Visual art preview of 2013: Just the ticket
Schwitters, Manet, Vermeer ... it's set to be a vintage year for art shows, big and small
A Happy New Year? It certainly looks that way, and from the get-go. The brightest spot of the winter comes courtesy of the Royal Academy, whose Manet: Portraying Life (26 January – 14 April) is, astonishingly, the first British show ever of the French master's portraiture. For three months from the end of January, you can rest your eyes on Berthe Morisot, Zola and Mallarmé, Georges Clemenceau and the long-suffering Mrs Manet, all painted by clever Edouard as actors in that drama of everyday life championed by his friend, Baudelaire, as the proper subject for a modern artist. The RA will also offer a first London outing for Mademoiselle Claus since she was bought by the Ashmolean in Oxford in August.
If your tastes tend more to the recent, then you're multiply in luck. Four days after Mlle Claus's London debut, Kurt Schwitters makes his at Tate Britain (30 January – 12 May). That's right: it was Britain I said, not Modern. When the well-known critic A Hitler declared his art to be Entartete – degenerate – Schwitters fled to England, in 1940. After stays on the Isle of Man and in London, the madcap German washed up in Ambleside, where he died in poverty in 1948. Between times, he continued to work on the one-man sort-of-Dada movement he called Merz. The name, typically, was lifted from the word Commerzbank: Schwitters was a great one for making art where he found it – "the archaeologist of the present", he called himself. His famous collages having no market in Britain, he painted portraits for money – £1 for a face, a guinea hands included. Examples of all these will be on show at the Tate, along with work inspired by Schwitters's last great project – the so-called Merzbarn, still mythically standing in a wood near the village of Stile Bridge.
At Tate Modern, 2013 kicks off with a Whaam! Yup, that's Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective (21 February – 27 May) – the first major show of the pixellated Pop-artist for 20 years, and the most comprehensive ever. Using previously unseen works on paper, the show will set out to rewrite the Lichtenstein we all think we know. As precisely what remains to be seen.
Not, one assumes, as a Minimalist, the word usually applied to Carl Andre, the subject of Mass & Matter at Turner Contemporary in Margate (1 February – 6 May). If you're of a certain age, you'll recall the mouth-frothing over the Tate's acquisition, in 1976, of Andre's Equivalent VIII, by some way the world's most infamous firebricks. Mass & Matter will include another floor work, Weathering Piece, alongside sculptures made of seaside-y planks and beams. And what are these doing in a gallery named for J M W Turner? "My ambition as an artist is to be the Turner of matter," Andre says. So there you have it.
Andre's bricks look Baroque next to the work in Light Show at the Hayward Gallery (30 January – 28 April), the subject of this being, as its name suggests, art made of light. All the big lighties will be there – Dan Flavin, Olafur Eliasson, etc – offering, at the very least, a welcome dose of vitamin D to us sun-starved Northeners.
Skipping forward by month and back by century, we arrive at what is likely to be the year's most over-subscribed show: the National Gallery's Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure (26 June – 8 September).
Mere mention of the Dutchman's name may have you logging on to nationalgallery.org.uk, although, truth to tell, the show is light on Vermeers. (There are not many of them, and owners are loth to lend.) The National's own musical pair, of ladies standing and sitting at the virginal, are joined in trio by The Guitar Player from Kenwood House; alongside these will be 17th-century sheet music and a selection of instruments, all there to encourage us to meditate on the meaning of music to the Delftish master in the Dutch Golden Age. Alternatively, you can just admire his way with fur and secrets.
There are so many goodies on offer in 2013 that it is difficult to list them all: the Courtauld's Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 (14 February – 26 May) promises to be typically clever and tight; the Fruitmarket's Edinburgh Festival show of the work of Gabriel Orozco (1 August – 20 October) a timely reminder of the Venezuelan's brilliance.
For no good reason, though, I'm particularly looking forward to two. At Pallant House in Chichester, British Artists and the Spanish Civil War (October) will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the showing in London of Picasso's Guernica and the part played by British painters in the fight against Franco. And back in London, Painting Now at Tate Britain (12 November – 9 February 2014) will decide whether its title isn't, as it sometimes appears, a contradiction in terms – whether there isn't life left in British painting after all. I do hope the answer is yes.
Face to watch
Broadly speaking, old British artists have been shown by old British gallerists, young ones by the new. That all changed last June when the Piper Gallery opened in London's Newman Street. Run by Megan Piper, it shows those with careers of 40 years or more: Tess Jaray, Paul de Monchaux ... not too late to teach new dogs old tricks.
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