Exhibitions: 1997 - a private view

Last year, it was Cezanne at the Tate. But what will be the big hit of 1997? And why is it that so many galleries have yet to decide on their programmes?
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For people in the museum and gallery world, one essential guide is A Calendar of Art Exhibitions (Lund Humphries, pounds 5.99), which lists all the forthcoming shows in the British Isles. Or usually it does. The 1997 edition is ominously empty. Time and again the only entry is "Please phone for full details of current exhibitions", and that's because so many galleries still don't know what they are going to put on next year.

It's all to do with lack of confidence about funding and sponsorship. The audience for art is growing all the time, but we have now seen the end of the great blockbuster shows of recent years. It's also the case that people who run museums are less imaginative than they were a little while ago. Administrators don't have the same commitment to an exciting programme of exhibitions, they have fewer international contacts and are less inclined to work directly with artists. As I've said before in these pages, we are sorely in need of some highbrow impresarios in the exhibition business. I know where such people are. They run commercial galleries. There's no museum person in the country who can match the flair, connoisseurship, the passion for art and the love of success that you find in, say, Annely Juda, Antony d'Offay or Leslie Waddington (to mention only dealers of the older generation).

My prediction is that the most interesting art next year will be found in the commercial rather than the public sector. The Royal Academy is in an intriguing position because it is in both camps. It's a private body that needs to serve the public in order to survive. It also has an impresario, in the person of its exhibition secretary Norman Rosenthal. But he's not highbrow, and it looks as if his luck has run out. He had a vast scheme for "Art of This Century", which failed to materialise this autumn and was rescheduled for the autumn of 1997. Now the exhibition has finally been cancelled, and as yet there is nothing to put in its place.

The RA does have two substantial shows coming up, and they will keep Burlington House in the forefront of the large galleries. In January there's "Braque: the Late Works" and in March we'll see Frank Whitford's "The Berlin of George Grosz". Whitford knows as much about modern German art as any German, and this is yet one more sign that many newspaper critics are nowadays more knowledgeable than the people who run museums. One public institution where we do find genuinely expert curators is the National Gallery, but do they have a creative attitude to exhibitions? In 1997 we will be offered "Young Gainsborough" and then Sir Denis Mahon's collection of highly recondite Baroque paintings - an exhibition certain to attract the smallest-ever attendance to the new galleries in the Sainsbury wing.

The Mahon paintings will then travel, and will be the National Gallery of Scotland's contribution to a dull Edinburgh Festival. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery presents "The Face of Denmark", while the Royal Scottish Academy has devised "Raeburn", a retrospective which will travel to the London National Portrait Gallery in the autumn. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is putting on a show of Dada and Surrealist works from the Gabrielle Kieller collection. But these are paintings and sculptures which already belong to the museum. A depressing trend of 1997 is that public galleries all over the country are merely rearranging their holdings and announcing the reshuffle as an original exhibition.

This ploy has been led by the Tate's "New Displays", always worth seeing because the Tate has so much in reserve. 1997 is the Tate's centenary year, but the gallery brings us nothing original. Its "Hogarth" (April) will be a new display with a few borrowed works. The Tate's other significant exhibitions have been brought in from abroad. "Lovis Corinth" (February), an account of the uninpsired German impressionist, comes from Berlin. "Ellsworth Kelly", devoted to the least interesting of American colour field painters, has been borrowed from the Guggenheim (June). I do look forward to "Mondrian" in July, but note that every single exhibit has been loaned by the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague.

The Hayward Gallery, whose programme is not yet finalised, is also borrowing a show made by another museum. This is "Objects of Desire", scheduled for the autumn, an exhibition about the modern still-life from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A show provisionally titled "Material Culture" will be about "objects, like sculpture, by British artists of the 80s and 90s", or so says a South Bank spokesman. We will see. But in general the celebration of living artists will be in decline during 1997. The Whitechapel Gallery will show Tony Cragg and Cathy de Monchaux, but I suspect that both these very familiar sculptors would look better in the smaller premises of some energetic dealer. !