DCSIMG

2013 offers exhibitions from the Ice Age to the present - and a chance to rehang the National Gallery

Rodin's The Kiss, coming to Scotland in 2013.

Rodin's The Kiss, coming to Scotland in 2013.

  • by Duncan Macmillan
 

TIME to look into my crystal ball again, or at least, more prosaically, to look through all the press releases that have come rolling in with plans for 2013.

The first must-see show for me is Manet: Portraying Real Life at the Royal Academy in London (26 January-14 April). Edouard Manet was the first modern artist. His art was new from the start and seemed to violate all the conventions, not least sexual propriety with the women he painted who were not nude – and therefore acceptably aesthetic – but provocatively naked. He embodied Baudelaire’s idea of the painter of Modern Life and the show picks up on that and its reflection in his portraits.

Modernity is also the unexpected theme of an exhibition of the oldest art we know, opening just a couple of weeks later at the British Museum. Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind (7 February-23 May) is a unique opportunity to see many masterpieces from the first age of art. It will bring together sculpture, ceramics, drawing and personal ornament from across Europe made in the time of the great cave paintings, between around 40,000 and 10,000 years ago. It will demonstrate how the instinct to make art is innate and one of the ways we make sense of the world. You might not think that was the case from much of the art of our own time, although perhaps if the world doesn’t make sense, then the art won’t either.

There will be plenty of chances to judge if that is so from contemporary shows. The modern world itself and the way it has been taken over by economics is the theme of an ambitious joint venture, Economy, by CCA Glasgow (26 January-23 March) and Stills Edinburgh (19 January-21 April). Tracey Emin is one of 18 artists who will “provide an explicitly critical angle on how the global dominance of capital since 1989 has impacted on the formation of contemporary subjects by addressing issues that range from migration, labour, sexuality, the crisis of democracy to the quest for alternatives”. Pretty comprehensive then.

At the Fruitmarket in Edinburgh the big name this year is the maverick South American Gabriel Orozco (1 August -20 October) and Ken Currie is showing at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh (20 July-22 September).

Back in London, the British Museum has more to look forward to. First there is Colombian Gold – a display of over 150 masterworks borrowed from the Gold Museum in Bogota, Colombia (12 September-12 January 2014) and then Shunga: Sex and Humour in Japanese Art is promised for the end of the year (3 October-5 January 2014). It will be a chance to enjoy in the name of art those wonderfully joyful and sexually explicit pictures called Shunga – euphemistically the word translates as “spring pictures”. There was no hang-up about the naked and the nude there. Everything hangs out.

In Shunga, music is often part of the scene. Vermeer and Music: the Art of Love and Leisure at the National Gallery in London (26 June-8 September) suggests there was a parallel in Holland. Though it was certainly more demure, this exploration of the crossover between art and music in the age of Johannes Vermeer promises to be a lovely exhibition.

Major shows forthcoming in Edinburgh include Vikings! at the National Museum (18 January-12 May). I am not sure about the exclamation mark, but the show will bring together 500 Viking artifacts, many from the Swedish History Museum, the greatest collection anywhere.

The summer exhibition at the National Museum is Mary Queen of Scots (28 June-November). She is an old favourite, but maybe the show will escape the clichés and find something new to say about her. Mary certainly wasn’t a witch, though there were some who thought she was, but Witches and Wicked Bodies at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (27 July until 3 November) promises to be fun, with witch paintings from the 16th century to the present.

The first big event at the National Gallery of Scotland is the loan of Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss, not quite Shunga, but a universally popular erotic image. But by putting it on view on 2 February, the gallery has missed a trick. It would surely have been the headline image for 14 February. Also at the NGS, Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch runs from 11 May-8 September. Church is a great painter of the American landscape and the exhibition includes his enormous painting of Niagara Falls, on loan from the NGS.

Late in 2013, the third of the Colourist exhibitions will be devoted to John Duncan Fergusson. Like SJ Peploe (which runs until June), Fergusson will run for six months, from November. These long-running shows are a way of saving money. By contrast, reflecting similar pressures, but with the opposite result, the commercial galleries turn around in the blink of an eye. Two current shows not to be missed and both of works on paper are John Bellany at the Open Eye (7-30 January) and Sir William Gillies at The Scottish Gallery (5-30 January). They run for barely three weeks.

Outside the exhibition programme, new windows in the National Gallery at the Mound doesn’t sound like big news, but replacing the roof lights with double glazing is the chance, long overdue, to redecorate the place. The red plush walls have been there for more than 20 years. They were never nice, and have not improved with age. Let us hope that redecoration will also prompt a proper rehang. The present model of plush walls and pictures up to the ceiling has palaces and stately homes as its model. It suggests that what matters about art is wealth and status. That is profoundly retrograde. Since the late 19th century, the idea of public galleries and the way they were hung was expressly to break that link and let the art speak to us unencumbered by such Thatcherite thoughts. Now there is a chance to go back to something less tendentious. But what about the Scottish collection if there is to be a rehang?

The press release implies the status quo. It talks about the Scottish collection in what is called euphemistically the lower gallery. More accurately, it is a dingy basement.

When it was built, the then director confided to me that he was pleased that the Scottish public could see their own art on view. It would get them in and they could then graduate upstairs to the serious stuff. It was a colonial attitude. Offensive then, like the decoration, it hasn’t improved with time, yet most of the Scottish pictures still languish in the basement. It is time for a change.

 

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