The arts in 1999: Exhibitions

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I feel that the New Year never really starts until the clocks go forward (this year, on the 28 March) - a bright day in the calendar that ought to be, but never is, the subject of poetry. The art season used to begin at much the same time as the clocks changed, and last until November. Nowadays, as with football and other previously seasonal activities, there's pressure all year long.

We all know why. Commercialism. The big museums put on shows that are guaranteed to draw crowds throughout the year, and these exhibitions are generally of popular old masters. This year, the first of them is the Royal Academy's "Monet in the 20th Century", which opens on the 23 January.

The RA can't fail with Monet. He's a modernist (died 1926) and an impressionist old master at the same time. At the end of the day, though, will you remember which picture was which? The difficulty won't arise with the National Gallery's "Portraits by Ingres", from 27 January. He's so precise and memorable. This will be one of the exhibitions of the year, even though the NG also promises us a survey of Rembrandt self-portraits.

In March the Tate will open with a retrospective of Jackson Pollock, a supreme artist who will make a moving contrast with Monet. Personally, I'd rather own a Pollock, so long as it's a good one. His best period was from 1947-49. This show also includes pictures from the years of Pollock's decline before his death in 1956. At the Tate in summer we'll also see "Abracadabra", contemporary art from all over the world. Fine, but the Tate's year ends uninspiringly with a survey of "The Art of Bloomsbury".

No doubt the Millbank bosses are saving their big guns for the opening of the Tate at Bankside in 2000. Not everyone is convinced by the new megamuseum. Surely, it is said, we need better, smaller museums, throughout the country. I agree. Meanwhile, the decline of the Hayward Gallery programming continues, with a Patrick Caulfield retrospective in February and a survey of Asian town planning in the summer.

But - good for the Hayward - in the autumn we'll see Lucio Fontana. You know those blank canvases slashed by a razor? They sound silly. Not so. Fontana was a true aesthete who could turn almost anything into perfect art (on a good day), and is a quiet hero of the old 20th-century avant- garde.

And the new avant-garde? Not much pops up in our schedules, mainly because so few commercial galleries have revealed their programmes. Here's a long shot. Look at Paris-based Bethan Huws, in her home-town gallery, the Oriel Mostyn, Llandudno, in May. Like Fontana, but with a gentler soul, she can make lovely minimalist art from just two or three strokes of her watercolour brush.