03 January 2019, The Tablet

Shows to surprise and delight

Shows to surprise and delight

Uncertain times bring fewer blockbusters: but for 2019, what the major shows lack in weight, they certainly make up for in quirkiness. “Twofers” were a standout feature of last year’s schedules; think “Mantegna and Bellini” at the National Gallery and “Klimt/ Schiele” at the Royal Academy. The headline pairing for 2019 is Bill Viola/ Michelangelo: Life Death Rebirth at the Royal Academy (from 26 January), and it focuses on artists born half a millennium apart.

What seems a stretch at first makes sense in the light of the shared preoccupations in the show’s subtitle. Viola is almost unique among contemporary artists in professing a belief in the human soul, earning his Tristan’s Ascension a place alongside Michelangelo’s The Risen Christ. But can a monumental video projection match the emotional power Michelangelo packs into a 15-inch drawing?

With this year’s other major draw, Vincent van Gogh, the surprise connection is with a place. Since its rebranding as Tate Britain, the Millbank gallery has struggled to leaven the national loaf by finding links to non-British artists. Last year it gave us “Impressionists in London”; this year it’s Van Gogh and Britain (from 27 March).

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