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February 2021

Vol. 163 / No. 1415

Banishing the blues

Fifteen years ago a clever British public-relations agency nominated the third Monday in January ‘Blue Monday’, on the basis that a combination of short days, cold weather, holiday-incurred debt and the failure of new year’s resolutions makes it the most depressing day of the year (in the northern hemisphere at any rate). This year it fell on the day before this issue of The Burlington Magazine passed for press so it felt like a good moment to reflect on what we might have to look forward to at a time when – thanks to the pandemic – every day feels like Blue Monday. More than any event in the world of the visual arts, the blues will be banished in 2021 by the global success of the vaccination programme, but even there art and architecture are playing their part. In Turin, the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art plans to reopen its doors as a vaccination centre, and in England, Salisbury Cathedral became a hub for priority patients, who were treated to a programme of organ music while they waited for their vaccinations. Here are seven reasons for feeling a little more optimistic about what 2021 has in store; needless to say, all dates are provisional and are liable to change at short notice.

1. Anniversaries. As well as being the 450th anniversary of Caravaggio’s birth and the 300th of Watteau’s death , 2021 is the year that Bridget Riley turns ninety. Perhaps the year’s most prominent anniversary is the ‘Anno Dantesco’, marking seven-hundred years since Dante’s death in Ravenna in 1321. The commemorative events include a large exhibition, Dante: The Vision of Art, organised by the Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence, but held at the Musei San Domenico, Forlì (12th March–4th July), partly because Dante spent the years 1302–03 in exile there, but also to spread the range of such cultural activities beyond Florence. For those unable to visit Italy, there is an online exhibition on the Uffizi’s website of Federico Zuccari’s rarely seen eighty-eight drawings for the Divine Comedy (1586–88).

2. Paris collections. One of the most eagerly awaited cultural events in France this year is the opening of the Pinault Collection in the former Bourse de Commerce, Paris, currently scheduled for the spring. The building, mostly dating from 1888–89, but incorporating an iron dome built in 1811 for the Corn Exchange previously on the site, has been converted by Tadao Ando to form a setting for displays drawn from François Pinault’s collection of modern and contemporary art. Also planned for the spring is the opening to the public after a lengthy restoration of one of Paris’s most prominent eighteenth-century buildings, the Hôtel de la Marine on Place de la Concorde, which will be used for a variety of educational and cultural purposes, including displays of work of art from the Al Thani Collection.

3. Fantasy travel. In a year in which so many national borders are closed, there is something wry about the fact that 2021 is the 750th anniversary of Marco Polo setting off for China. It also seems an appropriate moment for a major exhibition on one of the best-travelled artists of the sixteenth century. Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist will follow Albrecht Dürer to the Netherlands and across the Alps to Venice. Highlights will include a selection of Dürer’s small silverpoint sketches made during his travels and some of his early studies of human proportion. The exhibition will be at the National Gallery, London (6th March–13th June), and the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen (18th July–24th October).

4. Women at the cutting edge. The wealth of contemporary art exhibitions planned for the year includes a strong group by women. In New York alone we can look forward to Alice Neel: People Come First at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (22nd March–21st August) and Julie Mehretu at the Whitney Museum of American Art (25th March–8th August). Shooting Down Babylon at Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, is the largest retrospective ever staged on Tracey Rose (3rd March–29th August). Particularly ambitious is an exhibition in two parts at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra: Part 1 of Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now concludes on 4th July; and Part 2 opens later that month.

5. New museums. As the pandemic ebbs, a number of long-planned new museums can at last open. The one that has grabbed most of the headlines is the Humboldt Forum, a partial recreation of the vast royal palace in Berlin, which forms the new home for the Berlin State Museums’ collections of non-European art, due to open in the summer. Munch, the new home for Norway’s national collection of Edvard Munch’s work, opens later this year in a vertiginous new building by Estudio Herreros on the waterfront in Oslo. When the largest archaeological museum in the world, the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, opens at last in June, attention is likely to focus on two thousand objects from the tomb of Tutankhamun that have never before been seen in public.

6. New faces for old museums. A number of galleries and museums will be unveiling major extensions and refittings. In America, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will open its new galleries for American, Modern and contemporary art, the latest stage in its renovations by Frank Gehry, and the Denver Art Museum will complete the remodelling and extension of its 1970s Gio Ponti building. David Chipperfield’s new building for the Kunsthaus Zurich, which doubles its display space, opens for previews in June. Towards the end of the year the Courtauld Gallery, London, will reopen after two years with a redisplay of its collections and a new learning centre and exhibition spaces.

7. Books. Lockdown readers can look forward to biographies of Francis Bacon, by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan (William Collins), Helen Frankenthaler, by Alexander Nemerov (Penguin; March), and John Craxton, by Ian Collins (Yale University Press; May). Titles on collecting and the study of the past include James McAuley’s The House of Fragile Things: Jewish Art Collectors and the Fall of France (Yale; May) and Rosemary Hill’s Time’s Witness: History in the Age of Romanticism (Penguin; June). Books by this Magazine’s friends and contributors include The Italian Renaissance Altarpiece: Between Icon and Narrative, by David Ekserdjian; Vittore Carpaccio: Master Storyteller of Renaissance Venice, by Peter Humfrey; Anthony Van Dyck and the Art of Portraiture, by Christopher White; and Gainsborough in London, by Susan Sloman (all published by Yale). The next title from our own Burlington Press, Beyond Portraits: John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West in England 1775–1815, by Allen Staley, is due out in the late spring – by which time we hope the pandemic will itself be beginning to dissolve into history.