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Take a look at this: 2019’s essential exhibitions

Take a look at this: 2019’s essential exhibitions

Take a look at this: 2019’s essential exhibitions
January 02
16:19 2019

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Every new year brings in a wave of excited anniversary announcements, not all of them particularly inspiring. After the mighty four-year commemoration of every aspect of the first world war, we might well be feeling a bit of anniversary fatigue. But 2019 yields a choice crop in the world of the visual arts: both Leonardo and Tintoretto are celebrated 500 years on, while Rembrandt clocks up 350 years since the date of his death.

So it’s to Amsterdam, appropriately, that enthusiasts should head for the start of a whole year dedicated to the master: at the Rijksmuseum All the Rembrandts opens on February 15, displaying the museum’s collection of 22 mighty paintings and 60 drawings, plus hundreds of the finest prints. This is the single greatest holding of Rembrandt’s work, and includes such pearls as the twin life-size “marriage” portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit (recently acquired), the newly restored “Night Watch” and self-portraits from early to late.

Rembrandt’s ‘Man in Oriental Dress’ (1635)

It’s worth remembering, though, that Rembrandt was such a prolific artist that there are jewels to be found in museums across the US and Europe, and more than 100 works across Britain: a pilgrimage to see them all — a Rembrandt road trip — would encompass some surprisingly small towns as well as the big cities. (The location of all publicly owned art in the UK can be found at artuk.org.)

Tintoretto may in fact have been born late in 1518, as far as we can tell, but the National Gallery in Washington DC is celebrating his half-millennium this year. He was a Venetian, also known as Jacopo Robusti; “Tintoretto” was a nickname that came, appropriately, from the family’s profession as dyers and colourists, and during a long life (he was well into his seventies when he died) his religious and mythological allegories, as well as portraits of grandees, established him among the greatest of the Venetian Renaissance painters. Rather amazingly, this extensive exhibition of more than 50 works, which travels to Washington DC in March from the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, is apparently North America’s first retrospective of Tintoretto. It will be well worth a trip.

Tintoretto’s ‘The Wedding of Ariadne and Bacchus’ (1578) will go on show in Washington DC

Leonardo: great as he is, have we heard enough about him recently? Somehow the furore over the “Salvator Mundi”, bought at auction in November 2017 for a world-record $450m, threw the spotlight on to the almost unimaginable sum of money, the mysterious royal Saudi buyers, the quarrels about authenticity, overshadowing the great majesty and mystery of the artist’s life and work. And, since that contentious picture has not been seen in public since the sale (its planned unveiling at the Louvre Abu Dhabi was abruptly cancelled), new rumours of debates over its authorship and problems with its condition have swirled around the art world.

However, the Louvre in Paris has announced that “Salvator Mundi” will be among the treasures on display in its mighty 500th anniversary exhibition, opening in the autumn. Only 17 paintings are confidently attributed to Leonardo and the great French museum holds, it claims, about a third of his work: the Italian painter died in France in 1519, after spending the last few years of his long life luxuriously installed in a Loire château as court painter to François I, and many of the greatest pieces that he painted there or brought with him from Italy entered the French royal collection. During his time in France the multi-minded genius also produced, of course, drawings and designs galore, from anatomical studies to plans for hydraulic machinery. This exhibition, opening on October 24, should be a marvel.

Leonardo’s ‘La belle ferronnière’ will form part of the Louvre’s exhibition

The Year of Leonardo will resonate across Europe and the US too. In Italy events range from shows centred on the famous holdings in Turin and Milan (home of “The Last Supper”) to fascinating smaller exhibitions, such as the Galileo Museum in Florence’s show of Leonardo’s books, and in Vinci — the artist’s birthplace — a showing of his first known work, a very fragile landscape that rarely sees daylight.

For once, the UK comes into its own with Leonardo: the most resplendent mass of the artist’s drawings is held in the Royal Collection, and a selection of the finest will be simultaneously on show in 12 British cities throughout the early part of this year, culminating in a show at the Queen’s Gallery in London. For a deep glimpse into the endlessly fascinating mind of Leonardo, the drawings are unbeatable.

In May, Venice again hosts its biennale of art, an event that seems to get more and more extensive with each iteration. For this 58th year the curator is Ralph Rugoff, American-born director of London’s Hayward Gallery, and his chosen title is May you live in interesting times. Well, quite. The national pavilions are famously cagey about their projects but the website Artnet has a running list of confirmed artists. And it’s likely that 2019 will continue a trend seen in the past few Venice biennales: to widen the event’s reach beyond the elitist walls of the pavilions and display spaces into the community. In 2017 the US artist Mark Bradford worked with inmates at Venice’s women’s prison; this time his compatriot Martin Puryear will be evolving a project that encompasses Venetians of African origin.

As the trend for re-evaluating women artists continues, China has its first important exhibition of Louise Bourgeois. Currently at the Long Museum in Shanghai, the show — which includes the enormous, seven-metre spider that belongs to London’s Tate — travels on in March to the Song Museum in Beijing. According to art world sources, six works that were banned by disapproving cultural authorities in Shanghai are due to go on display in Beijing.

Frida Kahlo pictured in 1939 with her portrait ‘Me Twice’; Kahlo’s work is now on show in Moscow

Other riches on show across the world include a significant new departure for India, where large-scale public exhibitions are rare: New Delhi’s Bikaner House opens this month as an exhibition space with an important show by one of the country’s finest contemporary artists, Bharti Kher. Upcoming elsewhere there’s a large exhibition by Edmund de Waal at the Frick in New York, the Metropolitan Museum’s exquisite show of Japanese classical art based on The Tale of Genji, and Pierre Bonnard at Tate Modern in London — the first important showing of this artist in the UK for 20 years. Just opened at Moscow’s Manege hall, meanwhile, is an exhibition of works by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her muralist husband Diego Rivera. Titled Viva la Vida, it investigates the couple’s political affiliations — Rivera, a supporter of the 1917 revolution, spent some time in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, and again shortly before his death in 1957.

It isn’t necessary to seek out only the biggest names for a rich exhibition experience. One important and fascinating show in London this year will be Tate Britain’s retrospective of Frank Bowling, the Guyana-born British abstractionist who is only now, in his mid-eighties, getting full recognition. Nor does one need to travel to the world’s capitals or to the blockbuster shows at the great museums. Public art, in the streets all around, is always worth seeking out: a current favourite is Maren Hassinger’s “Monuments”, installed in New York’s Marcus Garvey Park by Studio Museum Harlem. Happy viewing in 2019.

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