Best exhibitions of 2016: a-n writers pick their top five shows

Five a-n News writers – based in London, Birmingham and Glasgow – pick, in no particular order, their top five exhibitions of the year.

Anneka French selects:

Installation view, Eva Rothschild: Alternative To Power, The New Art Gallery Walsall, 2016

Prem Sahib: Grand Union, Grand Union, Birmingham
This concise, minimal exhibition of new and recent works by Prem Sahib included custom built bench seating that ringed the gallery and a large wall structure covered with white ceramic tiles. The clean, locker room-like set up was dramatically undercut by paintings on aluminium that looked to have been sprinkled with urine, and a black cock ring in rubber and fibreglass, Beast II (2016), made the size of a life preserver. Accompanied by an excellent small publication with a story by Huw Lemmey, the exhibition variously explored aspects of sexuality and the intimacies and complexities of emotionally charged, desiring bodies.
22 April – 3 June 2016.

Sally Troughton, Pump House Gallery, London
Raw-edged silk pieces printed with digital landscapes such as In the Offing (2016) delicately fluttered with the aid of office fans. Latex, vinyl and foil forms were sumptuously draped over perfectly constructed frames, while other sculptures incorporated soil, bog oak and palm wood. Subtly drawing attention to the body’s textures and materiality, and to the choreography of the gallery and more distant environments, further intimate audio pieces introduced heartbeats and other less distinguishable sounds via headphones. Sally Troughton’s exhibition adeptly drew attention to the ways in which we attempt to orient and navigate conceptual, physical and digital space.
4 August – 25 September 2016.

Lothar Baumgarten: The ship is going under, the ice is breaking throughPalacio de Cristal, Madrid
A complicated backstory of post-colonial conflict underpinned Lothar Baumgarten’s site-specific multi-channel audio installation at the Palacio de Cristal, organised by Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. Housed within a glass structure modelled on Kew Gardens and built in the late 19th century to showcase Spain’s Filipino colonial legacy, the exhibition provided an aural close-up of the sound of ice thawing. The work’s almost glitch-like cracking sounds provided an unsettling if strangely calming experience within the empty, sun-lit, sparkling glass structure. Baumgarten’s work created a tension that resonates with a world on the edge of chaos – fault lines in history made palpably audible for a contemporary audience.
3 November 2016 – 16 April 2017.

Gordon Cheung: Here Be Dragons, Nottingham Castle
Gordon Cheung’s digital works, shown in the opening room of his solo exhibition, undoubtedly stole the show at Nottingham Castle. Dramatic lighting amplified Cheung’s curious dripping and oozing processes, rendering historical oil paintings anew. Fishing for Souls (After Adriaen Pietersz. Van der Venne, 1614) (2015) is among works that dramatically distorted images via algorithm in an expansion of the technology of painting. A selection of the multi-layered, dystopian photo-collage paintings Cheung is best known for further contributed to the exhibition’s wider contexts of fracture, disassembly and coalescence in and of time and place.
30 April – 17 July 2016.

Eva Rothschild: Alternative to Power, New Art Gallery Walsall
Eva Rothschild’s display at New Art Gallery Walsall, whose high ceilings and polished black floors feel like they have been made for the artist’s works, was a beautifully balanced one. Featuring two newly commissioned pieces made during this summer’s EU referendum campaign, works such as RedSun, An Array, Ruins and Technical Support (all 2016) typically employed an economy of material, relying on balance and precision to achieve formal tension through texture, form, and vibrant colour paired with black. Generously punctuated with seating that acknowledged the viewer, this was an elegant, resonant and timely politicised exhibition.
24 September 2016 – 15 January 2017.

Published as part of a longer feature including writing by Chris Sharratt, Fisun, Güner, Pippa Koszerek and Richard Taylor for a-n news, 15 December 2016