THIS IS the time of year when the big galleries send out their programmes for the coming 12 months and, as usual, one must be impressed by the solid agenda of forthcoming exhibitions. Grand and elaborate shows begin in January and February, with Poussin at the Royal Academy and de Kooning at the Tate. After these old and modern masters there comes "Spanish Still-life Painting from Velasquez to Goya" at the National Gallery, and a large survey of English Impressionism at the Barbican. Connois-seu rs of photography (an ever-increasing band) can look forward to "American Photography 1890-1960" at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, while numerous other heavyweight shows will fill our museums throughout the year.
No one will question the importance of such exhibitions, and we're all glad to have the opportunity to see them. They are a triumph of the new art-world. The quality of big public ex- hibitions is higher than it was 10 years ago, much higher than 20 years ago. However, these exhibitions tend to be official, and they are devoted to household names and popular movements like Impressionism and Surrealism. They are devised to attract large audiences; so inevitably the box office makes an alliance with safe taste. The major galleries are becoming shy
of truly radical or innovative exhibitions. They are not inclined to take a risk on contemporary art. So we simply don't see enough new work. Committees rule. I wish we had some exciting impresario of modern exhibitions. I also wish that there were more stroppy artists with a determination to change things.
There used to be such people, but they have disappeared. Here's one way that the art world has changed for the worse in the last decade. Where are the rebels? I feel nostalgia for the days when we knew, for instance, FACOP (Friends of the Arts Council Operative), whose members used to gatecrash ACGB art panel meetings demanding this and that. Remarkably, the tactic often worked. Artists nowadays don't do such things. They are not by nature acquiescent, but they complain rather than protest. Neither do they organise. The 1990s ought to be a good time to form new exhibiting societies - groups of people who have something in common, wish to show together and who find a place to do so. Such societies were invented a century and more ago, in the days of early-modern art. Their purpose was to avoid the official and academic institutions. Today they are needed again.
Who in the boss class, for instance, thinks about putting on a show of contemporary painting? This does not seem an immoderate request. In 1995 we'll see some new work on canvas at the John Moores exhibition in Liverpool, but this much-loved biannual is essentially an anthology. Its selectors are chosen by the Walker Art Gallery to provide "balance", ie. to cancel each other out. I'd like a painting show with more polemical direction, perhaps on the lines of the "Hayward Annuals" that were a feature of art life in the Seventies and Eighties. These were often messy events and they regularly outraged one section or another of current opinion. But they were exciting, and there has been nothing like them since.
When the Hayward Annuals were discontinued the official South Bank line was that their work had been completed. Baloney. Most of us thought that such shows were not viable because no sponsors could be found to underwrite their costs.
At all events, the Hayward Gallery today seems to have abandoned its obligation towards new British art. Its big show this year will be "Art and Power: European Art and Architecture 1932-1945". Here's an important, if often chilling topic. It will make us look again at the world that was peopled by our …