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August 18 2012

Backstage at Antony's Meltdown 2012: in pictures

Antony's mantra for this year's Meltdown was 'female voices and a few queens.'
Observer portrait photographer Katherine Rose went behind-the-scenes





July 29 2012

Meltdown 2012 – Marina Abramovic: 'Artists can do whatever they want'

Why men will be banned from Marina Abramovic's Meltdown show

Performance artist best known for her 2010 work, The Artist is Present, in which for three months she invited visitors to take turns sitting opposite her at New York's MoMA gallery

What does Antony mean to you?

Rufus Wainwright invited me to his Christmas concert at Carnegie Hall and Antony sang a song called Snowy Angel. The moment he opened his mouth, I stood up from my seat. His voice hit me in my stomach. It was so emotional and so incredible. Later on we met and talked, and we became friends. To me, he is somebody who has just fallen from the sky, like an angel. It's not just the singing, it's the poetry in his words, and the issues he's interested in – taking responsibility for our planet, being open about gender.

How do you feel about being invited to play his Meltdown?

When he asked me to do a talk at Meltdown just for women, I really had to think about it. I am very clear that I am not a feminist. It puts you into a category and I don't like that. An artist has no gender. All that matters is whether they make good art or bad art. So I thought about it, but then I said yes.

What do you have planned?

The title of my lecture for women is The Spirit In Any Condition Does Not Burn It's new and exciting for me to do this. Right now I'm on holiday and almost every day I'm thinking how I'm going to handle this talk, and every day it's changing. I'm interested in asking: what does feminine energy mean? The Dalai Lama said he wants to return as a woman. I don't have answers – I just have questions and interesting examples.

What if any men try to sneak in?

When Antony asked me to do this, I was very radical. You want me to do women? Then the men will not come. That's it. He said, what about the people who feel, though they're in a male body, that they're women? That's fine, I said, but all the rest, they're excluded. Why not do something strange and different for once? Artists can do whatever they want! I'm really open to seeing what will happen and what consequences it will have.

Will you be watching any of the other acts at Meltdown?

I hope to stay at least for five days and see as much as possible. I want to see Diamanda Galas because I know and admire her work. Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson are good friends, and I will go and see them. But I am really interested in performers I don't know that much. I want to see all of Antony's choices.

Are there any new artists you'd recommend at the moment?

There's such an interesting artist called William Basinski, who is from Los Angeles. He makes endless loops, a very meditative type of music that gives you a distorted sense of time. He's worked with Antony for a long time but it was a discovery for me, listening to him.

Who'd be on your Meltdown bill?

I would focus on long-durational works of art. Everything would be more than six hours, so people actually have to create time in order to see the work. If I could not find contemporary pieces I would like to commission different artists because I think long-durational work is something we need, because life is so fast. I would also have some historical pieces made, like the work of John Cage, which would take several hours to be executed. But I would also think about young artists doing something with music, dance and performance. I will have to make a list of names and get back to you.


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April 27 2012

Gallery as art: Moscow ruin lures Rem Koolhaas

Architect Rem Koolhaas and Russian socialite Dasha Zhukova have unveiled plans for a new space for the Garage art gallery

A ruined Soviet-era restaurant in Moscow's Gorky Park is to become the unlikely new home for one of Russia's hippest contemporary arts centres: the Garage, founded four years ago by the Russian socialite Dasha Zhukova.

Zhukova and the architect Rem Koolhaas have unveiled plans to bring back to life a 1960s prefabricated concrete building that would normally be pulled down. "It is the most exciting and biggest change the Garage has undergone," said Zhukova, revealing the plans at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts on Friday. "I think it will be one of the greatest examples of contemporary architecture in Moscow."

The hunt for a new building began because the lease was ending on the Garage's current home in the constructivist Bakhmetevsky bus garage and the site was due to be developed into a Jewish heritage museum.

"Finding it was a random chance," said Zhukova, the partner of billionaire Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich. "A friend of mine said there was a number of completely destroyed and damaged buildings in the park and that the city was looking to regenerate the park."

