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European Cultural Highlights of 2009

You may have cut back on those little luxury items and spontaneous purchases during the last few months, but there’s no need to abandon all the good stuff in life! Why not use the recession as an opportunity to make the most of the all things cultural? The aim of this guide is to bring you the cream of the crop of what’s on this year, so whether it’s films, the stage, music, sport, visual arts, history or food that you’re into, you can start thinking up fun and cheap ways to fill weekends during 2009, both close to home and abroad.

There’s so much going on that you’ll never be, with no end of exhibitions, concerts, shows, plays, festivals and sports events taking place all over Europe. An impressive musical fiesta of dance, sound and light marked the start of the varied, year-long programme of events planned by the city of Vilnius in Lithuania, which shares the title of European Capital of Culture 2009 with Linz in Austria. The exhibitions we’ve mentioned below are just a handful of the many cultural highlights worth checking out.

'Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X' (1953) by Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

by Jessica WELDHEN

The Museo del Prado in Madrid has joined forces with the Tate Britain and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to present a major exhibition celebrating the centenary of the birth of one of the greatest creative figures of the 20th century, Francis Bacon. This collaboration is the first ever retrospective show of the Irish artist to be held in Madrid, and brings together an impressive, comprehensive collection of his works.

Opening with his early years around 1946-1949, the exhibition’s ten rooms are organised into sections such as of Anxieties, Crucifixion, Crisis, Portrait, and Epic, and arranged chronologically, so you can see how Bacon’s work developed and changed. The Madrid version of the exhibition shows around 60 paintings, including unique works and 15 of Bacon’s most celebrated triptychs, as well as important documentary material from every phase of his career. The Prado will also be the only museum of the three to show a large triptych of 1984 from a private collection.

Don’t miss the quirky Archive Room for the chance to see written notes about ideas for paintings, oil sketches done on paper, photostrips of Bacon in a photo booth not looking at the camera, and a whole host of other material from his studio.

The exhibition includes some of Bacon's most profound and shocking compositions, notably twisted images of the human body – one of his favourite and most controversial recurring themes. Other major works on display include ‘Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion’, ‘In Memory of George Dyer 1971’, and the canvases inspired by Velázquez's portrait of ‘Pope Innocent X’ which according to Bacon, marked his first significant step forward in painting.

(3rd February – 19th April 2009, Museo Nacional del Prado, Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 23. Madrid 28014, Spain)

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Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence

Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence

by Jessica WELDHEN

Prepare to be impressed by the V&A’s major forthcoming spring exhibition - ‘Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence’. As the name suggests, the collection of more than 180 objects from across Europe will reflect the complexity, splendour and opulence of one of the most lavish eras of the 17th and 18th centuries.

On display will be sculptures, textiles, portraits and silver furniture, alongside religious paintings by Rubens and works from St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Lose yourself admiring the tapestries, regal bed and other decorated works reminiscent of the interior of a Baroque palace, and enjoy what is a rare celebration of a style that used performance and spectacle to help spread Europe’s influence throughout the world.

Highlights include the original model for James Gibbs’ English Baroque church, St-Mary-Le-Strand in London, portraits of Louis XIV, stage sets from Baroque theatres and costume from the Swedish Royal court. Described as “pioneering” and “a no-holds-barred assault”, this is without doubt an exhibition with a wow-factor.

(4th April – 19th July 2009, the Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington, London, UK)

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Giorgio de Chirico, on display at Paris' Museum of Modern Art

Giorgio De Chirico. La Fabrique Des Rêves (The Dream Factory) - The Museum of Modern Art

by Jessica WELDHEN

As the first of its kind to show in Paris in 25 years, expectations are high for this major retrospective exhibition at the city’s Modern Art Museum. ‘La Fabrique Des Rêves’ celebrates the life-long career of Giorgio de Chirico, the influential pre-Surrealist who invented metaphysical painting and will include some 170 canvases, sculptures, graphic work and sketches by the Greek-Italian painter. Many of them have never been displayed until now, with pieces on loan from museums in Sao Paulo, Osaka, Stuttgart and London, as well as private collections.

