This Saturday, 15th April is Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday, and in his honour the date has become known as World Art Day; an annual celebration of world peace, freedom of expression, tolerance, and brotherhood as told through the arts. Major galleries have all published their programmes for the year, and alongside the blockbuster shows from big names like Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and David Hockney, there are many more from those less well known.

So with World Art Day in mind, we’ve enlisted the help of Martin Jenner, Art Editor of CELLOPHANELAND to focus in on those less well known, and draw some parallels with artists who you are probably more familiar with. 

Heard of Damien Hirst but are not sure about Phyllida Barlow? Love Frank Gehry but not heard of Bill Viola? It’s time to discover the exhibitions from around the world that play host to these works. Who knows, you might just have to factor them in to your 2017 travels!

BILBAO, SPAIN

Bill Viola

Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, with its distinctive titanium curves and soaring glass atrium, has been hailed as one of the most important buildings of the 20th century. Its spectacular curving poetic forms urge comparison with the great cathedrals of Spain, including the Gothic masterpiece Cathedral de Santiago in Bilbao. Both buildings have spaces that are spiritual, uplifting and inspirational.

Not many contemporary artists cite religious art as major influences, however the American video artist Bill Viola is an exception. Spirituality is at the heart of his practice and he frequently draws not only from medieval Christian art but also Zen masters, French poets, Islamic mysticists, American writers and German philosophers. The Guggenheim is the perfect place to discover Viola’s painterly works. Sink into his slow-motion videos and connect deeply to themes of human experience like birth, death and love.

Bill Viola - A Retrospective is at the Guggenheim Bilbao from 30th June to 9th November 2017

Image Credit: Migel/Shutterstock.com

ATHENS, GREECE

Rasheed Araeen

An invitation to a Mediterranean meal under a traditional Pakistani wedding tent would not be most people’s conventional idea of an artwork. This however is exactly what you will find at Rasheed Araeen’s Food for Thought: Thought for Change. Art though is often as much about ideas as appearance and here you are invited join others and enjoy a free meal while reflecting on life and social change.

This is a small part of the five yearly Documenta, one of the biggest and most important events in the art calendar, with Athens this year’s host. Araeen’s venue lies in the heart of this, the world’s oldest democracy and is overlooked by the Parthenon - the most powerful symbol of ancient Greece. Where better to reflect on the inspirational power of art as you explore the wonders of Athens and the added artistic contributions of Documenta.

Rasheed Araeen’s Food for Thought: Thought for Change is part of Documenta 14, in Athens until 16th July 2017

LIVERPOOL, UK

Tracey Emin

Visionary British poet and artist, William Blake stood against the hypocrisies of his age. He championed liberalism, sexual freedom and freedom of expression. In the Tate’s Tracey Emin and William Blake in Focus, we realise that Blake’s Romantic idea of artistic truth through pain, death and the possibility of spiritual rebirth is shared in the work of Tracey Emin.

We have all seen images of Emin’s notorious bed, subject of both ridicule and fascination, but do we really understand what she is trying to reveal to us? My Bed is actually an unflinching self-portrait in which the artist herself is absent - a visceral symbol of depression and despair. In this and other confessional works Emin reveals intimate details from her life and engages us, as does Blake, with universal emotions. 

Tracey Emin and William Blake in Focus is at Tate Liverpool until 3rd September 2017

Image Credit: The Tate

VENICE, ITALY

Phyllida Barlow

The perennial outsider and bad boy of British art, Damien Hirst has outdone himself for this year's Venice Biennale. For his first show in ten years, he has taken over two major museums to stage perhaps the largest single artist show in history. Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable consists of over two hundred works, many monumental in scale, purporting to be from an ancient sunken ship. Big, bold and brash, this is - love him or hate him - Damien at his unmissable theatrical best.

Everyone knows Hirst, but seventy-two-year-old Phyllida Barlow is improbably one of the latest art world sensations. A few years ago, she was selling nothing and no gallery represented her, but is now Britain’s choice at the 2017 Biennial. Her sculptures – in striking contrast to Hirst’s - are made from throwaway materials such as plywood, tinfoil, polystyrene and cardboard. They are gloriously wild, ramshackle and colourful. An exhilarating antidote to the often shamelessly monied and extravagant world of contemporary art.

Phyllida Barlow is showing in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale until 26th November 2017

Image Credit: The Tate

TOKYO, JAPAN

Saul Leiter

Abstract expressionism was the only art that mattered in post war New York with Jackson Pollock its biggest name. The physical canvas became an object: colourful, spontaneous paintwork ran edge to edge, whilst content was two dimensional and visually abstract. Pollock and contemporaries like Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning are now known by all and prominent in every major museum.

The cityscape photographs of Saul Leiter exhibit a vision inspired by artists like Pollock. Semi-abstract patterns of colour, images through misted windows and blurred figures; all features of his distinct style. Surprisingly his talent almost escaped the art world. His photographs were only a sideline to his own failed ambitions as an abstract expressionist painter, and his work was only discovered by chance less than twenty years ago. It is now on view in Tokyo, one of the only cities that can compete with the excitement, life and vibrancy of Leiter’s New York.

Saul Leiter: A Retrospective is at Bunkamura, The Museum, Tokyo from 29 April to 25 June 2017

Image Credit: Howard Greenberg Gallery

To see some of the art first-hand for yourself, why not check out our Europe cruises to get planning!