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The best that was and will be: Curator interviews

Curators and scholars on their key exhibitions of 2013, 2014 and beyond.

David Ekserdjian

Professor of the history of art and film, University of Leicester

“The Springtime of the Renaissance: Sculpture and the Arts in Florence 1400-60” at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence (March-August 2013) was thrillingly hard to beat, above all for its extraordinary representation of Florentine sculpture of the 15th century. Two highlights were Ghiberti’s Saint Matthew (1419-23) and Donatello’s Saint Louis of Toulouse (1423-25). Not all artists got better as they got older, but Rembrandt unquestionably did. The prospect of “Rembrandt: the Final Years” (National Gallery, London, 15 October 2014-18 January 2015; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 12 February 2015-17 May 2015) is therefore mouth-watering. What makes his last works so impressive is their emotional power. His final masterpiece, The Jewish Bride (around 1665-69), is one of the most moving but also uplifting pictures ever painted.

Jane Jakeman

Islamic art historian, Bodleian and Ashmolean libraries, Oxford

My choice for last year is “Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum” exhibition at the British Museum (March-September 2013). Remarkable for its generosity in range and humanity, it also demonstrated the debt all subsequent cultures, including Islam, owe to the Classical world. I look forward to the opening of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto (autumn 2014), where the collection has been transported from its home in Geneva to a purpose-built arts centre. It contains some of the most extraordinary works of art: illustrations from the Persian epic of the Shahnameh, pages from the indigo-dyed Blue Koran and vessels of rock crystal.

Linda Nochlin

Professor of Modern art, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

The most interesting show of 2013 was “Felix Vallotton: the Fire under the Ice” exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris (October 2103-January 2014). Partly because of the work itself, technically brilliant, formally inventive, and expressively bizarre, and partly because the show revealed that abstraction and Surrealism were not the only paths to innovation. My key show of 2014 so far has been the “Tacita Dean” exhibition at Galerie Marian Goodman in Paris (until 1 March). And, although it’s not a show, the forthcoming portfolio of photos by Catherine Opie of the interior of Elizabeth Taylor’s home. They are mysterious and revealing at the same time.

Hugo Chapman

Keeper and curator, department of prints and drawings, British Museum, London

My favourite show of 2013 was “Houghton Revisited” at Houghton Hall (May-November 2013) which I went to see for the paintings on loan from the Hermitage but which I left as a total convert to William Kent’s all-round brilliance as a designer. The ingenuity and grandeur of Kent’s interiors were dazzling. The show I am looking forward to seeing most is German Dada artist “Hannah Höch” (left, Made for a Party, 1936) at the Whitechapel Gallery (until 23 March) because of her visual wit and invention. Her savage satire on the inequality and greed she encountered in Weimar Berlin are still to be found in London today.

Ken Lapatin

Associate curator of antiquities, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

I was wowed by “The Springtime of the Renaissance: Sculpture and the Arts in Florence 1400-60”, at Palazzo Strozzi (March-August 2013) and subsequently at the Louvre (September 2013-January 2014). This inspired exhibition presented carefully selected masterpieces of ancient and early Modern sculpture in illuminating juxtapositions. I look forward to “The Greeks”, which will bring to North America more than 500 artefacts from 22 Greek museums. Organised by the Canadian Museum of History and the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, it will open in Gatineau, Ontario (5 June-12 October 2015), and travel in 2015 and 2016 to the Chicago’s Field Museum and the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC.

Caroline Campbell

Curator of Italian paintings before 1500, National Gallery, London

The most interesting exhibition of 2013 was “Pietro Bembo and the Invention of the Renaissance” at the Palazzo del Monte, Padua (February-May 2013). Exquisitely curated, it was a fitting tribute to this extraordinary Renaissance polymath. I’m most looking forward to my colleague Betsy Wieseman’s show “Rembrandt: the Final Years” (National Gallery, 15 October 2014-18 January 2015; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 12 February 2015-17 May 2015). There have been few greater artists, and I expect this exhibition to be intensely moving, transformative and inspiring.

Claire Lyons

Curator of antiquities at the Getty Villa, Los Angeles

Cleverly installed among the princely Ludovisi marbles in Rome’s Palazzo Altemps, “Evan Gorga: the Collector” (October 2013-January 2014) showed a fraction of the 150,000 objects amassed by the tenor between 1900 and 1930, presenting a kaleidoscope of 1,800 antiquities: Gorga’s world-making effort to recuperate the past amid the radical urbanisation that shaped modern Rome. I am most looking forward to “From Assyria to Iberia: Crossing Continents at the Dawn of the Classical Age” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (September 2014-January 2015), where 400 works will explore the interactions of the Near East with cultures across the Mediterranean.

Letizia Treves

Head of curatorial, curator of Italian

and Spanish Paintings 1600-1800, National Gallery, London

The key exhibition last year was “Barocci: Brilliance and Grace” at the National Gallery (February-May 2013). Although not a “rediscovery” of the artist for me, I had only ever been able to make the connections between his paintings and drawings from books, so this show provided a thrilling opportunity to examine these works at first hand. I’m looking forward to “The Greek of Toledo” at the Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo (14 March-14 June), marking the 400th anniversary of El Greco’s death in the artist’s [adopted] hometown. His modernity has an enduring appeal for scholars, collectors and the general public, and seeing this exhibition will greatly add to my own understanding of the artist’s works.

Tomas Lochman

Curator, Greece and Rome, Basel Museum of Ancient Art and Ludwig Collection

Two parallel exhibitions were on show in Frankfurt am Main (February-May 2013): “Back to Classic: Ancient Greece Reconsidered” at the Liebieghaus and “Beauty and Revolution: Neoclassicism 1770-1820” at the Städel Museum (above, Henry Fuseli, Achilles Sacrificing his Hair on the Funeral Pyre, around 1800-05). Each offered new views on the Classical and Neo-Classical epochs, respectively. I am most looking forward to “I, Augustus, Emperor of Rome” at the Grand Palais, Paris (19 March-13 July), commemorating the 2,000th anniversary of his death. The time of Augustus has been widely studied by scholars these past decades, so I hope the show, previously at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome, will provide an up-to-date view.

Julius Bryant

Keeper of word and image, V&A, London; co-curator of “William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain”

Throughout the Venice Biennale, banners strung across the Rialto Bridge proclaimed in four letters: CARO. Anthony Caro’s death in October meant that his show “Caro” at the Museo Correr (June-October 2013) was his last museum exhibition. In the enfilade of rooms facing down into St Mark’s Square, each space had its classic Caro, with the surprise of two powerful new works, tasters from new series for gallery shows still in the works. Gagosian Gallery, London, launched one series later in 2013. The other is eagerly anticipated. Using rich slabs of coloured Perspex, his sole posthumous show of new sculpture “Upright Sculptures” opens at Annely Juda Gallery, London (11 September-25 October 2014). Caro lives.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The best that was and will be'