The Art of 2019 — Part One

I started, as so often I do, with keeping a list of consumed culture. This petered out, so I am relying on memory.

2019 was Van Gogh and Rembrandt and Schiele and Munch.

Every year should be Munch year.

(If I find the energy, I will add photos)

So, in January, I headed for Vienna to see a huge Bruegel exhibition. I was warned it was a cold city because of all the canals, but personally I think it was the snow. One day I will find my notes and write it up, but it was a great two hour plus shuffle around all the canvases fit to travel (the Brussels ones weren’t there, and I think one of the four seasons) and lots of prints. I need to get back to Vienna to see their paintings on permanent display.

I had been recommended Friedersreich Hunderstwasser, and he’s very colourful, as his museum in Vienna. I bounced off it a little, but I enjoyed tracing his architecture and design around that part of the city. Think Abstract Expressionism meets Mackintosh.

But Vienna is the city of Klimt and Schiele, with important holdings of the former in the Leopold and at the Belvedere. The Kiss is extraordinary but not as romantic as people think. Schiele continues to fascinate and again there are huge collections at the Leopold and the Belvedere, although the Albertina drawings were presumably mostly seeable at the Royal Academy of Arts with Klimt, which I did several times. At the Albertina I enjoyed the Batlinger Collection, along with photos by Helen Levitt, the quasi-naive Niko Pirosmani and the surreal Edwin Wurm. There was a huge retrospective of Ernst Caramelle at mumok and a lot of colourful abstract paintings to counterbalance his white and greys. I didn’t make it to the Secession, next time. I missed the last day of Monet, which I’m guessing would have been heaving.

Later in January, I got to Edinburgh, off season, to see the January Turners, the then latest assembly of Art NOW and Andy Warhol and Eduardo Paolozzi: I want to be a machine. This was a pairing that worked well, although the two artists were in distinct wings of Modern Two. I saw early Paolozzi in December at the commercial Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert Gallery — worth a check out. Meanwhile, at the City Art Gallery, the surreal Edwin G. Lucas for a revisit and the extraordinary street photos of veteran Robert Bloomfield. I also caught up with Charles II: Art and Power at Holyrood, having missed it at the Queen’s Gallery, a sequel to the RAA’s Charles I, which had left me a little lukewarm.

In February I ventured to Liverpool for Ferdnand Leger, with some extraordinary machine human hybrids and frustratingly uncatalogued (though I bought a big expensive book). There was also an Alex Katz display. I returned later in the year to catch the Macintosh exhibition from Glasgow at the Walker, and t’Tate’s moving Keith Haring retrospective.

Closer to home, Dulwich Picture Gallery tempted me twice with Harald Sohlberg, one of my five favourite Norwegian artists, some British modernist prints by artists I’d never heard of and finally Rembrandt, to which I may return after two (temporarily) stolen canvases have been substituted. I think there may have been more.

The Rembrandt anniversary took me to the Rijksmuseum’s blockbuster turf out all our collection survey — a pleasing two or three hours, and then I ran the batteries down on the audio guide. Rembrandt etchings were also on display at the British Museum, and I think that is touring. December saw a visit to Kenwood House, in the wilds of Hampstead Heath, to see their late self-portrait.

Naturally, the Van Gogh Museum demanded a revisit, and their special exhibition was an inspired pairing of Van Gogh and David Hockney. Later in the year saw Van Gogh at t’Tate in a brilliant if unconvincing exhibition to which I will return. At the Stedelijk, among other gems, was a Maria Lassnig survey — I’d seen her work paired with Francis Bacon at t’Tate Liverpool some years ago.

I had an unnecessarily epic side trip to Den Haag, where the Mauritshuis were showing their Rembrandts, plus crowd pleasers of The Goldfinch and Girl with a Pearl Earring. After the William Gallery, decided to pass on the Escher and went to the Municipal Museum — a long trudge — to be underwhelmed by Katarzyna Kobro and Wladyslaw Strzeminski and blown away by Piet Mondrian.

