Magazine article The Spectator

Vintage Start to the Year

Magazine article The Spectator

Vintage Start to the Year

Article excerpt

The year 2000 was an odd one in at least one way - apart, that is, from numerologically, millenarianally, hype-wise and so on. Almost all the art world excitement came from buildings, not shows. Tate Modern, the British Museum Great Court and the rest of the cascade of new galleries, refurbishments and extensions were completely successful as dramatic openings, whatever one thinks of them as architecture or as places to show art.

The millennium shows, on the other hand - with the occasional honourable exception - were a disappointing bunch, not just in this country, but worldwide. The coming year should bring a return to business as usual. The emphasis will be on exhibitions, and it looks as though there are some splendid ones coming up.

The Royal Academy was not alone in having a rather rum millennium year: virtually every exhibition fixated on the date turned out strange. Art at the Crossroads in the spring was peculiar but interesting, Apocalypse was just odd. This month, however, should see a dramatic return to form. The Genius of Rome 1592-1623 (20 January-16 April) looks as if it will be a truly splendid Old Master show - one to put beside the stunning surveys of Venetian and Neapolitan art that the Academy put on in the Eighties. In starring role will be great and gory canvases by, among others, Caravaggio, Artemisia Gentileschi and Rubens, adding up, quite possibly, to the show of the year. That is followed by Botticelli: The Drawings for Dante's Divine Comedy in the Sackler Galleries at the RA (17 March-10 June), another absolute treat of an exhibition, containing delicately drawn scenes of infernal punishment that make the Chapman Brothers seem a little tame.

Later on there will be Ingres to Matisse: The Triumph of French Painting (30 June-23 September), a mixed bag of pictures on an outing from Baltimore that might be worthwhile; a major retrospective of a major living painter, Frank Auerbach; and what may well be another Old Master stunner in Rembrandt's Women (22 September-16 December). All in all, a year that should demonstrate how much the London exhibition scene owes to the RA and its exhibitions secretary, Norman Rosenthal.

Still in Old Master territory, the immediate future also looks promising at the National Gallery. There things kick off with Spirit of an Age: 19th Century Paintings from the Nationalgalerie, Berlin (17 March-13 May). This is another assortment of pictures released from their normal home, but an extremely interesting one, since it contains many masterpieces of German romantic and realist art, two categories of painting which it is otherwise almost impossible to see in this country. Bleakly beautiful Caspar David Friedrichs are included. The Sainsbury Wing exhibitions on Trafalgar Square continue strongly with Vermeer and the Delft School (20 June-16 September) and Pisanello (24 October-13 January 2002), both of which look like winners.

Meanwhile, in the deepest recesses of South London, Dulwich Picture Gallery is mounting Murillo: Scenes of Childhood (14 February-13 May), a show devoted to a painter who remains deeply and unjustly unfashionable: he's sugary, but also masterly. Unless they take the opportunity to clean all the pictures and ruin them, this should certainly merit an expedition to Dulwich.

Over at Tate Inc., things do not look so hot. Nothing much happened along the riverbank last year, exhibition-wise though, of course, a colossal amount otherwise - except for a commendable but overwhelming William Blake compendium. …

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