The best exhibitions and openings of 2022 — Europe

The best exhibitions and openings of 2022 — Europe

From Bourgeois in Basel to Mondrian in Milan, here’s our pick of this year’s must-see shows and events for your diary

According to Francesco Caglioti, the curator of Donatello, The Renaissance, we’ve been looking at the Florentine sculptor’s work all wrong. ‘Think of his bronze sculpture David. Today it is displayed just above eye level, which creates the impression of a sheepish boy staring at his own feet,’ he told The Art Newspaper. In reality, he says, the work — the first freestanding nude since antiquity — was designed to be placed on top of a column, transforming David’s gaze ‘into the triumphant attitude of a hero’.

Donatello, David, circa 1435-1440. Bronze with gilding traces. 155 x 65 x 60 cm. Firenze, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, inv. Bronzi 95
Donatello, David, circa 1435-1440. Bronze with gilding traces. 155 x 65 x 60 cm. Firenze, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, inv. Bronzi 95

The first exhibition dedicated to the pioneering sculptor in nearly 40 years puts him back into the context of Quattrocento Florence, and argues that, because of the way he brought an inert art form to life, he is more important than Giotto, Raphael and Caravaggio.

It will include around 130 works, spanning his devotional statues, crucifixes and reliquaries, with loans from the Met, the Louvre and the Uffizi. There will also be paintings by the contemporaries he influenced, including Mantegna, Bellini and Masaccio.

The mammoth show will be spread between two locations, Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi and the nearby Museo Nazionale del Bargello, where Caglioti hopes to re-mount David as he was intended to be seen.

In 2023, smaller versions of the exhibition will travel to the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where experts from each will propose different chronologies for Donatello’s works.

Francis Bacon’s paintings of semi-human forms, swollen and twisted, are uniquely disturbing. ‘I have always hoped to put across a thing as raw and directly as possible,’ he once said, and this exhibition at the Royal Academy in London reveals that his nightmarish visions were partly shaped by a fascination with animals.

The artist spent hours at Regent’s Park zoo, observing its inhabitants, filling sketchbooks with studies of apes and monkeys anguished in their confinement. He was a keen collector of wildlife books, and the floor of his Kensington studio was littered with photographs by Eadweard Muybridge of animals in motion.

Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Crouching, 1966. Oil on canvas. 198 x 147 cm. Private collection. © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACSArtimage 2021. Photo Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd
Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Crouching, 1966. Oil on canvas. 198 x 147 cm. Private collection. © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2021. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd

A ruthless student of the human condition, Bacon believed that the closer he got to animals the better he could understand humanity. The resulting paintings are savage and primordial, and suggest that we are all slaves to our basest emotions.

Despite the global pandemic, 2021 was quite a year for the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. It began with the exhibition Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul  at the Royal Academy in London. In March, Munch’s two-metre-wide Linde Frieze  sold for more than £16 million at auction, and October saw the launch of Oslo’s new Munch Museum, one of the world’s largest institutions dedicated to a single artist.

Edvard Munch, Winter Landscape, 1915. Albertina Museum, Vienna — The Batliner Collection. Photo © The Albertina Museum, Vienna
Edvard Munch, Winter Landscape, 1915. Albertina Museum, Vienna — The Batliner Collection. Photo: © The Albertina Museum, Vienna

Vienna’s Albertina is continuing the trend into 2022 with Edvard Munch. In Dialogue — the museum’s third major show dedicated to the painter in two decades. The exhibition examines the artist’s influence on seven of the 20th century’s greatest painters: Georg Baselitz, Andy Warhol, Miriam Cahn, Peter Doig, Marlene Dumas, Tracey Emin and Jasper Johns.

Georg Baselitz, Forest Landscape, 1974. Oil on canvas. Albertina Museum, Vienna — The ESSL Collection. © Georg Baselitz
Georg Baselitz, Forest Landscape, 1974. Oil on canvas. Albertina Museum, Vienna — The ESSL Collection. © Georg Baselitz

More than 60 of Munch’s paintings will illustrate his impact on this generation of artists, from Emin’s documentation of personal trauma in her work to Baselitz’s experiments with vivid pigments and free, almost violent brushwork to capture a sense of isolation in his landscapes.

