Exhibitions in 2022: the best shows and major trends of the year

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The tragedy of war

We were hardly settled into 2022 before the biggest attempted invasion in Europe since the Second World War began, as Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine. Many artists spoke out against the invasion but it was the words of the Ukrainian artist and photographer Boris Mikhailov that struck home, cutting through any ideas of this being anything but an utter tragedy.

Boris Mikhailov began his Red series (1968-75), documenting everyday life in his home city of Kharkiv during the Soviet era © Boris Mikhaïlov/VG Bild-Kunst

“They say a man can get used to anything. A house collapses and a new one is built in its place,” he told The Art Newspaper in our September issue Artist Interview. “But it is impossible to rebuild broken, destroyed lives. I cannot forgive this treacherous attack on my country. I cannot get used to this war.”

Pandemic art

Michael Armitage: the pandemic led him to paint en plein air Photo: Philipp Hänger/Kunsthalle Basel

Many people were still reeling from the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, with artists being no different. The Kenyan painter Michael Armitage told us how he began creating work en plein air in Nairobi, ahead of his exhibition at the Kunsthalle Basel.

Veronica Ryan: the oldest artist to win the Turner Prize Photo: © Holly Falconer

The experience of lockdown can be seen in the recent works of the Montserrat-born British sculptor Veronica Ryan who became the oldest artist to win the Turner Prize. And there was some “major pandemic art” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Pandemic art at the Whitney: Meriem Bennani and Orian Barki, still from 2 Lizards (2020) Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. © Meriem Bennani and Orian Barki.

Big shows, big impact

Big shows around the world made a big impact of the reviewers of our Big Review section.

Installation view of Donatello: The Renaissance at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. Courtesy of Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

The New Museum retrospective covered the sweep of Faith Ringgold’s six-decade career, including mask sculptures from 1973, and, behind, two fabric-and-paint works, from the 1983 California Dah series ©dariolasagni.com

Charles Moore exalted “[Faith] Ringgold’s revolutionary impact” in her show at New York’s New Museum, while Alison Cole, editor of The Art Newspaper, highlighted how the curator “[Francesco] Caglioti’s excitement at presenting Donatello’s transgressive spirit and extraordinary achievement in all its delicate and dramatic cadences is palpable throughout the exhibition” in Florence. The latter show will travel in modified form to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (11 February-11 June).

Andy Warhol, one of the many artist and activist contemporaries Alice Neel painted when living in New York. Estate of Alice Neel; Photo: © Whitney Museum of American Art/Licensed by Scala

Meanwhile in Paris the first major survey of the US artist Alice Neel saw our reviewer give it five stars, quoting Neel herself: “‘One of the reasons I painted was to catch life as it goes by, right hot off the griddle.’ That is exactly how these paintings feel,” wrote our reviewer Matthew Holman. Those unable to make it will get another chance to see the show when a slightly altered version, retitled Hot off the Griddle, opens at the Barbican Art Gallery in London (16 February-21 May).

The Venice Biennale 2022

The most dramatic installation at the Biennale was Precious Okoyomon’s To See the Earth Before the End of the World (2022). Photo: Roberto Marossi; Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

And of course, 2022 was a Venice Biennale year. The main exhibition was “one that honours its artists by letting them dictate its paths, while providing a perfectly judged structure to allow their thoughts to percolate, and their imaginations to soar”, according to the art critic Ben Luke.

The Golden Lion award was won by Sonia Boyce for the British Pavilion, Tinie Tempah mixed with Tintoretto, there was protest art (featuring Putin as a yob) and even the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky made an appearance, of sorts.

Adina Pintilie’s 45-minute video at the Romanian Pavilion of the Venice Biennale was a hard but important watch Photo: Aimee Dawson

And there were our round-ups of the must-see pavilions in the Giardini and Arsenale, the top collateral shows and the most popular of all on our website… the worst art on show during the Venice Biennale 2022.

The work of the AI robot Ai-Da scored high for worst art on show at the Venice Biennale 2022 Photo: Guy Bell

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