2022 is a wrap, and not many of us will regret it. Through political and financial storms across the world, though, the arts continued to emerge from the buffeting of the pandemic years. If last year was a time of re-establishing the nicer bits of normal — music festivals, for instance — 2023 looks set to be a moment when the effects of prolonged closures are definitely in the rear-view mirror.
The visual arts are looking especially strong. There’s already a huge buzz around the Rijksmuseum’s Vermeer exhibition, opening in Amsterdam in February. For once, all those worn-out old terms — “once in a lifetime”, “biggest ever”, “unique”, etc — really do apply, as the Dutch museum says it will assemble from around the world “most of” the 35 known paintings by the 17th-century master. An astonishing feat of international collaboration and organisation, it should be an equally astonishing exhibition.
In London, too, February is going to be a gala month, with the cream of the crop being the V&A’s hosting of the magnificent display of the works of Donatello — possibly the first ever in the British capital — which has travelled from Florence’s Bargello and Palazzo Pitti via Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie. For a complete contrast, the magnificently restored Courtauld Gallery (its reopening was one of 2021’s highlights) will be mounting an important show of new and recent work by Peter Doig, a darling of the contemporary scene whose paintings only gain in interest by the fact that he works very slowly, producing perhaps half a dozen a year. And at the same time, the Barbican — whose recent record of showing contemporary and modern greats such as Basquiat, Lee Krasner and Dubuffet has set it firmly among the capital’s A-list art venues — opens the biggest-yet UK show of American artist Alice Neel, who died in 1984.
Also promised for February is an important opening in India. Bengaluru’s MAP (Museum of Art and Photography) is a privately owned museum which has amassed a huge collection of Indian art, textiles, photography, craft and design objects. With works that stretch back to the 12th century and extend to the present day, it juggles tradition and technology in a way that only India can, in a spanking new building by Bengaluru-based architect Soumitro Ghosh: it will be a significant first for south India.
Further into the spring, choice pickings from various genres include Tate Britain’s first wide-ranging showing of Isaac Julien’s film and installation work in April; the British Museum’s flagship show for May, Luxury and Power: Persia to Greece, which argues that luxury became a skilfully deployed political tool in the Middle East and the then developed world in 550-30 BCE; and in New York, the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition of some 50 of the vibrant paintings, drawings and prints by Cecily Brown (b1969).
A highlight for early April will be at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, where the exceptional artistic collaboration between Andy Warhol and the much younger Jean-Michel Basquiat is celebrated in Basquiat X Warhol: Quatre Mains. In 1984 and 1985 they created some 160 paintings together, working simultaneously on enormous canvases in a way that’s surely unprecedented in art history. For a vivid account of the relationship between the pair, including footage of the two artists at work and details of their complex and passionate link that ended only with Basquiat’s tragic early death, Netflix’s docu-series The Andy Warhol Diaries gives fascinating insights.
If this all seems too long to wait, there’s still plenty to light up the dreary days of January. In New York, the Neue Galerie’s 20th anniversary celebrations continue this month with the stunning collection of its co-founder Ronald S Lauder. Some 500 works from across the ages, in multiple genres, displayed in the palatial Fifth Avenue setting and, what’s more, some of them in recreations of Lauder’s own rooms, take us into the world of top-level, big-money private collecting by a connoisseur in a style receding into the past.
And a personal favourite: Friends and Relations, at Gagosian in Grosvenor Hill in London, continues until January 28. It showcases the group of British artists that included Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Michael Andrews and Frank Auerbach with a treasure-trove of works — some well-known, some loaned from discreet private collections and seldom seen — which leaves us in no doubt about the importance of these figures. If it seems unusual to flag up a commercial gallery rather than a public institution, this show is undoubtedly of museum quality, superbly devised and curated, bringing these artists and their work to life by careful research and thought. A real treat.
Moving into the performing arts, the prospects seem less self-confident. Live performance, from theatre and dance to all forms of music, took a real battering during the various lockdowns, and for all but the most starry events audiences have been slow to return — partly for lingering health fears, but also because our viewing patterns and habits have been changed by isolation and closures.
Dancers possibly took the hardest hit of all artists during lockdowns, because of the fierce demands of maintaining physical fitness, but the dance world has sprung back into action. When we’ve got past the Christmas fare — Nutcrackers and Snowpeople as far as the eye can see — there is some very strong programming coming up. To select just a couple, there’s New Peck at the Lincoln Center in New York, resident choreographer Justin Peck’s first full-evening work, and at Sadler’s Wells in London the great Akram Khan’s Creature. Peck uses music by Aaron Copland and collaborates with Choctaw-Cherokee painter and sculptor Jeffrey Gibson: celebrating American culture in all its finest forms. Khan, meanwhile, looks to Frankenstein and the German classic Woyzeck to imagine a futuristic unearthly tale of experimentation on a being who is exploited in the quest for frontiers to conquer.
In the UK, ferocious cuts in public funding have left question marks over the future of various well-loved venues: Donmar Warehouse, Hampstead Theatre, the much-discussed English National Opera and others. Their programmes for the immediate future are in place, though, and the best thing to do is go along and relish what they have to offer. At ENO, the first three months of the year alone bring three great classics: Carmen, The Rhinegold and Philip Glass’s Akhnaten; in April comes the UK debut of Blue, the moving contemporary story of a family rift by the Tony-winning composer Jeanine Tesori, with soprano Nadine Benjamin and bass-baritone Michael Sumuel.
At the Donmar, February brings Trouble in Butetown by Diana Nneka Atuona, a wartime story of an African-American GI who goes Awol from his barracks to take his chances in a world without segregation. Hampstead Theatre, which has put out a statement about its determination to stay afloat as a producing house supporting adventurous new work despite a 100 per cent funding cut, is currently showing Stephen Karam’s Sons of the Prophet.
Elsewhere, too, it’s not all gloom on the British scene: there are winners as well as losers in this funding reshuffle. Chineke! Orchestra, the UK’s only professional group of black and ethnically diverse classical musicians and just seven years old, saw its funding status radically increased: its players will show their chops in early March at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with a programme that includes the recently re-evaluated black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (d1912) and the wonderful but until recently neglected American talent Florence Price (d1953). Add to that the 36-year-old US composer Carlos Simon, and Elena Urioste on violin.
In other music, Elton John has announced his farewell tour in Europe, after bidding goodbye to the US at Los Angeles’s Dodger Stadium in November. This side of the Atlantic it’ll be Glastonbury in June in the UK, with the last of the last in Stockholm in July.
But of course we’ve learnt to take farewell tours with a pinch of salt: never say never. And on that subject, perhaps the most surprising announcement for 2023’s rock and pop scene is a full solo show from Joni Mitchell, the first in 20 years, following a long battle to recuperate from a brain aneurysm. Mitchell did a surprise set at the Newport Folk Festival last year: now she plans performances in Malmö, Sweden, in February and in the small town of George, WA (pop: 833), in June.
That, surely, will be the hottest ticket of the year.