2012 was a year particularly rich in art for me. Having moved to London primarily to take advantage of the city’s cultural offerings, I was very active, and very spoilt. Everyone who’s got a blog or writes for the press has done their “best of 2012” lists ages ago, but I like to do things ‘properly’ and wait until the year is truly over. So here’s a post about my favourite exhibitions of the year past, in no particular order.
They are not necessarily those that were curated best, or those which displayed the greatest works. They definitely were those that either moved me most or that opened up a whole new “artistic horizon” for me. They are the exhibitions I enjoyed most and have recommended with the greatest enthusiasm.
The National Gallery Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude
Claude Lorrain, Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, 1648
I probably wouldn’t have seen this exhibition if a friend of mine hadn’t insisted on going. I am so glad I did, because it made me change my mind about Claude (known in French as “Le Lorrain”). I used to think he was just the painter of pretty landscapes – a bit dull. I discovered works that were yes, beautiful, but strong in a way I hadn’t expected. They projected a sense of calm and majestic peacefulness.
Incidentally that friend of mine wanted to go primarily for the Turner half of the exhibition. That part made made me realize that I only knew Turner’s later period, and that before that he was very much painting in a “less-good-Claude” style…
The Royal Academy Bronze
The Chariot of the Sun, Trundholm, early Bronze Age © National Museum, Copenhagen
I knew so little about Bronze, and someone mentioned this exhibition as a must-see. They were right: it was excellent. Many styles, many subjects and many eras were represented so as to get a good overview of what you can do with the material. A room devoted to the making of bronze works also revealed the secrets of the craftsmanship. Seeing the exhibition on a Friday night added extra drama to the works and rendered them even more beautiful.
Southbank Centre (Hayward Gallery) Invisible: Art about the Unseen, 1957-2012
Invisible: Art about the Unseen at the Hayward Gallery (Photo Bethany Clake, Getty Images)
This was such a fun, light exhibition – perfect for the summer! Organising a show around the concept of “Invisible art” seemed challenging, but it worked very well. I saw it during a great weekend at the Southbank Centre, where I also went to a concert by Joan as Police Woman and listened to Marina Abramovic’s “Women Only” lecture. Both events were part of The Meltdown Festival, curated by Antony (from Antony and the Johnsons).
A (probably incomplete) list of the London exhibitions I saw in 2012
Here are the 17 shows that were taken into account to draw my top three. They were all on view in London, in 2012, and shown at museums or public galleries. Shows at commercial galleries are therefore not included. An asterisk indicates an exhibition which nearly made it to the three best.
Bauhaus: Art as Life
Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination*
Shakespeare: staging the world
In Astratto: Abstraction in Italy 1930-1980
Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude
National Portrait Gallery
Lucian Freud Portraits
Jeremy Deller: Joy in People and David Shrigley: Brain Activity
Invisible: Art about the Unseen, 1957-2012
Picasso & Modern British Art
Victoria and Albert Museum
Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950
British Design 1948–2012: Innovation in the Modern Age
Death: A Self-portrait
A note about this classification
I’ve been slightly annoyed by some “best of 2012” articles. For instance, The Guardian’s “Best Art Exhibitions of 2012” includes shows in San Francisco and Kassel. Can I infer from that that exhibitions in New York, Rome and Paris were judged as well? This is equally valid for The Artsdesk’s “Classical Music and Opera: The Best of 2012” article.
I have enjoyed reading Steve Lack’s own “Exhibition of the year 2012” blog. His top three is totally different from mine, and proves that these types of classification are for the most part a question of personal taste.
There are a few shows I am hoping to catch in January, before they close, namely The Preraphaelites at Tate Britain, Hollywood Costume at the V&A and Seduced by Art at the National Gallery.