Culture 2019

  • Written by: Marko Samastur
  • Published on:
  • Category: Catchall

After I wrote my last annual review of books read in 2018, it occurred to me that it would be helpful (to me) if I also recorded other things I’ve seen or heard. So, I have also started jotting down exhibitions, plays and other events we attend.

These notes are probably even less useful to any one not me than those about books, but at least some exhibitions can still be seen at the time of writing (permanent collections and around the last fifth of the list).


I believe we visit on average about ten exhibitions each year. Various circumstances contributed to us seeing almost thirty this year, which will not happen again any time soon. We were lucky and most exhibitions we saw were at least interesting, many good and a few really amazing or even once-in-a-lifetime events.


  • Claude Monet (Albertina, Vienna). An excellent exhibition which happily did not focus only on Japanese bridge and water lilies. Probably most painting by Monet you could possibly see at one place outside of Marmottan Monet in Paris.
  • Helen Levitt (Albertina, Vienna). An interesting exhibition of one of the pioneers of street photography. What I found especially intriguing were strips of negatives that allowed visitors to compare selected and unselected pictures and how those presented were sometimes cropped. I probably am not the only person who would make a few different choices.
  • Niko Pirosmani (Albertina, Vienna). A small exhibition of to me unknown Georgian naïve painter who was an important influence on Chagall and Picasso (among others). While I was not enamoured with all presented painting, others made strong impression on me and I would love to see his paintings again.
  • Into the Great Outdoors (Leopold Museum, Vienna). An exhibition of mostly late 19th century Austrian outdoor painters and paintings. Apart from few exceptions it mostly left me cold and unimpressed.
  • Klimt-Moser-Gerstl (Leopold Museum, Vienna). I was not familiar with Gerstl who I think would do interesting work if he lived longer. I was also pleasantly surprised by Moser and Klimt part of the exhibition. Unfamiliar works and a new perspective gave me a new appreciation for both artists.
  • Bruegel (Kunst Historisches Museum, Vienna). A truly once in a lifetime experience. Seeing 4 out of 5 surviving months of the year paintings next to each other as well as both Towers of Babel were two highlights of a really exceptional presentation of the Flemish master. We could be there for hours more, but with just end of a day tickets available could stay only until we were thrown out.
  • Milton Glaser, Posters (MGLC, Ljubljana). A small exhibition of 35 posters made by Milton Glaser. Wished exhibition was bigger.
  • Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition (Somerset House, London). Any awards exhibition will show choices one disagrees with, especially when there are 800. It helps to skip reading often inane descriptions next to them. Still, I overall enjoyed the exhibition and more than I suspect I would the Deutsche Börse one.
  • Diane Arbus: In The Beginning (Hayward Gallery, London). I am not an admirer of most of her work, but this exhibition really helped me understand her historical importance as so much of modern photography I dislike (and sometimes like) was clearly directly influenced by her work. I feel I'd like it more if my experience wasn't already tainted by her less talented and interesting successors.
  • Don McCullin (Tate Britain, London). Having seen so many of his pictures I was still not prepared for this punch in a stomach. Moving, devastating and always humane and needs to be seen even when most uncomfortable. I kept wondering how he managed to survive decades of his work and the answer is he kind of hasn't completely. Echoes of human suffering are still present even in his recent photos of Somerset landscape.
  • The Renaissance Nude (Royal Academy of Arts, London). Wish it was a longer exhibition of development of the nude in 15th and 16th century art.
  • Pierre Bonnard (Tate Modern, London). Some people question if Bonnard was any good. Those people are idiots. His compositions alone, especially those involving people, were innovative, interesting and usually well executed. I care less about his landscapes which are just fine.
  • Dorothea Tanning (Tate Modern, London). Ashamed to say I did not know her before as her works in this exhibition blew me away. A feast for the eyes. I find surrealistic art difficult to interpret, but would love to know more about her personal family experiences.
  • Edvard Munch (British Museum, London). An exhibition worth seeing on Munch's development as a printmaker with more than 80 prints from Munch and artists that influenced him.
  • Jóhannes S. Kjarval: Can't Draw a Harebell (Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik). Exhibition of "floral" work of one the most important Icelandic painters. Fine, but not the kind of work I enjoy greatly.
  • Treasures of a nation (The National Gallery of Iceland, Reykjavik). An eclectic, often changed, mix of works from various Icelandic artists and the kind of exhibition where everyone can find pieces to enjoy. I certainly did.
  • Hulda Hákon: Who are you people? (The National Gallery of Iceland, Reykjavik). A retrospective of to me unknown artist. I am still undecided on artistic merits of her works, but they are certainly engaging and fun.
  • Permanent collection (Galleria d’Arte Moderna Achille Forti , Verona). Some very nice pieces in a collection of mostly 19th and early 20th century art that was shortened by an underwhelming photo exhibition.
  • Permanent collection (Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona). Again, a few very interesting pieces in a collection that requires affinity for sacred art. Worth seeing for the castle and architectural upgrades alone.
  • Gauguin Portraits (The National Gallery, London). While knowing a bit about Gauguin's life beforehand I still did not expect that the main take from this exhibition will be what an absolute swine he was. But not talentless which I think is especially obvious in his later works done outside of France. No shortage of good paintings and some great ones, but the ticket price was still exorbitant.
  • The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2019 (National Portrait Gallery, London). I thought there were a few very good photo portraits, but overall I found the exhibition disappointing. Most exhibits covered the same few trendy issues in a fairly formulaic way.
  • Leonardo da Vinci (Louvre, Paris). An amazing collection of works that could be presented better (e.g. IR reproductions next to the actual pictures with more guidance). I also missed more contextual information, but it was another must-see once in a lifetime exhibition. Event Vitruvian man showed up with its very own security guard.
  • Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life (Tate Modern, London). I was passingly familiar with him before, but now I might have found my favourite contemporary visual artist. A fantastic exhibition of few decades of work clearly inspired by Iceland that was sad, fun, full of wonder and never dull.
  • William Blake (Tate Britain, London). I still admire a lot of his works, but this comprehensive look into his whole life and work has also shown Blake could be lazy and mediocre when not interested in work he was hired to do. I wish curators of such exhibitions dared to be more critical, but enormous amount of works, many rarely accessible (such as one of only two existing copies of coloured Jerusalem) presented well, make it a must visit one.
  • Wildlife Photographer of the Year (Natural History Museum, London). A now annual visit to enjoy recent works and find amusement in often questionable background descriptions. Astonishing how much better wildlife photos got in just the last decade. I never fully agree with judges’ decisions, but there were few if any real misses this year and I'm glad we saw it. Still find it odd that exhibition merchandise is also made out of photos that didn't even qualify for the exhibition.
  • Anselm Kiefer Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot (White Cube, London). 80% of modern art is garbage, but Kiefer's certainly isn't. Kiefer is not a happy optimist and exhibited works can be almost literally (physically) overwhelming. They are views into sins past and present, but visually compelling, even beautiful and I could not look away. I liked superstrings series the least, but still a lot.
  • Albrecht Dürer (Albertina, Vienna). I was familiar with Dürer's print work and knew Albertina has an amazing collection, but this exhibition was nevertheless a revelation of his talent and skill. He could do pretty much anything and his watercolour paintings are breathtaking. As usual team at Albetina excels at contextualising and explaining his work (unlike say Louvre) and hours just flew by.


