Our 10 favourite exhibitions of 2019

Bernard Frize, Isaac
Bernard Frize, Isaac (details), 2004

2019, what a year! Artsper was spoilt for choice when deciding our favourite exhibitions of 2019: competition was fierce! Check out our thoughts on some of the world’s most exceptional exhibitions this year.

Leonardo Da Vinci at the Louvre

Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait de femme © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Michel Urtado

The world’s most famous artist at the world’s most visited museum (with 10.2 million visitors in 2018), celebrating his fifth centenary: it’s a recipe for success! Having taken over 10 years to prepare, with even trials to halt proceedings, it was incredible to see first-hand this renowned engineer, scientist and artist’s fascination with the human form and flight. We loved the use of infrared imaging technology and virtual reality to understand his working methods and discover more about the pioneering artist. Luckily, this exhibition continues into 2020, so book your tickets now!

Maurizio Cattelan at Blenheim Palace

Maurizio Cattelan Blenheim Palace
Installation view, Victory is Not an Option (2019), Maurizio Cattelan at Blenheim Palace. Photo credit: Tom Lindboe

Maurizio Cattelan’s first solo exhibition in the UK for 20 years was always going to be impressive, particularly in the majestic setting of Blenheim Palace. His satirical sense of humour perfectly engaged with the ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill, including a figure of Hitler praying in the chapel. What was not expected, however, was the theft of his work America, an 18 carat solid gold loo, which is still missing. Hilariously, the artist has turned this misfortune into a campaign for an art insurance company.

Calder – Picasso exhibition at the Musée Picasso Paris

Affiche de l'exposition "Calder-Picasso" au Musée Picasso, Paris
Poster for the “Calder-Picasso” exhibition at the Musée Picasso, Paris

What a pair! It was impossible not to enjoy an exhibition comparing the work of two of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso. At its heart was an intriguing dialogue between the American sculptor and the Spanish artist, who both greatly respected each other’s work, and how they both treated space, or indeed the absence of it.

Hassan Hajjaj: carte blanche at The Maison Européenne de Photographie

Hassan Hajjaj “Alia Ali”
Hassan Hajjaj, Alia Ali, 2014

The Maison Européene de Photographie has rarely been without a steady queue of visitors over the last couple of months. And for good reason! Hassan Hajjaj’s takeover of the space was just as brilliant as the trailblazing photographer himself. Colourful, bold, kitsch, interesting and above all, happy, it was a joy to experience. We loved the running theme of recycling, with clothes fashioned from bicycling vests and laundry bags, and frames from bicycle tyres, plastic matting or tins. The only negative? Selling out of the exhibition books… 

Lucian Freud: The Self-portraits at the Royal Academy

Lucian Freud, Hotel Bedroom
Lucian Freud, Hotel Bedroom (details), 1954

The RA have brought together over 50 paintings, prints and drawings by the celebrated British artist Lucian Freud. Spanning 64 years, from his first self-portrait to his last, you can see both the development of his artistic style and aging self-image. Our favourite parts? The painter hiding behind a plant or reflected in a mirror; or aged 71, wearing nothing but boots.

Charlotte Perriand : Inventing a New World at the Louis Vuitton Foundation

Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand
Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Charlotte Perriand. Un équipement intérieur d’une habitation, Salon d’automne, 1929 – Photo credit FLC /Adagp, Paris, 2019

If we had a dream house, it would look a little like this…We simply loved this exhibition. Perriand’s groundbreaking and elegant furniture transported us to the mechanics and modernism of the 20th century and to countries such as Brazil, Vietnam and Japan. With complimenting works by Le Corbusier, Pablo Picasso, Hans Hartung and Fernand Léger, If you’re looking for some interior design inspiration, look no further! 

Toulouse-Lautrec at the Grand Palais

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Conquest of passage
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Conquest of passage (details), 1896, Musée des Augustins – Photo credit: Daniel Martin

The Grand Palais was the most wonderful setting for the renowned French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s retrospective. It was particularly special for its fresh exploration of the artist, looking past his associations with bohemia and Montmartre to his oeuvre and character as a whole.

RED: Art and utopia in the land of Soviets at the Grand Palais

Youri Pimenov, The New Moscow
Youri Pimenov, The New Moscow (details), 1937 – Photo credit: Adagp. Collection of the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

With a collection of work from 1917 to 1953 and covering movements such as avant garde, constructivism and socialist realism, this exhibition presented a wonderful opportunity to shine a light on Soviet art, as well as to explore the relationship between art and expression and ideological and political constraints – something still extremely pertinent today, over a century on from the October revolution.

Francis Bacon at the Centre Pompidou

Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror
Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror (details), 1968.

We couldn’t talk of our favourite exhibitions of 2019 without mentioning this… As always, Bacon’s fiercely emotional work packs a punch. It was fascinating to see the interplay between his paintings and the texts that inspired many of his iconic images; from TS Eliot’s The Wasteland to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Aeschylus and Nietzsche. This exhibition is on until 20th January so there’s still time to go!

Bernard Frize : Now or Never at Perrotin Paris

Bernard Frize, Ledz
Bernard Frize, Ledz (details), 2018 – Photo credit: Bernard Frize / ADAGP, Paris, 2019

With a career spanning over 40 years, French painter Bernard Frize shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, this show was presented alongside a larger exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, and they more than adequately showed off his vivid, varied oeuvre and process-oriented technique.

So those were our favourite exhibitions of 2019… Looking forward to 2020, here are next year’s must-see exhibitions!

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