28 DECEMBER 2002, Page 39

Treats round the country

Andrew Lamb irth looks forward to next year's art exhibitions For any art lover, the prospect of a new year of exhibitions — of new wonders revealed and old friends revisited — is, of course, immensely exciting. But only the very organised institutions have their exhibition programmes confirmed well in advance, and in these increasingly uncertain times. even the top museums sometimes have to change their plans at the last moment. Since 9/11 collectors abroad have been less inclined to lend valuable works, while the downturn in the economy has made sponsorship more elusive than ever. Some institutions report falling attendance figures — although by the generally packed nature of the pavements you wouldn't have thought tourism was suffering particularly — and the gridlock and failing public transport systems apparently manage to deter visitors from the country. All these factors influence decisions of what to show to attract the public, but I am glad to report that on the whole standards remain pretty high.

In startling contrast, the sculptor Ron Mueck has been working in a studio at the National Gallery, making work in response to the permanent collection, He is the fifth Associate Artist there, and will show his intensely realistic sculptures (many dealing with the theme of motherhood) in the Sunley Room (19 March-22 June). Later in the year an exhibition of 14 of Bill Viola's videos will be shown in the Sainsbury Wing. Viola is one of the very few video artists of any real talent, and he derives considerable inspiration from Old Master painting. Hence his relationship with the National, where he'll be showing work related to Hierony mous Bosch, Dierick Bouts, Pontormo and Diirer.

The Tate, in its many manifestations, has several shows of real quality in the coming twelvemonth, Constable to Delacrobc: British Art and the French Romantics is at Tate Britain (6 February-11 May), and deals with the British influence on their French counterparts in the early 19th century. Look out for the work of Richard Parkes Bonington, who died far too young (at 25), but whose watercolours have a freshness undimmed by their historical importance.

Later in the year will be a comprehensive retrospective of that most dazzling of Op artists, Bridget Riley (at Tate Britain 26 June-28 September). She came to prominence in the early 1960s with her sophisticated black-and-white pattern pic tures, and has spent the last 40 years investigating colour through an abstract language of great rigour and plangent beauty.

At Tate Modern (13 February-5 May) will be another treat: a survey of the tough and expressive figuration of Max Beckmann, the first major retrospective here since 1965. At Tate Liverpool there will be a mid-career retrospective of the acclaimed German photographer Thomas Ruff (9 May-6 July), featuring portraits, interiors, buildings, night shots and nudes. This will be followed (23 July-19 October) by an examination of the themes and inspirations of that greatly underestimated modernist Paul Nash (1899-1946), tracing his relationship with the English countryside, with abstraction and with surrealism. At Tate St Ives, as part of the lavish centenary celebrations for Barbara Hepworth, will be an exhibition of specific themes favoured by the sculptor (24 May-12 October). The year of Hepworth celebrations is inaugurated at Wakefield cathedral on 10 January with a festal evensong at 6,30 p.m. Hepworth was born and raised in Wakefield, and the Art Gallery will be hosting an exhibition of the polished bronzes (17 May29 June), while at Yorkshire Sculpture Park will be a large open-air display of sculptures, with smaller pieces in the galleries (17 May-14 September).

Three other centenaries also fall in 2003: those of Ceri Richards, Graham Sutherland and John Piper. The Richards 'select retrospective' which opened at Cardiff last year is touring to Leeds City Art Gallery (16 January-30 March) and then back to Wales and the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea (3 May-29 June). Curated by the distinguished writer and critic Mel Gooding, who is not only Richards's son-in-law but has written the definitive book on him (Cameron and Hollis, £39.95), the exhibition highlights the complex response a British artist made to the influence of both Picasso and Matisse, of particular interest after the Tate's magisterial Matisse/ Picasso show last year. Graham Sutherland is still somewhat out of fashion, in part a reaction to being over-adulated during his lifetime, but that sparky Sussex museum Pal[ant House in Chichester is nevertheless celebrating his achievement with a focus exhibition (15 March11 May). The largest Sutherland show will, however, be at Olympia during the Spring Fine Art and Antiques Fair (25 February2 March). Worth a visit to decide just how good a landscape and portrait painter he really was.

Pallant House also salutes Ceri Richards (18 January-9 March) and John Piper (17 May-10 August), but the main Piper exhibition is hack in London. At Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Piper expert David Fraser Jenkins is curating a show of what is in my view this artist's most interesting period, his abstraction of the 1930s (1 April-22 June). Meanwhile a fourth centenary — that of the brilliant landscape painter Eric Ravilious — will be marked by a substantial retrospective at the Imperial War Museum (23 October-January 2004).

Other highlights include Julia Margaret Cameron's astonishing photographs at the National Portrait Gallery (6 February-26 May); Giorgio de Chirico at the Estorick Collection (22 January-13 April); Thomas Jones (1742-1803): An Artist Rediscovered at the National Museum and Gallery, Cardiff (21 May-10 August); and Rossetti at the Walker, Liverpool (17 October-18 January 2004). At the Royal Academy are Masterpieces from Dresden: Mantegna and Diirer to Rubens and Canaletto (15 March-8 June). a startling display of early work by that Expressionist master Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (28 June-21 September), and a ravishing retrospective of the modern Scottish colourist Craigie Aitchison (9 October9 November). The British Museum celebrates its 250th anniversary with Art and Memory, a concept exhibition investigating personal and collective memory (10 April7 September), and London 1753: from Gin Lane to St James, exploring the differences in character between one part of the capital and another (23 May-23 November). The two big exhibitions at the V&A which promise to be the expected masterly surveys are Art Deco 1910-1939 (27 March20 July) and Gothic: Art for England 14001547 (9 October-18 January 2004). A rich year indeed.