2020 Visions to Savour  

Guiding you through the upcoming year of exhibition highlights, Graham Hooper suggests making time for these exciting shows.

This is the time to look back on what a good year 2019 was for art, and the best time for planning ahead to 2020; whether you intend to take a class of students on a study visit, as an outing alone or with colleagues, family or friends. Galleries, particularly the big London ones, advertise their wares earlier and earlier to whip up interest and ensure pre-opening tickets sales. Advance booking is more often that not required anyway, as these blockbusters quickly become sell-out shows, and timed ticketing is now the norm. Still, the likes of Tate still offer generous discounts for group bookings, again very welcome with entrance fees reaching twenty pounds or more for non-members.

So, lets begin briefly with a look back over the year just ended. January gave us the wonderful ‘Dazzle’, exploring the influence of first world war naval camouflage on visual culture, with surprising insights. Next up, the Da Vinci drawings that toured extensively nationwide; an outstanding feast for the eyes, with local galleries hosting original masterpieces from the Renaissance master. Then there was Mike Nelson ‘Asset Strippers’ which ushered in a very different idea of sculpture using industrial machine parts from trade auctions to create poignant reflections of the country’s industrial past, and prophecies for the future. The Summer months took me to The Netherlands and an art gallery housing a very impressive collection of contemporary work, immersive and playful. The new academic year took me to Tate Modern and the much under-rated Takis show of electro-magnetic constructions, and Olafur Eliasson. These more niche expositions are funded in part thankfully by the door takings of the showstoppers. Lastly, Bridget Riley’s retrospective at London’s Hayward gallery, with it’s exquisite and wholly unexpected life drawings from her early years.

This year should prove to be just as exciting and useful, as teachers like us look for shows that will inspire as much as educate young learners on ideas that span the whole curriculum. So here’s our annual round-up. It kick’s off with the ever-popular Grayson Perry, who’ll be presenting his early ceramics (his ‘pre-therapy years’) in Bath, at the wonderful Holbourne Museum (24 January – 25 May). Interestingly the works on display have been ‘crowd-sourced’ with a public appeal for pots sold before he rose to notoriety. Almost a national treasure, and notable for his output on television and radio, he and his alter ego Claire, are astute social commentators. Students respond well to his drawing-based work exploring themes close to the heart of many young people: identity, social justice and climate change. This show later travels to York and then Norwich. Elsewhere there’s the renowned Russian Constructive art of Naum Gabo at Tate St. Ives.

On to February, and Toulouse-Lautrec, again in Bath, at the Victoria Art Gallery, from 15 February until 26 May. His joyously exuberant posters featuring dancers from 19th century ‘Belle Époque’ Paris are well known and loved. The cabaret scene is evoked through his delightfully free line work, and distinctive graphic play. This show includes contemporary music and costumes from the era to help younger visitors really engage with the time and place, and could lead to their own artwork celebrating dance, music and theatre. Meanwhile Tate Modern has Steve McQueen’s film retrospective, and the origins of British Surrealism feature at Dulwich’s Picture Gallery.

March takes us to London in the main for Warhol at Tate Modern (12 March – 6 September), Cecil Beaton’s fashion and glamour of early 20th century British high society (12 March – 7 June) and David Hockney’s drawings, (27 February – 28 June) both at the National Portrait gallery, and for textiles students, The Victoria and Albert Museum has a show focusing on Japanese Kimonos (29 February – 21 June). Mention should be made of Compton-Verney’s Fabric: Touch and Identity. Whatever you see March should be full of colour and pattern.

April has more fashion with a Mary Quant in Dundee, to see the impact of 1960’s revolutionary designs for hot pants and mini skirts on the mass-produced high street (opening 4 April), the show currently on at London’s V&A – getting these displays out to ‘the provinces’ at last, so travel to the capital is increasingly less of a necessity. ‘Breaking the Mould’, a show of sculpture by women in the post-war period headlines Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s summer output (4 April – 14 June). Featuring Hepworth, Frink as well as Rachel Whiteread and Cornelia Parker, this is a rare sampling of important work, often large scale, in a majestic environment. It travels to Walsall, Nottingham and finally Hull too. Finally for this month, another important and much under-valued female artist, Linda McCartney. Her retrospective at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery (25 April – 31 August) will also help contextualise, alongside Quant, the swinging sixties scene. Although she documented life with her Beatle husband, she was as much taken by the natural world, with gentle, often humorous but always sensuous observations from daily life.

