The must-see exhibitions of 2019 — America
A century of lunar photographs, Artists of the African American South, the Pre-Raphaelites in Seattle — our updated guide to the best shows in the USA this summer and beyond
By the Light of the Silvery Moon: A Century of Lunar Photographs
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.,
14 July to 5 January 2020
There couldn’t be a better way to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing (on 20 July 1969) than to show this treasure trove of images, which reveal the role of photography in preparing for the mission and shaping cultural consciousness.
Don’t miss... Full Moon (1863). This early stereoscopic albumen print of the moon was taken by the Boston-based publisher and photographer John Payson Soule, better known for his images documenting The Great Boston Fire of 1872.
Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa
Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Chicago, until 21 July
This expansive exhibition of artefacts shifts the narrative
of Africa’s history from the Atlantic slave trade to the
arid yet thriving trade routes of the Sahara Desert in the
medieval age, when West African gold fuelled the global economy.
At its heart was the Moorish overlord Mansa Musa, the emperor
of Mali who controlled vast territories across the Western
Sudan, where the purest goldfields could be found. A thought-provoking
and insightful introduction to early globalism, revealing
how Africa’s ancient history continues to be relevant today.
Don’t miss... Exquisite examples of gold biconical
beads, which have been made across the region for over two
millennia and were highly prized in the Roman era. The one above is from Egypt or Syria, and dates to the 11th century.
Soul of a Nation
The Broad, Los Angeles, until 1 September
Set against a tumultuous period in America’s racial history,
this exhibition begins in 1963 with
Romare Bearden’s artist collective Spiral — a group of
15 artists who made work in the context of the Civil Rights
movement. Their discussions about how black artists should
respond to political events, and what kind of aesthetic that
answer should take, arguably set a precedent for other African-American
artists, who, equally torn by the paradox of the theorist
W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of Double Consciousness, set about making
art that spoke their language. From the Kool-Aid aesthetic
AfriCOBRA collective to the uneasy tension of
Faith Ringgold’s paintings, the response was multifarious
Don’t miss... Blood (Donald Formey),
1975, by the supremely talented painter
Barkley Hendricks, who countered Black Power rhetoric
with his life-sized portraits of proud and assertive black
Americans framed in gold or silver leaf.
This exhibition sets the artistry of the women of Gee’s Bend in Alabama, who make quilts from worn-out clothes, alongside mixed media paintings and found-object sculptures by Thornton Dial and Lonnie Holley. The result is profoundly moving.
Don’t miss... The Last Day of Martin Luther King (1992). This monumental mixed-media work by Thornton Dial depicts King as a tiger, the artist’s preferred symbol for representing the struggle for justice endured by African Americans.
John Ruskin once wrote of
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) that he had an ‘unfortunate
want of seriousness and incapability of true passion’. This exhibition — the first dedicated to the artist’s early pivotal
years between 1609 and 1621 — proves the 19th-century art critic wrong. Rubens was an artist of
stupendous energy and force, and here he is young, virile
and ambitious, displaying his prodigious talent for all to
see. Featuring more than 50 works from private and public collections,
the show will reveal Rubens’ talent for intense psychological drama.
Don’t miss... The Massacre of the Innocents (circa 1611-1612),
a recently rediscovered masterpiece which was mistakenly
attributed to Rubens’ assistant, Jan van den Hoecke, until 2001. It exemplifies the artist’s
ability to distill a narrative to its moment of highest dramatic
Charlotte Posenenske: Work in Progress
Dia:Beacon, New York, until 9 September
This is the first North American retrospective dedicated to
Charlotte Posenenske (1930-1985), who believed that art
should be playful, functional and fully embedded in society
— not an untouchable artefact in a gallery space. Posenenske built
modular sculptural elements out of cheap industrial materials
and put them in public places, encouraging people to interact
with them. Featuring more than 150 works, this is a long overdue
opportunity to reassess this German innovator who, until
recently, has been overlooked in the history of minimalism.
Don’t miss... Vierantrohr (Square Tube) Series D,
1967 (above). Prototypes constructed from galvanised steel that can
be bolted together in a variety of ways to create different
arrangements were, according to Posenenske, designed to ‘represent
anything other that what they were’.
Phenomenal Nature: Mrinalini Mukherjee
Met Breuer, New York, until 29 September
The reputation of Indian sculptor Mrinalini Mukherjee has risen apace since her sudden death in 2015. She worked with natural fibre, weaving, knotting and dyeing hemp rope to create complex structures that are at once abstract and figurative, suggesting flowers and the body. She later embraced both ceramics and bronze, and those pieces are
also represented in this, her first US retrospective.
Don’t miss... Nag Devata I (1979), above, an early hemp sculpture knotted and dyed by hand. This anthropomorphic work by Mukherjee is one of the artist's first works exploring the relationship between figuration and abstraction; it is likely to have been inspired by the eponymous serpent deity (Nag Devata), which is associated with water and fertility.
This exhibition of modern artists from China who have, over the
past four decades, been in the vanguard of experimentation, showcases the wide variety of unconventional materials they used. From Coca-Cola
to gunpowder, plastic to hair, fire to water, each artist
has developed a body of work that pushes the boundaries of
what matter can be. A comprehensive survey of contemporary
art, it features the work of
Cai Guo-Qiang and Zhang Huan, among others.
Don't miss... Cai Guo-Qiang’s ‘gunpowder drawings’
— pyrotechnic wizardry made by lighting the powder and letting
it scorch the paper to make celestial impressions.
Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement
Seattle Art Museum, until 8 September
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were three generations of rebellious
young artists who brought notoriety to British art in the
19th century, shocking their peers with a new kind of modern
art. Together with
William Morris (1834-1896), who founded the Arts &
Crafts Movement — a socially minded collective that championed
the handmade over the industrial — they plundered the medieval
period and the bible for sensual stories they could re-frame
in a contemporary way.
Victorian Radicals presents a rare opportunity to view 145 paintings, drawings, books, sculpture, textiles, and decorative arts — many never before exhibited outside of the UK — by the major artists associated with this rebellious brotherhood.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Proserpine (1881-1882), above. The story of Proserpine obsessed Rossetti in the
last years of his life. Having fallen passionately in love
with William Morris’s wife Jane, he painted her several times
as the tragic goddess of spring who is condemned to spend
three months of every year in the underworld. In the picture,
Jane stands half in sunlight and half in shadow, which reflected
the couple’s ambiguous relationship. Rossetti could not have
Jane, but neither could he let her go.
Bertoldo di Giovanni: The Renaissance of Sculpture in Medici Florence
The Frick Collection, 18 September to 12 January 2020
Student of Donatello, teacher of Michelangelo and the darling
of Titian patron Lorenzo de Medici, Bertoldo di Giovanni (circa
1440-1491) was among the most innovative and influential
sculptors in Renaissance Italy. Remarkably, this is the
first ever exhibition of the Florentine artist in America,
and reveals his exceptional skills across a wide range of
media, including bronze, wood and terracotta. Featuring over
20 statues, reliefs, medals and statuettes, this is an opportunity to experience the
prodigious ingenuity of this little-known artist.
Don’t miss: Shield Bearer (above) from the early
1470s is a superb example of the artist’s fine craftsmanship
in bronze. It is thought that the statue was made for the great
patron of the arts, the Duke of Ferrara, from the House of