The Vremena Goda (Seasons of the Year) building has almost everything against it. Koolhaas said it was "a ruin, almost completely overgrown" on a heavily polluted site. It is also a rectangle, which is "currently not a very popular shape in architecture".

But the project fits into many of the themes and views Koolhaas has been expressing in recent years about modern architecture generally, and art galleries in particular. One thing he is fighting against is size, pointing to London's Serpentine Gallery as an example of small being good. "Art institutions are getting bigger and bigger, culminating in a building you all know [Tate Modern] but scale, for me, is not necessarily productive for art."

He is against the unnecessary destruction of buildings from the 1960s and 70s and does not like "the sterility of the white cube" in many galleries.

Koolhaas, who co-founded the OMA practice in 1975, said much of the neglect in the Vremena Goda was picturesque and he would keep much of the brickwork, tiling and mosaics. "The building is a ruin but it is not a very old ruin and there are still traces of decoration. We were able to convince our client to maintain some of the aesthetic and experiment – we have these traces of Russian history as a partner of the art."

That raises the question of whether non-white walls would fight or distract from the art on them. "That is a very long discussion," said Koolhaas. "I wouldn't propose it if I thought so." Having said that, all the exhibiting walls will be capable of becoming white.

The new 5,400 sq metre Garage Gorky Park is due to open next year with galleries on two levels together with cafe, shop and learning centre. Zhukova said the original plan had been to use a hexagon-shaped pavilion in the park, not far from the restaurant, but it would have taken too long to convert. That will now be phase two of their plans. "The Hexagon is in a much worse state and we've worked so hard over the last four years to build up a community around the Garage and establish an audience – we don't want to be homeless for two or three years."

Money for the Garage is understood to come from Zhukova's billionaire partner Abramovich but she batted away questions about the cost. "We don't talk about the finances," she said.

Zhukova is regularly featured in the British tabloids, probably not through choice, and despite the cynics there are plenty of people who would pay tribute to her achievements in establishing the Garage as a force in contemporary art. Artists to exhibit there include Antony Gormley and Christian Marclay, while at the end of last year it exhibited a major retrospective of the performance artist Marina Abramovic .

Zhukova said the Garage would still host exhibitions rather than developing a permanent collection and her "personal dream" was to have a show by the American sculptor Richard Serra, who makes some of the world's heaviest works of art. "He is an artist I am dying to bring to Moscow but nothing has been confirmed," she said. Whether the floors would take it is another question.


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July 13 2011

'Real life in all its forms'

Adrian Searle has some unnerving confrontations with work by artists including Marina Abramović, Simon Fujiwara and Laura Lima
Warning: Nudity and adult content



July 11 2011

Room with no view

A manga character comes to life – and Marina Abramović drops dead. Adrian Searle is tricked and intrigued by two Manchester shows

"Hello. Nice to see you. My name is Annlee." Annlee began life as a manga avatar acquired by the artists Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe in 1999 from the Japanese creative agency that created her. She first appeared in a project called No Ghost Just a Shell, which included posters, animations and sculptures. Annlee was then passed to other artists,  and now she's come alive in a work by Tino Sehgal, who will be filling Tate Modern's Turbine Hall for his Unilever Commission during next year's Olympics.

Annlee is now really real, a real girl in the exhibition 11 Rooms at Manchester Art Gallery. Each room features a different artist, and a new and surprising encounter. Sehgal never allows his work to be photographed or filmed. You have to be there. Annlee behaves as if she's not quite sure about being human; she's never met living people before and she's got lots of questions. She fixes us with her inquisitive stare. What's the difference, she asks, between a sign and melancholia?

There's no good answer to that. In white room after white room you plunge in, 11 times, not knowing what you'll find there. More real presences, performances and theatre. A naked woman is checking herself in a small hand-mirror, examining herself, inch by inch. Elbow, crotch, back of the knee. I have seen Joan Jonas's 1970 Mirror Check before, and once watched it sitting beside Jonas herself, both of us watching someone else being her, another body being a body. In another room the ceiling has been lowered and you have to crawl to see what's in there: nothing but a lamp, and in the far distance another woman clothed, making small occasional gestures, or doing nothing at all. The first time I went, it was clear that the woman had cerebral palsy. Laura Lima's performers are less living sculptures than distant presences far across the room, oblivious to our attention.

