The Top Ten Shows in the UK and Ireland in 2022

From Howardena Pindell’s harrowing retrospective at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, to Garrett Bradley’s moving debut at Lisson Gallery, London

BY Sean Burns in Exhibition Reviews , UK Reviews | 19 DEC 22

In 2022, we’ve visited a harrowing retrospective in Cambridge (Howardena Pindell at Kettle’s Yard), a challenging collective show in Dublin (The Otolith Group at the Irish Museum of Modern Art) and a bold debut (Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley at Arebyte) in Canning Town. In no order, this list represents, in my opinion, the shows that have stood out the most – from familiar names to a degree show presentation.

Jesse Darling 

Camden Art Centre, London 

Modern Art Oxford 

Jesse Darling
Jesse Darling, ‘Enclosures’, installation view, 2022. Courtesy: the artist, Camden Art Centre and Acadia Missa, London; photograph: Eva Herzog

Camden Art Centre was on a roll this year, with its Forrest Bess survey a contender for this list. However, I’ve plumped for ‘Enclosures’, the culmination of Jesse Darling’s Freelands Lomax Fellowship residency, an exhibition which drew the viewer into the artist’s ongoing research into the fallibility and vulnerability of living beings. Along with Darling’s ‘No Medals, No Ribbons’, a retrospective at Modern Art Oxford, ‘Enclosures’ conjured a powerful sense of the malleability of both bodies and borders. Iarlaith Ni Fheorais: ‘Darling’s work refuses the ordering and categorization of the colonial state, showing us that the body is beyond fixity. It bends, transforms and breaks.

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley 

Arebyte, London

Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley, SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE, 2021
Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, ‘SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE’, 2021, installation view. Courtesy: © Arebyte Gallery, London; photograph: Dan Weill

Brathwaite-Shirley’s brilliance in ‘She Keeps Me Damn Alive’ was to transform the viewer from passive witness to protagonist – aggressor, even – in a shoot ’em up video game of social allyship. Literally holding an oversized purple gun recalling a retro arcade game, exhibition visitors move through the game platform, defending Black trans people from danger. In January, Lauren Dei detailed how the artist employs fantastical simulations to challenge real-world injustices in a game of responsibility, choices and consequences: ‘As we move towards an alleged meta-future, no digital upgrade on society can compensate for a lack of understanding and love. There are no cheat codes.’

The Baroness 

Mimosa House, London 

The Baroness
Elsa Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven, c.1920–25. Courtesy: Mimosa House, London

In ‘The Baroness’, the creative output, mythology, stature and writing of the early 20th-century artist Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, formed the basis for responses by 12 contemporary artists, including Caspar Heinemann and Linda Stupart. Rather than taking received histories as read, curator Daria Khan proposes unusual points of departure from which multiple new interpretations can spring. Juliet Jacques: ‘In a time when it has become fashionable to revisit forgotten people from historical art scenes, a figure such as Elsa Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven poses a complex question to curators, historians and contemporary artists.

Garrett Bradley 

Lisson Gallery, London

Garrett Bradley
Garrett Bradley, Safe, 2022, video still. Courtesy: © the artist and Lisson Gallery

‘Safe’ was the eponymous second instalment in a trilogy of short films on women’s interior and exterior lives. Bradley, whose 2020 feature-length documentary Time received an Oscar nomination, seamlessly moves between conventional cinematic and gallery contexts. Allie Biswas profiled the New Orleans-based artist in the October issue of frieze, which featured a still from her documentary America (2019) on the cover. Bradley, Biswas noted, acts as a facilitator, and her art as a channel for the voices of others: she has ‘forged a body of work in which the personal circumstances of individuals are prioritized’.

The Otolith Group 

Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin 

The Otolith Group
The Otolith Group, ‘Xenogenesis’, installation view, IMMA, 2022. Courtesy: the artists and IMMA, Dublin; photographer: Ros Kavanagh

‘Xenogenesis’, an exhibition of works produced between 2011 and 2018 by The Otolith Group, opened in Dublin in July. Curated by Annie Fletcher, director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the show has appeared worldwide, at galleries including Buxton Contemporary, Melbourne, and Sharjah Art Foundation. In his review, Chris Hayes characterized Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun’s unique and significant contribution to video essay-making as ‘a commitment to the political potency of complex ideas and challenging forms’.