De Chirico was renowned for his mysterious, dreamlike metaphysical fantasy pieces and dramatic compositions, so unsurprisingly, the main focus of the collection is on the mythological aspect of this leading 20th century artist’s work.

(13th February – 24th May 2009, Museum of Modern Art, 11 avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris, France)

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'Bildnis einer jungen Frau' by Rogier van der Weyden

The Master of Flémalle, and Rogier van der Weyden: the Birth of Modern Painting

by Jessica WELDHEN

Since it opened in Frankfurt last November, the Städel Museum’s collaboration with Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie has been the talk of the town. ‘The Master of Flémalle, and Rogier van der Weyden: the Birth of Modern Painting’ is the first major exhibition to be dedicated to two of the most important and innovative European artists of the 15th century: Robert Campin (a.k.a. the “Master of Flémalle) and his pupil, Rogier van der Weyden. The mysterious show brings together more than 50 of their works and masterpieces from museums around the world, focusing on the notorious “ars nova” period which marked the beginning of modern painting as we know it.

This collection shows how the founding fathers of Netherlandish painting explored the exciting new medium of oils. Their portraits depict people and objects with impressive realism and detail, whilst their landscapes are still considered to be “convincing and atmospheric.” But there’s more to it than merely appreciating such a landmark exhibition - this “hotly debated body of works” questions the true identity of the Master of Flémalle. Was he in fact not one artist, but several? Visit ‘The Master of Flémalle, and Rogier van der Weyden: the Birth of Modern Painting’ to decide for yourself!

Works in the exhibition include the Master of Flémalle’s “Crucified Thief”, the Mérode Altarpiece, and ‘The Lansdowne Venus’ by Antonio Canova.

(20th March – 21st June 2009, Gemäldegalerie der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany)

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'Kandinsky' at the Centre Pompidou, Paris


by Jessica WELDHEN

As part of a full-scale retrospective of the visionary modernist artist Wassily Kandinsky, Paris’ Centre Pompidou will be presenting a major exhibition of his most definitive works. In collaboration with New York’s Guggenheim and the Städtische Galerie in Munich, the three museums have put together a show that is billed as “the most comprehensive attempted in forty years”, bringing together pieces from the world's greatest collections of Kandinsky. The three collections involved complement each other perfectly, covering all of the major career periods of one of the key figures in 20th century art.

Featuring some 100 works, this exhibition marks the first time ever that such a selection of Kandinsky’s most important canvases will be displayed together. The Centre Pompidou collection focuses on his work during the Russian Revolution and up to 1933, but the show as a whole concentrates on examples from his series of ‘Improvisations, Impressions and Compositions’, and also includes ‘Light Picture’, ‘Blue Mountain’ (Der blaue Berg), and his early masterpiece ‘A Colourful Life’. For the true aficionados, best of all will no doubt be the chance to see Kandinsky’s Parisian canvases, and the watercolours and manuscripts from his time spent in Russia as part of this outstanding exhibition.

(10th August 2008 – 8th September 2009, Centre Pompidou, Place Georges Pompidou, Paris, France)

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'The Renaissance in Prato' at Paris' Musée du Luxembourg

Filippo and Filippino Lippi. The Renaissance in Prato

by Jessica WELDHEN

This dynamic exhibition will bring together 60 paintings and sculptural works by Filippo and Filippino Lippi - the legendary father and son duo from Prato, Italy. During the 15th century, the master-and-student were two of the most respected and influential artists in the small Tuscan city near Florence. Exhibitions like this one don’t come along every day, so be inspired and make the most of it - admire a fine collection of Renaissance art works never before shown in France, and use the experience as a chance to discover Prado’s important cultural and artistic heritage in the rich history of Italian art.

