Preview: The Best Art of 2019

From largest-ever da Vinci retrospective to epic avant-garde hommage to Stalinist aesthetics

Leonardo da Vinci, L’Ultima Cena /Last Supper, 1498. (Wikimedia).

             500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci death – host of exhibitions  open  worldwide to commemorate the Renaissance genius.

The anniversary celebrations began in the UK with Leonardo da Vinci: a Life in Drawing, a show that has opened in twelve museums simultaneously on January 31. The exhibition comprises 144 works drawn from the Royal Collection Trust – twelve drawings at each participating venue, featuring the comprehensive range of Leonardo’s interests – painting, sculpture, music, architecture, anatomy, engineering, cartography, and botany.

A multitude of exhibitions will commemorate Leonardo’s legacy in Italy. In Florence, Leonardo’s hometown, artist’s books will be shown at the Museo Galileo, while at Palazzo Strozzi a major exhibition will explore Leonardo’s artistic roots in Verrocchio, Master of Leonardo, where, in an unprecedented assembly of over 120 masterpieces, works by Andrea Verrocchio will be exhibited alongside the works of his famous pupils: Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino and, his most famous, Leonardo da Vinci. In Venice, well known but rarely exhibited Vitruvian Man will be shown at the Gallerie dell’Accademia.

The year dedicated to the great Renaissance master will top out in October at the Musée du Louvre, with Leonardo da Vinci, an exhibition that took ten years to prepare. It is said to be the most comprehensive showcase of Leonardo’s work yet, bringing together most of Leonardo’s paintings, including the Mona Lisa, which is owned by the Louvre, and possibly even the Salvador Mundi, world’s most expensive painting.

Bauhaus Museum Weimar, Tomás Saraceno: “Sundial for Spatial Echoes” © Visualization: Tomás Saraceno (courtesy Bauhaus Museum Weimar).

Hundred years of Bauhaus – the founders of modernism  celebrated in Germany with two new museums

Another jubilee is celebrated in Germany, where 100 years ago, Walter Gropius opened his Bauhaus school in the city of Weimar. The movement, whose impact on the 20th-century aesthetics is hard to overestimate, is getting its due with the opening of two museums and several notable exhibitions. The Bauhaus Museum Weimar will be the first to open its doors in April with Bauhaus Comes from Weimar, exhibit showcasing over 1,000 objects sourced from important Bauhaus collections all over the world, including chairs by Marcel Breuer, furniture by Mies van der Rohe, and paintings by Paul Klee.The museum, a minimalistic white cube, designed by the German architect Heike Hanada, is in itself a sight to behold.

Dessau is another German city with strong ties to the movement – the list of the former residents of its newly restored Master’s House reads like ‘Who’s Who’ of modernists: Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Vasiliy Kandinsky, Lyonel Feininger, Georg Muche, and Oskar Schlemmer. After the restoration one can marvel at the residential spaces designed by the artists, while the newly built Bauhaus Museum Dessau will host a vast collection of Bauhaus designs –  typefaces, furniture, models, and buildings – the visual concepts that are being taken for granted today were, in fact, forged 100 years ago at the Bauhaus school.

 

 

DAU © Phenomen IP 2019 – Photographer Olympia Orlova

 DAU, Experiment is Ongoing – a world premiere of a genre-defying project

Not to be missed is a world premiere of DAU, a project that is just as intriguing as it is controversial. DAU’s inscrutability is in its refusal to comply with a genre or even category restrictions – what began as a biopic based on the life of the Soviet physicist Lev Davidovich Landau, spiraled into a meticulously reproduced working replica of a 1930s-1950s Soviet secret research facility, in which scientists and their families worked and lived. One might say that it was larger-than life story of its protagonist that  inspired this production to its epic proportion. Lev Landau, a winner of the Max Planck Medal and a Nobel Prize laureate, was a  genius physisist and a free-love practitioner, whose importance to the regime was so critical that he was released from Lubyanka prison after being arrested for comparing Stalinism to Nazism.

