Sure, we’re living through nightmarish times and next year doesn’t look to be entirely different, but in London, museum’s managed to put on some incredible exhibitions throughout the year, proving that art helps us in the darkest times. Here are the best 2020 exhibitions, along with a few still open through 2021.
National Gallery, London, until 17 January
This dreamlike show reunited Titian’s erotic oil works painted for Philip II of Spain, based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The sheer lush majesty of Titian’s paint breathes life into trees, water, sky and light – and that’s before you even look at the floating, imploring bodies. This is Titian at his best.
Muholi has spent the past twenty or so years documenting and celebrating black queer lives in post-apartheid South Africa. Their pictures exist as an archive devoted to a marginalised group that, despite the 1996 post-apartheid Constitution of South Africa being one of the first to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, still routinely suffers prejudice and hate crimes. The work celebrates everything from the extravagance of trans beauty pageants to the beauty in individual defiance, resistance, and strength in vulnerability.
Royal Academy, London, now closed
Torn up papers, papers with eyes and screaming mouths burned with the tip of a cigarette, expensive paper and old packing papers, doodled papers, paper as a support and paper as the medium itself for the creation of a face or a guitar. Picasso had a magical, almost devilish touch and feel for materials, an unerring eye for their transformation.
A pared-down survey of over 5 decades of work that continues to equally thrill and disturb. Conjuring visual tricks, walking around the studio, performing repetitive tasks, and working with clowns to create upsetting reels, Nauman sets the world spinning. Whenever I return to his work, I always find something new. This time in 2020, it was the image of the artist in the perpetual lockdown of studio life, creating works from the whatever he had access to (even his own hands). Particularly during a COVID-induced lockdown, his art felt both laugh-out-loud funny and as grim as torture.
National Gallery, London, until 24 January
2020 exhibitions, particularly the blockbuster international type, suffered from reduced footfall, sporadic closures and occasional delay. This highly-anticipated, twice-postponed, and long-overdue exhibition miraculously reunited all the major known works by a woman who painted her way to fame 400 years ago. In the best exhibition of 2020, Artemisia Gentileschi proves to be greater than her admirers hoped. The show starts with Susanna and the Elders, painted when she was only 17, proof of her early genius. From then on, it’s an exhilarating ride of suffering, rage and brilliance culminating in her great Allegory of Painting in which she and her brush become one.