This summer, a strong loonie and even stronger roster of art exhibits in Europe makes a Grand Tour as tempting as it is within grasp. Indeed there are so many great art shows this summer that, apres le deluge (OK, apres le ash clouds), Gauguin, Basquiat and Monet might define Europe’s summer of 2010.
Herewith, the best of the fests, ranked by cultural significance and an entirely idiosyncratic assessment of the art I HEART.
Who doesn't like the soothing paintings of Impressionism? It's kind of saying you don't like puppies. The unusual light of Normandy was a catalyst for the school, and this summer Normandy returns the love with the Normandy Impressionist festival. Every harbour town from Rouen to Honfleur is on board, with an opera about Monet, and an outdoor cinema series featuring the grainy movies of the time. Noteworthy is Impressionism Along the Seine at Giverny, the former home of Monet, whose lovely gardens and waterlily-filled ponds figure in many of his paintings. This show explores the river that inspired such artists as Rousseau, Monet, Caillbotte and Renoir to leave their ateliers and breathe in the plein air. Curator Marina Ferretti calls the Seine the birthplace of new painting in the second half of the 19th century. To Sept. 26; normandie-impressionniste.fr.
The Grand Palais is presenting Claude Monet's first major retrospective in 30 years, tracing the 19th-century painter's long career, from his first landscapes in Normandy to Giverny. From Sept. 22; grandpalais.fr.
The path to modernity seems to be on many a curator's mind. Paul Gauguin, The Breakthrough Into Modernity at the Van Gogh museum is devoted to the Volpini suite, a landmark series of zincographs that Gauguin exhibited during the 1889 Paris Exposition. To June 6; vangoghmuseum.nl.
A compare-and-contrast opportunity comes later in the summer with Gauguin: Maker of Myth at London's Tate Modern. This blockbuster aims to show Gauguin through a modern prism, not least as a canny self-promoter.
Years before John Lennon, Gauguin compared himself to Christ, in his 1889 Self-Portrait as Christ in the Garden of Olives; a social agitator and master bohemian, he exploited the artist-muse relationship. From Sept. 30; tate.org.uk/modern.
Fashion junkies are penciling two exhibits into their Hermes agendas: Yves Saint Laurent: Retrospective is an expanded version of the YSL show at the Fine Arts Museum in Montreal two years ago with YSL's seductive feminized smoking tuxedos and revolutionary street-inspired ready-to-wear line-up against a Belle Epoque backdrop. No probing questions about whether fashion is art trouble the minds of Parisians, who have been lining up for hours to get in. To Aug. 29; paris.fr.
The second, 3 Grands Createurs: Cristobal Balanciaga, Givenchy et Philippe Venet, at the 18th-century Chateau de Harou}, in France's Alsace region is curated by Givenchy himself. The designer, who retired from his fashion house in 1995, spent years chasing down the seminal Givenchys on show -- including the black dress to end all black dresses: the one Audrey Hepburn wore in the opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Among the superlative Balenciagas is the wedding gown for the queen of Belgium. The pieces by Venet show his talent as a master tailor. In many ways the three couturiers created today's red carpet culture. To Aug. 13; chateaudeharoue.fr.
Still pumped from all that champagne quaffing and arty chit chat at Art Basel (June 16 to 20; artbasel.com)? Basquiat at the Fondation Beyeler in nearby Riehen is a retrospective of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the American painter and graffiti artist, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his birth. Basquiat started making graffiti in Brooklyn and quickly found himself at the centre of the frenetic '80s New York art scene before OD'ing at 27. His art incorporated Bible stories, voodoo, cartoons, advertising posters and the iconography of jazz and rap into a genius or garbage synthesis, depending on your view. To Sept. 5; beyeler.com).
Some might call Damien Hirst this decade's answer to Basquiat. The British artist has been called a trailblazer and has also been accused of crass commercialism. Indeed, he has made a fortune faster then you can preserve a cow corpse in formaldehyde. So it's possibly fitting that he has a retrospective in the billionaire's paradise, Monaco. Cornucopia, at the Oceanographic Museum, features Hirst's spin paintings, skulls and controversial formaldehyde pieces as well as recent works that include a pickled shark, made for this exhibit -- terror frozen in an aquarium. To Sept. 30; oceano.mc.
If you prefer Hirst in smaller doses, the Musee Maillol offers That's Life: Vanities from Caravaggio to Damien Hirst. In Etruscan times, skulls (aka Vanitas), were painted into portraits as a reminder that our days are numbered. They've since inspired four centuries of artists. A woman cradles a skull in a painting by de la Tour, a saint kneels contemplating another in a Zurbaran. As the show's name promises, there's even a rare Caravaggio, Saint Francis in Prayer, (though not the master's most forceful work), a Cezanne, Picasso, Braque and offerings by today's It Brit artists, such as Jake and Dinos Chapman's Migraine, a skull with vampire teeth and lolling tongue. Strangely, Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull famously offered at auction for millions in 2007 is not there but other Hirsts skulls are. An oddly life-affirming show. To June 28; museemaillol.com.
There's always a Picasso blockbuster going on somewhere. This year it's at the New York's Met, but a show in Zurich might hold its own. Picasso is a recreation of the Spaniard's first-ever retrospective, at the Kunsthaus in 1932, which was curated by the artist himself. Some of the 60 major works that were part of the original exhibition will be back. From Oct. 15; kunsthaus.ch.
A satellite Pompidou Centre is opening in industrial Metz, in northern France, this summer. The inaugural exhibit, Chef d'Oeuvre? sounds, judging by the description, like a grab bag of art-world names, albeit many rarely loaned, such as Alexander Calder's Josephine Baker IV, meant to lure us to the new building whose design is as out there as the original Pompidou was when it opened in 1977 in Paris. Architects Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines are already garnering comments for its undulating roof, which looks like a Chinese hat. To Oct. 25; centrepompidou-metz.fr.
In this World Cup year, are sports stadiums works of art? Pinotek der Moderne, Munich's modern art gallery, thinks so. The museum is presenting From Cape Town to Brasilia: New Sports Stadiums by von Gerkan, Marg und Partner, the prolific and well-regarded stadium architects. Too bad it doesn't include drawings and prototypes of recent stadium wonders by such architects as Herzog and de Meuron's Beijing bird's nest and Munich's own colour-changing Allianz Arena. To June 20; pinakothek.de.
Urban Africa is a contemporary view of Africa at the Design Museum via the photographs of hip Ghanian-English architect David Adjaye. To Sept. 8; designmuseum.org. Must stop, Venice for the architecture biennale.
The city's modern art scene has exploded in recent years, thanks in part to the opening of the beautiful Istanbul Modern Museum, where Turkish photographer Murat Germen and German snapper Thomas Radbruch are having side-by-side exhibitions. Thomas Radbruch: Rusty End; Murat Germen Way. To Sept 19; istanbulmodern.org.
With all that new money, it's no wonder Moscow's art scene is also growing. The third Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art is a sprawling event with sites all over the city. Worth a stop amid the creative mayhem -- including nude models posing in the city's streets and a conceptual piece involving the cross-breeding of live chickens -- is the Garage Centre Gallery, opened recently by Dasha Zhukova, the gallerina girlfriend of billionaire Roman Abramovich. The Garage is offering Mark Rothko: Into an Unknown World, the first ever Rothko exhibit in Moscow. Until Aug. 14; garageccc.com.
-- Canwest News Service