In 2013 The Guardian  asked American artist Jenny Holzer, who is best known for her text-based prints and projections, which other artists she most admired. The first female she named was the sculptor and painter Louise Bourgeois.

At first glance the work of Holzer and Bourgeois might seem radically different; yet both artists shared a love of language, and Bourgeois was in fact an obsessive writer. Before Bourgeois’s death in 2010, the pair became close friends.

Louise Bourgeois, Extreme Tension, 2007. Etching and mixed media on paper (11 panels of varied dimensions). 148.6 x 162.6 cm. © The Easton FoundationLicensed by ProLitteris and VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo Benjamin Shiff.
Louise Bourgeois, Extreme Tension, 2007. Etching and mixed media on paper (11 panels of varied dimensions). 148.6 x 162.6 cm. © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by ProLitteris and VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Benjamin Shiff.



In The Violence of Handwriting Across a Page, Basel’s Kunstmuseum has given Holzer carte blanche to curate a show of Bourgeois’s work, with the aim of providing a new — and more personal — perspective on her career.

The exhibition will take over nine galleries on the second floor of the Kunstmuseum’s Neubau venue. Each room will be arranged thematically as an autonomous installation, covering topics such as love, abandonment and death. In the museum’s original Hauptbau galleries, Holzer will install one of Bourgeois’s huge mechanical works on rails, and place another of her sculptures in dialogue with a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Since antiquity, artists have aspired towards the creation of a work so lifelike that it would seem real. Take the Greek painter Zeuxis from the 5th century BC, for example: it was said he could render grapes so convincingly that birds would peck at his murals.

By the Renaissance, learning to paint with perspective was considered a cornerstone of an artist’s training; and in 1800 the term ‘trompe l’oeil’ (French for ‘deceive the eye’), was adopted for illusionary works after Louis-Léopold Boilly used it as the title for a canvas painted to look like a three-dimensional collection of drawings.

Samuel van Hoogstraten, Trompe lOeil Still Life, 1666-1678. Oil on canvas. 63 x 79 cm. Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle. Photo © Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe
Samuel van Hoogstraten, Trompe l'Oeil Still Life, 1666-1678. Oil on canvas. 63 x 79 cm. Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle. Photo: © Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

The Thyssen-Bornemisza’s exhibition reassesses the impact of trompe l’oeil techniques on easel painting between the 15th and 21st centuries, featuring works by Jan van Eyck, Francesco del Cossa, Carlo Crivelli and Samuel van Hoogstraten.

It is divided into themes including still lifes, deceptions of the visual frame, depictions of hidden spaces and imaginative tricks to surprise the viewer. One section is also devoted to ‘quodlibets’, a sub-genre of trompe l’oeil paintings that depict letters, playing cards, ribbons, scissors and other objects in apparently accidental arrangements.

It seems such a good idea that one can’t believe it hasn’t been done before: to stage an exhibition dedicated to Vincent van Gogh’s self-portraits. He painted these throughout his career, and around half of the 35 surviving examples are being brought together at the Courtauld Gallery (which owns one of the most famous, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear  from 1889).

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait, 1889. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait, 1889. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Of all the great masters before him, only Rembrandt painted more self-portraits, and the show will explore what prompted Van Gogh to depict himself so often. As he told his sister, Wil, one motivation was that he loathed the then-new practice of photography and sought, when it came to portraiture of any kind, ‘a deeper likeness than that of a photographer’.

The way Van Gogh captured his own likeness with soul-baring frankness has ensured his self-portraits’ enduring popularity.

Mondrian is best known for the geometrically abstract paintings he made over the course of more than two decades. These consisted of grids of criss-crossing black lines (vertical and horizontal) with blocks of white, red, yellow or blue within.

Interestingly, however, the Dutchman was almost 50 before he adopted this spare pictorial language. This new exhibition investigates what came earlier. Put concisely, Mondrian began by scrutinising the natural world, then progressively pared down his descriptions of it, before finally eradicating it from his work altogether.

