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The Defining Artworks of 2022

In 2022, art roared back. Blockbuster exhibitions returned, and the world’s top art festivals, including the Venice Biennale and Documenta, did as well. Historical study of past works continued apace, and new artworks were added to the canon. Although artists had been making art with the same passion during the pandemic as they did before, this year the energy was especially palpable.

Across the world this year, artists continued exploring the ways that racism, colonialism, and misogyny shape society, and they did so as vitally as ever. Their work offered powerful views into alternate universes devoid of these poisonous prejudices while also staring down realities that must be contended with.

Along the way, it became obvious that the study of art history must change too. Artists of color and women artists who had been dealing with these topics for decades were suddenly seen anew, and the works they produced seemed ever more notable. With the understanding that nothing is fixed, experts also upended past conceptions about famous works, even at one point discovering that a beloved abstraction had been hanging upside-down for years.

To look back on the past 12 months in art-making, below is a survey of some of the most important artworks made or presented in a new light in 2022.

11. Hew Locke, The Procession (2022)

One of the most talked-about works to hit London this year was Hew Locke’s commission for the central hall of Tate Britain’s neoclassical building. Stretching the length of this airy space, The Procession presents dozens of figures—clad in intricate and vibrant garments—as they are caught, as the title alludes, in the middle of a procession. What they are walking for is not entirely clear. Is it for a Carnival celebration, as some of the more brightly dressed revelers imply, with their large dresses that are signature in those festivals? Or is it for a funeral, as suggested by several figures in all black, some of whom carry a coffin-like sculpture? What’s so fascinating about this project is that it is a true sculpture in the round. You’re able to walk at your own pace and observe these detailed garments is a sharp contrast from a regular procession, where those walking pass by you after a few moments. Here you can study their garments, and in doing so, it becomes clear that there is much at play. Locke has fashioned their outfits and banners with various historical documents and photographs that reference the transatlantic slave trade and the role that Henry Tate, the museum’s namesake, played in it. It’s a complex and messy history, one that Locke refuses to let us shy away from. —Maximilíano Durón