Art, design, fashion and architecture exhibitions in Europe


Are you visiting a European city this summer? Here you’ll find some of the most interesting exhibitions of art, design, fashion and architecture in Europe.

If you are one of those who has decided to spend your summer holidays visiting a European city rather than the mountain or the beach, or you are still unsure where to escape, we give you some tips about the most interesting exhibitions of art, design, fashion and architecture in Europe. After all, seeing an exhibition can be a journey into the lives of great artists, but it can also take us to distant destinations and even former times!


Design of protest, smart homes or artistic icons in London

Visiting an exhibition in London – with its fantastic museums – is not only the best way to experience culture in the city, it also provides the ideal shelter from the infamously bad weather of the British capital. This summer, however, on the way to becoming the hottest summer in recent history, has bucked the trend. The exhibition rooms, with their fresh conditioning, seem to be the best refuge from dehydration. We review the star exhibitions this summer:


1. “Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 08-18″ and” Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier” at the Design Museum
The Design Museum of London, with a year and a half of life in its new and spectacular headquarters at the entrance of Holland Park, never ceases to amaze. “Hope to Nope” (until August 12) reviews the role of graphic design in the political and social sphere in the last ten years. The show is dense in projects but highly attractive because of the relevance of the events to which it refers. The Arab springs, the Occupy movements, the pacifist, feminist and nationalist marches are living examples of the political turmoil we have been experiencing since the financial crisis struck in 2008. Avoiding aligning with any political position, and organized around three axes – power, protest and personality -, the selection of projects focuses on the originality and impact of different graphic and propagandistic strategies of both professionals and amateurs.

If you would rather spend your leisure time disconnecting from the political climate of the moment, and you are more attracted by craftmanship and haute couture, the retrospective of the mostly unknown Tunisian fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa (until October 7) proposes a more contemplative exploration into the glamorous creations of this interesting designer, exposed under six curtains created by artists and contemporary architects inspired by his work. Despite being a fashion exhibition, the pieces are almost sculptures and the show features a photographic series by the British sculptor Richard Wentworth, who met the designer through some common friends and ended up photographing details of his studio at the request of the designer.

2. “The Great Spectacle” and “Invisible Landscapes: Home (Act I)” at the Royal Academy of Arts
London’s Royal Academy of Arts celebrates its 250 years of life this summer with “The Great Spectacle, an exhibition that explains the two and a half centuries of the institution’s history through the evolution of its famous Summer Exhibition, the oldest annual exhibition of contemporary art in the world. Both exhibitions are open until August 19.

Navigating the immense collage of art hung on the academy walls every year for the Summer Exhibition is a unique experience and it is as inspiring as it is demanding, but this year “The Great Spectacle” gives it depth and historical relevance. The exhibition reviews some of the key moments in its history, such as the rivalry between Constable and Turner, the struggle for women’s suffrage, the impact of the two world wars or its position as a platform for both established and totally unknown artists.

Despite its antiquity and the longstanding commitment to this bicentennial exhibition model, the Royal Academy does not forget its support to contemporary art and also to architecture – the institution was founded by a group of 40 artists and architects – and this summer inaugurates the architecture studio, a space which invites architecture studios to reflect on the state of the sector with installations. Catalan architecture studio MAIO has been commissioned to inaugurate this space with a three-part installation titled “Invisible Landscapes. The Act I (Home) explores until September 24 the impact of digital technologies on domestic spaces and how these are altering the meaning of the home, making it part of a larger system where the barriers between the public and private, urban and domestic are vanishing.

3. “Frida Kalho: Making Herself Up” and “The Future Starts Here” at the Victoria & Albert Museum
And from the historic house of art to the historic house of design, the Victoria and Albert Museum, which also opened new spaces last summer and this year has presented one of the most awaited exhibitions of all time, on the figure of the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The exhibition focuses on her life and her style more than on her art, although in addition to her clothes, jewelry and accessories (never exposed outside of Mexico to date), it also includes multiple self-portraits, photographs and videos that make an interesting collage about her short but intense life.

If you are less mythomaniac and more interested in how design shapes our society, “The Future Starts Here” presents a hundred innovative and disruptive projects and many questions that will allow you to sketch the future and question the present. Both exhibitions are open until November 4.

4. “The Head and The Load” and “Picasso 1932” at the Tate Modern
The year of the centenary of the end of the first world war and the decisive year of Picasso, mark the most important programming of the Tate Modern this summer: the last piece of South African artist William Kentridge and a great exhibition of the Spanish artist.

Last July, in the framework of the First World War Centenary Art Commissions, organized by 14-18 NOW, Tate Modern turned part of its impressive Turbine Hall into the stage of William Kentridge’s latest project: “The Head and The Load”. The piece is a collage of epic scale and theatrical format that, combining the experimental work of the artist – known for the mixture of music, dance, projections, mechanized sculptures and play of shadows – created an imaginary landscape to explain the unknown history of the hundreds of thousands of African slaves who served with the British, French and German forces during the First World War. The macro-performance, lasting an hour and a half, was scheduled for 4 days between July 11 and July 15 and only until August 24th can you see a recording here.

Tate’s other big gig of the summer is the exhibition “Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy” (until September 9). The exhibition gathers for the first time more than 100 paintings, sculptures and drawings produced by the artist in 1932, the year in which, being already internationally acclaimed and preparing the first major retrospective of his work in Paris, a not-so-young Picasso felt his reputation as a modern artist was critically at stake. The exhibition dedicates a room to an approximate reproduction of this retrospective that shows the evolution of the artist and his desire for constant renewal. The rest of the rooms reveal his incessant creativity driven by love and fame during the first months and by anxiety and restlessness towards the end of the year, in a context increasingly marked by economic depression, mass unemployment, populist nationalism and the rise of totalitarian regimes.