DAU is a ten-year cinematographic project of epic proportion and ambition, directed by Russian director Ilya Krzhanovsky. Referred to as a “Stalinist Truman Show” and compared to an extended version of the Stanford Prison Experiment, it is an amalgamation of a cinéma vérité, reality-show, and performance art – only two professional actors, Radmila Shchegoleva and Maria Nafpliotou, were involved in its production. The majority of the participants and visitors of the travel-in-time world of DAU are non-actors – 400 principals and 10,000 extras of all walks of life, from real life KGB officers, criminals, and prison guards to David Gross, a Nobel Prize laureate in Physics. Greek-born conductor Teodor Currentzis represented the title character, artists Marina Abramovich and Carsten Höller, shaman Ai-Churek, rabbi Adin Steinzalts, string theorist Andrei Losev, DJ Spooky, opera director Peter Seller, and mathematician Shing-Tung-Pang participated in DAU at various stages of the project.

The result is over 700 hours of film footage edited into 13 interwoven feature films, with attendant digital component and installation art. DAU’s originally scheduled premiere in Berlin was canceled after Krzhanovsky proposed to rebuild and then destroy the Berlin Wall. Instead, it opened in Paris on January 24th in Théâtre du Châlet and Théâtre de la Ville ,where it is scheduled to run non-stop daily, until February 17th. A third DAU site is a multi-media exhibition the Centre Pompidou. The project will then move on to London, where it’s scheduled to open in April.

 

National Museum Qatar, Ateliers Jean Nouvel (courtesy Ateliers Jean Nouvel)

 National Museum Qatar in Doha is a stunning edifice dedicated to culture

While on the subject of the modernism it’s impossible not to mention the National Museum Qatar, which is expected to open its doors in Doha in March. This modernism meets surrealism structure of mind-blowing beauty is located on 1.5 million sq. ft. site and encompasses 430,000 sq. ft. of indoor exhibition space. The Pritzker-price winner Jean Nouvel designed the building as a ring of low-lying interlocking pavilions that resemble caravanserai. Its roof, walls, and floors are a framework of interlocking tilting disks, made out of sand-colored concrete – an evocation of an image of the blade-like petals of the desert rose crystal, a formation of crystallized salt found under the desert surface. The museum’s 86,000 sq. ft. permanent gallery space is dedicated to three major connected themes – the natural, cultural, and contemporary history of Qatar, while its 21,500 sq. ft. gallery will host temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary art.

 

Taryn Simon, The New York Times, November 11, 2016, 2017 (courtesy of MAC Montréal)

Leonard Cohen coming to the Jewish Museum

A new contemporary art and multimedia exhibition inspired by the themes of Cohen’s life and work is coming to the Jewish Museum in in New York.  Leonard Cohen: A Crack In Everything will be on display at the museum from April 12th through September 8th, 2019.  Named after a classic Cohen couplet “there is a crack in everything/that’s how the light comes in”, the exhibition dedicated to Montreal rabbi’s son and an international playboy, who famously drew on Jewish spiritual tradition. First presented by the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal last year, the show features commissioned works by international artists that pay tribute to the late singer’s music and poetry, as well a video projection showcasing Cohen’s own drawings, and an innovative multimedia gallery where visitors can hear covers of Cohen’s songs by pop artists such as Canadian songstress Feist, Brooklyn luminaries The National and ubiquitously present Moby.

Commissioned artworks include a 360-degree video installation Passing Though by George Fok, and Ari Folman’s Depression Chamber, which allows one visitor at a time into a darkened room “where they are confronted by the demons of depression, a theme that can be traced throughout Cohen’s body of work;”, and The Poetry Machine, an installation by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, in which every key on a vintage Wurlitzer organ produces Cohen’s voice reading a poem from his Book of Longing.  Following its New York showing, the exhibition will tour to Kunstforeningen GL STRAND and Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen, Denmark (October 2019 – February 2020) and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco (September 2020 – January 2021).

Venetian Biennale – May You Live in Interesting Times

The 58th International Art Exhibition, which will feature contemporary art from over art from dozens of countries, split between pavilions in the Gardens and a grand exhibition at the Arsenale, will take place from May 11th to November 24th.  This year biennale is titled May You Live in Interesting Times and its curator Ralph Rugoff doesn’t mean it as a curse. In fact, no one ever did, since, as it turns out there never was such “Chinese curse,” but, instead, a case of cultural misappropriation that,  nonetheless, has served many a rhetorical purpose. Its purpose as a title for the Biennale is two-fold – on the one hand, to represent, at the fair value, the times we live in, while,  hinting at the state of anxiety that we are all experiencing theses days, having been for the past few years oscillating between the fake and the authentic.

The world’s oldest biennial art show, dubbed the Art World’s Olympics  attempts to avoid direct political discourse – as this year’s curator puts it, “art does not exercise its forces in the domain of politics.” While we can’t escape the times we live in and the art will always respond to the political, Venetian art extravaganza aims to reaffirm the mediating role of art, which steers us towards playful interaction with the world. After all, according to Schiller, “man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays.”

