Top 10 Exhibitions of 2017

TV 70: Francesco Vezzoli Watches Rai, Prada Foundation, Milan. Exhibition view. Photo Delfino Sisto Legnani amd Marco Cappelletti.

TV 70: Francesco Vezzoli Watches Rai, Prada Foundation, Milan. Exhibition view. Photo Delfino Sisto Legnani amd Marco Cappelletti.

Compared to the past few years, I didn't visit many exhibitions in the UAE this year. Reasons include not havingthe time and also not usually interested in what's out there. In the Dubai, the art galleries show a rotation ofexhibitions of artists they represent which soon becomes predictable and uninteresting to me. EastWing, one of my favourite galleries in Dubai was closed most of the year due to its relocation to DubaiDesign District (it opened earlier this month). 

Sharjah Art Foundation continues to host an ongoing series of exhibitions and events all year introducing us tonew works by established and young artists, and it being a biennale year, it was an added bonus. I listed afew of my favourite works from Sharjah Biennale 13: Tamawuj in my previous post.

NYUAD Art Gallery in Abu Dhabi aims to focus on quality instead of quantity in terms of the number ofexhibitions it hosts, and now with the Louvre Abu Dhabi as a new addition and a new institution, I will be onthe look out for what's in store in the coming year. 

For now, here are my top 10 exhibitions of the year, it includes exhibitions I visited in the UAE and abroad. Each title is linked to the dedicated exhibition page with more details. 

1. TV 70: Francesco Vezzoli guarda la Rai / TV 70: Francesco Vezzoli Watches Rai
Fondazione Prada, Milan
9 May - 24 September 2017  

This exhibition was developed by Francesco Vezzoli in collaboration with Rai, Italy’s national broadcastingcompany and looked at the relationships between Italian public television with visual art, politics andentertainment, and also addressed collective narratives and memories. 

Very different to what I was exposed to TV growing up in Dubai in the 1970s, I found this exhibition both entertaining and thought provoking in terms of looking at the role of TV at a certain time in history that was informative and entertaining, there was hi-brow, lo-brow and everything in between, including experimental and avant grade shows that was accessible to a mainstream audience.

The representation of women in shows about them fighting for their rights contrasted with the objectification of women in entertainment and variety shows illustrates that not much has changed over the past few decades. TV as a playground for political agendas, societal issues and entertainment. An exhibition that feels personal, critical and an homage.   

This video features Francesco Vezzoli  talking more about this exhibition showing works from it.

2. Thomas Ruff: Photographs 1979 – 2017
Whitechapel Gallery, London
27 September 2017 – 21 January 2018     

L’Empereur 06 (The Emperor 06), 1982, C-print, 30.2 × 40 cm, © Thomas RuffThomas Ruff. Installation view. Courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery

Thomas Ruff's work looks at themes such as suburbia, advertising culture, utopianism, pornography andsurveillance. His photo series are results of many different image-making technologies. I see a lot of appropriated work, but Thomas Ruff's work is of a superior category. 

Cosmology, suburbia, nudity, utopianism, catastrophe – these are some of the subjectsthat Thomas Ruff (b. 1958, Germany) addresses in his photographic series, which foralmost four decades have investigated the status of the image in contemporary culture.

This exhibition draws from the full range of Ruff’s output: from his acclaimed Portraits – passport-style portraits, reproduced on a huge scale and revealing every surface detail of their subjects, tohis most recent press++ photographs, drawing on newspaper archives from the era of the spacerace and Hollywood starlets.  

I particularly love hisInterior series, Newspaper Photographs series and press++ series. Here's Thomas Ruff in conversation with curator Iwona Blazwick.         

3. Adam Jeppesen - Out of Camp
Foam Museum, Amsterdam
16 June - 27 August 2017  

Adam Jeppesen's work feels delicate and monumental and must be seen in person to be appreciated. No photosof them would them any justice. 

Adam Jeppesen searches for the silence in desolate landscapes and the physical elements theartist surrenders to.   

An important aspect of Jeppesen’s work is his analogue and labour-intensive approach. Hisphotographs are the product of physical challenge and experimental printing techniques. Heabandoned his search for the perfect print in favour of cheap reproductive techniques and massproduction.

Coincidence, damage and imperfection are essential elements in his work. At a time when theimage has become infinitely perfectible and reproducible, Jeppesen experiments with thephotograph as a unique object that is subject to the forces of change and decay.   

4. Gordon Parks - I am You. Selected Works 1942-1978
Foam Museum
16 June - 6 September 2017  

The Invisible Man, Harlem, New York, 1952 © Gordon Parks

The Invisible Man, Harlem, New York, 1952 © Gordon Parks

The Gordon Parks retrospective is powerful and terrifc. If it ever comes to your city, don't miss it.  

The camera can be a powerful weapon against repression, racism, violence, and inequality. TheAmerican photographer Gordon Parks (1912-2006) used photography to expose the deep divisionsin American society. Parks was an important champion of equal rights for African Americans and inhis work addressed themes such as poverty, marginalisation and injustice.

Aside from his iconic portraits of legends like Martin Luther King, he especially achieved famethrough his photographic essays for the prestigious Life Magazine and films he directed, suchas The Learning Tree and Shaft.   

 This video tells you a little bit about Gordon Parks and includes photos from the exhibition. 

5. Lionel Wendt - Ceylon
Huis Marseille, Amsterdam
10 June - 3 September 2017 


This was a new discovery for me. The photos I saw are beautiful and sensual. I hope more people will be exposed to Lionel Wendt's photography.

