From major art fairs, such as Frieze London, to an exhibition of drawings by Egon Schiele at the Courtauld Gallery, Catherine Milner rounds up the autumn art highlights
Far from being the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, autumn is a time for jacking up the prices and bringing home the bacon for those in the art industry. Three major art fairs, Frieze London, Frieze Masters and PAD, are the principal souks for those purveying their wares. What constitutes top quality in contemporary art is of course, for buyers, hard to judge, but one of the stars of this year’s Frieze London art fair looks set to be Jonas Burgert, who is already a legend in Berlin but little known in the UK. Burgert’s work bucks the trend against much conceptual work in that it is all about emotion and the human psyche.
The atmosphere at Frieze Masters (Oct 15 – 19), where the art on display ranges from Greek marble busts from the 3rd century BC to modern classics like the paper-thin pots made by Edmund De Waal, is of an oasis of calm. Check out the ecclesiastical sculptures sold by Sam Fogg or the magnificent Roman glass flasks, and bas-reliefs sold by Rupert Wace or the Tomasso Brothers to enjoy the silent poetry of past masters.
At PAD (15-19 October 2014), London’s leading art and design fair, the focus this year is on tribal art and contemporary porcelain. Sevres, the factory established by Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour 250 years ago to ensure they never ran out of cruet sets and plates sufficiently fancy to impress their friends, are revealing a new range of items inspired by contemporary artists.
The Royal Academy is boasting two contrasting but equally compelling exhibitions. One is the first major retrospective in this country of Anselm Kiefer (27 Sept - 14 Dec), one of Germany’s greatest artists, who, like Burgert, wrestles with the darkness of German history. The other is a long overdue appraisal of pop artist supremo, Allen Jones (14 Nov – 25 January), whose works have not lost their ability to outrage – even 40 years after he made them. His mannequin sculptures of semi-naked women in bondage gear performing the role of hat stands, tables and chairs still rattles most women - quite a feat when you consider he is now 77 years old.
Equally provocative are the drawings by Egon Schiele, on show at the Courtauld Gallery (23 Oct-18 January 2015). It focuses on Schiele’s nudes, which are some of the most radical and unflinching depictions of the naked human figure created in modern times, including many pictures which have never been seen in this country before.
The exhibition of works by Rembrandt at the National Gallery (15 Oct - 18 Jan) features paintings done in his twilight years – arguably his best period. His most famous paintings, the so-called 'Jewish Bride' so impressed Vincent van Gogh when he saw it, that he confessed to a friend he would gladly give up ten years of his life to be able to sit in front of the painting for a fortnight with only a crust of dry bread to eat.
The Turner Prize (30 Sept – 4 Jan 2015, Tate Britain), which holds for many visitors the same intrigue as watching a car crash on the other side of the road, is this year dominated by filmmakers. The curators promise that they are ‘more accessible’ than past nominees and make art about the world rather than art about art – but given that one of the entrants’ works is about art biennales and another pictures of close-ups of art books in a Tokyo library, don't hold your breath.
In Manchester, the Whitworth art gallery is reopening after its £15 million facelift, with a splendid new wing and a major solo exhibition by the grand old dame of installation art, Cornelia Parker. The show runs until spring 2015 and includes her signature piece – a shed that she had blown up by the British Army and then reassembled to look as if it is still exploding.
Outside the major cities the dilemma is how to choose what to see? The countryside is no longer only full of people toasting crumpets or bottling jam but attending increasingly major art exhibitions. Blenheim Palace near Oxford, kicks off its new programme of contemporary art with the biggest exhibition of work ever created by the political activist Ai Weiwei (1 October – 14 December). Unable to leave his Beijing studio, the artist used laser models of John Vanbrugh’s 1705 stately pile to create a survey of his troubled and controversial career. A mob of 2,300 porcelain river crabs will fill one of the grandest state rooms at the Palace, relating to the party he threw for hundreds of guests, with the crabs the main delicacy at the feast, before the government destroyed his studio in Shanghai.
In Bruton, Somerset – a charming 18th-century farm has been transformed by its owners, the art dealers Hauser & Wirth into a showroom for some of the world’s biggest art names – often the most notorious ones. An exhibition of work by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist, whose most celebrated oeuvre Pickelporno (Pimple porno) was a film about the female body and sexual excitation, will feature new works including those done during her residency in the Somerset countryside during all of last year. Flowing grasses and dappled sunlight, anyone?
Catherine Milner was the arts correspondent for The Sunday Telegraph for ten years and has written about contemporary art for a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Financial Times, The Economist, Apollo magazine and Art Review
Main image: Rembrandt self-portrait courtesy of the National Gallery