A young man stands and faces the corner. This is Veterans of the Wars of Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq Facing the Corner, by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra. The second time I saw it, an old soldier with a stick was standing there. What do these men see when they face the blank white wall? Where do their minds go? Is this work to shame or honour? Perhaps both. It is a performance of great dignity and ambiguity. In all these rooms, the question is the same: What's the place of those we encounter? What's ours?

You walk in and you don't know what you'll find. A man in a bed, snoozing amid satin sheets. He starts to read from a big bound book about the lives of Saint Simon. His name's Simon, too, and the artist who devised all this is Simon Fujiwara. Someone alone in bed is likely to get up to all sorts, even with an audience clustered round. He tweaks his nipple, and slides his hand under the sheets, all the while giving an increasingly irate commentary. You don't know where to put yourself, whether to stay or leave. Another man comes, undresses and hovers by the bed. As he gets in, the other one gets out, in a quick-change flurry of bed linen and a flash of underwear.

In Allora and Calzadilla's Revolving Door, a troupe of dancers stamp and turn, performing a sort of mechanical march reminiscent of the Tiller Girls, if they had got their marching orders from Leni Riefenstahl. In Xu Zhen's In the Blink of an Eye a living figure is frozen in an impossible mid-fall. It's like a scene from The Matrix. How is this impossible pose achieved? It's a trick, but a good one.

John Baldessari wanted to display a corpse in a climate-controlled vitrine, presented to the audience feet-first, like Mantegna's dead Christ. Apart from all the redacted email correspondence pinned to the wall, detailing the artist's attempts to borrow a body, Baldessari's room is empty. Currently, he's looking for someone willing to give permission for their body to be displayed when they're gone.

Dogs, bones and dead artists

Art without an object, or without the body of the artist or the spectator somewhere in the midst, is unthinkable. No human subject, no art. And art without the sense of life's transience is unthinkable, or so trivial we might as well ignore it. Marina Abramović once perched naked on a bicycle seat halfway up a wall, arms outstretched, legs apart, in a 1997 performance called Luminosity. Here it is again, with someone else taking the artist's place, pinned to the wall like a butterfly, transfixed in blinding light.

Three dead Marinas lie on their biers at the beginning of Robert Wilson's The Life and Death of Abramović, premiered last weekend at the Lowry. Big red bones litter the floor (in reference to a gruelling performance the Serbian artist undertook at the Venice Biennale in 1997 at the height of the Balkan wars). Live dogs pad about, scavenging the stage. Playing both herself and the monstrous mother who tormented her (both her parents kept loaded pistols under their pillows), Abramović plays herself in life, and to her imagined death.

But this is a Robert Wilson production, a series of astonishing, breathtaking and complex tableaux held together by the brilliant performance of Willem Dafoe, who recounts her story like a crazed chorus. He's shock-haired Peter, a sardonic Berlin cabaret spieler. He also sings the word "electricity" just like Captain Beefheart, just one of many leftfield references in Wilson's production.

In one of the best scenes, alone on stage with Marina, Dafoe is a paranoia-inducing shrink. Would you want your shrink to look like Jack Nicholson's Joker? But everything leads back to Abramović's mother, a perverse figure who actually wants to kill those she is supposed to protect. This looming shadow also made Abramović the artist she became. The drama is played out again and again, even though the kinds of confrontations Abramović's art has explored since the 1970s are rendered so obliquely that the artist's actual achievements, which are considerable, are in danger of being buried in biopic histrionics. Dafoe keeps Wilson's excess in check.

Antony Hegarty is a less convincing presence. His best songs ask Marina why she cuts herself, why pain nourishes her. But the real point of Antony here is that he takes the place of a protective mother, the one Abramović never had.

References to earlier performance art abound, though it's all too easy to miss Wilson's sly contextualisations. And despite her living presence, Abramović's art gets somehow buried by her life, however inventively retold.

