Travel for art’s sake

Make an exhibition of yourself at one of the winter’s coolest art events. Here are 10 art events guaranteed to draw out your cultural cravings

Museum of Modern Art in New York. Photograph: Getty Images

Museum of Modern Art in New York. Photograph: Getty Images


As this lustrous exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum (on now, runs until January 19th) shows, these little oyster babies are not just white, they come in a range of colours. Find out about the only jewellery that has its own length lexicon: collar, choker, princess, matinee, opera and steaming rich rope.

The exhibition pays homage not just to the pearl itself, desired for millennia, but to the lore that surrounds it. Full of little gems such as the fact that you have to open 2,000 oysters to find your pearl and that at its heart is not so much the fabled grain of sand but a parasite.

As well as lusting over their lustre, the most important characteristic of real pearls, you’ll find out how cultured pearls are made, and it’s not by going to the theatre. The trick is to insert a bead into an oyster and have it thinly coated in nacre, as opposed to being entirely made of it.

If you’re planning a trip to London this autumn, don’t miss Frieze London and Frieze Masters (October 17th-20th) which take place at either end of Regent’s Park and, together, make up one of the biggest events on the city’s art calendar.

Frieze London focuses on contemporary art while Frieze Masters will show work made before the year 2000. Between them they will attract around 60,000 visitors including artists, collectors, critics and looky loos. Each has a full programme of talks, panel debates and lectures as well as artists’ commissions completed during the event and film and music projects. Don’t miss the Sculpture Park in the park’s English Garden, with new works by both established and emerging artists.

Fans of Whistler – and how can you not love a person who paints his mother? – will make a date with An American in London: Whistler and the Thames (October 16th to January 12th) at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London.

The American-born artist, most famous for a portrait he did of his mother when his intended model didn’t turn up, arrived in London in 1859 and shook up the contemporary art world.

This major exhibition includes paintings of Chelsea and the Thames River, along with prints, drawings, watercolours and pastels, culminating in the display of some of his Nocturnes, including Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge.

It was one of his Nocturnes that nearly ruined him, when he sued critic John Ruskin for having likened it to “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”.

Whistler won the libel case but only in a Pyrrhic sense. He was awarded a nominal farthing in damages and the costs were split, bankrupting him.

Turner and the Sea (November 22nd to April 21st) takes place, fittingly, at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, and promises to be the first full-scale examination of the artist’s lifelong fascination with H2O, in all its moods.

Around 120 pieces will be on display, including some of his most celebrated paintings. It’s a fascination that bordered on obsession. This, after all, is the man who had himself lashed to the mast of a ship, the better to paint a storm at sea.

Works on show include The Fighting Temeraire, Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, Whalers and Calais Pier. Whether you’re an art lover, a sea lover or both, it’s well worth crossing the water for.

Can other people’s dreams be the basis for a great art exhibition? Find out for yourself at Surrealism and the Dream (October 8th-January 12th) at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. Surrealism was not just an artistic movement, the organisers point out, but an attitude to life. From the outset its proponents championed the dream, together with automatic writing, as “fundamental routes towards the liberation of the psyche”. In this they were strongly influenced by Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. The exhibition includes paintings, drawings, collages, sculptures and photographs by Salvador Dali, René Magritte and Max Ernst.

Marseilles marks its European City of Culture status with LC at the J I – Le Corbusier and the Question of Brutalism (October 11th-January 12th) at The JI Hangar. The venue is a vast hangar made available to the city for the year by the port authorities. The sheer scale of the place, at 6,000sq m, not to mention the industrial lines, makes it a fitting home for an exhibition celebrating the iconic architect.

The exhibition focuses on the different areas of artistic research that interested Le Corbusier in the last 30 years of his life, to 1965, including paintings, sculptures, tapestries, lithographs, enamels and still and moving images, all used to illustrate the “artistic fusion” he so cherished.

Trust the Danes to come up with something nicely designed. Freedom! (from now until August 2014) at the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Even though he never actually wrote for children – can you imagine, Why is Dick and Jane? – the event has been specifically created as an art exhibition for kids.

Young art lovers can download paper fortune tellers, the pointy paper game played with fingers and thumbs, for instructions that will take them all over the gallery in a freedom-themed treasure hunt. According to the organisers, all of the artists featured share at least one trait with Kierkegaard: they provide no definite answers but encourage curiosity and wonder. So no “because I said so” here.

Get your fill of tricky pictures at the Museum of Decorative Arts whose Trompe-l’oeil exhibition (until January 5th) includes more than 400 works from a range of periods and genres to illustrate what the eye cannot detect.

The optical illusions here aren’t limited to paintings either, but include ceramics, metalwork, wallpaper and jewellery all bundled into themes such as Shadow and Light, One Substance can Hide Another, and Hypnotic Optics.

The origin of mind-bending trompe-l’oeil is found in ancient frescoes and mosaics but turns up in the oddest places. In the 18th and 19th centuries, for example, all those wigs, twists and bustles were optical illusions, including Marie Antoinette’s gravity-defying 85cm wig.

Think design is all about making things pretty? Applied Design (now until January 31st) at New York’s Museum of Modern Art is designed to make you think differently. Taking place in its Architecture and Design Galleries, it demonstrates how design has spread to almost every facet of human activity, including science, education and policy making.

Representatives of these new directions for design include exhibits such as a dandelion-clock inspired, wind-powered, landmine detonator. There’s also a solar-sintered (the process of converting a powder into a solid by heating) vessel made by transforming desert sand into glass using only the energy of the sun.

Also on display are 3D printed chairs, emergency equipment and even video games such as Pac-Man, Tetris and The Sims. Maybe the kids aren’t wasting their time after all, just being appreciative of good design.

Finally, one of the most heartening images to see this year were the queues of people waiting to get in to the renovated Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The gallery reopened in April having had the builders in for almost a decade.

The renovated space covers 800 years of Dutch history in 8,000 objects and 80 rooms, including works from Vermeer, Frans Hals and the gallery’s most famous picture, Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. Adding to its appeal is its proximity to the Stedelijk Modern Art Museum and the Van Gogh Museums, both of which have gone through lengthy renovations of their own so, if you haven’t been to Amsterdam in a while, it’s time to revisit.

As of this month you’ve even more reason to go, given that the guys at the Van Gogh have just discovered a new picture, Sunset at Montmajour, painted in 1888. The painting will be on view at the museum for one year, starting this week, as part of the current Van Gogh at Work exhibition. Nice to think of it spending the past 100 years as a door stop perhaps, or propping up a wobbly table in the staff canteen.

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