Here are the shows that mattered most in a fine year for art
Ice Watch by Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing, Tate Modern, London, December 11 – December 20, 2018
Environmental responsibility inspired artistic discourse this year (refer, for example, to our story on Erin Turner’s ‘Strange Weather’ installations). The conversation ended on a strong note with Olafur Elliasson’s and Minik Rosing’s Ice Watch at the Tate Modern. Olafur Eliasson is renowned for his shows that are just as mind-blowingly beautiful as they are radically environmentally conscious – his 2004 installation Weather Watch at Tate Modern drew in thousands of people who basked in the warm misty glow, created out of hundreds mono-frequency lights and mirrors, suspended in the museum’s Turbine Hall. This time the artist teamed up with geologist Minik Rosing, to bring us twenty-four blocks of Artic ice. The ice-blocks were fetched from the Nuup Kangerlua fjord in Greenland where they have detached, affected by rising temperatures, from the ice sheet. The ice blocks, which are about ten thousands years old and each weighting between 1.5 and 5 tonnes, were placed in front of the Tate Modern to slowly melt in front of our eyes. We all know that the Arctic ice is melting, but almost no one gets a chance to experience it. By bringing it, quite literally, home to us, Ice Watch invited everyone to witness the devastating effect of the modernity – to see, to smell, and to touch the once majestic and now disappearing remnants of the Arctic.
“Put your hands on the ice, listen to it, smell it, look at it – and witness the ecological changes our world is undergoing.” Olafur Eliasson, 2018
Jean-Michel Basquiat – Egon Schiele, The Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, October 3, 2018 – January 14 2019
This year also brought us a double-bill exhibit of Jean-Michel Basquit and Egon Schiele. Two shows, staged concurrently at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, connected these influential artists, whose great impact on art is incompatible with the brevity of their artistic careers and lives. Basquiat and Schiele died very young – at the age of twenty-eight, but left a vast body of work, influential as it is brilliant, earning themselves a rightful place in the 20thcentury artistic pantheon. The exhibit contains more than two hundred and fifty works, one hundred and ten of which are Schiele’s drawings, sourced primarily from private collections. This retrospective is unique in that by joining these two artists, who lived and worked seventy years apart – Egon Schiele was born in 1890, Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1960 – and whose work is inseparable from the spirit of their times, it created a time link between the intellectual and artistic ferment that was a hallmark of the times they lived in. The effect is twofold: it underscores the specific and unique periods in history – Vienna at the turn of the 20thcentury and New York in the 1980s, but even more importantly, it demonstrates how art embodies history and lets the spirit of time shine through.
Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 10, 2018- October 3, 2018.
Heavenly Bodies, somewhat provocative, but definitely thought provoking and magnificent show that The Wall Street Journal called a “ Gift from the Sartorial Gods”, covered over 60,000 feet of museum space, split between The Met Cloisters and The Met Fifth Avenue. The show, the largest ever organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, featured medieval papal robes and accessories from The Vatican’s Sistene Chapel sacristy alongside more than 150 runway pieces sourced from fifty five renowned designers, such as Dolce & Gabbana, Madame Grès, Riccardo Tisci, Victor & Rolf, Chanel, Rick Owens, Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin, and Cristòbal Balenciaga. It took no less than twelve trips to the Vatican for the Costume Institute’s curator Andrew Bolton in order to persuade the members of the Pope Francis circle to provide a substantial loan of vestments from the Vatican. The resulting visual splendor was well worth the trouble – not only the exhibition revealed the extent to which religion and concomitant rituals still inform the contemporary sartorial sensibilities, it also underscored the extraordinary amount of work and sacrifices of craftsmanship that both, religious and secular vestiary rituals equally demand.
Modigliani, Tate Modern, London, November 23, 2017 – April 2, 2018.
Amadeo Modigliani was an epitome of a starving artistic genius – even his nickname, Modi, is a word play of the French peintre maudit– the accursed painter. Modigliani’s sculptures, radical in their primordial simplicity, were once ridiculed by his Montmartre’s counterparts and most of his paintings remained unappreciated and unsold until his death from tuberculosis. When the artist died, young and penniless, the monetary value of his paintings was increasing in nearly geometrical progression while the funeral procession that carried his body was advancing towards the gates of Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Their appreciation remained steady over the course of the 20th-century and reached apogee in November 2015, when his Nu Couche (Reclining Nude) was sold for $170.4 millions at the Christie’s, the second highest price ever, at the time of the sale, paid for a work of art at auction. The exhibition at the Tate Modern, called by the Guardian ‘an exemplary survey of Modigliani’s short-lived career’, featured the largest ever assembly of Modigliani nudes – the very same very collection of nudes that was deemed controversial and was censored by police when it was first exhibited in 1917 in Paris. The show also brought together under one roof one hundred portraits, including lesser known of his friends and contemporaneous – such as Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi as well as and assembly of Modigliani’s radical sculptures.
