True Value

This year, no fads, no fancy stuff, no journalistic conceits and no padding (except this introduction). We know there's a surplus of the new and the clever in the world. We, too, are worn out trying to figure out whether all those dot-com companies are beef or bubble. Certainly, we're more than fatigued with punny names for online pizza-delivery services and head-hunting agencies. And we don't really want real-time videostreaming to deliver a holographic rock musical based on "War and Peace" to our computers, absolutely free, next Tuesday. What the art lover in Europe needs this summer is simply a return to the old-fashioned guidebook, a comfortable pair of shoes and a straight top 10 of the best things to see. As usual, these are our own personal picks, and they may be a bit quirky. But it's guaranteed that--in brick-and-mortar reality--they won't be dull.

1. The Dublin Scene Declan McGonagle (he's Irish) leans back in his chair in the director's office of the Irish Museum of Modern Art and agrees, "Yes, the government's decision in 1989 to declare that there should be an IMMA was a matter of catch-up. It was definitely a case of 'we want one of those, too'." And why wouldn't Dublin want one? After all, every other reasonable-size city in Europe has a museum or kunsthalle (a museum with everything but its own collection) for modern and contemporary art. They attract cultural tourists, boost the local economy, elevate municipal--and national--self-esteem and raise the morale of the area's own artists.

Since it opened in 1991, IMMA has done all these things, and more. The museum is one of the most beautiful in the world. Built in the late 17th century as a strikeoff of Les Invalides--and, like it, a former recuperating soldiers' home--the graceful edifice sits atop a hill, flanked on one side by a formal garden. But after Ireland gained independence in the late 1920s, the apparently just-too-English building was left practically derelict. By the 1970s it was ready to collapse. Then the government stepped in and renovated it, thinking mostly that Ireland would need a fancy conference site when its turn for the presidency of the European Union came up. But Dublin Castle served that purpose, so the McGonagleites got the old hospital. They gutted the interior, fashioned ample white-cube galleries inside and loaded the place with glass, allowing courtyard light to flood the interior. And 300,000 visitors a year (admission free) got a proper museum of modern art.

Make no mistake about it: IMMA's gorgeous building is the main attraction. The museum has only a pretty good collection. But it stages some toothy--some might even say very risky--exhibitions. Take "The Barry Joule Archive: Works on Paper Attributed to Francis Bacon" (on view through Aug. 27). "Attributed to" are the operative words here. Joule, a Canadian who was Dublin-born Bacon's handyman and chauffeur, says that the morbid, hard-living painter gave him the material shortly before he died in 1992, both as a memento of their friendship and for safekeeping. The "works on paper" are fascinating: weird and offhand enough to make you doubt they're from Bacon's hand, but also just the kind of scabrous visual notes an artist like Bacon--who didn't draw much--would have warmed up to paint with.

Fortunately, in Dublin this summer you can easily acquire more information to make your own decision about Bacon's alleged works on paper. The Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Art--the capital's other modern museum--has a major exhibition, up through Aug. 31, entitled "Bacon in Dublin." It includes Bacon's paintings, from the beginning of his career in the 1930s to the work-in-progress on the easel in his London studio at the time of his death. The Hugh Lane has also acquired, dismantled and inventoried and will reconstruct on its premises Bacon's entire Reece Mews studio and its contents.

Dublin offers two other conglomerate highlights to complete the menu. The first is a group of architecturally significant noncommercial galleries in the touristy, but still pleasant, Temple Bar "cultural quarter" hard by the River Liffey. The Temple Bar Gallery and Studios (built in 1994) puts on two shows at a time. Arthouse, a stone's throw away, does much the same, but with a more electronic, interdisciplinary bent. (Its Web site, arthouse.ie, is almost--but not quite--as good as a visit.) And Project Arts Centre, right around the corner, just opened in a spiffy new blue building to give the scene a performance-art twist. The point is, you won't find a concentration of young, energetic art institutions like this anywhere else in Europe--even in London or Paris or Berlin. The second highlight is a growing roster of commercial galleries--remember the names Kerlin, Rubicon and Green on Red for starters--where new work by Irish artists holds its own alongside edgy imports familiar to readers of such magazines as Flash Art and Frieze.

2. 'The Glory of the Golden Age' Not that you ever need an extra reason to see Rembrandt's "Night Watch" (1642) in Amsterdam, but through Sept. 17, the Rijksmuseum is surrounding the megamasterpiece with 200 other paintings, sculpture and decorative objects from what is commonly called the "golden age" of Dutch art. About half the work--which includes paintings by Hals, van Ruisdael and Vermeer, as well as more Rembrandts--comes from the Rijksmuseum's own vaults. The other half has been loaned by willing museums both great (the National Gallery in London) and small (at Oberlin College in Ohio). And not that the Rijksmuseum ever needs an extra reason to mount a magnificent show, but the year 2000 marks the museum's bicentennial. If you can see only one exhibition this summer, make it "Glory."

