Art in 2012 – the list is endless

By Cressida Smart

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” (Marcel Proust)

Bubbling with anticipation, I perused the lists of exhibitions for 2012.  This is a special year.

Alongside the Olympics in London, the city will continue to host the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, which has been running for the past four year and which will culminate with the London 21012 Festival.  A remarkable range of exhibitions and events is on offer.

My selection of exhibitions below has taken an international angle and I have chosen one for each month of the year. There are so many more though and I would encourage you to seek out what appeals to you best.


The Royal Academy in London kicks off the year with David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture. Made up almost entirely of work from the past four years, the works on display are largely derived from those few favourite places inland from Bridlington, a quiet enclave on the Yorkshire coast. The show includes three series of new paintings on a vast scale, made since 2005, when Hockney returned north to live, following three decades in LA. His concentration on this little patch of artistic territory brings some notable parallels to mind: Constable at East Berg-holt and Monet at Giverny. He will no doubt be aware of such comparisons with his predecessors and you may wonder whether his exhibition will match Monet’s blockbuster in 2007 at the Royal Academy.


Jumping across the pond, the ever enthralling Museum of Modern Art in New York brings us a retrospective of the superb Cindy Sherman, tracing her career from the mid-1970s to the present. It is the first comprehensive museum survey of Sherman’s career in the United States since 1997. The exhibit is devoted to subjects like the grotesque, with images of mutilated bodies and abject landscapes, in addition to a dozen centerfolds, a takeoff of men’s magazines, in which she depicts herself in guises ranging from a sultry seductress to a vulnerable victim. There will also be a room that shows her work critiquing the fashion industry and stereotypical depictions of women. In addition, a site-specific photographic mural produced in 2011-12 will be shown in the United States for the first time in this exhibition.


Not technically an exhibition, but I am keen to plug the case for The Affordable Art Fair in Battersea Park.  I have a soft spot for this art fair; it inspired my first article for The Vibe and has also been the source of some great finds for me.  Without sounding like a broken record, I would encourage everyone to swing by this event.  Whether you’re a seasoned buyer or a complete novice, buying as an investment or for decorative purposes it is a good opportunity to check out art that is hopefully within your price range.


Genius, rebel and sell-out are a mere three of the many adjectives used to describe Damien Hirst.  Now you will have the chance to make up your mind by exploring the retrospective, Damien Hirst of the artist’s work at the Tate Modern, chartering his development from the earliest examples to the most recent. If you are familiar with his work, you won’t be surprised to see a variety of dissections and vitrines, such as A Thousand Years showing a cow’s head feasted on by flies. The exhibition will also incorporate two of Hirst’s large-scale installations: In and Out of Love with hundreds of live tropical butterflies and Pharmacy, an eerie recreation of a druggist’s shop. It will also include Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull housed in a special viewing room amid tight security. Cast in platinum – but retaining the original teeth of the 18th century skull’s owner – and covered in 8,601 diamonds, it has a 52.4 carat pink diamond on its forehead. When Hirst unveiled the work in 2007, it carried a price tag of £50 million. It was bought for an undisclosed sum by a mystery “consortium of businessmen” that turned out to include Hirst himself.


One of my favourite museums is the V&A in London.  With a remarkable and diverse permanent collection, it is no surprise that their exhibitions are equally thrilling.  This year, they bring us Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 which will trace the evolution of eveningwear from debutante balls and state occasions to red carpet events. The show is based around the ballgown and its role and evolution in British social life over the past 60 years. The display will survey the shift in eveningwear from royal-function gowns to red-carpet fare. Starting with a Norman Hartnell piece worn by the Queen Mother, the show will carry viewers through Catherine Walker’s designs for Princess Diana and into gowns worn by prominent actresses and entertainers. Although ballgowns may be implausible garb for modern living, they remain enthralling to contemporary audiences.