There is something special going on with regard to the oeuvre of Ceylonese photographer LionelWendt (1900–1944). After a period of relative oblivion, Wendt was rediscovered – or discovered, infact – worldwide as a unique, individualistic photographer who availed himself of experimentaltechniques and modern compositions.

Wendt’s choice of subjects was eclectic: from sensual and homo-erotic portraits to tropical imagesof Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and from picturesque scenes to compositions for which he usedmodernist stylistic devices and experimental techniques.

After Wendt’s premature death in 1944 his negatives were destroyed, but the work he left behindlives on. This consists of a collection of beautiful experimental prints, of which several are includedin the renowned collections of such museums as Tate Modern in London and Rijksmuseum inAmsterdam.

6. Emirates to the World: Postal History from 1909 to Unification
Etihad Museum, Dubai
7 January - 30 April 2017     

Besides the exhibition of the permanent collection, this was the first exhibition hosted by the Etihad Museum which opened earlier this year. It is a nerdy and charming exhibition about the postal services in the Emirates from its earliest days through to the UAE unification in 1971. It included stamps, letters, artworks and archives found in the extraordinary private collection of Mr. Abdulla Khoory, President of Emirates Philatelic Association. 

I regret not taking photos at the exhibition and it is unfortunate the Etihad Museum website does not have an image gallery for this exhibition. Wish the exhibition was extended for the rest of the year especially since there have been no new exhibitions after this one. 

The exhibition begins at the birth of the Emirate's local postal services in 1909, when written letters first became a trusted and efficient mean of communication. Thanks to its breadth and completeness, Khoory's collection captures much of this fascinating period and offers visitors aglimpse back into an era that had not yet seen the dawn of digital communication, or even the unification of the Emirates.      

Here's an article about the exhibition in The National

7. Hassan Sharif: I am the Single Work Artist
Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah
4 November 2017 - 3 February 2018 

Hassan Sharif 2016 - Cotton rope, acrylic paint, and copper wire. 240 x 535 x 10 cm, Installation view, Image Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation

Hassan Sharif 2016 - Cotton rope, acrylic paint, and copper wire. 240 x 535 x 10 cm, Installation view, Image Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation

This retrospective of Hassan Sharif who passed away a year ago includes a diverse body of work from the early1970s to 2016. It requires multiple visits to gain some form of understanding of what the artist was making and saying. I am left with more questions than answers every time I visit, could also be because of the lack of detailed wall/printed text available at the exhibition. It's one of the best produced exhibitions I've seenhere in the UAE and strongly recommend you visit if you live here.

This retrospective is the culmination of Sharif’s long and storied history with the Emirate of Sharjah, where he first began staging interventions and exhibitions of contemporary art. Hepursued this interest in earnest when he returned to the UAE from London after graduating fromThe Byam Shaw School of Art in 1984.

Moving between roles as an artist, educator, critic and writer, Sharif not only sought to encourage Emirati audiences to engage with contemporary art in exhibitions but also on the page, through his Arabic translations of historical art texts and manifestos.    


8.  Lala Rukh - sagar
Grey Noise, Dubai
9 March - 13 May 2017

Lala Rukh is another artist who is no longer with us, she passed away this July. Her photos from the series titled "sagar" are quiet, poetic and contemplative.   

sagar comprises of a collection of enigmatic photographs of the sea that make Lala Rukh's meditations on the nature of time and transience palpable. As a parallel photographic practice, they locate Lala’s travels between years 1992-2005. 

The titles in the photographic sets mark sites across Sri Lanka, India, Nepal and Burma where as though a seafarer traversing with a lens, the artist has stopped to take stock. 

9. Sea Views
17 June - 17 September 2017  

Ray K. Metzker - Valencia, Spain (61 M-38), Gelatin print on paper, 1961

Another sea themed exhibition on the list. The Rijksmuseum received a donation of more than 35 photographic seascapes from a private collector and put together this exhibition. It includes worls by contemporary international photographers such as Viviane Sassen, Chip Hooper, Franco Fontana, Jo Ractliffe, Chris McCaw and Simon van Til. 

The collection of seascapes has been assembled with care, attention and love by a private collector over a period of 10 years. Each piece is an intensive exercise, with the playful use of air, light and tide. 

The photos reveal the influence of the photographer and the richness of photographic print. The resulting works are very diverse. In some works the sea is black, in others azure. Some of the works are monumental, others small and intimate.  

10. Fouad El Koury - Suite Egyptienne
The Third Line, Dubai
13 April - 16 May 2017   

Fouad Elkoury, Kuchuk Hanem, 1990, Ink-jet Print on Baryta Paper, 72 x 90 cm

Fouad Elkoury, Kuchuk Hanem, 1990, Ink-jet Print on Baryta Paper, 72 x 90 cm

A series of more than 80 photos from the late 1980s that are are intimate, mysterious and cinematic. I wrote more about it here.        

Fouad Elkoury’s Suite Egyptienne is an account of the artist’s photographic travels through Egypt starting in the late 1980s. Using Gustave Flaubert and Maxime Du Camp as guides, Fouad followed their footsteps along the Nile valley nearly 150 years later. 

Fouad’s work evokes a sense of nostalgia for the era of Flaubert’s romanticism, while also making us reminisce the Egypt of 1989. Suite Egyptienne is an intimate series of photos, a sequence of over 80 images taken a quarter century ago, showing the ephemeral and layered qualities of history.