Wilson's works are huge, baggy affairs. They even seem a mite old-fashioned, but not to worry, they'll look new again later. Wilson's genius is for the future. As it is, Wilson's images have been haunting me for days. In one heartstopping tableau, Abramović, dressed as a soldier in Tito's army and seated on a wooden horse, her back ramrod-straight, is the model of dehumanised discipline her mother always wanted. Wilson's excessive, generous art is a great complement to the pared-down confrontations of 11 Rooms. The images keep coming back.

• 11 Rooms is at Manchester Art Gallery until Sunday. The Life and Death of Marina Abramović is at The Lowry, Manchester, tomorrow until Saturday. Details: 0161-876 2198. Both events are part of Manchester international festival: mif.co.uk


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July 10 2011

The Life and Death of Marina Abramović – review

Lowry, Salford

Most performers try to avoid dying a death on stage: performance artist Marina Abramović approached director Robert Wilson with a request that he produce hers.

has been making an exhibition of herself for almost 40 years, though her notoriety reached new levels last year with the 700-hour silent performance The Artist Is Present, for which people queued overnight for a one-to-one encounter with the artist in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art.

Abramović has stated quite bluntly that "to be a performance artist, you have to hate theatre", which makes a practically static, three-hour theatrical exploration of her self-hatred seem a taxing project; though the success of the show, presented by the Manchester international festival, has less to do with Abramović's depthless self-obsession than with the calibre of her collaborators.

Wilson directs a slow procession of stark, funereal stage pictures peopled by nine mini-Marinas and a pack of prowling doberman dogs, with narration provided by Willem Dafoe in an orange mullet and heavy pan-stick makeup that puts you in mind of Batman's the Joker MC-ing a Berlin cabaret. But it's the music that binds everything together, with the chilling ululation of traditional Serbian singer Svetlana Spaji´c merging into fragile songs written and performed by Antony Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons.

There are moments that will stay with you forever; others that simply seem to take that long. As always, the question with Abramović's projects has to be: "Why?" And, as ever, the answer seems to be: "Because ..."

Rating: 3/5


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July 01 2011

Manchester international festival is go

The Guardian is at the Manchester international festival, kicked off by Björk last night. Did you see her? Are you going? Please send us your pictures, tweets and comments

Last night, the third Manchester international festival started in spectacular style with a performance by Björk. It was the live debut of her new project Biophilia, which as well as an album – out in September – also incorporates a series of apps and an education project. Special instruments had been made for the show, including a musical Tesla coil, a cross between a gamelan and a celeste and four giant pendulums with strings attached which were plucked as they swung. There was even a voiceover by David Attenborough. Dave Simpson reviews the show here.

Today sees two other exciting works get their live debuts. At 4pm, red-hot interactive theatre company Punchdrunk launch The Crash of the Elysium, a collaboration with the BBC's Doctor Who team, which my colleague Mark Brown will be sampling and writing about later – with child in tow, since adults aren't allowed in without one. Lyn Gardner wrote about the show a couple of weeks ago.

Then the Palace theatre will see the opening of Damon Albarn's second opera Doctor Dee, about the Elizabethan mystic and alleged alchemist. Albarn himself will be performing; it's directed by Rufus Norris. John Harris interviewed him about the piece last week, and we'll be reviewing it tonight.

Elsewhere, there's a special performance by violinist Alina Ibragimova with visuals by the Quay Brothers, while Sinead O'Connor plays at the festival's hub, the Pavillion theatre in Albert Square. Next week sees the premier of – among other things – Victoria Wood's new play with music, That Day We Sang, which she talks about in Film&Music today.

Of course, we want you to get involved in our coverage too. If you'd like to tweet your thoughts for us (they'll appear on our Mif home page), tweet @guardianculture using the tag #mif11. Our Mif Flickr group is live - please post your pictures here. Also, please leave a comment below if you've seen anything at Mif you liked (or hated), or if you're looking forward to anything.

