In scouring through many recently published lists of the most anticipated exhibitions of 2020, I came across a list of “the ten most important artists of the 2010s”. Only two of those artists could be said to have emerged in that decade. The others have been known and influential for many decades, ranging in age from 50 to 104. And while maybe two of those artists could be said to have come to public prominence in the past 20 years, the list underscored that there is no consensus on what defines quality or importance in contemporary art today.
Such lack of clarity has occurred before at times of great creative invention. But today’s lack of consensus seems rooted in the havoc of the art market, though I sincerely hope that, as yet, not so visible out there is a profound stretching of the borders of creativity that may come into focus before too long.
Indeed there is much to anticipate. I am very much looking forward to seeing the upcoming exhibition of an artist who has emerged in recent years: Tala Madani (LA MoCA, winter 2020, title to be confirmed). Though I haven’t focused studiously on her work, it almost always grabs my attention, and usually pleases my eye and engages me with its wit and a naughty, often bawdy sense of outrage I find satisfying, especially from the mind and hands of a female artist, in ways that men have usually claimed.
I am equally enthusiastic to see Tate Britain’s upcoming survey of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, one of the most invigorating painters of our time (“Lynette Yiadom-Boakye”, 19 May-31 August); and the Pipilotti Rist retrospective that will also be presented by LA MoCA (spring/summer 2020, title to be confirmed). No one has brought a more fantastical, psychological, and painterly view to the medium of video (or for that matter, to any medium in recent decades). The range of scales with which the artist works, and the sense of imagination and wondrous discovery in her work is well suited to the format of a retrospective. Indeed, there are few contemporary artists whose imagination runs so deep.
Other shows I am looking forward to seeing include the Met Breuer’s upcoming retrospective of Gerhard Richter—he is the greatest living painter, and so another view of his incredible span of art-making is cause for pleasure and clarity (“Gerhard Richter: Painting After All”, 4 March-5 July); Wolfgang Tillmans at WIELS in Brussels, both because no one installs art as a fresh and exhilarating event like Tillmans, and because WIELS consistently mounts some of the most curatorially thoughtful exhibitions of our time (“Wolfgang Tillmans: Today is the First Day”, 1 February-24 May); and the opening of the Pinault Collection at Paris’ Bourse de Commerce, which promises to be the contemporary spectacle of the year (scheduled for June).
While no institution seems ready to go out on a limb regarding the state and direction of contemporary art, I anticipate that each of these exhibitions will be a pleasure to behold. And yet the greater viewing promises of 2020 are major upcoming historical exhibitions, starting with Jan Van Eyck at the Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Ghent (“Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution”, 1 February-30 April). Van Eyck marked one of the most profound shifts in the history of art, from guild artisan to “artist” whose signature had earned its way into the storytelling of a painting, a revolution marked in the Arnolfini Portrait of 1434 in London’s National Gallery. This exhibition also comes with the opportunity to see the newly restored Ghent Altarpiece, painted by Jan and his brother Hubert, which on a different scale is likely as amazing a rediscovery as when the Sistine Chapel ceiling was revealed after years of restoration.
Raphael, at the National Gallery, London, should be as major an event (“Raphael”, 3 October-24 January 2021). I was pretty detached from Raphael’s work when I was an art history student, until the artist father of a friend of mine told me that he felt Raphael’s vision is a mature one he didn’t begin to appreciate until he was middle-aged. I filed that wise observation away until Raphael came to life for me… well, when I reached middle age. And so the possibility of seeing 30 Raphaels at the same time is an opportunity of a lifetime—the chance to see the fullness of a master just when my eye is in fuller bloom.
And finally, the National Gallery’s Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition (“Artemisia”, 4 April-26 July). One of the first (known) important woman artists, today we have a good vantage point from which to re-examine her work, and to reassess the role of gender in the history of representation.