Another favourite, is the Serpentine Gallery which this year opens its doors to Yoko Ono.  It can be hard to remove John Lennon from the equation, but Yoko Ono is an enormously influential figure in contemporary art, in particular in her use of multimedia conception and performance art.  The show will feature Ono’s ongoing project ‘SMILE’ – an invitation for people across the world to photograph and upload images of their smile to create a global anthology of happy portraits. Visitors will also be able to have their images taken for the project in a special photo-booth onsite.


An old favourite returns in the form of Titian.  The National Gallery of Art in London embraces this giant in The Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, illustrating his tremendous influence.  Featuring work inspired by three key Titian paintings, this is set to be a fascinating study of how one medium influences another. The three paintings used to inspire the artists and composers in their creation of the brand new ballets are Diana and Actaeon, The Death of Actaeon and Diana and Callisto, all of which were inspired in turn by Ovid’s poem Metamorphosis.  With three British artists showcasing their work, inspired by Titian’s paintings, you can see how Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger interpret the artist’s work and transform it for their own pieces.  Designing sets for three new ballets at the Royal Opera House, the contemporary artists have their preparatory art, various studies and inspired sketches included in the exhibition.


This year will see Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II celebrating 60 years on the throne. In a tribute to the monarch’s diamond jubilee, the Royal Collection is putting on a celebration of the precious gemstone, charting its association with British monarchs during the last 200 years. Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration will be the focal point of the palace’s summer opening and will feature a series of fantastic jewels that been used to decorate regalia, bought for personal use or simply inherited in the passing down of gifts from previous generations of royals. Many of the pieces that will be on display at the palace have undergone transformations over the years, having been recut or used in new settings depending on the fashion or the preferences of the queens or princesses who wore them.


As we enter into Autumn, Paris, known for its fashion and art, brings the two together in Impressionism and Fashion at the Musée d’Orsay. To take Charles Baudelaire’s premise in The Painter of Modern Life that fashion is one of the great signifiers of modernity, then the dress of the later nineteenth century can be best encapsulated in the vision of the Impressionists. The exhibition of late nineteenth century French paintings reveals some of the trends in fashionable female dress during the period. The images depict a variety of elements in female dress, from underwear to day dresses, evening dresses and outdoor wear throughout the period, and epitomise the “scent of fashion” which permeated society at all levels.


I am particularly excited about Mantegna to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Courtauld Gallerywhich will be showing at the Frick Collection in New York because it is a wonderful collaboration of two inspiring museums.  The Courtauld Gallery holds one of the most important collections of drawings in Britain. Numbering some 7,000 works, it ranges from the Renaissance to the 20th century. This exhibition presents a magnificent selection of some sixty of the finest works in the collection. It offers a rare opportunity to consider the art of drawing in the hands of its greatest masters, including Dürer, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Goya, Manet, Cézanne and Matisse. The Courtauld last displayed a comparable selection of its masterpieces more than twenty years ago and this exhibition will bring the collection to new audiences nationally and internationally.

November and December

It would be very easy to pick two exhibitions for the last months of the year, in order to fill the gap.  However, nothing stood out and so I have decided instead, to draw your attention to the BMW Guggenheim Lab.  This is a mobile laboratory traveling to nine major cities worldwide over six years. Led by international, interdisciplinary teams of emerging talents in the areas of urbanism, architecture, art, design, science, technology, education, and sustainability, the Lab addresses issues of contemporary urban life through programs and public discourse. Its goal is the exploration of new ideas, experimentation, and ultimately the creation of forward-thinking solutions for city life.  Its next stop is Berlin in May, running through to July and then Mumbai.  I was lucky enough to see it in New York and it is absolutely fascinating.  I urge to discover it for yourself.

Hopefully I have whetted your appetite with my selection of exhibitions. As I have often remarked, there is no right or wrong in your taste in art and it can often be easy to follow the crowds literally to see the blockbuster exhibitions; just because everyone else likes them, doesn’t mean you have to too. Your favourite exhibition may be found in a small gallery in the depths of Norfolk or amongst the exotic offerings of the Middle East.

Seek, discover and enjoy.


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