In the meantime, plenty of people have been tweeting about last night. @jonnohopkins writes "Another reason Bjork was amazing. Strictly no photography! Bliss" and he's right, it was enhanced by the lack of people holding up their phones to record it. He also mentions that Johnny Depp was apparently there. Team Guardian didn't see him, but we did bump into Antony Hegarty at the gig, and Willem Dafoe at the Mif opening party later on. Both are currently working on The Life and Death of Marina Abromović, an opera starring and about the performance art legend, which opens here a week tomorrow.

More tweets: "Bjork is wearing what can only be described as a Carlos Valderama fright wig..." says @dawski, referring to the singer's giant ginger afro.

Meanwhile, Damon Albarn has dented @emmagoswell's northern pride. "Nice plug for #MIF but Albarn just refered to Manchester as a town. On national Tv. Twice! Southern fool." She'll be bringing Oasis into it next.


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May 28 2011

Manchester International Festival 2011: Marina Abramovic

The queen of performance art Marina Abramovic is to appear in a staging of her life … and death

Marina Abramović is not known for shying away from the limelight. Grande dame of performance art, darling of the fashion world, and close friends with the likes of Björk, David Blaine and Antony Hegarty, her latest project is a theatrical mega-production about her own life. It sounds like the ultimate statement of hubris from an artist with a keen sense of her own legend, although what comes as a surprise is that Abramović has handed over the reins to somebody else. In the story of her own life, Abramović is to be merely a bit-player. "In my work I have complete control," she says, down the line from her home in New York, "but about my life, I don't want to. For me, the most interesting thing about this whole project is just letting go."

Directed by theatre maverick Robert Wilson, with Hegarty singing live on stage and Willem Dafoe narrating the action, The Life And Death Of Marina Abramović looks set to be one of the highlights of MIF 2011. Its grandiose title seems to elevate Abramović to the status of a Messiah figure, although her disciples within the art world would argue that such elevation is justified. For more than 40 years, Abramović has pushed herself through superhuman feats of will and endurance in the name of art. Suffocating herself, slicing her stomach with razor blades, drugging herself with various prescription medicines and, notoriously, having an audience member hold a loaded gun to her head, are among the early performances that confirmed her place in art history.

Last year, she staged The Artist Is Present, the most successful show of her career. For three months, she sat in a chair at New York's Museum of Modern Art, silently absorbing the gaze of whoever took the chair opposite. Almost a million people came to see her, including Lady Gaga and a man who vomited behind her back. Perhaps he couldn't deal with the potent mix of self-sacrifice and self-aggrandisement that spikes her work.

Abramović has been called a sadomasochist, but she claims it's all so others can draw strength from her example. "It's not about a personal journey," she says. "I believe the artist has an obligation to society. I stage these situations with unpleasant things in front of the audience so they can reflect on me their own fears and anxieties. I'm like the mirror and the experience is mutual." Abramović first conceived the idea of a play about her life more then 20 years ago, following her break up with her long-term collaborator and lover Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen) in 1988, immortalised in their final performance together. Starting at opposite ends of the Great Wall Of China, the pair walked until they met in the middle and there said goodbye. "I had a lot of emotional pain," she recalls. "The idea was born to stage the pain, but how can I play my life and have a distance from it at the same time? I turned to theatre, which I had always hated – nothing is real, people play characters. But I needed that context."

Abramović has always carefully stage-managed how her performances are documented in films and photographs. Although she may come across as supremely self-confident, she claims she's plagued by self-doubt. "I could not even walk on the street [when I was young] because if people were behind me I felt I would just fall down. I would just have to stop and pretend I was looking in a shop window."

It's these early behind-the-scenes dramas that audiences will be privy to at MIF. Rather than recreate her familiar performances, Wilson has chosen to focus on the intimate stuff for his staged version of Abramović's biography. Her formative years are certainly rich in material. Abramović was born in 1946 in former Yugoslavia, to a domineering, war hero mother who became director of the Museum Of The Revolution And Art in Belgrade. She apparently imposed a strict 10pm curfew on Abramović, who lived at home until she was 29.

