The must-see exhibitions of 2019 — Asia, Australia and the Middle East

The must-see exhibitions of 2019 — Asia, Australia and the Middle East

A Surrealist sculptor in Beijing, a radical American inventor in Melbourne and a  host of 17th-century Dutch masters in the Middle-East feature in our rolling guide to the best shows across the rest of the world

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  • Rembrandt, Vermeer & The Dutch Golden Age Louvre Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi,
    until 18 May, 2019

The Louvre Abu Dhabi kicks off the year by shining a light on a golden age in Dutch art. Set against an era of radical experimentation in science and technology, this exhibition of 95 paintings — including 15 paintings and one drawing by Rembrandt from The Leiden Collection in New York (among 66 works from the collection on view) — focuses on the artistic community that centred around Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). 

The exhibition, which marks 350 years since Rembrandt’s death, features vivid portraits by the great master together with paintings by his contemporaries Jan Lievens and Gerrit Dou, as well as two luminous paintings by Johannes Vermeer.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait with Shaded Eyes, 1634. Oil on panel. The Leiden Collection, New York. Image courtesy of The Leiden Collection, New York

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait with Shaded Eyes, 1634. Oil on panel. The Leiden Collection, New York. Image courtesy of The Leiden Collection, New York

Don’t miss… Self-Portrait with Shaded Eyes (1634). Rembrandt was the artist who made the portrait philosophical, and here he reveals his youthful ingenuity, experimenting with colour, composition and expression.

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  • Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber, 2019 Sharjah, 7 March to 10 June, 2019

The Sharjah Biennial returns in March with a suitably discursive title for this most ambitious of art festivals in the Middle East. This year, three curators take on the formidable task of ‘renegotiating the shape, form and function of the echo chamber’. The event will no doubt elicit myriad responses in exhibitions and site-specific installation across the city. There are also specially commissioned works by Amie Siegel, Carlos Garaicoa, Alia Farid and Lawrence Abu Hamdan.

Alia Farid, At The Time of Ebb, 2019. Production still. A new commission for Sharjah Biennial 14 Leaving the Echo Chamber – Look For Me All Around You, 2019. Courtesy of the artist

Alia Farid, At The Time of Ebb, 2019. Production still. A new commission for Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber – Look For Me All Around You, 2019. Courtesy of the artist

Don't miss… At the Time of Ebb  (2019) — a new commission by the Puerto Rican/Kuwaiti artist Alia Farid who works at the intersection of art and education, often using archival material to articulate the complex histories of our world.

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  • Louise Bourgeois: The Eternal Thread Song Art Museum, Beijing,
    24 March to 23 June, 2019

China hosts the imaginings of Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), a powerful and original visionary who brought a pervasive atmosphere of psycho-sexual drama to her work. Like all the Surrealist artists, she was inspired by Sigmund Freud’s 1899 thesis The Interpretation of Dreams. She once said, ‘An artist can show things that other people are terrified of expressing’ — certainly, her strange contorted towers, wire cages and colossal spiders often seem to be filled with a primeval menace.

Louise Bourgeois, Cell (Black Days), 2006. Steel, fabric, marble, glass, rubber, thread and wood. 304.8 x 397.5 x 299.7 cm. The Easton Foundation © The Easton FoundationVAGA, NY, Photo Christopher Burke

Louise Bourgeois, Cell (Black Days), 2006. Steel, fabric, marble, glass, rubber, thread and wood. 304.8 x 397.5 x 299.7 cm. The Easton Foundation © The Easton Foundation/VAGA, NY, Photo: Christopher Burke

Don’t miss… Cell (Black Days), 2006. In the 1960s Bourgeois began to make a series of fetish-like interiors, which she called Cell Sculptures. They look like the uncanny fragments of a dream brought together inside a prison cage.

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  • National Museum of Qatar Doha, Qatar,
    opens 28 March, 2019

Jean Nouvel’s highly anticipated new museum is a sprawling complex of interlocking discs, inspired by the desert rose. These cool, white, tent-like structures reveal that the Pritzker prize-winning architect is just as comfortable on the horizontal as he once was with the ‘crazy verticality’ of his earlier constructions.

Inside, the museum traces Qatar’s history from 700 million years ago to the present day. Organised into a series of chronological chapters, it begins with the rich, geological heritage of the country and finishes with the epic ‘Building of a Nation’. Outside the French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel has installed 114 fountains inspired by Arabic calligraphy.

Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey (1920-1985) was an artist and illustrator and an eloquent writer who is perhaps best-known in Australia for a series of children’s books of Aboriginal folk stories. An activist and pioneer of indigenous art and culture, he brought the traditional practices of painting on bark to a wider audience in the 1960s. This touring exhibition is the first major retrospective in Australia celebrating the painter’s life and presents more than 70 works by the artist, including figurative pictures of tribal life and Aboriginal Dreamtime creatures.

Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey, Kennedy and Jackey Jackey Midday Rest, 1983. Acrylic on canvas, Cairns Art Gallery Collection

Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey, Kennedy and Jackey Jackey Midday Rest, 1983. Acrylic on canvas, Cairns Art Gallery Collection

Don’t miss… Kennedy and Jackey Jackey Midday Rest  (1983). In the early 1980s Dick Roughsey made a series of paintings illustrating the fatal 1848 expedition made by E.B. Kennedy to Cape York, together with his Aboriginal guide Jackey Jackey. They were ambushed, and Kennedy died soon afterwards of spear wounds.

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  • A Wanderer between Heaven and Earth: Yu Peng and His Life Work TFAM, Taipei,
    30 March to 30 June, 2019

The first comprehensive exhibition of the Taipei-born artist Yu Peng (1955-2014) since his untimely death in 2014 has taken some five years to organise. Divided into three stages, the exhibition features 170 watercolours, sketches, paintings and masterful ink drawings. ‘I’ve exchanged my life to fulfil my art,’ Yu Peng once said, and this show charts his artistic journey.

Yu Peng, Transe, 2002. Ink on paper. 229 x 54 cm. © Private collection, image offered by TFAM

Yu Peng, Transe, 2002. Ink on paper. 229 x 54 cm. © Private collection, image offered by TFAM

Don't miss… Transe  (2002). In the late 1990s Yu was fortunate enough to be granted a visa to China and spent three years living in Shanghai, where he studied Chinese ink painting. Transe  was inspired by his travels across the country.

The artist who reinvented sculpture by making it dance, Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was a maths prodigy who studied mechanical engineering at university before becoming a painter. After a visit to Mondrian’s studio in 1931, he invented the ‘mobile’, liberating primary colour from the canvas into the air. This is the first large-scale exhibition of Calder’s art in motion in Australia, and features many of the artist’s best-known works, revealing a love of shape, light and movement.

Alexander Calder, Triple Gong, 1951. Painted steel, painted wire, and brass. 78.7 x 172.7 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Gift of Mr. And Mrs. Klaus G. Perls. © 2018 Calder Foundation, New York  Copyright Agency, Australia

Alexander Calder, Triple Gong, 1951. Painted steel, painted wire, and brass. 78.7 x 172.7 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Gift of Mr. And Mrs. Klaus G. Perls. © 2018 Calder Foundation, New York / Copyright Agency, Australia

Don’t miss… Triple Gong (1951) — joyful in its virtuosity, time, chance and motion remake this sculpture endlessly.

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  • Picasso — Birth of a Genius UCCA, Beijing,
    15 June to 1 September, 2019

This exhibition tells the story of the first three decades of the great modernist’s career, a time of radical exploration that began in 1893 and ended in 1921 with his return to Classicism after the First World War. Featuring 103 works from the Musée National Picasso-Paris, it starts with the young Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973) search for an artistic identity by looking to the masters of the past. The exhibition then incorporates the famed Blue and Rose periods, and the revolutionary Cubist era.

Pablo Picasso, Mother and Child, 1907. 81 x 60 cm. Musée National Picasso-Paris © Succession Picasso 2018

Pablo Picasso, Mother and Child, 1907. 81 x 60 cm. Musée National Picasso-Paris © Succession Picasso 2018

Don't miss… Mother and Child  (1907). In the early 1900s Picasso created a series of African-influenced works in which he forged a new mode of visual expression, which in turn would give rise to his famous Cubist paintings.

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  • Shiota Chiharu: The Soul Trembles Mori Art Museum, Tokyo,
    20 June to 27 October, 2019

The Japanese artist Shiota Chiharu (b. 1972) weaves webs across gallery spaces. Depending on the colour she chooses, they can resemble anything from a sticky mass of secreted silk to an artist’s impression of acid rain, but, as a new exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Japan reveals, they are so tactile and immersive that it is almost as if they have created their own consciousness — they seem to live, breathe and feel just as organically as we do.

Shiota Chiharu, Uncertain Journey, 2016. Metal frame, red wool. Installation view Uncertain Journey, BlainSouthern, Berlin 2016. Photo Christian Glaeser

Shiota Chiharu, Uncertain Journey, 2016. Metal frame, red wool. Installation view: Uncertain Journey, Blain|Southern, Berlin 2016. Photo: Christian Glaeser

Don’t miss... Uncertain Journey  (2016) — a vast red Hokusai wave of wool cascading over delicate, metal-framed boats, capturing the transcendental force of nature. Its simplicity is overpowering.

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  • 16th Istanbul Biennial IKSV, Istanbul,
    14 September to 10 November, 2019

This year’s director of the big international bonanza is the French curator Nicolas Bourriaud, who is planning on ‘embracing the possibilities of transdisciplinary collaboration’, with a multitude of artists from across the world. 

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Artist collaborations are yet to be announced, but will no doubt be thought-provoking and mediate on the eminent curator’s fascination for altermodern — art made in the context of our complicated relationship with the commercialisation and standardisation of the global economy. Istanbul, standing on the fault line between Europe and the Middle East, couldn’t be a better place to examine such ideas.