The collection opens with a small section dedicated to gothic paintings, then goes on to outline the development of the Lippis styles, before looking at the artistic alliances they forged in their Prato workshop. Work by their closest collaborators, Fra Diamante and Domenico di Zanobi can also be found in the exhibition, and don’t miss the special section which focuses on a beautiful collection of fired earth, 15th century alters made by Benedetto da Maiano and Donatello, two of the period’s key sculptors.

Most of the works in this collection are normally housed at the Pretorio Palace in Tuscany, so the chance to view them at Le Musée de Luxembourg will be an exciting opportunity to really appreciate the imagination and versatility of some of Italy’s finest 15th century artists.

(25th March – 2nd August 2009, Musée du Luxembourg, 19 rue de Vaugirard, Paris, France)

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'Picasso: Challenging The Past' at the National Gallery

Picasso: Challenging The Past

by Jessica WELDHEN

‘Picasso: Challenging the Past’ is set to be “a guaranteed blockbuster” when it opens soon at the National Gallery. It will present over 60 of the artist’s most influential works, in the context of his life-long relationship with the great tradition of European painting. Arranged thematically, the show focuses on the ways in which Picasso analysed and responded to the ideas and works of the great European masters.

But it's more than just an exhibition - this is a showcase of masterpieces! The collection represents every major period of Picasso’s career, from his early days as an artist right through to his final definitive pieces, and by moving through the different sections you can fully appreciate the influence that artists such as Rembrandt, Manet and Cézanne had on Picasso’s work.

Highlights include a series of four ‘Variations’ on display in the final room of the exhibition, in which Picasso creates his own bold interpretations of works such as ‘Las Meninas’ by Velázquez and Manet’s ‘Déjeuner sur l’Herbe’. They illustrate beautifully how Picasso challenged the accepted notions of the past, and wanted to reinvent the traditional European styles of painting.

(25th February – 7th June 2009, National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, UK)

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Rodchenko's 'Pure Yellow Colour' (1921)

Rodchenko & Popova: Defining Constructivism

by Jessica WELDHEN

This hotly-anticipated exhibition at London’s Tate Modern will feature an impressive display of more than 350 works by two of the Russian avant-garde’s most influential and important artists – Alexander Rodchenko and Ljubov Popova.

‘Defining Constructivism’ shows how the pair not only shaped the future of Russian art, but also had a huge influence on 20th century fashion, media, theatre, and cinema. Starting in 1917, the year of the October Revolution, the exhibition looks at the explosion of creativity that followed, and the exciting evolution of Constructivism - a movement that rejected the idea of ‘art for art’s sake’ in favour of the belief that ‘all art should have practical purposes as well as artistic ones’.

The vast collection includes advertising posters, costumes, furniture, books and abstract paintings, and follows the duo’s progression into graphic design, in line with the Constructivists’ exploration of new art forms that reflected the reshape of Russian society between 1917 and 1929. Highlights include Rodchenko’s iconic posters for the classic film ‘Battleship Potemkin’, and an entire room of the display dedicated to the revolutionary ‘5x5=25’ exhibition, controversially hailed “the last constructivist painting show”. The array of canvases produced by Popova, Rodchenko and colleagues between 1917 and 1921 features Rodchenko's famous group of monochromatic canvases, ‘Pure Red Colour 1921, Pure Yellow Colour 1921, Pure Blue Colour’: must-see pieces never before displayed in Britain.

The ‘Times Online’ describes it as a “mouthwatering treat”. This major retrospective show should be seen for the artistic experience, to sample the highlights of the Constructivist movement, and to see intelligent art that transformed everyday life – don’t miss it!

(12th February – 17th May 2009, Tate Modern, Bankside, London, UK)

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Van Gogh's 'The Starry Night' (1889)

Van Gogh and the Colours of the Night

by Jessica WELDHEN

‘Van Gogh and the Colours of the Night’ is set to be a pioneer on the European art scene this year, as the first exhibition ever to be devoted to the great Dutch artist’s representations of the evening and night. The trans-Atlantic collaboration between New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam features a total of 55 famous works – including paintings, drawings, letters and letter-sketches – gathered from international galleries and collections.