Piet Mondrian, Oostzijdse Mill with Extended Blue, Yellow and Purple Sky, circa 1907-1908. Oil on canvas. Kunstmuseum Den Haag
Piet Mondrian, Oostzijdse Mill with Extended Blue, Yellow and Purple Sky, circa 1907-1908. Oil on canvas. Kunstmuseum Den Haag

He referred to the evolution of his style as a walk from the countryside to the town. This certainly rings true when one considers early works such as Oostzijdse Mill with Extended Blue, Yellow and Purple Sky (1907-8), above, which fall squarely into the tradition of Dutch landscape painting.

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  • Raphael 9 April to 31 July 2022
    National Gallery, London

In his brief career, spanning just two decades, Raphael (1483-1520) helped shape the course of Western art. Working at the peak of the Italian High Renaissance, he captured the humanist ideals of beauty, love, friendship and the divine with a dynamism, clarity and serenity that had never been seen before.

Raphael, The Madonna and Child with the Infant Baptist (The Garvagh Madonna), circa 1509-10. Oil on wood. 38.9 x 32.9 cm. Photo © The National Gallery, London
Raphael, The Madonna and Child with the Infant Baptist (The Garvagh Madonna), circa 1509-10. Oil on wood. 38.9 x 32.9 cm. Photo: © The National Gallery, London

This major exhibition, originally scheduled for October 2020 — the year that marked the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death — is the first to explore every aspect of his practice, from his celebrated paintings and drawings to his lesser-known works in architecture, archaeology, tapestry and print.

There will be more than 90 works on display, including significant loans from the Louvre, the Uffizi and the Hermitage, which together reveal the breadth of Raphael’s skill, creativity and ingenuity.

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  • Charles Ray 16 February to 6 June 2022
    Bourse de Commerce, Paris

Charles Ray (b. 1953) is widely recognised as one of the most important sculptors of the past 20 years. His life-size sculptures of figures, animals and inanimate objects, whether in fibreglass, aluminium, cement, paper or polished steel, draw on classical art and antiquity, and play with notions of scale, spatial tension and distorted realities. Their ‘strange familiarity’, as Ray puts it, challenges any preconceptions, making the viewer ‘look twice’.

Charles Ray, Unbaled Truck, 2021. 1948 Chevy Truck. 193 x 183 x 529 cm. © Charles Ray, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo Joshua White
Charles Ray, Unbaled Truck, 2021. 1948 Chevy Truck. 193 x 183 x 529 cm. © Charles Ray, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo: Joshua White

Curated in close collaboration with the artist, this ambitious monographic exhibition spans both the Bourse de Commerce — Pinault Collection and the nearby Centre Pompidou. Around 20 pieces will be shown in each museum, including six previously unseen works from the Pinault Collection. These simultaneous exhibitions will offer complementary perspectives on Ray’s complex practice.

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Norway’s new National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, home to a collection of 400,000 artworks. Photo Iwan Baan

Norway’s new National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, home to a collection of 400,000 artworks. Photo: Iwan Baan

June sees the opening of Norway’s new National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design. Located in Oslo’s Rådhusplassen, the 54,600-square-metre building will house the museum’s collection of around 400,000 works of art, spanning painting, sculpture, drawing, architecture, design and decorative arts from antiquity to the present day. Of these around 5,000 will go on display, among them Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893) and Madonna (1894-1895).

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893. Photo The National Museum Norway  Børre Høstland

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893. Photo: The National Museum Norway / Børre Høstland

Edvard Munch, Madonna, 1894-1895. Photo The National Museum Norway  Børre Høstland

Edvard Munch, Madonna, 1894-1895. Photo: The National Museum Norway / Børre Høstland

Designed by German architects Kleihues + Schuwerk, the vast space features extensive galleries and the largest art library in the Nordic region. At its heart is the Light Hall, a spectacular, seven-metre-high, 130-metre-long illuminated exhibition space that will host an inaugural exhibition of contemporary Norwegian art, selected following an open call to artists across the country.