Looking forward to the art year ahead of us – 2019 – there are certain things one notices immediately, in the announcements so far made by various official and semi-official institutions based here in Britain and more specifically in plans announced by galleries here in London.
Under the new dispensation, the contemporary artist becomes a risk-taking thaumaturge
The first thing that strikes one perhaps is that a significant effort is being made to do justice to women artists Tate Modern plans show for Dorothea Tanning (opens 27 February) and Natalia Goncharova (begins 6 June). The National Portrait Gallery will do an exhibition for the American Cindy Sherman, who specialises in role=playing photographs that portray the artist herself in a variety of different social situations (opens 27 June). At the Barbican Art Gallery, there will be a show for Lee Krasner, a leading female Abstract Expressionist who was the consort of Jackson Pollock (opens 30 May).
There will be a major retrospective for Bridget Riley at the Hayward Gallery (opens in October). At the Whitechapel Art Gallery, there will be the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, winner Helen Cammock; and a show for the Brazilian artist Anna Maria Maiolino (opens 25 September). Maioline was born in Italy but now lives in Sao Paulo.
The programme of Old Master shows is somewhat less ambitious than it has been in 2018. Big names, such as those of Mantegna, Bellini and Lorenzo Lotto are mostly absent. The National Gallery will do an exhibition of Louis-Leopold Boilly (1761-1845), which opens on 28 February. Boilly lived through one of the most turbulent periods in French history, but looking at his paintings, you might not guess it. The show is entitled demurely Scenes from Parisian Life. The NG also has a show by the 15th-century Spanish painter Bartolomé Bermejo (c.1440-c.1501). Bermejo was one of the Spanish Gothic artists most strongly influenced by Flemish art of the same period. Thee will also be an exhibition of Hilliard and Oliver portrait miniatures at the National Portrait Gallery (opens 21 February) and one devoted to the work of William Blake at Tate Britain (opens 11 September).
The Impressionist-to-Modern category – the kind of exhibition most likely to attract big crowds – opens with a bang on 23 February, with, at Tate Modern, a retrospective of the work of Pierre Bonnard. It is perhaps surprising, given the present climate, that there are no shows announced for Berthe Morisot or for Cassatt.
Other shows in this category suggest desperation to find a topic that hasn’t already been thoroughly covered. There is a show called Van Gogh and Britain at Tate Britain (opens 27 March), and one of Gauguin Portraits – not a theme the Post-Impressionist master has been usually celebrated for – at the National Gallery (opens 7 October). More promising maybe is a show of work by the Spaniard Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923), which opens at the National Gallery on 18 March. Not quite in this category, there is also an exhibition called Bomberg and Old Masters, at the NG from 27 November. You might also, ranging further afield regarding both location and theme, want to see the Charles Rennie Macintosh show that opens at the Walker Galler in Liverpool on 15 March.
And that brings beings me to what one might call the ‘wild cards’ – exhibitions that don’t fit the fairly conventional patterns outlined above, which might give a different tone to the art year.
A number of things are striking, – some negative, some positive. On the negative side, there is still a lack of artists of colour. About the only artist in this category who is up for a big show at a mainstream institution is Frank Bowling, who has an upcoming retrospective at Tate Britain (opens 31 May). That is unless you choose to put the late Korean-American artist Nam June Paik (1932-2006) in this category (opens 31 May at Tate Modern).
Bowling, born in British Guyana, moved to London in 1953 and is now a much-respected Royal Academician. Very much a member of the British cultural establishment, he has taught in major institutions both in Britain and abroad, with lectureships at the University of Reading, Massachusetts College of Art, Rutgers and Columbia University. He was appointed OBE in 2009. He is now a fully international figure, with studios in both London and New York.
During his career, his form of expression has shifted from figuration to abstraction and has become increasingly unorthodox technically. He now makes what he calls ‘poured paintings’, with the canvas placed on the floor. Essentially, however, he remains wedded to painting as his chosen form of expression.
One peculiarity of the present art situation in Britain, particularly in the realm of photography, has been the rise of interest in black people as subjects.