It is a unique concept exhibition which considers Van Gogh’s study of the symbolism of the night, and its role as a prominent theme throughout his artistic career. He was fascinated by the hours of darkness, and created many of his pieces during periods of nocturnal self-reflection.

One of the major highlights will be the first chance in almost 20 years to see ‘The starry night’ (1889) on display in Europe, but take your time in front of ‘The Starry Night over the Rhône’ (1888) as well, as it’s a great example of Van Gogh’s particular attraction to evening scenery and night-time landscapes. Linger too over ‘The Night Café’ (1888); one of the Dutch master’s distinctive, colourful nocturnes that captured his perceptions of the atmosphere at night.

Described as “small and quirky” following its recent run at the MoMA, ‘Van Gogh and the Colours of the Night’ is a must-see exhibition for art-lovers wishing to admire a compact collection of masterpieces in a different light.

(13th February – 7th June 2009, Van Gogh Museum, Paulus Potterstraat 7, Amsterdam, Netherlands)

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Cézanne's wife looks over figures from Mali

Visual Encounters - Africa, Oceania and Modern Art

by Jessica WELDHEN

It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to see tribal carvings of spirit crocodiles from Papua New Guinea in the same exhibition as paintings and sculptures of western masters such as Henri Matisse and Mark Rothko, but this is exactly what the Beyeler Fondation’s current show offers.

‘Visual Encounters – Africa, Oceania and Modern Art’ is a surprising collection of more than 180 works brought together by art dealers Ernst and Hildy Beyeler over 50 years. The gallery’s 13 exhibition spaces are filled with an eclectic mixture of pieces, best explained as a powerful juxtaposition of African, Oceanic and European art. You might be surprised to see western art displayed in the background while works by non-European artists dominate the foreground, but that’s what this exhibition is all about; playing with the relationships between different cultures and showing how such combinations can be complementary.

This unique collection presents figures of the Senufo, Malagan Carvings from North New Ireland, and the Tino aitu Figures from Nukuoro Atoll in the same space as ‘Femme Lisant’ by Georges Braque, Picasso’s ‘Seated Women’ and Brancusi’s Bird sculpture. All of the works are united by the theme of the human figure, and the exhibition has been described as a “visual explosion of forms” - masks, sculptures and artefacts from Africa and Oceania displayed alongside masterpieces of classical modernism from the Beyeler collection. ‘Visual Encounters – Africa, Oceania and Modern Art’ is an intriguing display of art likely to give you an “aesthetic shock”, but it’ll be an enchanting one that won’t disappoint.

(25th January – 24th May 2009, Fondation Beyeler, Baselstrasse 101, Basel, Switzerland)

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Celebrity portraits by Andy Warhol at Paris' Grand Palais

Warhol's Wide World

by Jessica WELDHEN

It doesn’t open until spring 2009 but ‘Warhol’s Wide World’ has already been billed as “spectacular” and referred to as “an unprecedented archive in the history of painting and photography”! This much-hyped exhibition will explore the world of Andy Warhol - the American painter, filmmaker, conceptual artist and pioneer of the Pop Art movement, whose celebrity portraits have achieved worldwide recognition. To see for yourself what all the fuss is about head to Paris’ Grand Palais, where the retrospective display will show until July 09.

Never before has such an extraordinary collection of Warhol’s work been presented under one roof. Bringing together some 150 works from Warhol’s iconic gallery of portraits, the collection features pieces influenced by the most important spheres in his world, including music, fashion, politics and popular modern culture, displayed alongside other well-known Warhol paintings. The exhibition include portraits of such famous figures as Yves Saint-Laurent, Brigitte Bardot, David Hockney, Princess Grace of Monaco and Edward Kennedy, but the real highlight is a series of the famous iconic silkscreen prints that Warhol created from Polaroids in his studio. They have been arranged by themes such as ‘Self Portraits’, ‘Screen Tests’, ‘Mao’ and ‘The Last Supper’, and are a definite ‘must-see’!

(18th March – 13th July 2009, National Galleries of the Grand Palais, Paris, France)

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