Laura Cumming’s best art of 2018
Source:The Guardian Author:Laura Cumming Date: 2019-01-04 Size:
It was the most momentous of years. I have never seen anything like it……

South of the Border, 1958 (detail) by Anni Albers. Photograph: The Baltimore Museum of Art: Decorative Arts Fund, and Contemporary Crafts Fund

It was the most momentous of years. I have never seen anything like it. Not just for the magnificent quality of the shows, public and private, nor their millennial sweep, from Mantegna and Bellini at the National Gallery to the very latest brushstroke by Tomma Abts at the Serpentine Gallery. But because of an epochal change in attitudes.

For the first time, artists who happen to be women were given the museum surveys they deserve without any implication that this was special, unusual, some kind of positive discrimination or curatorial bias. A whole shadow cast, in the wings for half a century and more in some cases, is coming to the front of the stage. Anni Albers’s stupendous retrospective at Tate Modern, making modernist art out of the old craft of weaving; Dorothea Lange’s pioneering photography at the Barbican; Alison Wilding at the Whitworth, Lee Bul at the Hayward, Ilse d’Hollander and two dozen revelatory abstract painters at Victoria Miro: an annus mirabilis crowned by Tacita Dean’s unique triumph in not one but three simultaneous exhibitions at our national museums.

Majesty, 2006 by Tacita Dean, from her Landscape show at the Royal Academy. Photograph: © Courtesy the artist; Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris

Bravely opening up the conservation process to the public live, for the first time, the National Gallery chose a work by the 17th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi. And 2019 looks just as promising, with solo surveys for Lee Krasner, Diane Arbus, Dorothea Tanning, Natalia Goncharova and more. Scholarship catches up, the scene shifts; history will be changed.

Curators have to cut the deck different ways to keep gallery-goers coming back to past art. There were sharp and ingenious pairings this year. Mantegna with his brother-in-law Bellini. Schiele with his Viennese teacher Klimt (though not with Francesca Woodman at Tate Liverpool, which did her no good). Rodin with the bronzes of ancient Greece, which showed him as unexpectedly more inventive and rivalrous.

Monet and Architecture viewed the painter’s works from a completely new perspective, namely structure. So did Rembrandt in Edinburgh, which revealed, often to comic effect, the debt of Raeburn, Reynolds and others to the Dutch master. And Gainsborough has never looked better than in his intimate family portraits, still on at the National Portrait Gallery, which give us home truths and not rhetoric.

Mary and Margaret Gainsborough, the Artist’s Daughters by Thomas Gainsborough c.1760-1.

pened, rather than closed, as in recent years. The V&A reached like a ship’s prow over the Tay in Dundee. Southampton’s new John Hansard Gallery had a terrific inaugural Gerhard Richter retrospective. Edinburgh’s Collective Gallery reinvented itself in Playfair’s stunning neoclassical Observatory on Calton Hill, which may help to cheer up future editions of the bafflingly weak Edinburgh art festival.

The Turner prize was unusually strong, especially political. I shan’t forget Forensic Architecture’s brilliant deployment of visual evidence to determine what actually happened when Israeli police attacked a Bedouin village. All the shortlisted artists worked with the moving image – predominant throughout 2018, especially in Pierre Huyghe’s fantastical neurological journey through the mind’s eye at the Serpentine, Margaret Salmon at Glasgow’s Tramway, Laure Prouvost and a score of other film-makers in the spectacular Strange Days at Store X on the Strand.

What remains of any art year is the memory of individual works, not whole shows. For me, there were many revelations: Pat Steir’s gorgeous waterfall paintings at Victoria Miro; Ralston Crawford’s silver silos against the burning cobalt skies of Buffalo in America’s Cool Modernism at the Ashmolean; Heidi Bucher’s fragile wax houses at Parasol Unit. Holbein, Titian, Velázquez and Van Dyck brought back to Britain for the Royal Academy’s incomparable Charles I: King and Collector.

But the image that lingers most no longer exists. It was the face of Wilfred Owen depicted in the sands of a beach in Folkestone. 14-18 Now has given us the most outstanding first world war commemorations over the past four years – ghostly soldiers, stock still in our stations; Peter Jackson’s colourised masterpiece They Shall Not Grow Old. But this was extraordinarily elegiac: Owen seemed to live and live again, the waves not quite washing away his eyes, until he was gone with the tide.

A beach drawing of war poet Wilfred Owen in Folkestone.

1. Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy


Tate Modern

The art of Picasso in thrall to a new lover, during a single, brilliant, revolutionary year.

The Rescue, 1932 by Pablo Picasso.




The Rescue, 1932 by Pablo Picasso. Photograph: © Succession Picasso/DACS London, 2018

2. Charles I: King and Collector

Royal Academy

Magnificent reunion of Charles I’s art collection, from Mantegna and Titian to Van Dyck and Velázquez.

3. Lorenzo Lotto Portraits


National Gallery

First show in half a century of this singular psychological genius.

4. Anni Albers

Tate Modern

Outstandingly beautiful show by this Bauhaus pioneer, who turned weaving into modernist art.

5. Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece

British Museum

Brilliantly orchestrated pairing of radical sculpture, ancient and modern.

A conservator from the British Museum working on Rodin’s The Age of Bronze, 1877, alongside Unmounted Youth Preparing for the Cavalcade from the Parthenon, April 2018.




Photograph: James Gourley/Rex/Shutterstock

6. Surface Work

Victoria Miro

A century of abstract painting by women: rare and revelatory.

7. Dorothea Lange


From Migrant Mother to Mexican workers, long overdue survey of this most radical and empathetic US photographer.

8. Courtauld Impressionists

National Gallery

The collector who transformed British taste; the paintings by Manet, Monet, Seurat and others he collected.

9. Frida Kahlo


Objects, images, even her corset and prosthetic leg: the intertwining of life and art.

10. Tacita Dean

Royal Academy, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery

Landscapes, portraits, still lifes: film reinvented by one of our most original artists.


Tania Bruguera’s Turbine Hall commission

Tate Modern

Barely visible and inexcusably thin, given its theme of global migration.

[Editor] 张艳