The seven must-see art exhibitions of summer 2017

The seven must-see art exhibitions of summer 2017

This summer sees the once-in-a-decade alignment of three of contemporary art’s most long-running and highly regarded events: the Venice Biennale, Documenta in Kassel and Sculpture Project Munster – and a great deal more artistic treats on offer besides. Here is a highly selective guide to the very best on offer during the holiday months.

Documenta 14, various venues, Kassel

The most prestigious of contemporary art shows, Documenta only takes place every five years and forms a crucial indicator of current concerns; artistic and beyond. Under the directorship of Polish writer and curator Adam Szymczyk, this edition is a hardcore affair occupying 30-plus sites throughout the city, and with much of the work on show attempting to grapple with the plethora of issues that beset our troubled times.

Nikhil Chopra, Drawing a Line through Landscape, 2017,
 performances, installation, and digital video
, Former Underground Train Station (KulturBahnhof), Kassel, documenta 14 CREDIT: FRED DOTT

In Friedrichsplatz, Argentinean artist Marta Minujin has recreated a life-sized Parthenon out of banned books, while in the city’s former underground train station Nikhil Chopra’s film and painted panorama records the vicissitudes of his recent overland odyssey from Athens (where Documenta had another incarnation earlier this year) to Kassel.

Among the works in the cavernous disused Brutalist post office is Maret Anne Sara’s fragile curtain of reindeer skulls, signaling the threatened lifestyle of the Sami people of Northern Norway. Aboriginal artist Gordon Hookey has created a giant, angry and bitterly funny painting featuring a crowd of very pissed-off radioactive kangaroos.

Marta Minujín, The Parthenon of Books, 2017,
 steel, books, and plastic sheeting
, Friedrichsplatz, Kassel, documenta 14, CREDIT: ROMAN MÄRZ

Ghanian artist Ibrahim Mahama has swathed two of Kassel’s most historic buildings in an abject patchwork of jute sacks, and in Konigsplatz Nigerian born Olu Oguibe sends a clarion call to governments worldwide with his concrete obelisk Monument to Strangers and Refugees. It bears the line from the Gospel of St Matthew, “I was a stranger and You Took me in,” here inscribed in German, English, Turkish and Arabic. Until 17 September;

Sculpture Project Munster

It is always a ringing endorsement for an artist to be invited to participate in this mother-of-all public art shows which is only held once a decade and makes a point of challenging the conventions of what public sculpture can be. Since its foundation in 1977, SPM has generated a range of ambitious projects by many of the international greats, all made especially for this historic university town which was flattened by the allies in the Second World War, and painstakingly rebuilt in the 1950s.

Nicole Eisenman, Sketch for a Fountain CREDIT: ©SKULPTUR PROJEKTE 2017. PHOTO BY HENNING ROGGE

This year’s line-up includes a creepily disorientating fake apartment from Gregor Schneider; a decaying former skating rink that Pierre Huyghe has transformed into an epic apocalyptic scenario inhabited by swarms of bees, mutating cancer cells and chimera peacocks; and Nicole Eisenman’s wonderfully dysfunctional fountain, with its lumpen, slouching figures dribbling water from clutched beer cans and various bodyparts.

You can also walk on water in the city harbour courtesy of Ayse Erkmen and get inked in Michael Smith’s tattoo parlour (with specially tailored designs and a discount for over-60s)


It is also mandatory to inspect the multitude of amazing earlier projects that still punctuate the city, whether Claes Oldenburg’s giant surreal snooker balls, Thomas Schutte’s plinth topped with a pair of giant, glossy, candy-coloured cherries or Jenny Holzer’s sombre engraved benches.

Not to be missed is Rebecca Horn’s unforgettable 1987 Concert in Reverse, in which votive candles, irregularly tapping metal hammers, sizzling electrical charges and dripping rainwater animate and activate the ruined Zwinger building, a Medieval fortification more recently used as a place of interrogation, imprisonment and execution by the Gestapo. Until 1 October;

57th Venice Biennale and related events

The art world’s most important and long-running biennale has also been covered in this column; for those who want to take the pulse of contemporary art, the Venice Biennale is a must. And for anyone who has already been, it is also always worth a return visit, both to check in with favourite pieces and to mop up some that might have slipped through the net but should not be missed.

These include a new film by Douglas Gordon featuring Palermo’s catacombs and showing in the Ducal Palace; and the Iraqi pavilion up in the third-floor library of the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, which combines ancient artifacts and contemporary paintings with a film by Francis Alys depicting current conflicts. There’s a stunning solo show of Shirin Neshat in the Correr Museum and Lucy MacKenzie’s beautiful occupancy of the little Palazzetto Tito with paintings, painted furniture and ornaments.