3. 'Franz Marc: A World of Horses' These are horses of a different color, specifically bright, saturated ones. Marc, possibly the most cheerful of the otherwise sour and dour German expressionists of the early 20th century, founded the artists group The Blue Rider with Kandinsky in 1911. While Kandinsky quickly evolved into abstraction, Marc took his equestrian spirituality (horses symbolized primal freedom) seriously. The 90 equine works in this Staatsgalerie exhibition in Stuttgart, Germany, have never been seen together before. You can saddle up through Sept. 10.

4. 'Sinai, Byzantium, Russia: Ortodox Art from the 6th to the 20th Century' That's right, no "h" in Ortodox. And Sinai refers to a monastery that has been, as the exhibitor (the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia) puts it, "lost amidst the rocks and sands of the Arabian desert." This huge show (more than 500 items) of icon paintings, silverware, illuminated manuscripts and even needlework, includes--to again quote the Hermitage waxing poetic--"the very things which Peter I and Catherine the Great and Nicholas II once held in their hands." (June 20-Sept. 18)

5. 'Men of the Clyde: Stanley Spencer's Vision at Port Glasgow (1940-47)' Modern-art fans might not, at first, be attracted to a show of paintings by an eccentric, semireactionary artist commissioned by something called the War Artist's Advisory Committee to boost Scottish patriotism during World War II. But Spencer (who died in 1959) was one of a kind: an accomplished realist both informed by cubism and overwhelmed by a mystic Christianity. These mural-size pictures, on view July 6 through Oct. 1 at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, are as heroic as anything a noncombatant could do for the Allied cause.

6. 'Veronica's Revenge: Contemporary Perspectives on Photography' We admit that the title grabbed us. And the history: when the "photo-baroness" Marion Lambert's collection of some 300 photographs from Robert Frank to Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin were first scheduled to be shown at the headquarters of the Bruxelles Lambert bank in Geneva in 1996, a few pictures were removed as offensive by the firm's CEO. Mme. Lambert quickly canceled the exhibition. Now it's up in its entirety for the first time, at the Museum for Modern Art in Arken, Denmark, through Sept. 3.

7. Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao When Frank Gehry's curvy, visionary museum opened in 1997, scoffers said it wouldn't draw anywhere near the 600,000 visitors per year required for it to break even. The current figure is closer to 1 million. Even if you've already been to Bilbao once to see the building, this summer's exhibitions, especially, deserve a return trip. "Degas to Picasso: Painters, Sculptors and the Camera" (on view through Sept. 10) insightfully probes the influence of photography on 14 early modern artists, and boasts a keeper of a catalog by curator Dorothy Kosinski. "Amazons of the Avant-Garde" (through Sept. 6) is a groundbreaking show of six women artists crucial to radical abstract Russian art in the 1910s and '20s. And for dessert, there's "The Art of the Motorcycle," a groovy rally of the most beautiful and technologically innovative two-wheelers ever (through Sept. 3).

8. 'Picasso, Sculptor' Suffice it to say: the newly reopened, renovated Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the greatest modern artist of them all, whose best work--in our opinion--was actually his sculpture. This definitive exhibition runs through Sept. 25.

9. Dulwich Picture Gallery Most of the noise in London lately has been, justifiably, about the gigantic new Tate Modern museum. Somewhat lost in the huzzahs, however, is the Dulwich Picture Gallery, an exquisite little museum the British press has called "the most beautiful small art gallery in the world." Its contents range from old, very English landscape painting to faux-naif contemporary work by Eileen Cooper (July 5-Aug. 8). She was the Dulwich's last artist-in-residence before the museum closed for an architectural redo that was unveiled last month. The best gets better.

10. 'Manfred Deix: Good Vibrations' Even if you don't complete the tour of items 1 through 9, above, you deserve a laid-back finale that says, in effect, to hell with all this art-historical importance. Nothing could fill that bill better than the retrospective of the irreverent (some would say vulgar) Austrian caricaturist Deix. He's noted for mercilessly satirizing his pot-bellied countrymen. Like beer and wurst, Deix's work may not be particularly healthful, but it sure tastes good. The artist is also a rock musician and Beach Boys fan, thus the title. At the KunstHaus in Vienna through Sept. 17.

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