuses she filmed herself having sex with her boyfriend. All are shown in different ways in the Barbican’s 200-work show.

Throughout her career, Schneemann explored the body as an art medium in itself, questioning the overwhelmingly male-dominated history of art and creating unforgettable works that influenced everyone from Tracey Emin to Lady Gaga.


When I spoke to Sarah McCrory, the director of Goldsmiths CCA, in October, she told me excitedly about this show, which reflects a hugely topical subject: as McCrory puts it: “It’s considering, after the Black Lives Matter protests, after a pandemic, after Brexit, with a climate crisis, how can we look at monuments? How do we rethink history?” Among the artists are Alvaro Barrington, Phyllida Barlow, Jeremy Deller and Oscar Murillo.

Expect everything from sardonic reflections on the government’s “retain and explain” policy on statues of slavers and imperialists to fantastical futuristic constructions. I can’t wait.

Van Gogh Self-Portraits

Following its triumphant re-opening this year, the Courtauld has a blockbuster-filled programme for 2022. In May, it opens Edvard Munch: Masterpieces from Bergen (May 27 to September 5), but before that is this absolute humdinger. The Courtauld’s own Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear is joined by more than 15 others, from those made in Van Gogh’s tentative early years to one of his last, Self-Portrait with a Palette, painted while he was in his Provence asylum in 1889 – lent to the show by the National Gallery of Art in Washington. “They say… that it is difficult to know yourself,” Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, “but it isn’t easy to paint yourself either.” Few artists have had a more productive go at it.

Louise Bourgeois: the Woven Child

The Hayward Gallery contends that this show of Bourgeois’s late works using textiles reflects “one of the greatest late-career chapters in the history of art”. While I agree that the French-American artist is one of the most significant figures of the second half of the 20th century, the jury is out on the more uneven late works, where the psychological intensity of her earlier periods can give way to a certain whimsy. So the success of this show will be dependent on the selection.

But fabric is a good route into Bourgeois’s dark imagination and exploration of familial trauma and psychic damage: her parents’ tapestry restoration workshop looms large in works like Spider and Cell XXV (The View of the World of the Jealous Wife), both featured in this show and among the best things Bourgeois made in her late phase.

Decriminalised Futures

After the success of its anti-racism show War Inna Babylon last year, in which it worked with the collective Tottenham Rights, the ICA is again working on an urgent subject with politically-focused organisations, this time Arika, which advocates social change through art, and the sex-workers’ rights group Swarm.

Through 10 artist projects, Decriminalised Futures focuses on rights movements responding to the precarity of existence for sex workers across the world, emphasising the connection to other campaigns including migrant justice and queer and trans rights. Among the works on view is Liad Hussein Kantorowicz’s video Mythical Creatures which explores a sex worker organisation in Palestine-Israel.

A Century of the Artist’s Studio 1920-2020

A fascinating-sounding show looking at the shift in the nature of artists’ studios over 100 years. The breadth of artists, from Picasso and Matisse through Warhol to contemporary greats like Roni Horn and Kerry James Marshall, is astonishing, so it will be intriguing to see how the curators ensure the show knits together. But there are two main themes, essentially exploring two kinds of artists: producers and makers: The Public Studio – Artists Together, looking at the studio as a factory or collective workspace and The Private Studio – Artists Alone, which explores more intimate activities and even hidden spaces, sites of refuge or political resistance.

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