Wilson also includes the childhood stunt that Abramović has billed as her first ever performance. "I was 12 and obsessed by Bridget Bardot's nose," she says, recounting when she stuffed her pockets with Bardot pics and threw herself face-first off her parents' bed, with the hope of breaking her own nose. "Instead I missed the edge of the bed, cut myself really badly and all the Bridget Bardot photos fell out of my pocket. My mother came in and slapped my face."

While 12 different performers, including "one man of very small size, with a moustache" are due to play her in The Life And Death … with the aid of latex masks, Abramović herself has been cast in the most daunting role of all: as her own mother. Compared to that, she says, watching the staging of her own funeral will be relatively easy. "The funeral you can decide," she says blithely. "Death you can't."

Marina and her diamonds
Abramović 's collaborators speak

Antony Hegarty Singer/Composer
"The biggest lesson I've learned from working with ­Marina is that the artist must never get depressed. Depression is the enemy of the artist. Being with ­Marina is a joy. She is an absolute scream. She has fascinating ideas and lives her life vividly."

Amanda Coogan performance artist
"I've learned two tremendous lessons over the years working with Marina: there is no tomorrow; and never snooze on the job, you'll be caught. I performed in an installation of Marina's in 1999. One day, a member of the ­audience, an elderly lady, put her hand in the bath of dry chamomile heads I was lying in, touched my breast and exclaimed, 'Oh, she's real!' Marina took me by the hand, and in her glorious Serbian accent, said, 'Baby, never sleep on the job – the public are like dogs, they'll sniff you out.'"

William Basinski ­composer
"I was a bit terrified to meet Marina. I thought she might be this brutal, imperious kind of diva, but much to my relief, she turned out to be the most delightful, warm and hilarious person I have met in ages. You cannot take your eyes off her on stage, even if she is just sitting still – and she can sit in difficult poses for ages."


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March 08 2011

Marina Abramovic | Top 100 women

Yugoslavian performance artist famed for her gruelling, intimate works that are legendary feats of endurance, self-exposure and risk

The daughter of high-ranking officers in Tito's Yugoslavia, Marina Abramovic makes gruelling, intimate performances that are legendary feats of endurance, self-exposure and risk. She has invited audiences to manipulate her body, providing whips, knives and a gun loaded with a single bullet. She has sat among rotting cow's bones, scrubbing them clean while singing a tragic lament, a performance that reflected on the civil wars in the Balkans, and won her a Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Biennale. Her alarming art is leavened by great humour and tenderness. Abramovic is inspirational in setting the bar almost impossibly high for performance art.


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January 03 2011

The best visual arts for 2011

Adrian Searle has been critical of Tracey Emin in the past, but finds himself looking forward to her show at the Hayward in May, plus the year's other highlights

It's perhaps surprising that I should single out Tracey Emin's upcoming solo show as one I'm particularly looking forward to. I slagged off her Bed (above) in the 1999 Turner prize show – the artist even blamed me for her not winning the prize. I was horrified by her Venice Biennale British Pavilion in 2007, which included an ill-advised collection of paintings. She stopped speaking to me. But when I slated a slightly tipsy performance she once gave, the artist wrote to tell me my review should have appeared in the obituaries section. She's a trouper.

Tracey, oh Tracey. Her art is often derided as trivial and self-regarding. She is an artist who has placed her own life – her abortions, her childhood and troubled adolescence in Margate, her relationships with her Turkish father and her brother – at the centre of her art.

It is better to regard Emin as a cultural phenomenon as much as an artist, both a regular presence in glossy mags and an elected Royal Academician. Sir Joshua Reynolds, you might imagine, would turn in his grave. He'd be as likely to offer to take her for a drink. Emin has achieved a status in British public life that sometimes gets foisted on eccentric individuals: think of the late Quentin Crisp, life-model turned autobiographer and film critic; think of the self-parodic mad-eyed TV astronomer and xylophone player Patrick Moore; think of Grayson Perry, transvestite, potter, savant and motorcyclist. All are self-invented figures, consciously or otherwise, and self-invention is their best creative act. This might also be said of artists such as Warhol and Beuys – one was bewigged, fame-conscious and lived a double life; the other wore a fisherman's jerkin and affected the role of the shaman. Their work and their persona are as one.

