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The 5 best exhibitions of 2022

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

It's always difficult to pick the best exhibitions of the year from museums and galleries across the entire UK. The sheer number of shows that take place every 12 months make it a daunting task alone. That's even more true of 2022, the first year where venues were able to offer a full year of programming. A lot of covid-delayed exhibitions appeared on top of those that had long been in the diary.

But what of the quality of what was on offer — was it a good year for art and museum lovers? Perhaps it wasn't vintage. Just think about how many of this year's exhibitions will be widely remembered in future years? But there were definitely some real standout moments, of which five towered head and shoulders above the rest. These are the exhibitions that deserve to live long in the memory.

So here are the top five best exhibitions of 2022. In no particular order.

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 this gallery (built to magnify sunlight) during Britain’s beautiful summer, and with the colourful and ethereal works of Begum, and you had an exhibition of glorious beauty. The fact that it was so instagram-friendly was just an added bonus.

A multi-coloured installation made of mesh clouds hanging from the glass roofed ceiling as a woman walks underneath
Installation view of Rana Begum's No. 1081 Mesh, 2021 at Pitzhanger Manor. Photo: @maxwellmuseums

The World of Stonehenge at the British Museum

From the ancient timber monument of Seahenge, to the stunning Nebra Sky Disc, the world's oldest map of the stars, this exhibition was the ultimate blockbuster. It brought together a collection of hundreds 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 Europe's history. Truly once-in-a-lifetime.

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. A new self-portrait by Hockney, on show for the first time in the UK, was one of the many highlights. Encountering works spread out across the permanent galleries was an exciting new way of seeing the ever-present artist.

A portrait depicting David Hockney in tweed suit looking at the viewer with a hand lifted holding a paintbrush
Self portrait by David Hockney in display at the Fitzwilliam Museum. Photo: @maxwellmuseums

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 just 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 a city 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.

A wooden boat with multiple statues of Queen Victoria standing up facing our
Hew Locke’s Foreign Exchange. Photo by Shaun Fellows. Courtesy of Birmingham 2022 Festival and Ikon

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