2022 and all that
Five leading voices offer their review of the year PLUS my top 5 exhibitions
Hello for one final time in 2022!
What a year. Three Prime Ministers, two monarchs, one stonking gold medal from Team GB in the Beijing Winter Olympic Games (NICHE I KNOW!). But most importantly, 44 editions of this newsletter.
Now I’ll level with you: there should have been more. My regular interview series ended up being not-quite-as-regular as I’d hoped. I still had some belters — the Director of this year’s Art Fund Museum of the Year, and the former Sunday Times journalist Sarah Baxter whose summer scoop started so much movement on the future of the Parthenon Sculptures in Britain — but there should have been more. But hey ho — as a one-man-band, I can’t do everything I’d like. BUT I promise you my interviews will be back with a bang in the new year! And in that spirit, I’m ending 2022 as I mean to go on, by bringing you some insights from leading voices in the museum and art world. Below I speak to five of them — from the Director of V&A Dundee to the Art Newspaper’s news correspondent Martin Bailey — about their highlights of the past year.
I then end this edition and the year with my top five exhibitions of 2022. Feel free to reply to this email to tell me I’m bang on/so wrong (delete as appropriate).
But before we get into that, I want to say thank you. Thank YOU. Thank you for continuing to read this newsletter week-in, week-out. Thank you for the kind words you send me about how much you enjoy it. And thank you for the good word of mouth it gets, and when you recommend it to friends and colleagues. There are 43% more readers now then there were at the end of 2021.
I’ll sign off this note with some more stats. A conservative average estimate is that it takes around 4 hours to put each edition of this newsletter together. With 44 editions this year, that’s 7.3 solid days I’ve worked on it. If it was a 9-5 job, it would have been 22 full working days. So if you’ve liked what you’ve read from me this year, please consider donating to this newsletter. Recurring monthly-donations are available. Setting one up today ensures that you help me in creating each of next year’s 44 editions and more (£3 each month would work out at 81p donated per email). If you set up a donation now, I offer one more big THANK YOU.
See you in 2023!
2022 in Review
It’s been a hell of a year for the world of museums, galleries, art and heritage. In many ways it’s all been about the post-covid recovery. But that was quickly outflanked by eye-watering cost-of-living and inflation crises. There’s been some great highs such as from the outpouring of love and affection for the Museum of London as it began its big move to a new home. There’s been lows too, the biggest being the war in Ukraine and its impact on culture. And there’s been the truly bizarre: Kim Kardashian and the Marilyn Monroe dress springs to mind. But how was the year for everyone else? I asked five leading voices to sum up their 2022.
Dr. Helen Charman, Director of Young V&A
How would you describe your 2022?
“2022 has been year of inspiration, quirkiness and sheer determination, working with outstanding colleagues to drive forward creative education for all, including multiple co-design projects — from Young V&A with children, to Africa Fashion with our Youth Collective.
Our symposium in June, Sparking Creative Futures was a most memorable highlight, as it marked the 150th anniversary of the V&A having a vital museum presence in Bethnal Green. The event brought together colleagues from the creative, education and cultural sectors to sound a clarion call for the imperative of creative education, and to explore ways in which creative professionals, museums and schools can work together to support Gen Alpha. Most notably, it kickstarted Young V&A’s Reinvent Festival, a year-long programme of outreach for children and young people in East London, ahead of opening in 2023, which has to date reached over 12,000 children and families.”
Young V&A will open in summer 2023
Adam Nathaniel Furman, artist and designer
“2022 was the year I truly started to get to do some of the things I want to spend the rest of my life doing.
The release of my book Queer Spaces has been a very profound kind of affirmation. Having spent a couple of decades working somewhat on the margins of the periphery in the design and architecture world, it was incredible to be able to put together a landmark publication that celebrates so many voices, and which highlights so many marginalised histories from all over the world throughout modern history. To work on a publication that means so much to so many people (including those who participated in its creation), and then to have that acknowledged by people in the industry who had never felt seen or heard before — or who had been erased and sidelined in their careers (and those who often responded with tears and deep, heartfelt emotion at our book launches) — has been by far and away the most uplifting experience of what has been a rather lonely and isolated career to date.”
Queer Spaces: An Atlas of LGBTQIA+ Places and Stories by RIBA Publishing is available now
Martin Bailey, correspondent for The Art Newspaper and writer of a weekly blog on Van Gogh
“For museums, the major challenge in 2022 has of course been to recover from Covid-19, both in terms of attracting back visitors and regaining financial stability. There have also been the tragic consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine to contend with.