Plays are something I only see in London because we visit it most often. I am rarely really disappointed even though or maybe because UK theatre seems less experimental than our own. Wish I wasn’t so (unreasonably?) annoyed by Slovenian acting.

In any case, performances we saw this year:

  • Betrayal by Harold Pinter (Harold Pinter Theatre, London). A play about infidelity and its disastrous consequences told in reverse chronological order. Wonderfully acted by all and especially Tom Hiddleston.
  • Three sisters by Anton Chekhov (Almeida Theatre, London). Not as good as Summer and Smoke was by the same team and difficult to enjoy when you are repeatedly reminded of unpleasant recent events, but nevertheless a good show solidly acted.
  • Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (The Piccadilly Theatre, London). A phenomenal production and performance by Wendell Pierce, Sharon D. Clarke and the rest of the cast with many in audience moved to tears. Felt privileged to see it.
  • Translations by Brian Friel (National Theatre, London). Irish accent made this more difficult to follow and I would love to read the play, but it was unquestionably a moving and thought-provoking examination of language, communication and cultural imperialism. Splendidly performed by everyone.
  • Noises Off by Michael Frayn (Garrick Theatre, London). I rarely enjoy farces, but this one was hilarious. I haven’t laughed so much in a while. Cleverly structured in 3 parts, each building on previous, is funny almost without a pause and performed without a fault and exceptional timing by a great cast.


We rarely go to concerts anymore as they are simply too loud and crowded for me to enjoy, but we happened to stumble upon Bach’s St. John Passion performed at St. Martin in the Fields church while we were in London for Easter, which promised to be neither. I always had difficulty understanding sung words in any language, but especially German. Nevertheless, the performance was beautiful and while I wasn't too keen on Stephen Anthony Brown's evangelist take, it was certainly done well.