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Old worlds and new horizons

2 January 2018

Over the course of 2018, a series of formidable exhibitions in the United States and Britain will explore the work of artists whose movements across the globe, as emigrants and travellers, have shaped their art, and influenced the world of culture more broadly. The eloquence of their work in reflecting on the nature of the societies from which they departed, and the character of those in which they came to be rooted anew, will give us much to consider against the backdrop of the cataclysmic global events that have caused massive human migrations in our own time. The beauty that can emerge from cultural transfer and hybridity surely will be the overarching effect of these exhibitions, along with the particular political power of each artist’s work.

At the Met, ‘David Hockney’ continues (until 25 February), examining the magnificent output of one of the greatest of contemporary artists, who has explored the fabric of life in London, Los Angeles, and his native Yorkshire, as he has moved back and forth across these worlds, interweaving one into the other as he has created the tapestry of his long life. Also at the Met, ‘Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings’ (30 January–13 May), will serve as an important historical counterpoint, re-examining the work of an artist long defined as the father of American landscape painting, as that of one who must be regarded in more international terms. The exhibition will consider Cole’s roots as a British-trained émigré, and his encounters with the work of British and Continental masters as he re-crossed the Atlantic. The great American landscapes he produced on his return will be shown in conversation with the works he studied while abroad, including 24 from the Yale Center for British Art. Cole’s artistic commentary on the degeneracy of European society, and his warnings for his adopted nation, will be seen in terms of his engagement with European landscape painting, from the Italian masters through British contemporaries. The lasting impact of his work on the next generation of American landscape will also be explored in this context. The exhibition will also travel to London, where it will open at the National Gallery on 11th June.

A mural by Njideka Akunyili Crosby, that will wrap the exterior of MoCA Grand Avenue, in Los Angeles, beginning in January, promises to serve as an especially compelling juxtaposition. Akunyili Crosby, who was raised in Nigeria and moved to the United States in 1999, received her MFA from Yale in 2011, and was awarded a MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius Award’ in 2017. In the short span of her stellar career, Akunyili Crosby has been recognised for the subtlety and beauty of her examinations of the postcolonial African experience and what she has called her ‘conflicted allegiance to two separate cultures’ through her exquisite portrayals of her family. Though large in scale, her work is intimate in nature – and the grand gesture of this mural should touch pedestrians and those passing in cars in deeply personal ways, as the work points to the complex layers of all human experience.

Amy Meyers is the director of the Yale Center for British Art.

Keep up with Apollo’s 12 Days selection of art highlights here