Art exhibitions of 2011

2011 is going to be another year of unforgettable shows, says Richard Dorment.


As always, it’s at the British Museum we’ll see the kind of shows no other institution in this country does or could do. In March we see what in art amounts to a rare and endangered species — ancient and medieval objects from the National Museum in Kabul. After visitations from the Russians and the Taliban the most amazing thing about ‘Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World’ is that there was anything left to lend (March 30 July 3). In June lovers of bling everywhere should beat a path to the BM’s ‘Treasures of Heaven’, an exhibition of gem studded silver and gold Medieval and Renaissance reliquaries, many still containing a bit of the saint’s bone or splinter from the true cross (October 27- February 2012). Finally in the autumn the British Museum will stage a show of art so old that I wasn’t aware it existed — for the sculpture and drawings we’ll see in ‘Ice Age Art’ were made some 35,000 years ago. Beat that.

Hard Times: blockbusters of the sort we became used to over the last two decades don’t seem as thick on the ground and fewer exhibitions are having longer runs. Another trend that’s only accelerated in recent years is the way our museums and galleries are staging fewer and fewer shows of old master paintings and sculptures. In January, however, Dulwich Picture Gallery will celebrate its Bicentenary year by presenting a ‘Masterpiece a Month’ – twelve loans of world famous masterpieces by Van Gogh, Titian and Picasso sent one at a time from the great galleries and museums of the world.

The National Gallery kicks the year off with what promises to be a thrilling display of 50 portraits, religious pictures and nudes by of the most distinguished of all Northern Renaissance artists, the Flemish born Jan Gossaert (February 23 – May 30). Closely related in theme, over the summer the Queen’s Gallery in Edinburgh will show ‘Northern Renaissance: Durer to Holbein’ (June 17 — January 15 2012).

March is Watteau month with not one but two exhibitions devoted to one of my favourite artists. At the Royal Academy will be ‘Watteau’s Drawings: Virtuosity and Delight (March 12-June 5) while the Wallace will put on a special display of the important Watteau’s in the permanent collection side by side with a show of 17th and 18th century pictures from Rubens to Vernet once owned by Watteau’s most important dealer, Jean de Jullienne (March 12 — June 5).

Running concurrently at the Queen’s Gallery Buckingham Palace will be Dutch Landscapes — many of the best of which were bought by my personal favourite of all Royal Collectors, George IV (April 15 — October 9). And how’s this for an original idea for an exhibition? In June stately Dulwich Picture Gallery will show classically inspired paintings by the American expressionist Cy Twombly next to the world renowned Poussin’s in its permanent collection (June 29 —September 25)

For several years now the National Gallery has successfully staged a free summer exhibition drawn entirely from the permanent collection. This July we’ll see ‘Devotion by Design: Italian Altarpieces Before 1500’ which will include both Piero Della Francesca and Carlo Crivelli (July 6- October 2). Later in the year comes Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter of the Court of Milan which is billed as ‘the most complete display of Leonardo’s rare surviving paintings ever held’ (November 9 – February 5 2012)

Moving on to the 19th century the year opens with a show at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery called ‘The Poetry of Drawing’, the most comprehensive survey of Pre-Raphaelite drawings and watercolurs ever staged (January 29 — May 15). Then the show I most want to see this year is the big Manet retrospective opening at the Grand Palais in Paris (April 4 — July 4). A few months later the Courtauld Gallery will host a cracker of a show about the relationship between Toulouse-Lautrec and the stick-thin, flame-haired dancer Jane Avril. Considering the dozens of paintings, lithographs and drawing of her by Lautrec, it is no exaggeration to say that he was as much her publicist as her friend (June 16- September 18). In September what sounds like a terrific show called ‘Degas Dancers: Eye and Camera’ blows into the Royal Academy. We’ll see pastels, drawings, paintings, prints and sculpture juxtaposed with photos and early films (September 17 — December 11).

Also on the cards: Tate Britain will thrill us with the pictures of John Martin whose panoramic scenes of biblical apocalypse from Noah’s Flood to the Day of Wrath are tour de forces of the Romantic Movement.

The first real blockbuster of the year will be the RA’s survey of British sculpture – from Alfred Gilbert’s full length bronze of Queen Victoria enthroned to Richard Long’s Chalk Line. Since I believe that the genius of British art lies in sculpture not painting, it’s a show that could have been tailor made for me to review. And we’ll have the joy of a massive Joan Miro retrospective at Tate Modern in the spring, the biggest in this country in 50 years (April 14 — September 11). It seems like it was only a few years ago that I reviewed David Sylvester’s wonderfully installed show of Rene Magritte at the Hayward Gallery, but the press release for Tate Liverpool’s ‘Rene Magritte: the Pleasure Principle’ assures me it was 20 years ago(June 24-October 16).

Magritte also shows up in the same venue later in the year when Tate Liverpool stages a show about the influence of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland on artists from Dali to Paul Rego and Peter Blake (November 4 -29 January 2012). I’m also looking forward to Michelangelo Pistoletto (mirrors, mirrors and more mirrors) at the Serpentine gallery, the great British sculptor Tony Cragg and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (July 30 — November 6) and the also great Barry Flanagan at Tate Britain (September 27 — January 2012).

The popular German photo realist painter Gerhard Richter settles into Tate Modern in the autumn. I think his reputation is wildly over inflated, but even so he’s the artist who painted one of the 20th century’s towering masterpieces, the 1988 sequence of painting s based on images of the Baader-Meinhof gang (6 October — 8 January 2012). More up my alley is the delightful Swiss performance and video artist Pipilotti Rist coming to the Hayward Gallery in fall (28 September -).

And I’ll go to Tate Modern’s mid career retrospective of the Mexican conceptual, and installation artist Gabriel Orozco with an open mind and deep suspicion. I’ve always been baffled by the international acclaim for his work. (January 19- April 25).

Much as I’d like to I will not, alas, be allowed to review the Whitechapel’s show of highlights from the Government Art Collection —because I was on their advisory committee for many years and wrote one of the catalogue essays about my experiences there. (June 3- September). And 2011 sees Mike Nelson create a large-scale installation entitled ‘Studio Apparatus’ made from leftover furniture, objects and materials inside the British Pavillion at the Venice biennale, while the milestone show of Documenta which occurs once ever 5 years opens later that month in Kassel, Germany And there are several re-openings in 2011, the most important of which are the renovated and enlarged Holburne Museum in Bath (May) and the gloriously restored Watts Gallery near Guildford (in June). I’ve only lightly skipped over the surface of what as usual is going to be another year of unforgettable shows. Just remember to double check the dates printed in this article with the gallery before setting off to see them. Happy New Year.

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