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Art: Top 10 exhibitions of 2013 | reviews, news & interviews

Art: Top 10 exhibitions of 2013

Art: Top 10 exhibitions of 2013

The pick of the best exhibitions of the past year, plus two that were not so hot

George Bellows, 'Stag at Sharkey's', 1909, at the Royal Academy's 'George Bellows: Modern American Life' exhibition© The Cleveland Museum of Art

Not an exhaustive list, but, in no particular order, these are the shows I'm still left thinking about as the year draws to a close. The best have opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about an artist. A few are still on. Try not to miss. And do suggest your own favourites in the comments below. As you'll see, I've also nominated one "Disappointment of the year" and one "Most ill-conceived show of the year". Don't hesitate to suggest your own in these catagories too.

1. Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See, Serpentine Sackler Gallery

Behind that mask of tom-foolery, Jake and Dinos Chapman are great artists and this is a brilliant show. They’re funny (and quite silly), but underpinning it all are matters deeply serious and profound  – “human beings are abject”, the duo cry, “just look, look at what we do to each other”. De profundis behind the smirks. Until 9 February

Honore Daumier, The Laundress, 1861-63, Metropolitan Museum of Art2. Daumier: Visions of Paris, Royal Academy

It's like you've been waiting all your life for a major Daumier exhibition, and when it comes it doesn't disappoint. The great French caricaturist suffered for his art (he went to prison for it), and not for nothing was he admired by Baudelaire, for whom Daumier was a “pictorial Balzac”, and those two great draughtsman of the 19th and 20th centuries, Degas and Picasso. Daumier was not only a divinely gifted draughtsman and printmaker; he could perform small miracles in clay, and he was a painter, too. (Pictured: The Laundress, 1861-63, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.) Until 26 January

3. Ana Mendieta: Traces, Hayward Gallery

This was a powerful, visceral and deeply moving exhibition. It opened with a stunning slide installation of the Cuban-born artist’s photographs, and you came away thinking, “Now we know where the enigmatic Francesca Woodman got so many of her ideas.” A retrospective that was long overdue, it did justice to this important but long-neglected artist.


4. David Bowie Is, Victoria & Albert Museum

I was wary of this exhibition before I saw it. I’m not a fan of hagiographic shows in major museums that seem little more than a promotion of a pop career (I gave the V&A’s Kylie Minogue one a wide berth). But if anyone can carry it off it’s Mr Jones – both as a musician and as a creative artist he’s been a game-changer. And the V&A is, after all, a museum dedicated to innovative design and fashion. Few exhibitions actually make you want to dance, and this one was brilliantly and imaginately curated – the V&A's Geoff Marsh and Victoria Broackes deserve a standing ovation.


Robert Rauschenberg, Minutiae, 1954, freestanding combine, private collection5. The Bride and the Bachelors, Barbican Art Gallery

An exhibition that eloquently explored how one French artist, Marcel Duchamp, influenced two young New York artists, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as a radically innovative choreographer, Merce Cunningham, and an even more radical composer, John Cage – and hence became the most influential post-war artist of the 20th century. It was beautifully designed, too (by French artist Phillipe Parreno) and the only thing you felt might have been missing was original film footage of Cunningham and Cage. An ambitious and thoroughly intelligent show. (Pictured: Robert Rauschenberg, Minutiae, 1954, private collection.)


6. Alexander Calder, Pace Gallery

With his big primary-coloured mobiles and “stabiles”, Calder might be considered among the slightest of the great mid-century modernist masters, but his kinetic sculptures are as elegant as anything drawn, cut or painted by Matisse. And what an unmitigated pleasure and feast for the eyes this survey was. A large, museum-standard display in a commercial gallery.


7. Carl Andre, Turner Contemporary

It might feel slightly uncomfortable to mention Carl Andre in the same list as his late wife Ana Mendieta, but this exhibition of just eight works installed in one gallery at Turner Contemporary, really made you see the American minimalist in a new light. At Tate Modern, the few works on display look dead to me, but this exhibition of sculptures dating from 1967 to 1983 felt alive, sensual and surprisingly expressive. Andre isn’t really among my favourite artists, but this was the best show of his work that I think I'm likely to see in a while.


Paul Klee, Ghost of a Genius, 1922, Scottish National Gallery8. Paul Klee: Making Visible, Tate Modern

What’s not to love about Paul Klee, the Bauhaus artist famous for “taking a line for a walk”? With 130 works, Tate Modern’s survey is about as comprehensive an exhibition as you’re ever likely to see of this playful and supremely inventive artist. And it’s a beautifully spacious hang, so the whole thing retains a feeling of bouyancy, unlike your typical "blockbuster" overload. (Pictured: Ghost of a Genius, 1922; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art). Until 9 March

9. Mamma Andersson, Stephen Friedman Gallery

Mamma Andersson’s painted narratives are suffused with mystery and are often inspired by old and found photographs. Her muted palette is incredibly seductive. New works by the Swedish artist are always eagerly anticipated and this small display didn't disappoint. 


10. George Bellows: Modern American Life, Royal Academy

This really was an exhibition of two halves, one that began by capturing the extraordinary early promise of this quintessentially American artist, a leading member of the New York Ash-Can school. Bellows died aged just 42, but he’d painted his best paintings in his 20s, including Stag at Sharkey's (main picture), which depicts a bloody fight in an unlicensed boxing club. His early paintings throb with life. And then the work falters. There’s a loss of energy and dynamism. But for the early work alone, and for his lovely, buttery handling of paint, this proved an unmissable exhibition.


Disappointment of the year

Manet: Portraying Life at the Royal Academy. It could have been great, easily the highlight of the year, but the list of masterpieces missing from this survey was long indeed. We still had a few wonderful paintings, but too many minor works, and lots of unfinished ones (which would have been really illuminating alongside some greater paintings, but on their own actually managed to make him almost look like a minor player). What the exhibition did have – 50 works in all, which could have filled the RA’s Sackler Galleries with room to spare – was spread out as thinly as possible.

Most ill-conceived exhibition of the year

My colleague on theartsdesk, Sarah Kent, may disagree (she reviewed the exhibition here) but for me it really has to be Tate Britain’s Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm. The exhibition lightly skipped from 200 years of religious destruction under the Reformation to 20th-century performance art. I thought it was completely incoherent. And I have no idea in what ways Gustave Metzger and Yoko Ono et al were “iconoclasts”, unless you’re using that word in the rather lazy way that “icon” is used when simply meaning “quite well-known”. (In the case of “iconoclast” this could be used to describe just about every modernist artist who broke with “tradition”.) Its conflation with literal iconoclasm was superficial to say the least (Yoko and Metzger may have cut and burnt, but they created art, they didn't destroy it). And why, if you’re going to talk about attacks on art, was the recent daubing of one of Rothko's Seagram murals not included? Carl Andre in but Rothko out? None of it made any sense. 

Fisun Guner on Twitter


Completely agree with your assessment of Manet show and Art Under Attack. A 'show' I would include in my top ten would be the Tate rehang.

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