At the NPG’s Taylor-Wissing Portrait Prize exhibition in 2018, three of the four Major prize winners were portraits of subjects of African origin, and more than a quarter of the images picked for exhibition were portraits of people of colour. Yet there was no evidence that these were in fact made by black photographers, rather than by photographers who were ‘down there on a visit’. The 2017 Turner Prize winner, Lubaina Himid, was, however, an exception to this kind of inadvertent voyeurism; a woman of colour, born in Zanzibar.
The distinguishing characteristic of a number of the male artists scheduled for official or semi-official exhibitions in London in 2019 is their involvement with the idea of performance. This was true of Franz West (20 February, Tate Modern), Olafur Eliasson (11 July, Tate Modern), and the Iraqi American artist Michael Rakowitz (3 June, Whitechapel Art Gallery). Rakowitz, known previously in London for his Trafalgar sculpture, a replica of a destroyed Assyrian bull made of oil cans, has said: “As an artistic gesture I try to make an unlikely thing happen, and the impossible becomes possible. It’s art because it is impossible for this to exist in the world.” Wikipedia notes that: “One of his most notable projects is Enemy Kitchen. The project began in 2994; in it, Rakowitz compiles Baghdad recipes with the help of his mother and then teaches them to public audiences.”
The most significant impact, performance-wise, is likely to be made by the Mark Leckey show that opens at Tate Britain on 24 September.
Leckey is already a kind of cultural paradox – a very well known and highly successful artist who remains slightly under the radar. He is now in his mid-50s and has had a restless career. Leckey exhibited alongside Damien Hirst in the now notorious 1990 Young Contemporaries exhibition at the ICA in London. He then dropped from view, moving briefly to New York. On his return, he worked by a web-design agency and was a founder-member of the band donAtelier. From 2005 to 2009 he was a professor of film studies at the Städelschule, Frankfurt-am-Main.
He first made a real impact in the art word with the video work Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, which dates from 1999. Wikipedia describes it as follows:
“The work is a compilation of found footage from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s underground music and dance scene in the UK. It starts with the disco scene of the 1970s, touches upon the Northern soul of the late 1970s and early 1980s and climaxes with the rave scene of the 1990s. Mash-ups of a single soundtrack play during the whole video, giving a sense of unity and narrative to the video. However, there are moments of spoken text.”
After Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, Lecky’s career began to take off. He won the Turner Prize in 2006 for his exhibition Industrial Light and Magic,, which featured another major video compilation.
Since then, he has been restlessly experimental. A work from 2019, entitled GreenScreenRefrigerarorAction, begins “with his inhaling the gases used as coolant for a Samsung fridge. Leckey voices, through digital modulation, the inner monologue of a black Samsung fridge-freezer, as it tries to explain itself to itself and the world around it.”
It seems unlikely that Lecky’s upcoming Tate Britain show will fit within anything even remotely resembling the conventional parameters for big official surveys.
What does seem likely is that it will mark the start of a paradigm shift in what such exhibitions try to do, especially where still living, still active artists are concerned. The artist will be expected to put himself on view, not just his work, separate from himself, but the whole of that creative self, in both its inner and outer manifestations. That, if true, will also mark a significant revolution in the expectations of contemporary audiences. For one thing, they will no longer have much patience with the intermediaries who try to define the idea of ‘avant-gardism’ on their behalf. They will demand the real McCoy, with no intermediaries. If this happens to involve an element of blood-sacrifice, so be it,
In a way, the art world may be going backwards rather than forwards. Under the new dispensation, the contemporary artist becomes a risk-taking thaumaturge, just as he probably was in the long-ago Stone Age.
There is also, however, another, perhaps opposite current represented in the list of London exhibitions for next year On 21 May, the Barbican Gallery will open a show called AI: More Than Human. This will consist of images made without direct human intervention. There is still some debate about how fully independent this kind of creative process actually is. It’s a bit like the varying degrees of self-driving in automobiles. It does, however, conjure up a vision of a time when art on the Web will stubbornly go its own way, indifferent to the idea that real live human beings might actually want to open a computer and look at it, or indeed to come and look at the tangible objects that a computer-guided by Artificial Intelligence might decide to produce.
Words: Edward Lucie-Smith © Artlyst 2019 Top Photo Mark Leckey courtesy Tate All rights reserved
It may be a choice between too much soul and too little of it.
ç (Artificial Intelligence) -21 May