One of the most interesting and challenging issues has been how to deal with claims to return artefacts which were looted by British troops in Africa during the colonial period, particularly the Benin bronzes. The Horniman Museum, in south London, has recently transferred ownership of its bronzes, although the British Museum is resisting, citing its legal constraints on deaccessioning. A difficult question is whether the objects should be handed over to the Nigerian federal government or the Oba (king) of Benin. And then there are the Parthenon Marbles. Restitution is bound to become an even more important issue in the coming year.”
Martin’s latest book is Van Gogh’s Finale.
Leonie Bell, Director of V&A Dundee
“2022 has brought crisis after crisis to the wider world, it’s made me think so hard about my own leadership and the role of museums as useful, relevant places offering calm, joy and delight as well as debate, challenge and reflection.
Opening our Plastic: Remaking Our World exhibition was one of the most memorable moments of the year. The exhibition was curated in international collaboration through the pandemic between Vitra Design Museum in Germany, maat in Portugal, and V&A Dundee with help from curators at the V&A in London. It has been enriched through local participation and includes a beach installation where schools around Scotland’s coasts gathered plastic to form this gently powerful part of the exhibition. Plastic is an exhibition of this age, it’s a material that can be seen as one of the most successful designs of all time, shaping and saving our lives like no other material over its 150-year history. As Scotland’s design museum, we want to look at the complex design and social histories of challenges like this, to look to the future with hope in our collective creativity and innovation”
Plastic: Remaking Our World runs at V&A Dundee until 5 Feb 2023
Rebecca Hossain, Director of Commercial and Operations at Sir John Soane’s Museum, London
“2022 has been so exciting, mainly for the Soane to be open and sharing its magic for the full year – a first since I joined in 2020.
Who said a return to business as usual is boring? It was thrilling to reinstate our finely tuned tours in 2022. These included our much-missed Highlights Tours — which sold out daily — and the fully-booked volunteer-led Private Apartments tours (taking in Soane’s famed Model Room). Plus, tours taking in the reopening of the Hogarth picture planes in the jewel of our Picture Room, tours for International Women’s Day, and some LGBTQ+ themed tours, all ensured visitor admissions and engagement returned to pre-pandemic levels.”
Book Highlights and Private Apartments Tours of Sir John Soane’s Museum
maxwell museums’ Top 5 Exhibitions of 2022
In no particular order…
Hockney’s Eye: The Art and Technology of Depiction at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Examining Hockney’s obsession with how we see the world, and how that can be captured on the flat surface of a picture, this show was mesmerising. Encountering works spread out across the permanent galleries was an exciting new way of seeing the ever-present artist.
Rana Begum: Dappled Light at Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery. A trip to Pitzhanger in West London is always a joy. But combine a trip to the gallery built to magnify sunlight during Britain’s beautiful summer, with the colourful and ethereal works of Begum, and you had an exhibition of glorious beauty.
Francis Bacon: The First Pope at Gagosian Davies Street. If ever there was a reminder that you should have your eye on the commercial galleries as much as the bigger institutions, this was it. At Gagosian’s smallest of three London galleries, it hung just a single Bacon painting. It was his first image of the pope, never seen in public before, and shown in a room with no light. You were left totally alone in the presence of a terrifying, intense, glorious work by one of the greats.
Hew Locke: Foreign Exchange presented by the Birmingham 2022 Festival and commissioned by Ikon. Locke's The Procession which has been roaring carnival-like down the central gallery of Tate Britain this year rightly won plaudits. But it was his more modest reimagining of the 1901 Queen Victoria statue in the centre of Birmingham which deserved equal praise. It was a striking yet thoughtful piece that perfectly encapsulated a city with a complex identity but one confident in its future. It projected it to a world that had a come to visit for the 2022 Commonwealth Games. The real carnival was happening in Birmingham this summer.
The World of Stonehenge at the British Museum. Ok, ok. I’m biased as I worked on this show (looking after the PR campaign). But it truly was one of the very best exhibitions I’ve ever seen. It brought together a collection of objects so astonishing they almost certainly will never be seen in the same room ever again. A magical and illuminating window into a fascinating part of our history. Truly once-in-a-lifetime.
Now you’ve read to the end of the last edition of 2022, please consider a recurring monthly-donation to help me in creating each of next year’s 44 editions and more. £3 a month works out at just 81p donated per email. Thank you.