Art exhibitions in 2014: The Rise of the Regional Blockbuster

By Richard Moss | 20 February 2014

Culture24 Editor Richard Moss takes a look at blockbuster exhibitions in London and beyond and asks: will 2014 be the year when the capital is outshone by the rest of the UK?

an abstract painting of blues and whites
Peter Lanyon, Thermal (1960). Showing as part of Tate St Ives' blockbuster summer show, opening in May 2014© Tate. The estate of Peter Lanyon
As London’s Museums and Galleries get into their stride with a diverse 2014 programme of exhibitions, it’s worth pausing to ask the question: is this the year regional galleries out-perform those in the capital?

I’m not talking about footfall here; the laudable policy of offering free entry to our national museums continues to guarantee the likes of Tate, The British Museum and the V&A welcome an unfeasibly large number of visitors through their doors. No - what I’m speaking about is the big, blockbusting exhibition, which in 2014 seems to have taken a year off.

2013 saw records tumble at the V&A when the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, David Bowie Is... rolled into to town. Similarly, Tate rolled out Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, Lichtenstein and Paul Klee, while the National Gallery’s The Portrait in Vienna 1900 put three giants of the fin de siècle, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, centre stage.

The year before there was Hockney at the Royal Academy and Lucien Freud portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, who benefited from an almost frenzied level of interest in the lately deceased painter.

In 2014, with the possible exception of the National Gallery’s Veronese, it’s hard to see how the major London galleries are going to repeat the runaway successes of the last two years.

The V&A, whose William Kent exhibition looks fascinating, has returned to the niche but enticing world of fashion. And at Tate Modern, Nicholas Serota's assertion that the Mattisse Cut Outs show will be “one of the most beautiful, evocative and compelling exhibitions ever seen in London,” might just ring true. But will focussing on Matisse’s later cut outs bring in the visitors?

At times like this you scan the horizon for the big names of Impressionism, Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism. But you will look in vain in 2014, as even the Pre-Raphaelites and Turner take a welcome rest from the fray. And with Tracey Emin, Damein Hirst, Sarah Lucas, The Chapmans and Martin Creed all getting the retrospective treatment in recent years, it seems we have even run out of YBAs to celebrate. Perhaps it’s time to cast our eyes beyond the capital?

It’s telling that the Dutch government is celebrating the 100th year of Mondrian by sponsoring a brace of UK exhibitions opening in Margate’s Turner Contemporary, a gallery that seems to be delivering on its promise to bring investment to the North Kent coast – and Tate Liverpool, home of the country’s biggest and best art biennial.

Similarly, Cézanne, now showing at the Ashmolean, is a coup for the Oxford gallery, which is staging the first ever major exhibition dedicated to the art collection of Henry and Rose Pearlman. And down in St Ives, International Exchanges: Modern Art and St Ives 1915–1965 sees Tate serve up the summer exhibition visitors to the Cornish gallery have been waiting nigh on a decade for.

Elsewhere, Titian in Edinburgh and Moore Rodin at Compton Verney in Warwickshire have bags of appeal and potential.

Of course, it would be foolish to start sounding the death knell for London’s exhibition programme, and if anything, this year the range of is even better - like the National Gallery’s intriguing celebration of the artist’s palette, Colour, or Folk Art at Tate Britain, or what will certainly be a small but beautifully formed Egon Schiele exhibition at the Courtauld.

All of them will deliver the goods. But if it’s a blockbuster you’re after, perhaps it’s time to leave the capital?

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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The Culture24 Crystal Ball: The Top UK Art exhibitions in London and beyond in 2014
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