By Catriona Miller
If you want to get out and see some art this year, here is a selection of the most interesting shows in London and around the British Isles
The National Gallery is celebrating its 200th birthday this year and is promising a series of mini-exhibitions around the country so that "more than half the UK population will be within an hour’s journey of a National Gallery masterpiece". Paintings as famous as Turner's Fighting Temeraire and The Wilton Diptych are visiting places as far apart as Belfast and Brighton.
In Trafalgar Square itself, the celebrations seem a little more muted: the gallery remains partially closed as the Sainsbury Wing is revamped and we have to wait until September for their big exhibition. Van Gogh: Poets and Lovers is the artist's first ever one man show at the National and is sure to draw the crowds, although whether we really need another exhibition dedicated to one of the most familiar of artists is debatable. Hopefully, the tight focus suggested by the title and the time span of just two years of his life will produce a interestingly curated exhibition. As ever, though, it is the gallery's small, free exhibitions which have the most potential: in April you can see Caravaggio's Last Painting, The Martyrdom of St Ursula.
Tate Britain continue their exciting, women-centred programme. After Women in Revolt finishes in April, they are showing the more restrained, but arguably just as radical, Now You See Us, a survey of 400 years of female artists. Whether such a broad timespan will work is questionable but this should be a wonderful opportunity to discover new works and new producers. For those who still prefer their women on the canvas, they also have Sargent and Fashion, a show which has come over, trailing good reviews, from Boston. John Singer Sargent was a master of the Society portrait: even if you are not interested in the clothes, the loose, languid brushwork will draw you in. At Tate Modern, they are exploring brushwork of a very different kind with an exhibition of German Expressionists Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group. Featuring Kandinsky, before he really developed abstraction, Gabriele Münter, Franz Marc and Marianne Werefkin this has the potential to be one of the most colourful, lyrical and absorbing shows of the year. If, on the other hand, you are missing Marina Abramovic, Tate Modern also have a major retrospective by conceptual and performance pioneer, Yoko Ono.
The Royal Academy is playing catch-up, finally showing their Angelica Kauffman retrospective which was cancelled because of Covid in 2020. Kauffman was a major figure in the eighteenth-century art world. A founder member of the Academy, a successful portraitist with clients throughout Europe, she successful challenged stereotypes by producing female-centred mythological subjects. Perhaps this is one for the purist: Kauffman's delicate Neoclassicism can appear rather tame and sweet to modern eyes. The RA's other offering, however, seems destined to court controversy. Entangled Pasts: 1760-now: Art, Colonialism and Change covers similar ground as the recent, smaller, but altogether excellent Black Atlantic exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Contemporary artists like Sonia Boyce and Hew Locke 'collide' with pillars of the canon, Joshua Reynolds, John Singleton Copley and JMW Turner in a show which aims to explore 'themes of migration, exchange, artistic traditions, identity and belonging.'
The Fitzwilliam's next offering is William Blake's Universe, an idiosyncratic pairing of the English poet with the early nineteenth century Germans Philipp Runge and Caspar David Friedrich. Perfect for anyone who likes Romantic art. The Lady Lever Gallery on Merseyside is focusing on women landscapists, whilst up in Newcastle, the Laing Art Gallery is showcasing Turner in its look at Art, Industry and Nostalgia. There's nostalgia of a different kind at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, which has inherited an acclaimed exhibition of Impressionist John Lavery on Location from Dublin. Pallant House in Chichester takes us indoors, showcasing at the often-overlooked genre of still life with a range of British works from the last hundred years or so. Margate's Turner Contemporary has a survey of women abstract artists 1950-70 with big names like Agnes Martin and Hedda Sterne alongside a host of others working in a range of media. Finally, in Plymouth over the summer, The Box hosts an exhibition of Black figurative art, crammed with famous names, The Time is Always Now, which is also being shown at the National Portrait Gallery earlier in the year.
Last, but definitely not least, this year also sees the longawaited, partial reopening of Birmingham's Museum and Art Gallery, with Victorian Radicals. This was another Covid casualty, which got a run, and good reviews, in the United States. Birmingham has some wonderful Pre-Raphaelite works and this is must-see for anyone who likes late Victorian art and design. If that wasn't enough, from October, Birmingham University's Barber Institute is hosting the intriguing-sounding Scent and the Art of the Pre-Raphaelites which includes an 'optional scent experience'! You might not want to smell your art, but if you enjoy looking at painting and sculpture, there are something for everyone out there in 2024.
About the Writer:
Catriona Miller is an independent art historian and writer on art based in the UK. She has taught and lectured on all aspects of art history and is currently researching women artists in British collections and issues of nationalism and identity in nineteenth-century landscape painting.