Top 5 London Art Exhibitions 2018: A Personal Selection

Another year has passed and sadly I’ve been too occupied to write properly this year! However, my Instagram has been very active indeed with short reviews and nuggets of art-historical information. I also published a number of book reviews on the Museum Bookstore website, writing about Michelangelo and Andrea del Sarto.

2018 has been a hailstorm of significant exhibitions in London. I wish I could list them all but here are my rigorously-chosen top 5:

The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy – Tate Modern

Installation view of Picasso 1932. Photo: Tate Photography

First exhibited at the Musée national Picasso, Paris, in the autumn of last year, this exhibition stunned me with its simple layout and narrative clarity. It felt as if one had walked into a diary, with each room dedicated to works created in a specific month. A few other rooms were more thematic, focusing on Picasso’s draughtsmanship, his first large-scale retrospective at the Galeries Georges Petit, and his sculptures made at his Boisgeloup chateau. It was a fantastic opportunity to see how Picasso’s ideas flowed from one design to another, and from lover to lover, with many created merely days apart! For the commercially-minded, it was also a chance to see the artist’s Femme nue, feuilles et buste (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust) (8 March 1932), which fetched US$106.5 million at Christie’s New York in May 2010, the highest price paid for an artwork sold at auction at the time.

For the catalogue, click on the image below!

The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Monet and Architecture – The National Gallery

The Doge's Palace (Le Palais ducal), 1908
Claude Monet, The Doge’s Palace (Le Palais ducal), 1908. © Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York. Gift of A. Augustus Healy 20.634

Claude Monet is rarely associated with being a painter of architecture, but this solid exhibition sought to challenge this assumption. All seven rooms were filled with wondrous examples of the artist painting cityscapes, villages, churches, hilltop huts, bridges, and anywhere he travelled. At times, you could almost imagine yourself observing those very scenes in the flesh, breathing the same air he did. You also notice the different types of buildings available to him, as intended by the exhibition. The last two rooms presented the major highlights: a famous series of paintings of Rouen Cathedral, a London series depicting Waterloo Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, and Charing Cross Bridge, and then in Venice he sought out the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, the Grand Canal, the Doge’s Palace, and other palazzos. In these series paintings, you see Monet capturing the changing colours and effects during different times of the day, some warm, some cold, and some radiant.

For the catalogue, click on the image below!

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up – Victoria and Albert Museum

Self Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States of America, 1932 (oil on tin)
Frida Kahlo, Self-portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States of America, 1932. © Modern Art International Foundation (Courtesy María and Manuel Reyero)

This phenomenal exhibition evoked in me a multitude of emotions. Presenting objects found in a locked bathroom of the Casa Azul, there were personal possessions ranging from medicine and Mexican votive paintings to her corsets (truly moving to see) and wooden leg! The exhibition ended with a grand display of her vibrant and dazzling clothes; she always dressed up, even at home. Dispersed throughout the show were her famous self-portraits, often dressed in some of the clothes on display, such as her lovely wedding outfit. The result was an exhibition that felt intensely personal and conveyed Kahlo’s sense of self via her collected objects, her art, and her clothes.

For the catalogue, click on the image below!

Ribera: Art of Violence – Dulwich Picture Gallery

Ribera - Apollo and Marsyas
Jusepe de Ribera, Apollo and Marsyas, 1637. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples. Photo: Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte on kind concession from the “Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo”

This small, focused exhibition managed to beautifully contextualise the violent themes within Jusepe de Ribera’s paintings of martyred saints. Four extraordinary loans were supplemented with meticulous prints and stunning drawings using red chalk or pen and ink. These studies of real, publicly-tortured individuals in seventeenth-century Spain, Rome, and Naples were crucial for Ribera’s development (and for the exhibition’s narrative), providing much inspiration for how to depict the martyrdoms of Saints Peter, Sebastian, and Bartholomew. It wonderfully encapsulated the role of the Counter-Reformation artist as an artistic intercessor between Heaven and Earth.

For the catalogue, click on the image below!

Oceania – Royal Academy of Arts


Nguzunguzu, figure from a canoe prow, 19th century. Museum der Kulturen Basel Photo: Derek Li Wan Po

No amount of words can explain why this exhibition is so good. In a nutshell, it brings the customs of the people from the Pacific Islands to life. The viewer is forced to reconsider how they approach the exquisite array of objects in front of them. These may vary from carved shields, oars, and navigational charts, to canoes, statues of deities, and textiles. To the Pacific Islanders, these are functional objects imbued with spiritual meaning and significance. In other words, we cannot conveniently call them ‘art’ (or ‘primitive art’), as they were historically called in the Western world. The exhibition is a mere introduction to a culture in which we possess a historical distance – many objects date from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – but it is a brilliant and informed attempt at conveying the visual language of its people.

For the catalogue, click on the image below!

Honourable Mentions:

Charles I: King and Collector – Royal Academy of Arts

Key 64
Anthony van Dyck, Charles I in Three Positions, 1635-36. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

I simply could not end this segment without mentioning the impressive curatorial feat of reuniting even a fraction of Charles I legendary art collection. These included the Raphael Cartoons, Anthony van Dyck portraits of the monarch, paintings by Titian, Veronese, Palma il Giovane, Tintoretto, Hans Holbein, Albrecht Dürer, Correggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Artemisia and Orazio Gentileschi, and plenty more! He even acquired the entire Gonzaga collection of art and antiquities in Mantua. After the monarch’s execution, his collection was dispersed, and many works ended up abroad. When Charles II succeeded the throne, he was only able to recover some of it. Although I had reservations about how the exhibition was curated and laid out, I cannot deny that it was a noteworthy exhibition, nonetheless. The captions were also sensitively done, reproducing each object’s corresponding entry in the inventory made of the collection, also on display. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition.

For the catalogue, click on the image below!

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War – British Library

Codex Amiatinus on loan from Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana to Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms at the British Library. © Sam Lane Photography

This heavily-packed show is filled with medieval manuscripts and archaeological objects from significant excavations, all in an admirable attempt to enlighten us to the impact of the Anglo-Saxon settlers who travelled to Britain in the fifth century and established its kingdoms. Due to the academic nature of the materials and the complexity of all the different warring factions, elements of the exhibition are not always easily to follow. But these early settlers founded Britain’s economy, its languages and literature, and its visual culture. This is what the exhibition sought to impress us with, and it really does impress with its wide selection of rarely-seen objects (and even rarer, the chance to see them in proximity to other related objects). When they say highlights, they really mean highlights! Among the most important loans include the Codex Amiatinus (the earliest surviving complete manuscript of the Latin Bible in the world, returning to Britain after 1302 years in Italy) and the exceptionally famous Domesday Book (the earliest surviving public record which William the Conqueror commissioned to assess all of Britain’s resources) which is ‘the most significant loan The National Archives can make’! I’ll let their press release astonish you further.

Domesday Book. © The National Archives

For the catalogue, click on the image below!

Happy New Year!


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