For any art lover, the prospect of a new year of exhibitions – of new wonders revealed and old friends revisited – is, of course, immensely exciting. But only the very organised institutions have their exhibition programmes confirmed well in advance, and in these increasingly uncertain times, even the top museums sometimes have to change their plans at the last moment. Since 9/11 collectors abroad have been less inclined to lend valuable works, while the downturn in the economy has made sponsorship more elusive than ever. Some institutions report falling attendance figures – although by the generally packed nature of the pavements you wouldn’t have thought tourism was suffering particularly – and the gridlock and failing public transport systems apparently manage to deter visitors from the country. All these factors influence decisions of what to show to attract the public, but I am glad to report that on the whole standards remain pretty high.
One of the foremost treats of the year is bound to be the major Titian show at the National Gallery (19 February-18 May). There hasn’t ever been a large-scale Titian exhibition in Britain, but now a number of his most famous masterpieces will be assembled from collections all over the world, some of them reunited for the first time in over 400 years. Titian is the most famous painter of the Venetian school, a genius who excelled in portraiture, mythological and religious paintings, and who is celebrated for the colour and drama of his compositions. Enormously influential over the subsequent development of European art, Titian lived into his nineties and pioneered a late style of incredible freedom, characterised by loose gestures and thick textures. A show not to be missed.
In startling contrast, the sculptor Ron Mueck has been working in a studio at the National Gallery, making work in response to the permanent collection. He is the fifth Associate Artist there, and will show his intensely realistic sculptures (many dealing with the theme of motherhood) in the Sunley Room (19 March-22 June). Later in the year an exhibition of 14 of Bill Viola’s videos will be shown in the Sainsbury Wing. Viola is one of the very few video artists of any real talent, and he derives considerable inspiration from Old Master painting. Hence his relationship with the National, where he’ll be showing work related to Hieronymous Bosch, Dierick Bouts, Pontormo and D