Top 5 of 2018

It’s been a pretty big first year of art watching for this little side project.

In all, I saw 256 shows and collections in 2018 - not counting repeated visits to some old favourite permanent collections in London. Over that time, I featured a fifth of that total on the site, posting each week.

While I give my eyes a rest over the festive period, here’s a round-up post, listing my top five of the year. In the original spirit of the website, these five stand out for the associations they triggered and the vividness with which I remember them. It’s not necessarily about their artistic or curatorial merit. Instead, these are the shows that led to the most connections.

Also, alongside these five wonderful gifts, I’ve picked out a couple of lumps of coal: public gallery shows I really didn’t like.

Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy (Tate Modern, London)

I was very primed to be snooty about this one, collecting works from a year flushed with love for Picasso’s new mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter. But in the end I was overwhelmed by the sheer megawatt star power on show, and the variety of the works - from the nudes of Marie-Thérèse to sculpture to drawings inspired by Grünewald’s crucifixions, to Brassaï’s atmospheric photos of Picasso’s country retreat. An unarguable highlight.

Sanya Kantarovsky: Disease of the Eyes (Kunsthalle, Basel)

This was the new name of the year to me, a fascinating and totally distinctive painter with a big set of influences, ranging from Mikhail Bulgakov to Grant Wood. This impressive exhibition of new work show that Kantarovsky’s clearly a major talent. Simultaneously lush, creepy and funny, I hope I get to see some more of his paintings in London soon.

The Mind’s Eye: The Photographs of Derek Parfit (Narrative Projects, London)

Derek Parfit was an Oxford philosopher and amateur photographer. Though “amateur” gives the wrong impression about these obsessively carefully composed and haunting photographs of Oxford, St Petersburg and Venice - which were on show in the early summer. Parfit visited the latter two cities each year for decades, producing just over 100 finished works, aided by extensive - and expensive - post-production.

my name is lettie eggsyrub (Gloucester Road tube station, London)

Maybe the single art work that gave me the most smiles over the year, as a frequent commuter through Gloucester Road station. This zany installation by Heather Phillipson takes over an entire disused platform - and, while the artist says it’s a comment on egg torture and death, it’s also funny. It’s got a lot grimier since I reviewed it over the summer, but I’m still glad it’s going to remain there until next June.

Soufiane Ababri: Haunted Lives (Praz-Delavallade, Paris)

One great thing about visiting art shows is the way it makes you think about other exhibitions you’ve seen before. In a trip to Paris, I was a bit overwhelmed and chilled by the Louvre’s enormous Delacroix retrospective, with its sexily docile Arab ladies - and found Ababri’s carefree, cheerful drawings of Arab men at home and at play a refreshing antidote.

Disappointments of the year

Usually, I try to feature shows that I liked on the website - probably Lee Bul at Hayward Gallery was the only headliner that I was disappointed by. And even then, I liked most of the works on show, but just had questions about the curation - especially the decision to put a seriously underwhelming light show in the final gallery, and cram many of Bul’s fascinating cybernetic sculptures in the first. The non-featured show that disappointed me most was Balthus at Fondation Beyeler - what a fraud!

Other highlights

I don’t want to end 2018 on a bad note, so here are some shows that didn’t quite make the top five, but I want to shout out anyway:

I don’t have many extra plans for 2019: certainly I hope to travel more, and also in London break out of my Mayfair habit - convenience trumping all. But I definitely want to keep this little site going. Even if it’s a very personal pleasure, it’s a pleasure nonetheless.