Review of 2012: Visual Arts

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David Hockney: A Bigger Picture Royal Academy of Arts, London

Over the top in quantity, confidence and ambition, Hockney started the year with an exhibition of landscapes of his native Yorkshire that proved what a great graphic artist he is. A 75-year-old on top of his form and sadly, with the deaths of Lucian Freud and Richard Hamilton, one of the last of the post-war giants.

Turner, Monet and Twombly: Later Paintings Tate Liverpool

That artists in old age achieve a late burst of creativity has become something of a cliché. But if you doubted it, Liverpool's showing of these three titans gloriously illustrated the point. Twombly, who died last year, is now the artist for students to reference themselves by – and you can see why.

The Heart of the Great Alone, Queen's Gallery Buckingham Palace, London

This has proved the year of photography, and it started with some of the most majestic shots ever taken of Captain Scott and Ernest Shackleton's expeditions into the Antarctic. Nature at its most sublime and unaccommodating. Who could forget Frank Hurley's pictures of the last days of Shackleton's ship, the Endurance, as it was imprisoned and crushed by the ice.

Jenny Saville, Modern Art Oxford

Raw, unremitting, and above all honest, Saville shows that painting can still be committed and humane in an age of the ironic. Examining herself and her gender, she has moved from unsparing nudes to touching maternity in her most recent pictures of mother and child.

Rothko/Sugimoto: Dark Paintings and Seascapes, Pace, London

Art as contemplation. The American master of cool abstraction and the contemporary Japanese photographer of light shared wall space in their reach for the infinite. Dark in colour but spiritual in feeling, you could stand for hours just gazing.

Turkey of the Year: Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude, National Gallery, London

In the current gallery competition for a part of Britain's most influential artist, the NG made its claim with a show that took Turner's worship of the French landscape painter Claude and laboured it to death with a parallel showing that diminished them both.

Discovery of the Year: New Galleries in Mayfair

They were hardly a surprise, but it felt like one when they came. The explosion of new galleries in Mayfair in time for the Frieze Art Fair this autumn confirmed the West End as the centre of commercial art in Europe. They're not here for the English clientele, but the Russian and Chinese rich who are now making London the preferred place for a pad. Good for business, but depressing in its implications.