For me the highlight of May on the art calendar is Zanele Muholi’s photographs at Tate Modern (29 April – 18 September). Her stark images exploring black sexuality, as neither deviant nor pitiful, are positive reminders of our changing social landscape. For young students of colour, understanding themselves and their own identity in their formative years, this could have a seminal impact. Teachers are in a prime position to take the lead in promoting positive imagery.

There are two key shows in June for me: ‘Reverb’ at London’s Hayward Gallery (24 June – 6 September), exploring the physical and emotional impact of sound on space. Expect noise and silence as much as music! I think cross-curriculum study days are a wonderful opportunity to connect again with your fellow artistic colleagues and remind pupils of the ‘cultural family’ that exists and cross-pollinates. Meanwhile, the ever-innovative Dulwich Picture Gallery has a show of early photographs in Unearthed: Photography’s roots (17 June – 20 September), with depiction of nature from the 1840’s.

July and August brings another useful exhibition at Warwick’s Compton-Verney (4 July – 4 October) in On Colour. It promises an exploration and explanation of colour theory from Isaac Newton through to Olafur Eliasson, via Kandinsky, Warhol, Hirst and Matisse. Didn’t we all make a colour wheel at school? This will connect those elementary exercises with contemporary practitioners, still referencing the world of scientists who sought to understand the visible light spectrum. Simultaneously, Beautiful People at the Fashion & Textile Museum in London (3 July – 4 October) investigates the counterculture of the capital’s 1960’s boutiques. Oxford’s Ashmolean presents Tokyo (16 July – 8 November) with 400 years of art and photography. Young artists will be delighted by a show considering Alice and Wonderland at London’s V&A (opening 27 June). The range of images, from paintings by Dali to the photographs of Julia Margaret-Cameron is astonishing. There’s sure to be something for everyone, and with a literary tie-in too. Tate Britain’s big Summer photography show is After Empire, a look at Britain from the 1945 to Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979 (30 June to 27 September); a period of change and hope for many, with the painful struggle for civil rights and independence globally, and immigration and deindustrialisation at home. Also the Barbican’s ‘AI: More than Human’ travels to Liverpool’s World Museum (and coincides with their Biennial) from 10 July to 1 November.

September’s pickings include the Design Museum’s major exhibition of Prada – the family fashion house – continuing a great year for fashion and textiles shows. Plus there is another display at Woking’s The Lightbox, ‘Women at Work’ highlights again under-represented artists from the Ingram Collection.

October has Raphael’s paintings at The National Gallery (3 October to 24 January 2021) to mark 500 years since his death. The painter, draughtsman, architect, archaeologist, and poet is held in high esteem for his depictions of the ‘big themes’ (love, power, the divine), as much as his diverse creative output. Auguste Rodin represented at Tate Modern (21 October – 21 February 2021), with displays that attempt to evoke the informal atmosphere of the artist’s studio. There’s also the ninth touring British Art Show, beginning in Manchester, and Hannah Starkey’s photographs of women in contemporary culture at Hepworth Wakefield, from 23 October until 24 January 2021. It will be the first major survey of this important British photographer, who carefully constructs scenes of female reflection, isolation or interaction.

Finally, as the year closes, we have further treats and surprises in store. Night Fever at V&A Dundee promises to celebrate the design of nightlife, from New York’s Studio 54 to Manchester’s Haçienda (opening 31 October), a show of Turner’s paintings of industrial Britain at Tate Britain, (from 28 October to 7 March 2021) and Tracey Emin explains her long fascination and engagement with Edvard Munch at London’s Royal Academy. As many readers will know the human psyche has been a central theme in her art, and the Norwegian’s expressionism is an obvious influence.

So get your diaries out and pencil in time for you and you classes, and start getting that risk assessment completed! 

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