Nam June Paik, Bakelite Robot, 2002 ( courtesy of the Tate Museum)

Nam June Paik retrospective at Tate Modern

The Future Is Now, a major retrospective of Nam June Paik (1932–2006) organized by the Tate Modern and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, promises to be a mesmerizing riot of sounds and sights, befitting a visionary artist who foresaw the importance of mass media and new technology on the visual arts and who continues to be a major influence on art and culture to this day.  Reflecting Paik’s vision of a multidisciplinary future and the experimental and playfully entertaining nature of his work, the Tate retrospective will include high point form his five-decade career – from robots made from old TV screens, to his innovative video works and all-encompassing room-sized installations such as the dazzling Sistine Chapel 1993.

A retrospective of such scope seems especially important having in mind pioneering and prophetic aspects of Nam June Paik, who in his lifetime witnessed the birth of such a range of technologies as the atomic bomb, home televisions, spaceships, photocopiers, communications satellites, VCRs and DVDs, personal computers, cell phones, video chat/conferencing, the internet, smartphones, and, finally, personal-platform sites like MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube – and he has reacted to them all with his characteristic wit and humor, but also a sense of gravitas and moral urgency perhaps not easily understood by younger generations.  The Future Is Now will run at London’s Tate Modern, from October 17th, 2019 through February 9th, 2020.

 

Jacopo Tintoretto, Paradiso (modello), c. 1583, oil on canvas, overall: 175 x 494 x 4 cm (66 3/4 x 194 1/2 x 1 9/16 in.), Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, COPYRIGHT (c) Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Tintoretto: Artist of Renaissance Venice– first ever North American retrospective of the great master

This year is also fifth centenary of Jacopo Tintoretto, and the National Gallery of Art  in Washington and the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia with the special cooperation of the Gallerie dell’Accademia will organize a major exhibition in celebration of the great 16th-century master. The grand exhibition, held from May 24 through July 7  will feature nearly 50 paintings and more than a dozen works on paper – works that represent the Tintoretto’s entire career.  Many of the works, loaned from multiple sources, have never been seen before in the US.

New MOMA rendering (courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro)

New MoMa – a historic expansion of a New York museum

One of the world’s most important museums will close for four months in a renovation aimed at expanding the way it presents modern art.  Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler, the new MoMa will increase galleries by a third and introduce new and flexible spaces, including a studio for performance, as well as reconfigured lobbies, entrances, and various lounges and places to pause and relax.

The Picassos and van Goghs will still be there, but the 40,000 square feet of additional space will allow MoMA to focus new attention on works by women, Latinos, Asians, African-Americans and other overlooked artists like Shigeru Onishi, a Japanese experimental photographer, and to highlight less familiar names, including Okwui Okpokwasili, an Igbo-Nigerian-American artist, performer and choreographer whose work is devoted to “making visible the interior lives of women whose stories of resistance and resilience have been left out of dominant cultural narratives.”

It can be hoped that the successful MoMa reinvention will put to bed the controversy arising from 2011 MoMa’s purchase and subsequent razing of the then only 12-year old structure of the American Folk Art Museum building, considered a “significant work of contemporary architecture”, which generated an outpouring of reaction and protest from the public.   MoMa has been for a quite while battling the perception that its founding myth has lost it’s credibility, as the scholars and artists started thinking Modernism as a global phenomenon, emerging across the world in different places and on different schedules.  Reflecting the new thinking, rather than being sorted out by discipline, the collection galleries will now be experiments in cross-pollination, with painting, sculpture, photography and design sharing the same turf.  The plan is also to systematically rotate a selection of art in the galleries on the fifth, fourth and second floors about every six months, every time replacing a third of the works, so the entire permanent collection on display – essentially a canon of modern art – will be replaced by 2022, when the new 3-year cycle will begin.

After closing for the summer on June 15, the museum will reopen in October with a survey of Latin American art, along with exhibitions by two African-American artists: Pope.L, known for his provocative performances, and Betye Saar, 92, whose collages and assemblages have often flown under the radar.

Marianna Rosen

Marianna Rosen is the editor of Fine Art Globe. Born in Moscow, she is a writer, TV producer, and journalist whose work has appeared in the Observer and Elle. She holds a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and is pursuing a PhD.

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