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A blog about Belgian culture in London. A blog about the arts in London, Brussels and Milan, from a Belgian point of view.

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

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, Zealand, early Bronze Age © National Museum, Copenhagen

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

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.

Barbican
Bauhaus: Art as Life

British Library
Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination*

British Museum
Shakespeare: staging the world

Estorick Collection
In Astratto: Abstraction in Italy 1930-1980

National Gallery
Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude

National Portrait Gallery
Lucian Freud Portraits

Southbank Centre
Jeremy Deller: Joy in People and David Shrigley: Brain Activity
Invisible: Art about the Unseen, 1957-2012

Royal Academy
Bronze

Serpentine Gallery:
Hans-Peter Feldmann*
Thomas Schütte

Tate Britain
Picasso & Modern British Art

Tate Modern
Yayoi Kusama
Damien Hirst*

Victoria and Albert Museum
Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950

British Design 1948–2012: Innovation in the Modern Age

Wellcome Collection
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.

Comments

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  1. January 1, 2013

    I’ve been to a number of these too, including Bauhaus and Picasso. I also went to the Invisible Art one and was surprised at what intelligent points it made about the context of art.

    I also really enjoyed the British Design at the V&A — I wonder if you have a different perspective on that as someone from Belgium than someone like me who’s taken for granted all the designs like road signs.

    The Shakespeare Staging the World exhibition was also excellent. I’d never realised what a culturally turbulent time his plays reflected. I went out and bought the book later.

    My favourite, though, perhaps because I come from the north was Jeremy Deller. I wrote about this (and the Shrigley and Damien Hirst exhibitions) on my blog if you’re interested: http://www.macnovel.org.uk/?p=1393 (Please excuse the stray crappy characters in the post, it’s a result of my web hosting service messing up a database transfer.)

    • January 2, 2013

      I really enjoyed British Design too. You’re right, we probably experienced it in a different way, but I’m quite into design so it was easy for me to appreciate it. I can’t say the same of Shakespeare at the BM: I was hugely disappointed, and thought the exhibition was mainly aimed at (British) people with a very good knowledge of Shakespeare…
      Jeremy Deller left me.. a bit indifferent.

      • January 2, 2013

        Yes, I think Deller taps into a collective memory of events like the Orgreave Riot. Some of his stuff also left me indifferent too — I didn’t care too much for the bombed out car. I thought it was too obvious and unsubtle but I did like the idea of Joy in People.

        I see your point about the Shakespeare. It did rather take a knowledge of the plays for granted, although I still marvelled at the language of some of the quotations. I guess I learned something from the exhibition even though I’ve studied a lot of Shakespeare and have a decent knowledge of possibly half of his plays.

  2. January 1, 2013

    PS. If you want to read my account of Adam Neate, it’s here: http://www.macnovel.org.uk/?p=1788

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