The Experimental Self, Edvard Munch’s Photography, The Scandinavia House, New York, November 21, 2017 – April 7, 2018.
While Edvard Munch is widely celebrated as a painter, his work in photography and film has remained largely unknown. The exhibition at The Scandinavia House, a collection of Munch’s work that emerged as a result of his experimentation with photography and film, complimented Met Breuer’s Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bedshowing of his paintings, which was on view at the same time. His exploration in mechanical renderings of reality – stills images and hand-held moving-picture camera – and ensuing “mistakes” resulted in images that are just as haunting as his famous paintings. These works, depictions of landscapes, self-portraits, and portraits of his family and friends, invoke similar mix of reverence and disquiet, the effect achieved through the interplay of distorted and nebulous images in his photography and film is just as strong or possibly, even stronger.
All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, Tate Modern, London, February 28, 2018 – August 27, 2018.
TheAll Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life at the Tate Modern is, on one hand, an exploration of the complex relationship one has with one’s body and, on the other, a foray of visual representation of existentialism. The show featured three important but lesser known works by Francis Bacon alongside portraits of Lucian Freud as well as their contemporaries, who lived and worked in London in the first half of the 20th– century – Frank Auerbach, Chaim Soutine, David Bomberg, Stanley Spencer and Paula Rego. These artists’ works, unapologetically intense and sensual, betray the sense of dissolution and loss that followed the devastation of the war. The crucial aspects of the human condition – sex, religion, entrapment of one’s physiology and an anguish that these often cause are an overarching motif of this show. All of these paintings, but especially Lucian Freud’s, embody the analytical viewpoint that emphasized the voluminous presence of a body and a sense of a psychological weight.
‘I want the paint to work as flesh does’ — Lucian Freud, 2009
Chagall, Lissitzky, Malevich: The Russian Avant-Garde in Vitebsk, 1918-1922, The Jewish Museum, September 14, 2018-January 6, 2019.
What do the Russian revolution and avant-garde have in common? Turns out, it’s a town of Vitebsk, a little known place that before 1917 belonged to the Pale of Settlement in the Western part of Russia and is a birth place of Marc Chagall. The Russian avant-garde in Vitebsk, organized by the Center Pompidou and the Jewish Museum is an extraordinary exposition of the very important chapter in the history of modernity. It exhibits over 160 artworks by Marc Chagall, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, and their students of The People’s School of Art, which was founded in 1918 in Vitebsk as an embodiment of the Bolsheviks ideas of the revolutionary art. This exposition is an important, and, unfortunately, somewhat somewhat overlooked, survey into the foundation of modern art and graphic design, built by El Lissitzky and Kazimir Malevich, the founders of suprematism.
Yaoi Kusama: All about my Love, Matsumoto City Museum of Art, March 3 – July 23, 2018.
All about my Love, the largest ever collection of Yaoi Kusama art, the artist who in 2016 was selected as of the Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People ’s, was exhibited this spring in Matsumoto, Kusama’s hometown. The unique exhibition of 180 works by the artist is also an important personal milestone, as it is a long overdue tribute from the town Matsumoto took a long time to accept her and her art. The largest ever retrospective encompassed a lifetime of Kusama’s art – from her childhood’s works done in 1930’s through “ My Eternal Soul”, her latest series created in 2009.
Tomas Saraceno, On Air,Palais de Tokyo, Paris, October 10, 2018 – June 1, 2019.
Saraceno’s On Air is a tour de force of exhibition covering over 64,500 square feet of France’s largest exhibition space for contemporary art. Spiders and their webs, which the artist considers as works of art in themselves, serve as a metaphor for his suspended web networks, sculptures in installations. This exhibition is an amalgam of various topics that are central for the artist works – inter-subjectivity, astrophysics, environmentalism, thermodynamics, arachnology, and biology. The grand scale of this show, which, apart from Saraceno gigantic suspended webs also includes live music and a live audio stream from the European Graviational Observatory, is a perfect match for this artist ambition and vision.