In time-honoured fashion, we are delighted to announce the Cradles & Labels Awards for 2020 (and what a year it's been). Here we recognise the highlights (and occasional lowlights) from the exhibitions we managed to see in person. There are some notable omissions, alas, since some shows ended prematurely or never opened at all, and there were others that we wished to see but were denied the opportunity to do so. We salute everyone who worked so hard in such trying circumstances to keep their exhibition programmes alive.
Most Child-Friendly Exhibition
We continue to get the distinct feeling that most exhibitions aren't designed with younger visitors in mind. A notable exception to this rule was The Havering Hoard: A Bronze Age Mystery at the Museum of London Docklands. The exhibits were laid out simply yet effectively, and the interactives were often pitched at a child's level, both physically and intellectually, but without being condescending. We reviewed the show here.
One museum always stands out, in our opinion, for the beauty of its exhibition design: the V&A. Every exhibition we have seen there in recent times has been designed in such a way that the objects and visitors alike are allowed to breathe. Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk was this year's standout in this respect. Subtle yet imaginative. We reviewed the show here.
Most Poignant Storyline
The rape and trial of Artemisia Gentileschi, as described in this manuscript on display at the National Gallery in London. We reviewed the show here.
Best Video Installation
Jennifer Steinkamp's computerised animation, Blind Eye, 1 , in Among the Trees at the Hayward Gallery in London. All the installations in this show, which we reviewed here, were exceptional in their concept and execution. Special mention should also be given to the captivating footage of the Mars Rover at the Design Museum earlier in the year.
Worst Social Distancing
Was it just us, but wasn't the Tate's desire to cram in as many visitors as possible just a little unsettling? It made our visits more uncomfortable than they should have been.
Best Use of Space
Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. Half this exhibition was staged indoors, the rest in the grounds of Houghton Hall. A truly memorable experience. We reviewed the show here.
Most Fun Object
Nervous Trees in Krištof Kintera: The End of Fun! at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. Nothing could quite prepare you for these alien lifeforms, with fibreglass bodies and globes for heads, rattling across the floor. We reviewed the show here.
On occasion we declined to buy the catalogues written to accompany some exhibitions, on the grounds that they were over-priced or written with a specialist audience in mind. The publication for Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company at the Wallace Collection in London was a notable exception, meticulously written and edited, and stunningly illustrated. We reviewed the show here.
Practically all the exhibitions at the Royal Academy in London, with the exception of the Summer (Winter) show. Gauguin and the Impressionists? Wait for it, no Gauguin until the final room. Tracey Emin versus Edvard Munch? Uninspiring (by far the best Emin was in the Bags show at the V&A). Picasso and Paper? Paper-thin, as our review describes. Gormley was the RA's last great exhibition.
Most Emotional Punch
Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media at the Foundling Museum in London. This may not have been high on everyone's list as an essential visit, but the subject matter and the juxtaposition of key exhibits was a stunning combination. We reviewed the show here.
Most Significant Moment
The removal of the statue of Robert Milligan from outside the Museum of London Docklands. This may have been overshadowed by events in Bristol and elsewhere, but the speed and dignity with which the monument was taken down was a model lesson for other communities. We discussed Milligan's statue here.
Among the Trees at the Hayward Gallery in London. As we wrote in our review, this was 'one of the most impressive shows we have seen for a long, long time, by turns soothing and provocative'. Entering the exhibition from the outside world was itself a moment of bliss, even if some of the exhibits (such as Steve McQueen's Lynching Tree) were shocking. An exhibition for our times.