A day trip took me to Elisabeth Frink: Humans and Other Animals at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Art, one of two sculptural highlights of the year, the other being the Henry Moore display at the hidden gem the Wallace Collection. (I returned more recently to see The Souvenir, which inspired the overrated film of the same name, and their Rembrandts.)

Equally epic was the day trip to Bath, for the George Shaw retrospective — his curious enamel visions of suburban utopia on the wane. I still say he was robbed of the Turner Prize.

There were probably three day trips to Pallant House — the Sickert Van Gogh hybrids by Harold Gilman and the Cezanne flavoured Ivor Hitchens, both shows I’m glad to have seen, even if I was indifferent to their paintings. Was there a pop art overview too? Like Dulwich, it excels in painters I’ve not necessarily heard of but are glad to discover, especially in the downstairs gallery and print room.

One Temple Place has a yearly spring exhibition, and this year it was marking an anniversary for John Ruskin. He’s an interesting artist, but not one I warm to.

I’ve been a little bit rubbish with the Anthea Turner – still have to go to the Prize Exhibition – but I made it for the science fictional Katie Paterson, which I will write about somewhere and the seaside exhibition, co-curated by a now ex-colleague, Karen Shepherdson. This was fascinating and was worth a long browse.

June saw a trip to Oslo for a second and final visit to the Munchmuseet, which is moving to the new Nasjonalmuseet for a 2021 opening. Good to see so many Munchs, although the Bergen collection is better for its size. Of course, a lot of his prints were at the British Museum and I think I went there three times. I didn’t get to Vigeland Park this time, but I cut through Ekebergparken (seeing a then unlabelled sculpture Chloé by Jaume Plensa) to get to the Scream viewpoint. An offshoot of the National Gallery in the Barcode District had Munch and Kathe Kollwitz prints, facing off against each other rather than intermingled. Kollwitz is currently in the print room at the British Museum and worth a look – although I think they are larger prints. Out at the Edvard Munch Studio at Ekely (with useless website) there was an Oslo Biennial exhibition of Gaylen Gerber’s enigmatic white objects. I saw something in a private gallery, VI, VII, of Sebastian Lloyd Rees who is based in London. At the Astrup Fearnley there was much Anselm Kiefer and Olav Christopher Jenssen and it would be good to know where I put the book on Norwegian art I bought there.

Within a fortnight, I went to Dublin and Denver and Fort Morgan. The National Gallery of Ireland seems to be in permanent rebuild, so I had a quick browse of the two open sections and skipped Sorolla, having seen that at the London National Gallery (OK, but unexciting). At IMMA I was quite take by Kim Gordon’s work, she of Sonic Youth, and the various overlapping exhibitions, plus a Lucian Freud/Jack B. Yeats combo. I didn’t have time to do Clyfford Still in Denver, so settled for Brent Houzenga’s PKD prints in Fort Morgan, along with Christopher Wilkey’s PKD tarot (which I bought a set of).

Somewhere in there, there was Lee Krasner, so much more than Mrs Pollock, filling two floors of the Barbican Gallery. One day I’ll write up those notes. Ironically, the Milton Keynes Gallery offered a Paula Rego retrospective – whilst the rebranded Jerwood (Hastings Contemporary) showcased the neglected husband, Victor Willing. I returned to Milton Keynes for George Stubbs (notes to follow) and I’d been to Hastings for Roy Oxlade and Tal with bonus Bomberg.

I’d written off going to Bergen this year, as I’d done Oslo, but a major Munch overview – with parallel photography – was unmissable and worth the airfare. Meanwhile, the ceramics of Kari Dyrdal, Torbjørn Kvasbø and Marit Tingleff were scattered through three of the four KODE spaces and I saw parts of the Bergen Biennial.

I braved all sorts of rain to get to the Barber Institute with my old school Neil Armstrong, to see Jan de Beer’s altarpiece and other works from British collections, rounding off a year of Dutchness. They have an interesting permanent collection along with a Fearnley and a Dahl which were both instantly recognizable.

I’ll leave off a further listing of London goings for now, but about the last thing I saw – aside from Blake – was the Bridget Riley at the Hayward Gallery. I’ve seen much of the work already, but it is literally stunning and I hope to return if I can find the time.

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