Anarchitecture, fashion and graphic arts in Paris

If you plan to visit Paris, forget the queues of the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay. The small Jeu de Paume, the new Yves Saint Laurent Museum or the legendary Pompidou Center are good alternatives:


1. “Gordon Matta-Clark: anarchitect” at the Jeu de Paume
Under the title “Anarchitect”, the Jeu de Paume has collected 100 pieces of the particular and influential work of the architect Gordon Matta-Clark until September 23 in the gardens of the Tuileries. Halfway between urban intervention and ephemeral architecture, Matta-Clark exercised a critical anatomy of modernism inferring cuts in the very body of architecture and exposing the wounds through photographs, films and prints. The exhibition offers a refreshing reading of Matta-Clark’s work and its still-vivid influence on architecture and contemporary art today.

2. “Inaugural Display” at the Yves Saint Laurent Museum
In Paris, the capital of fashion, Yves Saint Laurent is king, and the recent opening last October of the YSL Museum, dedicated not only to the work of the artist but to the history of haute couture, is the proof. The Inaugural Display reviews the figure of the genius of fashion through fifty pieces and their accessories, sketches, photographs and related films. Emblematic designs such as the tuxedo, the safari jacket, the jumpsuit, and the trench coat and others never seen before are exhibited together with documentation of the workshop’s operation and the process of creation of the collections. The new museum is located at the hotel particulier, the headquarters of the Yves Saint Laurent workshop for more than thirty years, and it can be visited until September 9th.

3. Recent acquisitions of the Graphic Arts Department of the Pompidou Center
At a time when thematic exhibitions seem to attract all the interest of the media and the public, we have decided to include in our selection a mention of an exhibition with recent acquisitions of the permanent collection of the mythical Pompidou Centre. The exhibition offers the opportunity to see a selection of 150 modern and contemporary works on paper by more than 50 artists, acquired by the Center since 2011. Organized chronologically, the show is eclectic, diverse and facilitates unique encounters. Amongst its highlights there are pieces of Kandinsky, Klee, Picabia, Wols, Staël and Giacometti.

Italy of biennials

Venice is synonymous with biennials, and this year it is the turn of architecture. Contemporary art lovers will find their dose a bit more to the south this year, as the famous nomad biennial of contemporary art Manifiesta, which is held every two years in a different European city, has moved to Palermo for its twelfth edition. If Italy is not your chosen destination, Berlin, Liverpool and Bruges also host art biennials or triennials this summer.


1. Venice Architecture Biennale
Curated by the British architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara and with the title “Freespace“, this 16th edition wants to reflect on the architectural space and the desire to create it and to make it more open and free. With a total of 71 participants, among which stand out firms such as Alison Brooks, Alvaro Siza, Assemble, Miralles-Tagliabue, BIG, Caruso St John, David Chipperfield, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Carme Pinós Studio, Flores y Prats, Rafael Moneo, Toyo Ito or Souto Moura, the curators have also dedicated a line of programming to reflect on the teaching of architecture and another to pay homage to historic buildings, such as the brutalist social housing block “Robin Hood Gardens”, which shows a ruin rescued from its destruction and preserved by the Victoria & Albert Museum last year.

2. Manifesta 12 Palermo
Manifiesta” is a nomadic biennial of contemporary art by principle. Born mainly with this objective and especially to voluntarily move away from the dominant artistic centers, the artistic event is always on the look for fertile land to form new cultural topographies. Each Manifiesta seeks to investigate and promote innovative and emerging formats in the field of contemporary art and within a European framework. The concrete ambition of this year’s edition is to work in a truly interdisciplinary way with local communities to rethink the architectural, urban, economic, social and cultural structures of the city. The selection of Palermo, however, represents the will to address two very important issues for Europe: immigration and climate change, and their impact on cities.

Biodesign or the counterculture of the 60s in Amsterdam

The imposing Stedelijk Museum is a must-see for art and design lovers in Amsterdam, a city as rebellious and innovative as it is discreet. The summer program of the museum offers us a solo exhibition of the contemporary design duo Studio Drift and a reflection on the counterculture of the sixties in the Dutch city.

1. “Studio Drift s Coded Nature” and “Amsterdam, the magic center” at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
The changing relationships between man, nature and technology are the focus of Studio Drift’s work and the central theme of the temporary exhibition “Coded Nature” (until September 26). “Fragile Future”, the first project of the duo of designers formed by Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, brought them international fame. The museum has been closely following the career of designers for years and considers that it is the right time to show the first retrospective of their work, which consists of eight installations and a series of films. Studio Drift addresses issues such as the illusion of freedom, the individual versus the group and the tension between the real and the virtual world. Often, their installations manifest natural processes by translating them into data through technology and inducing life to inanimate objects.

With the same interest to identify experimental and innovative practices, but in a different context and time, the museum dedicates a collective exhibition to explore the role of Amsterdam as an international hub and laboratory of artistic and social innovation in the sixties. Under the title “Amsterdam Magical Center“, the exhibition shows how the Dutch capital emerged as a progressive and artistic refuge, attracting young people from all over the world who rebelled against the establishment, finding on the streets, magazines or television alternative platforms to the traditional spaces that changed the direction of art forever.


Author: Sol Polo