The Critics' Awards 1998: Exhibitions - The fresh prince of British art
Sunday 27 December 1998
The year began with an imaginative tribute from the Royal Academy to the regional museums. "Art Treasures of England" assembled wonderful things from public galleries throughout the country. The event marked a change in attitudes to regional culture. The RA also scored with a sweet and piercing account of the young Chagall, then delighted us with Picasso's ceramics.
The Tate also had a good year, with accounts of Pierre Bonnard, Lucian Freud, Patrick Heron and John Singer Sargent. The Liverpool Tate has been looking its very best since its reopening in May, with lively and varied displays from its mother gallery's permanent collection.
Museum of the year, though, was the Southampton City Art Gallery: they created the Chris Ofili show that later travelled to the Serpentine in London, managed to mix old masters with contemporary art, and have a deft acquisitions policy.
Of living artists, there were interesting shows by the American Alex Katz at the Saatchi Gallery, Mona Hatoum at Moma Oxford, Peter Doig at the Whitechapel, and Anish Kapoor at the Hayward. Bruce Nauman, also at the Hayward, made a noisy contribution.
The Dulwich Picture Gallery had a successful first-ever examination of Pieter de Hooch. It's now closed for refurbishment, but London was given an entirely new museum, the Estorick Collection, specialising in 20th-century Italian art.
Two trends: galleries and their press officers became aggressive and started to attempt news management, while a clutch of middlebrow poets and novelists began to write about art, inadequately. Missed opportunity of the year, and also an annual scandal: the absence of any good big exhibition at the Edinburgh Festival. Flop of the year: all the Henry Moore centenary exhibitions. Birthday of the year: Henri Cartier-Bresson's 90th, and he had shows all over the place.
The V&A opened its new photography gallery with a show of historic prints, but the most gripping display of camerawork was Robert Capa's retrospective at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. I also liked "Coming to Light", a taste of the immense photographic collection in the City of Birmingham Library.
Old master of the year: Joachim Wtewael (1506-1638), the erotic mannerist in the National Gallery's survey of Utrecht painting. Artist of the year: it has to be Ofili. His elephant dung is irrelevant. Ofili's contribution is that he's made genuine and original art from the world of black youth culture.
t Artist of 1998: Chris Ofili
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