The recent Gustav Klimt retrospective and “The Age of Steam”, both in Liverpool, were rich and fascinating exhibition. But the truth is that when it comes to the world of the visual arts, London, and the city to which it is umbilically attached, Paris, are the only real contenders for the undisputed heavyweight title of Real European City of Culture for 2008.
This autumn, the contest between the capitals will reach a new pitch of intensity. The distant thunder of crates carrying untold numbers of masterpieces is already in the air. Art handlers across both cities are flexing their muscles nervously and getting in fresh supplies of white cotton gloves.

The number of major exhibitions scheduled to open in the rival cities over the next month or two is unprecedented and, quite simply breathtaking. In London, imminent events include a centenary celebration of the paintings of Francis Bacon at Tate Britain; a retrospective of the work of the American Abstract Expressionist painter, Mark Rothko, at Tate Modern; and a multi-media survey of Andy Warhol as painter, sculptor, film-maker and all-round agent provocateur at the Hayward Gallery. From the master of the bloodied triptych, to the inventor of the abstract sublime, to the cold-blooded analyst of media-led alienation – the three shows might have been planned as a single event, Tendency and Counter-tendency in Post-war Art.

Those are just a few of the fruits spilling from the city’s autumnal cornucopia. On Piccadilly, the Royal Academy will unveil a show of classic works of modern painting and sculpture by Joan Miro, Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti and Georges Braque, all borrowed from one the world’s most beautiful small musuems, the Fondation Maeght in the South of France – a mere appetiser, however, for the main event at the RA, which will be the...

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