Picasso, Bronze Star in Europe Art Shows: Martin Gayford

'Astarte Syriaca'
"Astarte Syriaca" (1877) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This painting will be included in "Pre-Raphaelites and the Victorian Avant-garde" at Tate Britain, running from Sept. 12, 2012 to Jan. 13, 2013. Source: Tate Britain via Bloomberg

It is common for an exhibition to be devoted to an artist, style or period.

It’s unusual to give top billing to a medium.

“Bronze” at London’s Royal Academy (Sept. 15 to Dec. 9) boldly does just that. It consists of works made in many diverse areas of the world from the 4th millennium B.C. to today.

The only common factor is that all the exhibits will be made out of what art experts these days like to call “copper alloy.”

That really would be a turnoff as a title for a blockbuster. Even titled “Bronze,” the concept behind this show may bemuse the public. It’s still my choice for the sleeper of the season.

Crammed with masterpieces -- by Ghiberti, Donatello, Matisse and Picasso, to pick a few famous names from a long list -- and coming from Java, ancient Etruria, and prehistoric Demark among other places, this promises to be spectacular, one of the highlights of the London fall season. The show will contain lions, horses, nudes and a Louise Bourgeois spider.

On the other hand, “Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-garde” at Tate Britain (Sept. 12 to Jan. 13) is quite certain to draw the British public in throngs. I must confess that personally I’m not looking forward to it.

Inevitably, all critics have their betes noires, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is mine. In 19th-century British art, Turner and Constable strike me as giants, the PRB a sad let-down. But I shall clear my mind of prejudice and prepare to be converted by the Victorian beauties.

Cotman’s Normandy

Though not quite in the Turner/Constable league, the watercolorist John Sell Cotman was another outstanding English artist of the early 19th century, so “Cotman in Normandy” at the Dulwich Picture Gallery (Oct. 10 to Jan. 13) should be a pleasure.

The National Gallery’s “Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present” (Oct. 31 to Jan. 20) looks at the close, not to say incestuous, relationship between the camera and painting from the 19th century to the present.

Photographs by celebrated exponents of the lens from Julia Margaret Cameron to Martin Parr will be shown side by side with paintings from the National Gallery’s collection. The danger is that oil paintings and photographs tend to fight each other visually -- and paint, being as Damien Hirst put it more “yummy,” always wins that battle.

Bigger Splash

A famous picture by David Hockney, who featured so prominently at the Royal Academy earlier in the year, gives the title to a late autumn exhibition at Tate Modern, “A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance” (Nov. 14 to April 1).

This looks at painting as an act, from Jackson Pollock dancing and dripping over his canvases onwards. It’s an intriguing premise for an exhibition, but could -- like much performance art -- look a real mess.

At the Victoria & Albert Museum, the big show of the autumn is “Hollywood Costume” (Oct. 20 to Jan. 27), which will bring together the schmutter worn by familiar movie characters from Scarlett O’Hara to Indiana Jones.

This too carries a risk: Costumes without people in them are, naturally, hard to bring to life. Can they sustain interest for an entire, blockbuster-sized exhibition? We shall see.

The London exhibitions in the second half of this year are a quirky assortment, most institutions having put their best foot forward in the run-up to the Olympics. They want to carry on with blockbusters after the Games. Still, the major Old Master show of the season will be in Paris.

Louvre’s Raphael

“Late Raphael” (Oct. 11 - Jan. 14) is moving on to the Louvre from the Prado, Madrid (where it continues until Sept. 16). This carries on from the point where the exhibition of Raphael’s early work at the National Gallery, London, in 2004-5 stopped.

That exhibition took the master’s career up to 1512. This continues the story until his early death in 1520. Raphael is not quite so much to contemporary taste as Leonardo (subject of sensationally popular shows in London and Paris earlier in the year). Still, if you like Renaissance art, and haven’t caught it in Madrid, this is well worth crossing the Channel to see.

(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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