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Brit Art is the main focus of the UK’s 2012 exhibition diary

It’s 2012, year of the London Olympics, and to celebrate the fact that this year, the UK will be the focus of the world (hopefully for all good reasons) London entered the New Year with a spectacular firework display like none other. But as the country gears up towards its greatest sporting event for generations, the UK’s major art galleries are embarking on a cultural olympiad all of their own. This is my brief guide of what’s on in the UK’s art diary in 2012.

From the Damien Hirst 2007 butterflies collection

Patriotism is at an all time high in the UK, what with the Royal Wedding last year and the Diamond Jubilee this year, a sense that we should fling ourselves unceremoniously out of the EU and of course those all important Olympics. And it’s a state of national pride which is being more than represented in 2012 by the UK art galleries. Having spent 2011 promoting some of the world’s best artists (Catalan Miró at Tate Modern, Mexican Kahlo and Rivera at Pallant House, Parisian patriarch Degas at the Royal Academy, and of course the Italian master himself, Da Vinci, at the National Gallery), in 2012, the UK is promoting some of its biggest British artistic stars of past and present.

LSD by Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst - LSD - Image via Wikipedia

For sure one of the biggest exhibition events of 2012 will be the Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern from 4 April to 9 September 2012. Love him or loathe him (I tend towards the latter, but not always), he is one of the big stars of our generation, and his works do at least show some longevity, unlike many of his unsavoury, untalented counterparts (unmade bed anyone?). In particular I love some of the butterfly works of his recent oeuvre, but who knows whether they will be included in this show. For sure Mr Hirst’s 1991 Shark in Formaldehyde (“The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”) is bound to feature prominently” – has it not rotted yet?) as well as his pharmaceutical cabinet (“Pharmacy” 1992). Expect big crowds, and a slightly stinking smell of putrefaction lingering in the air at this show.

The Physical Possibility of a Norm in Formaldehyde (after Damien Hirst) (2011, pen on paper © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

One of Hockney's ipad works

The second contemporary Brit art blockbuster must be the Royal Academy‘s David Hockney RA: The Bigger Picture solo exhibition from 21 January – 9 April 2012. This is an exhibition of new large scale landscapes rather than a complete retrospective. While it may therefore lack the naked golden-skinned boys jumping into Los Angeles pools of Hockney’s earlier career, his bigger landscapes look to be every bit as colourful and vivacious, as well as… well, massive. Having said that, the exhibition is set to include landscapes spanning his whole career, and will, interestingly, feature some of his new iPad creations for which he is famously enthusiastic. His ipad works have already been exhibited to some acclaim at the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation in Paris in an exhibition appropriately entitled: “Fleurs Fraîches” so I will be intrigued to see how the works are displayed in this London show. There is no doubt about it, the ipad has made for a revolutionary new canvas for Hockney’s works. Just a shame about the financial side of things…

David Hockney, Winter Timber (2009)

Picasso's Weeping Woman (1937)

Meanwhile, at Tate Britain, a new exhibition running from 15 February – 15 July 2012 will explore how Picasso influenced generations of British artists: Picasso and Modern British Art. The British art on show will include some 90 art works by Duncan Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland and, once again, good old Hockney. However, I’m frankly more excited by the 60 Picasso’s on show, and hope that the works will extend beyond Tate’s own collection of his works. Although having said that, I could spend hours in front of Picasso’s Weeping Woman (1937) – the first ever Picasso I saw and the one I fell in love with.

Ben Nicholson, 1937



Ben Nicholson, the tumultuous ex husband of other British favourite, Barbara Hepworth, will also feature prominently in a forthcoming exhibition held at the Courtauld Institute between 16 February – 20 May 2012, Mondrian || Nicholason: In Parallel. The show will aim to explore the largely untold relationship between Nicholson and Piet Mondrian during the 1930s when both artists were leading forces in abstract art in Europe. Promising to reveal how each artist was driven by a profound belief in the potential of abstract to create new forms of beauty and visual power, it’s something of a diversion from the collection-based norm of the Courtauld’s temporary exhibitions and should be a good one to look out for.

Claude Monet, Poplars on the Epte (1891)

Next, that old British master, Turner, will be given the kind of exposure which Britain does so well when bringing out it’s most celebrated artist for admiration. Both the National Gallery and Tate Liverpool will be paying homage to Turner in 2012, the National Gallery hosting a new show comparing Turner with Claude Gellée with Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude  from 14 March – 5 June 2012, while at Tate Britain, an ambitious exhibition from 22 June – 28 October 2012 will bring together works by Turner Monet Twombly and explore the similarities between them in style, subject and artistic motivation. It is well known that Monet was suitably inspired by Turner’s superb handling of light and fog, storms and mist when he came to London during the Franco-Prussian war. How Twombly fits in remains to be seen – but I’m always open to suggestion.

Reflection (Self-portrait), 1985 © Lucian Freud

Finally, who better to complete the set of British artist masters than the artist who we sadly lost last year – Lucien Freud. In memory of this great artist, and taking a look back at what he did best – portraiture – the National Portrait Gallery will be taking a closer, comprehensive look at some of his greatest portraits from 9 February – 27 May 2012 in Lucien Freud: Portraits. It’s an exhibition which is sure to be a hit, as Freud paints his sitters with uncompromising honesty and intensity with virtuosity and exceptional skill. The exhibition features over 100 works from museums and private collections, so this will be an opportunity not to be missed.

So there you have it, a selection of the biggest and best shows coming our way in 2012. It’s going to be a busy year! Also worth a quick mention is a Pre-Raphaelites exhibition which will come to Tate Britain at the end of the year and the return of Edvard Munch to the UK – in fact to Tate Modern. It is I believe the same show I have just seen at Paris’ Pompidou Centre. If so, it’s a rather depressing retrospective, and won’t stand up overly well next to the superb retrospectives earlier on in the year.

Talking of Paris, I can’t end this post without mentioning one forthcoming show over in the City of Light which has caused me a great deal of excitement – the Edward Hopper retrospective – at the Grand Palais from 8 October 2012 – 20 January 2013. I cannot wait for this opportunity to see so many of this artist’s soulful, introspective works up close. Yes, it’s not exactly Brit art, but then we can’t expect Paris to promote the spirit of the London 2012 olympics… they were the losers after all.

Hopper, Early Sunday Morning 1930 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Gill #

    What an exciting year we have to anticipate. Love the Norm in Formaldehyde!

    January 4, 2012
  2. millie #

    I wish i was there!! I’m missing so much, but i’m sure i will hear all through The Daily Norm!

    January 6, 2012

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  1. Claude Monet (Art Project) Mono-Print Collage « Exploration Art
  2. David Hockney at the RA – A stroll through the countryside without any defining moments | The Daily Norm

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