The Lure of the East: The best exhibitions to see in the East of England in 2016

By Kate McNab | 01 January 2016

Culture24's constantly updated guide to the best exhibition to see in the East - from British rock photography to ill-fated expeditions and Ancient Egyptian afterlife


print in sepia tone showing figures and cattle in shallow lake in front of monument
© Fitzwilliam Museum
This year, the Fitzilliam Museum turns 200 and is commemorating the landmark anniversary with the exhibition (February 4 – December 30), which looks to the museum's past, present and future and uncovers characters, artefacts and stories from the last two centuries.

(February 9 – July 31) opens shortly after, uncovering work made by the three influential 19th century artists during one tumultuous year. 1816 was shrouded in darkness after a massive volcano eruption - and Turner, Goya and Cornelius each made work during this time reflecting the bleak environment that permeated southern Italy.

When visiting in 2016 make sure you also take a look (you won't really be able to miss it) at the giant sculpture in front of the museum by arguably Britain's most important and influential sculptor. (February 1 2016 – November 30 2017) is on loan from the Henry Moore Foundation for the next two years.

It doesn't end there - there's also a display of beautiful botanical watercolours and illustrations to feast your eyes upon in (February 2 - May 8).

photograph of ancient egyptian carved face
Face from coffin, with eyes and eyebrows inlaid, gilded, 1186-1069 B.C.© Fitzwilliam Museum
If you're more of a history buff, (February 23 – May 22) is  one of several major exhibitions in the UK in 2016 uncovering the mysterious rituals and beliefs surrounding the afterlife in Ancient Egypt. The show focuses on Ancient Egyptian coffins and includes the chance to learn about the science used to examine and conserve the ancient objects.

Just around the corner at The Polar Museum, (until June 18) charts the incredible journey undertaken by Shackleton and his party on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-17. Through objects, artefacts and archival material, the exhibition commemorates the expedition which saw the brave team shipwrecked and marooned on the ice for months.

(February 14 – April 10)
at Wysing Arts Centre in Bourn brings together artists whose work is created for the purpose of explaining complex ideas or theories. This kicks off their 2016 programme, Wysing Poly, which explores an alternative learning idea that embraces the idea of education through the practical application of ideas.


photograph of jewellery made from bronze age stag
Romilly Saumarez Smith - Kindly Stag© Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts
As well as holding an impressive permanent collection accumulated by Robert and Lisa Sainsbury over their lifetime, Norwich's Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts plays host to an array of temporary exhibitions throughout the year. Be sure to take in (until April 10), an intriguing exhibition of contemporary craft by jeweller Romilly Saumarez, who uses discarded Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval metalwork at the core of her pieces.

photograph of whale ivory necklance
Whale ivory necklace© Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge
The Sainsburys collected art and artefacts fom cultures all across the world, and this love for world art is embraced later on in the year, with (October 16 2016 – February 12 2017). The exhibition promises to be the most comprehensive exhibition of Fijian art ever assembled in the UK.

Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life has (March 19 – September 4) which uses collections from the V&A to show how photographer Harry Hammond paved the way for the genre of rock photography by capturing the definitive images of almost every popular musician in from the 40s to the 60s.

At Norwich Castle, the Hayward Touring juggernaut of contemporary British art that is  (June 24 - September 4) arrives for the first time in East Anglia in a split site show with Norwich University of the Arts.   


Over at The Higgins Bedford, their Edward Bawden Gallery is paying homage to one of the prolific graphic artist's most accomplished designs. (February 13 - January 29 2017) focuses in on Bawden's impressive linocut of Brighton's Palace Pier, bringing together preparatory sketches and deisngs, rarely-seen original blocks and, of course, the much-loved finished print.


At Ipswich Arts School (located next to Ipswich Museum (February 13 - May 29) celebrates Ipswich Museum's long relationship with both the arts and the sciences, via a specially-commissioned contemporary art installation by Lucy Lyons inspired by the Museum's natural history collection and displayed in the atmospheric Octagon gallery of the former Art School.


Over at the Gibberd Gallery, (March 8 – April 28) presents work by four artists who each take their inspiration from the beauty, diversity and unpredictability of the sea. Inspired by the gallery's collection of 20th century watercolours, each of the acclaimed artists has responded to the theme in their own unique style.

The gallery's (May 5 – 31) explores the vibrant and lively work of graphic artist Simon Pemberton whose work explores the role of illustration in art and discusses whether it can serve as a fine art practice in itself.

There's also the chance to discover the work of artist (June 16 – September 1) who draws inspiration from organic forms found in the the natural world, using themes such as clouds, seeds and insects in his sculptures and prints.

Last but not least, the wonderful Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden has two beautiful exhibitions lined up for the spring. The first,  (April 3 - October 30) features work by the 'rural moderns' - Bawden, Ravilious, Rothenstein, Vaughan et al - who lived in Great Bardfield or neighbouring villages from the early thirties until the 1970s.

As well as lesser known works, the exhibition includes ephemera, prints, photographs, drawings, wood blocks, ceramics and book covers - and many of the prints featured in the V&A/Fry Art Gallery book, Bawden, Ravilious and the Great Bardfield Artists.

Alongside,  (April 3 - June 12) celebrates the domestic-inspired watercolours, etchings and linocuts of the son of Edward Bawden with works from throughout his career.

We'll be updating this guide as more exhibitions are announced throughout the year - check back often to discover more amazing art near you.

Anything we've missed? Let us know in the comments below.

Explore more of our regional guides:

The best exhibitions to see in London in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the Midlands in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the North in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in Scotland in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the South East in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the South West in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in Wales in 2016

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