Shirin Neshat, “Anna”, from “The Home of My Eyes” series Visita il Museo Correr CREDIT: COURTESY WRITTEN ART FOUNDATION, FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY VISITA IL MUSEO CORRER

Another must-see is the Prada Foundation’s The Boat is Leaking, the Captain Lied; an ambitious, mind-bogglingly labyrinthine, no-expenses-spared collaboration between artist Thomas Demand, theatre designer Anna Viebrock and guru writer and filmmaker Alexander Kluge. It all takes place within the Foundation’s 18th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal. What’s not to like? Until 26th November;

Rashid Johnson, Stranger at Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Following his two-month residency in the bucolic setting of Hauser & Wirth Somerset, the Chicago-born, New York-based artist Rashid Johnson has filled its former farm buildings with Stranger, an evocative and thought-provoking combination of paintings, sculpture, installations and drawings.

The title comes from James Baldwin’s essay, Stranger in the Village. Whether shea butter piled on Persian carpets; collages featuring printed tropical foliage and African masks which have been splattered with slicks of melted oil-stick; or a stylised falling figure rendered in ceramic, much of this work reverberates with notions of escapism, being an outsider and the whys and wherefores of using stereotypically ‘African’ imagery.

Installation view, Rashid Johnson, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, 2017 CREDIT: © RASHID JOHNSON COURTESY THE ARTIST AND HAUSER & WIRTH PHOTO: KEN ADLARD

All of the above and more also come together in Johnson’s installation in the former Threshing Barn, in which four metal units are draped with parachutes and support a variety of objects and artifacts, including heads made from shea butter and a profusion of plants – palms, spider plants cacti, yucca – all of which were sourced locally but originate from across the globe.

The exhibition culminates in Untitled: Clowns, a new body of work resulting from this rural sojourn – and also the aftermath of the American Presidential Election – in which giant masks of black soap and wax melt down grids of white ceramic tile. Until 10 September;

Edinburgh Art Festival

The August-long Edinburgh Fringe Festival may be best known for matters theatrical but for well over a decade the city has also hosted a simultaneous festival devoted to all things visual. In a year that encompasses both the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival and also the city’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, the visual arts arm is larger than ever.


An abundance of artists from Scotland and beyond are showing in exhibitions throughout the city’s museums, galleries and institutions – along with a dense scattering of pop-ups and special commissions. Catch Pablo Bronstein’s site-specific performance at the Jupiter Artland sculpture park; the latest incarnation of Bobby Niven’s Bothy Project in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle; and Jac Leirner’s spare, beautifully minimal scultures in the Fruitmarket Gallery.

Another must-see is True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, the first ever survey of British realist painting from the inter-war period which offers a unique chance to rediscover a slew of unjustly forgotten figures who are all ripe for revival. 27 July — 27 August;

Chateau La Coste, Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade, France

This 500-acre art park and biodynamic vineyard near Aix-en-Provence offers an irresistible combination of the latest developments in high-end contemporary art, architecture and wine production. The grapes are blended in a state-of-the-art cuverie designed by Jean Nouvel, visitors are ushered into the complex via a new art centre designed by Tadao Ando, and the latest architectural addition unveiled earlier this year is a semi-buried photography pavilion created by Renzo Piano with the dual function of “displaying art and preserving wine”.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, The sea and the mirror

The inaugural show in this concrete gallery, flanked on either side by wine cellars, is a series of eight large seascapes by the Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. However if the idea of being underground seems antithetical to the south of France, there is much to be seen above ground with a solo show of paintings and sculpture by Tracey Emin in another beautiful and more conventional suite of galleries designed by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte.

Tracey Emin: Surrounded by You

There are also permanent, site-specific works by Richard Serra, Sean Scully, Ai Weiwei, Louise Bourgeois and Franz West positioned throughout the grounds and vineyards, though take your walking shoes as to catch them all requires a two-hour hike. Hiroshi Sugimoto, The Sea and the Mirror, until 3 September. Tracey Emin: Surrounded by You, until 31 August;

Alexander Calder: Hypermobility, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

A spectacular show entirely devoted to the extraordinary range of movement and sound to be found in the work of Alexander Calder, the man who reimagined the mobile as an artwork.

This constellation of key sculptures brings together major examples of Calder’s work dating from the 1930s and includes early motor-driven abstractions and sound-generating gongs as well as the standing and hanging mobiles for which he is best known.

Alexander Calder (1898–1976), The Arches, 1959. Sheet metal and paint, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Howard and Jean Lipman CREDIT: © 2017 CALDER FOUNDATION, NEW YORK / ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK

Their formal clarity belies the fact that these works often operate in highly sophisticated ways, ranging from gentle motions to uncanny gestures and frequently accompanied by unpredictable percussive noises.

Apart from the depth and breadth of work on show, what is so great about this exhibition is that it offers a rare chance to experience the works in motion, as Calder intended them, with a programme of regular activations enabling his pieces to come to life. In the case of the more rare and fragile sculptures, many of these may be strutting their kinetic stuff for the very last time. Until October 23;