Assuming all goes to plan, 2017 will be the year that Britain begins the process of disentangling itself from the European Union. Whatever your view on Brexit, it’s not going to be a speedy divorce, meaning that we’ll need plenty to distract us over the coming months. Thankfully, all signs point to 2017 being a bumper year for the arts, with exhibitions covering everything from Harry Potter to David Hockney.
As Britain looks beyond our own continent to make friends, the Science Museum will host a season dedicated to the people, culture and skills of India; part of the wider programme to mark the UK-India Year of Culture 2017-18. Opening next autumn, one exhibition will look at India’s scientific heritage, while the other will bring together photography from India from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
And much like Britain, the Science Museum will be taking a leap into the future and delving into the rise of the robots, with an exhibition that promises to explore “humanity’s 500-year quest to recreate ourselves in mechanised form”. Opening in February, it will include some 100 robots, not least a mechanical monk dating back to the 16th century.
The V&A will also be looking east, with an exhibition celebrating Lockwood Kipling, a prominent art collector of 19th century British India (not to mention the father of ‘Jungle Book’ author Rudyard). That opens in January, then later in the year there will be a major retrospective of Pink Floyd’s work, 50 years after the band’s first single was released. The museum promises ‘an immersive, multi-sensory and theatrical journey… a story of sound, design and performance’. As if that wasn’t enough, May will also bring the UK’s first ever exhibition dedicated to Balenciaga.
Closer to home, Tate Britain will be paying tribute to the legend that is David Hockney, with a major retrospective to coincide with his 80th birthday. The exhibition, which will showcase his work in chronological order, starting in 1961, opens in early February, followed in April by ‘Queer British Art’, an exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. And over at the Tate Modern the focus will be the sculpture of Alberto Giacometti, whose work was exhibited by Tate 50 years ago in a show curated by the artist himself.
Maintaining European ties, the National Portrait Gallery has a retrospective of the work of French impressionist Paul Cezanne, comprising 50 pieces including some never before displayed in the UK. The National Gallery will be celebrating the influence of two prominent Renaissance artists – Michelangelo and Sebastiano del Piombo, his frequent collaborator. ‘A meeting of Minds’, which opens in March, will focus not least on the different ways they portrayed the death and resurrection. And – perhaps in recognition that the Brexit negotiations will be anything but – they will also be bringing together a collection of ‘black and white’ artworks. The exhibition, opening next November, will look at how artists have utilised monochrome over the centuries, from the Middle Ages to the modern day, and will feature the work of Rembrandt, Degas, Picasso and Gerhard Richter.
Over at the Transport Museum, the Prize for Illustration will be back from May, with 100 artworks bringing to life the sounds of the urban jungle. If that doesn’t intrigue you, there’s more: from October they will mount a special exhibition celebrating the contribution of 20th and 21st century female graphic artists, including some of those who designed Transport for London’s most iconic posters.
The British Library has a busy year ahead, with treats in store for fans of PG Wodehouse, Quentin Blake and Jane Austen. Most prominently they will be marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution from next April, with a show taking in the reign of the final Tsar before Lenin’s takeover, then looking at the revolution through the prisms of film, photography and writing. Following in the footsteps of their 2015 exhibition exploring the history of propaganda, ‘Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths’ will also explore how the Communist leaders used this tool, including with “propaganda wallpaper hand-painted by women factory workers”. And if that’s a bit heavy going, there’s also a more family-friendly 20th anniversary exhibition celebrating Harry Potter and the wider ‘History of Magic’, which will include medieval manuscripts and J.K. Rowling’s original material.
Over at the Royal Academy, there will be another Russian Revolution-themed exhibition, this time looking at the art created in the country in the early years of the Soviet State, with more than 200 works by figures including Chagall, Kandinsky and Malevich. They’ll then be switching to the Soviets’ Cold War enemies, with a show dedicated to US painting. ‘America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s’ will specifically explore how artists from Jackson Pollock to Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keefe were influenced the Depression, the Wall Street Crash and the wider socio-economic changes of the decade.
All in all, if you can tear yourself away from the live updates on the Article 50 negotiations, there’s plenty to do and see in the capital next year.