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These are the best global exhibitions to see in 2019

From a major Dior exhibition in London to the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus, Vogue Livinghighlights the must-see exhibitions around the world for the year ahead.


Image credit: Beauford Delaney, Portrait of a Young Musician, 1970, Acrylic on canvas. Photo credit: Marc Bernier. Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

This year, we’re obsessed with taste – in art and elsewhere. What figures have we looked to over the centuries, and who do we look to today? Who dictates taste, and how do you avoid it? From global festivities marking the centenary of the Bauhaus art and architecture school, to the V&A’s Christian Dior fashion spectacular, the influence of art critic John Ruskin, to that of the trailblazing Studio Museum in Harlem – this year a plethora of exhibitions celebrate the impact of visionary individuals and institutions. Keep reading to see all the highlights.


Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem The artist residency programme is the heart of Harlem’s Studio Museum. A powerful incubator for African American creativity, the studios have given an early career boost to talents that now command the global stage, from Kerry James Marshall and Njideka Akunyili Crosby to Mickalene Thomas. The museum’s exhibitions have also given early institutional recognition to artists such as Mark Bradford and Amy Sherald, who have since achieved international renown: in the case of Bradford, representing the US at the Venice Biennale in 2017; in the case of Sherald, via her official portrait of Michelle Obama. The museum is poised to move into new David Adjaye-designed digs in a few years. Meanwhile, an exhibition showing highlights of the collection – led by Barkley Hendricks’s divine Lawdy Mama (1969) – is doing a victory lap of the US.

Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, 16 January to 14 April, then touring nationwide


Still Here Tomorrow to High Five You Yesterday Artists, performers, writers and architects from Africa and the diaspora explore concepts of utopia and progress. The word “utopia” suggests a perfect place or society, but the original Greek word literally meant “no place”: in other words, an unattainable fantasy. This exhibition takes its cues from the rich melding of history, science fiction and fantasy that informs Afrofuturism, to suggest alternative, post-colonial futures. It may sound brain-meltingly theoretical, but someone on board this spaceship has a sense of humour: the title comes from cartoon series Adventure Time: “This cosmic dance of bursting decadence and withheld permissions twists all our arms collectively, but if sweetness can win, and it can, then I'll still be here tomorrow to high-five you yesterday, my friend. Peace.”

Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, 30 January to late July


Image credit: Christian Dior with model Lucky, circa 1955. Courtesy of Christian Dior.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams Christian Dior only headed the couture house that bore his name for 10 years: from his first collection in 1947 to his death in 1957. The designer’s debut in the post-war years defined the look of an era, introducing the full-skirted, feminine silhouette dubbed the New Look. Requiring lavish quantities of fabric (and figure-shaping underwear), Dior’s garments re-introduced fantasy to fashion after years of drab and functional clothing, and his house re-asserted poor, war-torn Paris’s status as the international capital of couture once more. Designer of Dreams explores Dior’s obsessions – among them the British aristocracy, stately homes, flowers and gardens – and his legacy, up to and including the work of creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri. The largest fashion exhibition to be held at the museum since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, the V&A’s Dior show promises silky spectacle.

V&A Museum, London, 2 February to 14 July


Image credit: Rembrandt van Rijn, Landscape with a Stone Bridge, c. 1638. Courtesy of Rijksmuseum.

All the Rembrandts Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum has dubbed 2019 the Year of Rembrandt. Opening proceedings is this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition bringing together the world’s largest collection of Rembrandt’s paintings – 22, among them The Night Watch and Jewish Bride – with some 360 works on paper, many fragile and only rarely displayed. Rembrandt celebrations across the city include walking trails and canal tours, as well as nocturnes at the museum. In July a scheduled restoration of The Night Watch will start within a custom glass chamber in the museum, opening the process up to public view.

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 15 February to 10 June


Thierry Mugler: Couturissime Thierry Mugler was a dancer before he turned to fashion: that influence is writ large in the spectacular body-con creations that carried the designer to global fame in the 1980s. This first major retrospective looks at Mugler as fashion designer and showman, displaying the dramatic costumes he created for music, cabaret and theatre: notably Macbeth at the Comédie Française in 1985 and the legendary music video for George Michael’s Too Funky (1992). Mugler, who stepped away from the fashion house in 2002, famously gave Helmut Newton so much direction for shooting one of his early campaigns that the photographer handed Mugler the camera and suggested he shot it himself. No surprise, then, that his involvement in this show has been hands-on.

Musée des Beaux-Arts Montréal, 2 March to 8 September, then touring venues in Europe


Verrocchio, the Master of Leonardo Five hundred years ago, the workshop of Florentine artist-polymath Andrea del Verrocchio was training ground to pupils including Leonardo da Vinci, Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Sandro Botticelli. Working in close collaboration, Verrocchio was a formative influence on their work and his studio a crucible of the Florentine Renaissance. A number of sculptures by Verrocchio survive, but few known paintings. Among those, The Baptism of Christ (c.1474-5) held at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence was painted in part by his pupil Leonardo. At Palazzo Strozzi, works by Verrocchio will be shown alongside those who worked with him, suggesting chains of influence and offering insight into Leonardo’s early years.

Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 9 March to 14 July, then touring to Washington D.C.


Image credit: D.G. Rossetti, The Blessed Damozel (1875-81). Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool, Lady Lever Art Gallery.

Parabola of Pre-Raphaelitism: Turner, Ruskin, Rossetti, Morris and Burne-Jones Born in 1819, John Ruskin was a precocious talent. A critic and patron of the arts, even during his lifetime, reading groups were set up to study Ruskin’s writing. This Tokyo show is part of a global celebration in his 200th birthday year. Young Ruskin championed the experimental later work of JMW Turner, a painter fascinated by wildness of land and sea, and mysterious, fleeting qualities of light. Among artists of his own generation, he was an early defender of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: young rebels inspired by medieval art and verse, whose subjects were drawn from literature and legend. Among the Pre-Raphaelites, artist-poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti was known in particular for his celebration of sensual female beauty. Ruskin shared intense and often troubled bonds with Rossetti and the Brotherhood, intermingling personal, professional and romantic relationships. Younger artists William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones brought bohemian, Pre-Raphaelite style to the decorative arts, designing textiles, furniture and interiors.

Mitsubishi Ichigokan Gallery, Tokyo, 14 March to 9 June


Jenny Holzer: A Retrospective Jenny Holzer puts art where you wouldn’t expect it: on the billboards of New York’s Times Square; pasted up among gig posters on the street; tucked inside your weekend newspaper. Her Truisms (1978-87) are by turns wise, comic and disturbing. One-liners like “Expiring for love is beautiful but stupid” and “Awful punishment awaits really bad people” have taken on a life of their own, ending up on T-Shirts and baseball hats, and spouted across Twitter by a Jenny Holzer bot account. But Holzer is no comic turn: the harrowing Lustmord (1993-94) responds to mass rape during the war in Bosnia, with lines of testament presented as LED signs written on human skin and engraved on silver rings fastened around human bones. For IT IS GUNS (2018), black trucks carrying stark slogans relating to gun violence drive around politically sensitive sites including New York, Chicago and Washington D.C.


Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, 22 March to 8 September


Camp: Notes on Fashion “Camp is the consistently aesthetic experience of the world. It incarnates a victory of style over content, aesthetics over morality, of irony over tragedy,” suggests Susan Sontag in Notes on Camp (1964). Sontag is spiritual fairy godmother to The Met’s Camp costume extravaganza: a celebration of glorious artifice, irony and the tricky line fashion treads to stay so bad it’s good. Se camper – to “posture boldly” – was a practice born in the French royal courts of Louis XIV and XV. The exhibition opens with a visit to Versailles – a “camp Eden” – before plunging into queer subcultures of the 1890s. All this is a prelude to the fashion displays: an unrestrained celebration of everything OTT, from Christian Lacroix to Viktor & Rolf, Vivienne Westwood to Walter Van Beirendonck.

The Met, New York, 9 May to 8 September


Image credit: Vincent van Gogh (1853 –1890), Self-portrait, 1887 from the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Courtesy RMN.

Van Gogh and Britain As a young man Van Gogh spent several years in London, drinking in the works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Christina Rossetti and George Eliot, and coming to admire the paintings of Millais and Constable. He also had a passion for popular prints: he built up a personal collection of 2,000 engravings, many from London magazines. Tate’s first Van Gogh show since 1947 will place 45 of the artist’s paintings – including Shoes, Starry Night on the Rhône and L'Arlésienne – in context, showing the huge impact his work subsequently had on British artists.

Tate Britain, London, 27 March to 11 August


Image credit: Nam June Paik, TV Garden, 1974–2002. Courtesy of Estate of Nam June Paik. Photo: Tate (Roger Sinek).

Nam June Paik: The Future is Now The father of video art was born in Seoul in 1932. Paik used TV monitors like a musician might an instrument. Appropriately so: it was while studying avant-garde music and performance that he encountered John Cage, Joseph Beuys and George Maciunas, and became a member of the Fluxus movement. Music, technology and sex were key themes for Paik (the classical cellist Charlotte Moorman was notoriously arrested while performing Paik’s Opera Sextronique topless in 1967). We’re so used to artists using electronic media now that it no longer seems remarkable. Which is tantamount to saying: Paik was a pioneer and had a huge impact on the art that followed.

Tate Modern, London, 17 October to 9 February 2020


Civilization: The Way We Live Now “These days most people around the world dress in much the same way: the same jeans, the same sneakers, the same T-shirts,” wrote historian Niall Ferguson in his book Civilization. “It is one of the greatest paradoxes of modern history that a system designed to offer infinite choice to the individual has ended up homogenising humanity.” This image of the modern world – infinitely connected, and networked, yet still alien – lies at the foundation of this ambitious exhibition. Through the work of over 100 leading photographers Civilization explores everything from extreme wealth, to faith, entertainment, travel, conflict and the environment.

Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, 9 March to 26 May

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 20 September to 2 February 2020


Luc Tuymans: La Pelle The latest carte blanche exhibition hosted by the Pinault Collection goes to the Belgian artist Luc Tuymans and his moody, de-saturated paintings. Starting with imagery gleaned from existing photographs, Tuymans explores the blurring of history and banal detail. How do you tell the one from the other? How is a space in which violence has occurred out of sight different from any other space? For La Pelle, Tuymans revisits the world of Curzio Malaparte: Italian writer, filmmaker and diplomat, resident of the spectacular Casa Malaparte on the Island of Capri. This is territory Tuymans has visited before, and it’s not hard to see why he’s fascinated. On publication in 1949, Malaparte’s novel La Pelle was placed on the Vatican’s index of prohibited books. The minimalist Casa Malaparte, which the writer occupied for a period under a state of house arrest, was later immortalised in Jean Luc Godard’s film Le Mépris.

Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 24 March 2019 to 6 January 2020


Bauhaus Week Berlin The centrepiece of this year’s global celebration of all things Bauhaus sees performances, exhibitions and events rolled out across Berlin’s public spaces and museums. It’s 100 years since the influential art and architecture school was founded in Weimar. Fourteen years later, after moves first to Dessau then Berlin, the Bauhaus was shut down by the Nazis. The furious creativity of that period continues to influence all aspects of visual culture today and the Bauhaus style is now synonymous with modernism. FourBauhaus Imaginista exhibitions open earlier in the year in Japan, China, Brazil and Russia: in Berlin they’ll be brought together in a single massive display at Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Other museums will show original Bauhaus designs, explore links to the Arts & Crafts movement and look at the school’s influence on the art and architecture of today.

Various venues, Berlin, 31 August to 8 September


Bridget Riley The great British op artist has been messing with our visual field since her shimmering dot and line paintings of the 1960s. Riley’s abstract experiments with geometric shapes produce still compositions that seem to ripple like the sea or create after images on blank space. This retrospective will include newly commissioned wall paintings designed for the Hayward Gallery’s brutalist spaces, familiar early monochrome works and later experiments in vivid colour.

Hayward Gallery, London, 23 October to 26 January 2020


Image credit: View of the Sheila Hicks exhibition Baôli, 2014, Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Sheila Hicks: Campo Abierto (Open Field) Sheila Hicks fell for fibres, thread and weaving while visiting Chile on a Fulbright scholarship in the 1950s. She’s had workshops in Mexico, Morocco, India and South Africa: all influenced her appreciation and understanding of colour, and the tactile, textural qualities of her materials. Hicks’s work ranges in scale from the little woven and bundled experimental works called Minimes she makes as a daily discipline to the mountainous centrepiece to this show at The Bass: the spectacular Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands created for the 2017 Venice Biennale. One of that year’s most striking commissions, it erupted across one vast end wall of the exhibition space, a huge landscape of bundled fibres before which woven tapestries hung like sails on an ocean.

The Bass, Miami 13 April to 29 September


Sofonisba Anguissola y Lavinia Fontana. Dos modelos de mujeres artistas The Prado turns a spotlight on two prominent early female artists. Sofonisba Anguissola was born in Cremona, Italy, in the early 1530s. She was offered an apprenticeship – a groundbreaking gesture, opening up art education to women at the time – and later travelled to Rome, where she met Michelangelo, from whom she received informal instruction. In 1559 she travelled to Madrid, recruited to tutor the young Spanish queen. Anguissola subsequently became a court painter to King Philip II. She was spirited. Two years after being widowed in her forties, she fell in love with a ship’s captain on a trip to Genoa: they married and remained devoted until her death aged 93. Among the young female artists Anguissola inspired, Lavinia Fontana was noted for achieving professional success without the support of court or convent. A mother to 11 children – and the principle breadwinner, assisted in the studio by her husband – Fontana was known for her portraits of women and their families, and for being the first female artist to paint figures in the nude.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 22 October to 2 February 2020


Image credit: Arthur Rimbaud in New York, 1978–79 (printed 1990), Gelatin silver print. Collection of the Estate of David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992). Courtesy P.P.O.W, New York.

David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night Sex and violence on the New York piers, the novels of Jean Genet, New Wave music, the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud: such were the influences that fed David Wojnarowicz in the late 1970s. Whether in film, photography, painting, collage or text, Wojnarowicz’s work is both forthright in its explicit celebration of sex, and furious in its identification of political and social injustice. These personal and political aspects collided as the AIDS crisis unfolded against a backdrop of mounting conservatism. The US government’s failure to acknowledge and address the AIDS crisis saw 38,044 New Yorkers die from AIDS-related illness by the time of the artist’s death in 1992. Transferring from the Whitney Museum in New York, History Keeps Me Awake at Night is a moving and incendiary portrait of a cultural figure and his time.

Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid, 29 May to 30 September



First published in Vogue.com.au

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