“All art is erotic.”
Or so the fin-de-siecle Viennese architect Adolf Loos once claimed.
At the National Gallery in London this autumn, there will be an exhibition devoted to a culture and an era which believed that proposition to be true (with the possible addition of a little death, decadence and neurosis).
On display in “Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900” (Oct. 9 through Jan. 12 2014, sponsored by Credit Suisse) will be pictures by contemporaries of Loos such as Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and -- making an unexpected appearance as a visual artist -- the composer Arnold Schoenberg.
While this survey of paintings from the city of Sigmund Freud may well be the big attraction of the London art season, there are many other shows devoted to work from civilizations around the world.
The British Museum will be following Pompeii with “Beyond El Dorado: Power and Gold in Ancient Colombia” (Oct. 17 to March 23, 2014).
The exhibition will contain some 300 highly wrought objects in precious metal of the kind that dangerously over-excited the conquistadors. These would also have fascinated Klimt, who was fond of decoration so long as its symbolism was sexual; and would have horrified Loos, who declared that ornament is crime.
Simultaneously, the British Museum will show some eroticism that is certainly not disguised as symbolic embellishment in “Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art” (Oct. 3 to Jan. 5, 2014).
There isn’t a great deal in art (as opposed to pornography) from anywhere in the world that is quite as unabashedly explicit as these paintings, print and drawings. The BM advises parental guidance; on the other hand, school parties, particularly teenage ones, might be very interested.
Less outrageous and perhaps greater Far Eastern imagery is coming to London for “Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900” (Oct. 26 to Jan. 19, 2014) at the V&A.
There is a strong case to be made that the masters of old China were the greatest landscape painters who ever lived. Depending on the quantity and quality of the loans, this too could be one of the truly outstanding London exhibitions of late 2013.
Boldly, the Royal Academy of Arts is venturing far south to a little known subcontinent, artistically speaking, with its big show, “Australia” (Sept. 21 to Dec. 8). Personally, I have to admit that I have never been convinced by the most high-profile of Aussie painters, Sidney Nolan.
The RA’s other autumn show, “Daumier: Visions of Paris” (Oct. 26 to Jan. 26) looks like a much safer bet. This should be a marvelous little exhibition. Daumier was one of the major painters and sculptors of 19th-century France.
One of his most fervent fans was Vincent van Gogh, two years of whose work are the subject of a survey at a commercial gallery. “Van Gogh in Paris” at Eykyn Maclean, 30 St. George Street, London W1 (Sept 26. to Nov. 29) examines the years 1886-7 in which Vincent encountered Impressionism and burst into color.
In Paris itself, the Grand Palais will be hosting a major survey of the work of Georges Braque (Sept. 18 to Jan. 6). The quiet man of the Cubist duo, Braque has always tended to be overshadowed by his friend and rival, Pablo Picasso.
However, there were moments at which his work seemed both deeper and stronger than Picasso’s. The French do these grand retrospectives very well, so this should be worth a ticket on Eurostar for Londoners.
Klee’s Swiss cuckoo-clock modernism can make him seem too lightweight and whimsical to count among the really big guns of 20th-century art. It will be interesting to see what Tate Modern makes of him.
An artist who once entitled one of his pictures “The Twittering Machine,” thus clearly predicting contemporary social media, cannot easily be written off.
The most important contemporary art event of the coming months in London is a building, not an exhibition: the new Serpentine Sackler Gallery in Kensington Gardens designed by Zaha Hadid. The space will open with a show by an Argentinian artist, Adrian Vilar Rojas (Sept. 28 to Nov. 10).
(Martin Gayford is chief art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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