arts and design

Art: Laura Cumming's 10 best of 2020

1. Artemisia
National Gallery, London; October-24 January 2021 (temporarily closed)
Non-stop theatre from the magnificently original and dynamic Italian baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who seems to live inside every role she depicts: lover, outraged victim, nation-saving heroine.

2. Titian: Love, Desire, Death
National Gallery, London; March-17 January 2021 (temporarily closed)
Golden light, flailing bodies, surging souls and skies: Titian’s transformations of mythological scenes from Ovid are some of the greatest pictures ever painted. This once-in-a-lifetime show united the whole series in one room. Even the artist himself never saw them all together.

3. Young Rembrandt
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; March
The meteoric rise of Rembrandt, from fumbling teenage pupil to unrivalled genius in drawings, watercolours, wildly experimental prints and several seismic self-portraits.

Self-portrait, 1629, by Rembrandt, at the Ashomolean, Oxford, earlier this year.
Self-portrait, 1629, by Rembrandt, at the Ashomolean, Oxford, earlier this year. Photograph: bpk | Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

4. Zanele Muholi
Tate Modern, London; November-6 June 2021 (temporarily closed)
Profound portraits and self-portraits by this tremendous South African photographer, depicting a whole LGBTQ community with great pictorial inventiveness, courage and candour.

5. Hedda Sterne
Victoria Miro Gallery, London; January
Small but perfect show of this still bizarrely underrated American abstract painter: liquid, subtle and luminous visions of land and water that have lingered in my mind all year.

6. Leon Spilliaert
Royal Academy, London; February
The ghost of Ostend, haunting the long beach and its seaside colonnades by night, Spilliaert was a revelation this spring, with his parallax views and nearly monochrome perspectives. The self-portraits in oil, ink and watercolour revealed him as the Munch of Belgium.

Qiniso, The Sails, Durban, 2019, a self-portrait by Zanele Muholi, at Tate Modern.
Qiniso, The Sails, Durban, 2019, a self-portrait by Zanele Muholi, at Tate Modern. Photograph: Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York

7. Arctic: Culture and Climate
British Museum, London; October
Stunning show of Arctic culture and life. From 28,000-year-old jewellery, discovered in newly thawing ice, to sculpted figures of men and dogs, walrus ivory needles, fur clothes and modern photography, this is a portrait of a society through the lens of time and weather. Runs until 21 February 2021.

8. The Art Newspaper and Waldy and Bendy’s Adventures in Art podcasts
The Art Newspaper’s podcasts provided brilliant news coverage during the pandemic, and artist interviews of great depth by Ben Luke (especially his recent dialogue with Ragnar Kjartansson), while the wonderful double act of Bendor Grosvenor and Waldemar Januszczak, discussing everything from duff statues to Hogarth and Hirst, have been essential listening in 2020.

9. Virtual tour of the Mauritshuis, The Hague

This is, for me, by far the best of all the virtual tours we relied on to visit museums during lockdown – the highest definition, the slowest and most graceful movement, and the amazing sense of being allowed to stand in front of Vermeer’s View of Delft for as long as you want, entirely on your own.

10. Unearthed: Photography’s Roots
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London; December-9 May 2021 (temporarily closed)
Elegant celery, exploding bouquets and skeletal leaves, ghostly as lace: a stunning history of photography as it records flowers, fruit and plants, including the pioneering work of Anna Atkins, Imogen Cunningham and the gardener-photographer Charles Jones.


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