In the early 20th century, British artists rediscovered the third dimension.
This rather late development will be the subject of a survey exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, “Modern British Sculpture” (Jan. 22-April 7).
Sculpture in Britain was a neglected Cinderella art from the 16th to the 19th centuries, mainly restricted to making monuments for tombs. Then it all changed, and a series of artists -- Jacob Epstein, Henry Moore, Anthony Caro, Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst -- achieved fame. The challenge to the curators is to make this familiar story fresh.
Those well-known living sculptures, Gilbert & George -- who began their careers painted bronze and miming to a record of “Underneath the Arches” -- have an exhibition of new work: “Gilbert & George: Urethra Postcard Pictures” (White Cube, Mason’s Yard, London, Jan. 14 to Feb. 19).
As always, they’ll be playing a game of nasty and nice. The works, collages of colorful postcards, may look harmless at first glance, but the subject matter is genito-urinary plumbing. And those postcards aren’t all as innocuous as they seem. Some are of tourist sights, while others are sex-worker advertisements culled from telephone booths. G&G continue, in late middle age, to be the “enfants terribles” of the British art scene.
The other big modern-art show in London comes in the spring: “Miro: The Ladder of Escape” at Tate Modern (April 14-Sept. 11). The whimsical, brilliant Catalan surrealist Joan Miro is a favorite of mine, so I’m looking forward to this. He was however, a prolific artist, and some of his output especially latterly, wasn’t so hot. The success of this exhibition will turn on the quality of the specimens that Tate can garner.
Much the same applies to “Picasso in Paris 1900-1907” at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, (Feb. 18-May 29). Picasso’s creative journey toward Cubism was, of course, one of the crucial moments in western art. Furthermore, in common with almost all serious painters, he worshipped Van Gogh, so it makes sense to mount such an exhibition in the Netherlands.
Vincent, by the way, is one of a series of art stars whose works will be visiting Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, during the year in a series entitled “Masterpiece a Month: Presiding Genius” (Jan. 9-Dec. 31). El Greco, Velazquez and David Hockney are among the other artists. They’re all coming to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the opening of this wonderfully choice museum, the first public picture collection in the U.K. Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait With Felt Hat” is booked for August.
In the antiquities department, the British Museum is hosting “Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World” (March 3-July 3, supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch), an exhibition of magnificent artifacts from the National Museum of Afghanistan, Kabul, and hidden from destruction during years of civil war and the Taliban regime.
It’s a quiet spring on the Old Master front. Tate Britain has “Watercolour” (Feb. 16 to Aug. 21), a survey of that very British medium -- it takes a lot of water to depict the U.K. climate -- from Van Dyck to Tracey Emin. (There are two names you wouldn’t expect to find in the same sentence.)
The National Gallery in London is going for possibly exciting obscurity with “Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance” (Feb. 23-May 30). It says something about the difficulty of getting this 16th-century Flemish painter into focus that the National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum, New York, which is hosting this show through Jan. 17, can’t agree on his name.
The Met thinks it was spelled Gossart, while quite a few art lovers know him as Jan Mabuse. Whatever alias he went under, Gossaert could produce marvelous pictures when he stuck to Northern genres, such as portraiture. When he attempted that Italian specialty, the nude, he came up with bodies like those one frequently sees on beaches, and wishes one hadn’t.
At the Grand Palais, Paris, there’s an exhibition of landscape painting in 17th-century Rome “Nature et Ideal” (March 9-June 6, then moving to the Prado in Madrid). It could be magnificent -- this was the time and place that saw the beginning of modern landscape art, especially in the work of Claude Lorrain. But it’s not going to pull the crowds as “Monet” has been doing at the same venue (through Jan. 24).
On the other hand, “Manet: the Man Who Invented Modern Art” at the Musee d’Orsay (April 5-July 3) has the combination of a big-name artist and definitive content to get the public flocking. This might be the show of the season, Europe-wide.
Information:http://www.royalacademy.org.uk; http://www.whitecube.com; http://www.tate.org.uk; http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk; http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl; http://www.britishmuseum.org; http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk; http://www.grandpalais.fr; http://www.musee-orsay.fr.
(Martin Gayford is chief art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. His most recent book is “Man With a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud.” The opinions expressed are his own.)