Michael Werner Gallery, London

Michael Werner
‘Interior’, installation view, Michael Werner Gallery, London, 2022. Courtesy: Michael Werner Gallery, New York and London; photograph: Eva Herzog.

Jordan Bosher, Michael Werner Gallery’s archivist, aptly described this exhibition to me as a ‘box of jewels’. It’s a delicately curated show by Andrew Bonacina that unites works across generations, highlighting intricate thematic and visual correspondences between, say, Gwen John’s forlorn early 20th-century portraits of women, and Jake Grewal’s ambiguous contemporary renderings of lithesome male nudes. This delightful show, as Emily Steer pithily put it earlier this month, ‘posits interior and exterior worlds as permeable, with no clear delineation between body and mind’.

Chris Killip

The Photographers’ Gallery, London 

Chris Killip
Chris Killip, The Station, Gateshead, 1985. Courtesy: © Chris Killip Photography Trust and The Martin Parr Foundation

Chris Killip’s recent retrospective is a masterclass in photographing hardship with empathy, without condescending to or objectifying the subjects. His images breath the compassion and dedication he invested in achieving them. Killip lived for many years in a caravan on the beach in Lynemouth, and befriended a group of young men in Skinningrove, producing what Julie Hrischeva called ‘some of the most arresting photographs in the exhibition.’ 

Kobby Adi 

Royal Academy Schools, London 

Kobby Adi
Kobby Adi, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Royal Academy Schools, London 

One of the most impressive works I’ve seen this year was not in a commercial gallery or an institutional exhibition, but in an art school. Kobby Adi’s presentation in the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) degree show saw him negotiate the removal of the RA School’s many ancient plaster casts, busts and plaques – a feat no doubt requiring both diplomacy and bureaucracy. Instead, the sparse room contained a single sheet of paper detailing the removal, a lone monitor displaying a sensitive video of feet, and a series of discreet wall-mounted panels by fellow student James Lomax. Its execution was remarkably both brazen and subtle.

‘Surrealism Beyond Borders’ 

Tate Modern, London

Rene Magritte
René Magritte, Time Transfixed, 1938. Courtesy: The Art Institute of Chicago, Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1970.426 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022

We could regard 2022 as a year of surrealism. I’ve seen enough surrealist work (neo and original) to last me a lifetime. However, Tate’s comprehensive overview refreshingly decentred Europe, examining instead how surrealists operated in other areas of the globe, as Juliet Jacques explained: ‘Despite Andre Breton’s autocratic control over membership of its French wing, surrealism moved far beyond his jurisdiction, with groups in Portugal, Yugoslavia, Egypt and elsewhere, and surrealist-adjacent artists working in Cuba, Japan, Mexico and Martinique.’

Howardena Pindell

Fruitmarket, Edinburgh 

Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge 

Howardena Pindell
Howardena Pindell, Rope/Fire/Water, 2020, film still. Courtesy: the artist, Garth Greenan Gallery and Victoria Miro

‘A New Language’, unbelievably, is Howardena Pindell’s first solo institutional exhibition in the UK. It spans her career, from early abstractions to more recent film works. Lauren Dei visited the Kettle’s Yard iteration (it will also travel to Spike Island, Bristol, in 2023), commenting on Pindell’s almost-forensic dismantling of racist structures: ‘With a throughline of painstaking precision that creates coherence out of chaos, Pindell’s means of reckoning with these inexplicable horrors evolves from abstraction to direct filmic confrontation.


Main image: Garrett Bradley, AKA, 2019, video still. Courtesy: © the artist and Lisson Gallery

Sean Burns is an artist, writer and assistant editor of frieze based in London, UK. His book Death (2023) is out now from Tate Publishing.