London 2012 is set to be a big year. Not only because the Olympics are coming to our city but also because the influx of tourists is inspiring our art institutions to pull out all the stops and put on big shows that promise to illustrate London’s role as one of the premiere destinations for art lovers. I suspected that because of this 2011 would be a lesser year, but I couldn’t have been more wrong; this year has been as outstanding for art events as I could have wished. Here are the top five London 2011 art happenings that made me happier than ever to live and write here.
1. Tracey Emin at the Hayward Gallery
Tracey Emin’s show turned out to be one of the big dividers of the year; you either loved it or hated it. I found myself in the pro-Tracey camp, and no one was more surprised by that than me. I went expecting shouty, self-analytical works, heavy on the abortion talk and spattered with porn. Instead, I identified with Emin’s need to pour her demons into her work, and left with a huge respect for anyone prepared to open their lives up to the viewer to the extent that Emin does in every piece.
Edgar Degas, Dancer Adjusting Her Shoulder Strap (detail). Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Image courtesy the Royal Academy.
2. Degas at the Royal Academy of Arts
The Degas show was always going to be a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition, bringing together as it did a phenomenal number of the master’s works. I went twice, and both times was astounded that such a narrow subject matter could bring forth so many different moods, stories and experiences of dance. I have studied the Impressionists but still had no idea how much of an influence Muybridge’s exploration into recording movement was on Degas, nor how much variety there is within his oeuvre. I left the show with my love of the Impressionists reignited and my childhood love of ballet dancers burning bright.
3. Frieze 2011
I wasn’t going to include this year’s Frieze in my top five; it seemed too obvious a choice, and the commercial nature of art fairs interferes somewhat with their being seen as purely artistic events. However, Frieze 2011 introduced me to one work in particular that I still think about three months later, and that sticking in the mind very rarely happens. This was Seb Patane’s tapestry work at Maureen Paley, a monumental embroidery that was entirely flat but looked for all the world like an enormous sheet of crumbled golden foil. Patane’s piece was absolutely incredible, and Frieze has to make the list because of it.
Christodoulos Panayiotou, Slow dance marathon, 2005, Video (documentation of a performance), 4min 22sec, Courtesy of the artist, Image courtesy Parasol Unit.
4. I Know Something About Love at Parasol Unit
This show made me cry. It was a group show by artists who took love as their subject and demonstrated that although it can take different forms, we have a fundamental need for human love and physical contact. The works’ messages were sufficiently broad that they allowed the viewer to project their own experiences and emotional state on to the pieces, leaving you profoundly aware of what is important. I didn’t come across another themed exhibit that brought the subject to life as well as this one did all year.
5. Leonardo da Vinci – Painter at the Court of Milan, National Gallery
This is by no means the only – or, some would say, the most -- exciting show that London has produced this year, but da Vinci at the National Gallery has attracted media hype like no other. People who would never usually go out of their way to view works of art are queuing at dawn, and any exhibition that can have that effect on the public psyche must make it on to the Top Five list. I have yet to find a ticket, but I’ll be out there queuing with the best of them in January and I have high hopes for a great show.
-- Alex Field
top image: Tracey Emin.