But their art was greater than themselves, however much an extension of personality it became. This is not to put Emin on anything like their level of attainment as artists. Her painful self-exposure wouldn't count for much if it weren't for her artistic drive, and the wish – not always succesfully fulfilled – to transform her experience into films, appliqued fabrics, drawings, paintings, installations, poems and stories.

Mounting this large show is a test. The Hayward can be a stern critic. Things can shrivel and die here against the shuttered grey concrete. Or they can sing. At its best, her work can do just that – in a key that's all her own.

At the Hayward Gallery, London SE1 (0844 847 9910; southbankcentre.co.uk), 18 May – 29 August.

The year's best art exhibitions

Modern British Sculpture

Is there such a thing as British sculpture? What's interesting is who's in and who's out (no Anish Kapoor, no Antony Gormley) in a show that takes us from Jacob Epstein to Damien Hirst. Sarah Lucas, Barbara Hepworth and Rebecca Warren are also included, co-curated by newly appointed Tate Britain director Penelope Curtis.

Royal Academy, London W1 (0844 209 0051), 22 January – 7 April.

Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape

The great Catalan painter and sculptor began by painting scenes of rural peasant life, and went on to become a wayward surrealist, abstractionist and creator of a freeform symbolic world. Tate Modern's show will feature such works as The Farm (below). Underlying his work is a responsiveness to his times, from the civil war to the fall of Franco. Miró was playful, scatological, sophisticated and childlike – and apparently almost effortless as an artist.

Tate Modern, London SE1 (020-7887 8888), 14 April – 11 September.

54th Venice Biennale

The biggest, best and oldest biennale and the one always worth visiting. Mike Nelson represents Britain, the first installationist to do so.

Venice, 4 June – 27 November; labiennale.org; +39 041 5218711.

René Magritte

The Belgian painter is an often misunderstood and frequently trivialised artist. Surrealism's poster boy, Magritte was a poetic, contrary and troubled man. His art is at once popular and instantly recognisable, complex and flawed.

Tate Liverpool (0151-702 7400), 24 June – 16 October.

Folkestone Triennial

The faded resort plays host to artists from all over the world in the second of these three-yearly projects. Cornelia Parker brings Copenhagen's Little Mermaid to the south coast, and Huw Locke fills a church with model ships.

25 June – 25 September, folkestonetriennial.org.uk, 01303 854080,

The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic

Robert Wilson, an inspired director of theatrical extravaganzas, presents The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, starring the equally complex Serbian performance artist herself and the excellent Willem Dafoe. With songs by Antony Hegarty, this should be the high point of the Manchester festival.

The Lowry, Salford (0161-876 2198), 9-16 July. mif.co.uk.

Gerhard Richter: Panorama

This will include his most important work – the 1988 cycle of paintings based on images of the Baader- Meinhof group, counterpointed with September 2005, his response to 9/11. This most intelligent painter is enormously prolific, and works in diverse, unexpected ways, yet his work's overall coherence and power becomes more apparent as time goes on. Europe's most significant painter.

Tate Modern, London SE1 (020-7887 8888), 6 October – 8 January 2012.

Tacita Dean

Dean is one of my favourite artists, the best non-winner of the Turner prize. Mostly a maker of quietist, observational films, she's a surprising choice to create the next Turbine Hall Commission. Unlikely to deliver a participatory spectacle, she should change the way the audience approaches this most public and high-profile of annual commissions. What will she do?

Tate Modern, London SE1 (020-7887 8888), 11 October – 9 April 2012.

Leonardo Da Vinci

The most complete exhibition of Leonardo's paintings ever held. Leonardo was a genius – but how good a painter was he? Complimented by drawings and works by his contemporaries, and the RA's copy of Leonardo's Last Supper, and his preparatory sketches, this is the high point of the National Gallery's year. The Mona Lisa won't be coming, but there will be queues anyway.

National Gallery, London W1 (020-7747 2885), 9 November – 5 February 2012.


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October 20 2010

What a performance: Marina Abramović

Video: After her critically lauded Moma exhibition, the performance artist introduces her show at the Lisson Gallery



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