Our favourite exhibitions of 2016

The London Design Biennale, an exploration of Stanley Kubrick’s films and Alan Kitching all make it into our top exhibition picks of the year.

London Design Biennale

London Design Biennale, entry from South Africa © Bradley Lloyd Barnes
London Design Biennale, entry from South Africa © Bradley Lloyd Barnes

Somerset House, London
7-27 September 2016

Somerset House hosted the first ever London Design Biennale this year. The huge exhibition took over the entirety of the building, with an eclectic array of installations submitted by 37 different countries based on the theme of Design by Utopia. The show wasn’t perfectly executed, with a few ladders still being climbed on opening day to finish last minute creations. But for its inaugural year, it presented an impressive selection of thought-provoking, clever, moving – and sometimes amusing – exhibits, which either interpreted utopia, or offered solutions for a happier, more idealistic world. We saw everything from Norway’s existing inclusive design systems to a fun but poignant display transforming South Africa’s deadliest animals into giant, playful seats. With the UK’s public currently divided following the Brexit vote, the colourful exhibition was a much-needed representation of talent and ideas from all over the world.

Alan Kitching: A Life in Letterpress

Alan Kitching Book Jacket

Manchester School of Art, Manchester
12-21 October 2016

We visited Alan Kitching’s touring exhibition at Design Manchester, where it was based within the Manchester School of Art. Alongside the design legend’s finished work, the show gave visitors insight into his unique ways of working through showcasing the sketchbooks and scraps of paper which bore the roughs and proofs from Kitching’s own archive. The exhibition demonstrated the beauty and individuality of the art of letterpress, and reminded visitors of the labour that went into printing before digital tools came along. To prove this point, Kitching himself letterpressed 200 special edition book jackets to wrap around his A Life in Letterpress book, sold at Manchester-based arts and crafts shop Fred Aldous. “All of them are slightly different,” said Kitching. The show made its way around the UK in 2016, and is currently on at The Lighthouse in Glasgow until 5 March 2017.

Beazley Designs of the Year

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The Design Museum, London
24 November 2016 – 19 February 2017

The Design Museum’s annual exhibition celebrating laudable projects across architecture, digital, fashion, graphics, product and transport was made extra special this year thanks to the museum’s relocation. Having moved to London’s High Street Kensington into a building three times the size of the last one, the exhibition was allotted an expansive basement space, with bare, concrete walls allowing the varied, colourful exhibits to come into their own. The exhibition design, completed by Hato Studio, was welcoming and inclusive, using simple, cute emojis to demonstrate different sectors and provided no strict route throughout the space, allowing visitors to explore as they saw fit. Included this year was everything from the Ikea Foundation’s Better Shelter for refugees through to a new sexual health testing kit which took the embarrassment out of visiting a clinic. We look forward to finding out the winners of each category in January.

Here & Now

by Pat Taylor
by Pat Taylor

National Centre for Craft & Design, Sleaford, Lincolnshire
1 October 2016 – 15 January 2017

Tapestry is an art and design form rarely celebrated within museums and exhibitions. Here & Now took place at Lincoln’s National Centre for Craft & Design in October, showcasing the work of tapestry weavers from around the world and demonstrating that the craft is certainly still relevant and sparking debate. Tapestries were chosen which engaged with contemporary issues, including political and social ones – we saw everything from exquisitely-woven selfies to stony depictions of Vladimir Putin. But curator Lesley Millar didn’t just want to demonstrate the beauty and craft of the art form – in showcasing great work, she hoped the show would go some way in keeping it alive. “I want people to realise that tapestries are a really energetic and vibrant, living art form,” she said. “Let’s hope this exhibition reignites the fire.”

Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick

In Consolus - Full of Hope, by James Lavelle and John Isaacs, featuring Azzi Glasser
In Consolus – Full of Hope, by James Lavelle and John Isaacs, featuring Azzi Glasser

Somerset House, London
30 June – 29 August 2016

Shocking, disconcerting and…orange are the words that come to mind when remembering Somerset House’s popular exhibition on the work of American film director Stanley Kubrick. The gallery’s many rooms were transformed into immersive, glowing hubs showcasing 45 artistic depictions of his films, the majority of designers opting for Kubrick’s classics: The Shining, A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey. We witnessed a derelict room of 114 crackling analogue radio sets, eerily reciting a Roman Catholic hymn used in Kubrick’s soundtracks, and a room ablaze with heat and piled with furnaces representing a scene from The Shining. The show did its best to make its visitors feel uncomfortable – aside from the overwhelming sounds and warmth, the sexual undertones to Kubrick’s work were not ignored. Big, cuddly teddy bears disturbingly wore the gimp attire famously donned by A Clockwork Orange character Alex, and artist Sarah Lucas got straight to the point with her installation – a giant, concrete penis. There were no blurbs or explanations on the walls of the exhibition space, which co-curator James Putnam puts down to wanting to make the show “different from a conventional art exhibition” and indicative of Kubrick’s disquieting, confusing endings. The show was an immersive experience which successfully conveyed the themes of Kubrick’s work and turned an exhibition into theatre.

Graphic Works by Eduardo Paolozzi

Hollywood Wax Museum, from Zero Energy Experimental Pile. © The Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation
Hollywood Wax Museum, from Zero Energy Experimental Pile. © The Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield
12 March – 12 June 2016

Anybody who rides the London Underground tube network will be aware of the colourful mosaics which decorate the walls of Tottenham Court Road tube station. Many were outraged last year as it was announced that some of the famous mosaics would need to be removed as the station underwent reconstruction. But far few are aware of Scottish artist and sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi’s wider portfolio of work. An exhibition in June at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) presented 70 two-dimensional, graphic pieces taken from work created by Paolozzi between the 1950s and 1970s, donated to the YSP by the artist himself in 1994. The prints are a proud exclamation of the influence of pop culture on his work, from adverts, films and magazines to toys, packaging and technology, demonstrating how Paolozzi was an advocate for “democratic art”, says curator Sarah Coulson. “He wanted an open and accessible form that related to people’s lives,” she said. The humble show was a reminder of an increasingly popular outlook from the contemporary design community – that art and design should be available for, and enjoyed by all.

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