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January 7th, 2021

By Karen Rosenberg

After a year of cancellations and postponements, the art calendar is slowly coming back to life. Along with the rollout of vaccines, 2021 now promises big museum shows, much-anticipated new venue openings, and even an influential biennial. Below are some of the events we at Artful are most excited about. All dates are, of course, subject to change (and please note that our list does not include art fairs, as those are the most vulnerable to disruption by an ongoing pandemic).

Opening of the Pinault Collection, Bourse de Commerce, Paris
Early 2021

After several delays (the most recent occasioned by Covid), the billionaire Francois Pinault's 5,000-piece contemporary art collection will finally have a suitably spectacular home in Paris—in an ornate former 18th-century grain exchange known as the Bourse de Commerce. The renovation by Tadao Ando, who worked with Pinault on his two private museums in Venice, will feature a concrete cylinder inserted into the core of the circular building and topped with a restored oculus of glass and iron. Details on the opening programming have not yet been announced, but expect lots of blue-chip art from the collector's favorites such as Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, and Damien Hirst.

13th Gwangju Biennale: Minds Rising, Spirits Tuning
February 16 through May 9

Postponed from 2020, the Gwangju Biennale is moving forward this year (thanks to South Korea's relative success in controlling the coronavirus). Led by artistic directors Defne Ayas and Natasha Ginwala, it will explore the fascinating concept of a super-intelligent communal mind, a kind of artificial intelligence but one that is less Western-centric, "continuously emergent and rooted in healing technologies, indigenous life-worlds, matriarchal systems, animism, and anti-systemic kinship."

"Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures for Life"
MoMA PS1
March 11 through August

The French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930–2002) emerged in the 1960s as a sensational and sometimes scandalous member of the Nouveaux Réaliste group, with performative canvases made by firing a gun at bags of paint. She went on to create large-scale sculptures and environments with an activist bent, addressing issues including women's rights, climate change, and HIV/AIDS awareness. This retrospective focuses on the artist's second act, exploring her houses, playgrounds, and garden structures of the 1970s and later.

Christina Quarles
MCA Chicago
March 13 through August 29

One of the most exciting of the emergent figurative painters exploring race and gender, the Los Angeles-based Christina Quarles depicts malleable bodies in states of flux, contortion, and self-discovery. Her biggest show yet assembles canvases from the past three years and includes a new large-scale installation.

Joan Mitchell
Baltimore Museum of Art
March 21 through July 18

The painter Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) was long overshadowed by her male Abstract Expressionist peers, but new efforts by scholars and curators to rethink the history of the movement—as well as sharply rising auction prices for her ebullient gestural paintings—have started to give Mitchell her due. All that was missing was a full-dress retrospective, and now we have one. Organized by SFMOMA and the BMA, where it will debut this spring, the show traces Mitchell's career from New York's 9th Street to the gardens of her later home in Vetheuil, France.  

Nam June Paik
SFMOMA
May through October

SFMOMA is the only U.S. venue for this major international retrospective of Nam June Paik, the video and performance artist (1932-2006) whose tech-minded, Fluxus-rooted works, from his early modified television sets to more recent robots dedicated to John Cage and Merce Cunningham, can seem stunningly predictive of our current digital reality. The show's major set piece will be an expansive installation of Sistine Chapel, Paik's project from the German Pavillion at the 1993 Venice Biennale, which uses 34 projectors to reprise some of his past artworks in a giant multi-media spectacle.

Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė, Sun & Sea (Marina)
E-Werk Luckenwalde, Berlin
May 1

A highlight of the 2019 Venice Biennale, and the winner of the festival's Golden Lion prize, the performance Sun & Sea (Marina) turned the warehouse that was serving as the Lithuanian Pavilion into an affecting opera about climate change. Visitors entered the space to see an artificial beach and hear sunbathers, breaking into song, mourning the degradation of the environment even as they seemed to be enjoying a life of leisure. The piece is being restaged this spring at what sounds like an ideal venue: an abandoned swimming pool outside Berlin next to the renewable energy plant/contemporary art center E-Werk Luckenwalde.

"Sophie Tauber-Arp: Living Abstraction"
Kunstmuseum Basel
March 20 through June 20

A teacher of applied art, painter, dancer, sculptor, and Dadaist set designer, among other things, Sophie Tauber-Arp (1889-1943) wore many hats in the European avant-garde of the 1920's and '30s. This retrospective, which debuts in Basel before touring to Tate Modern and the Museum of Modern Art, recognizes her versatility and her overall fusion of art and design and makes clear that she was just as important to modernism as her better-known contemporaries (including her husband, Jean Arp). 

Deana Lawson
ICA Boston
October 26 through March 6, 2022

In her exquisitely staged large-format color photographs, Deana Lawson presents powerful yet intimate visions of Black identity and community. Although she is not visible in the pictures, her own presence can be felt via her subjects; as she has said, "I operate on the belief that my own being is found in union with those I take pictures of." Her first museum survey, co-organized by the ICA Boston and MoMA PS1, will include almost two decades' worth of work and build on her 2020 triumph as the first photographer to win the Guggenheim's prestigious Hugo Boss Prize.

Opening of the Frick Madison
2021 (exact date TBD)

In an ongoing game of museum musical chairs, the Frick Collection is making a temporary move into the Whitney-owned Breuer Building on Madison Avenue (recently home to the Metropolitan Museum's short-lived Met Breuer satellite) while its own 70th Street building is under renovation by Selldorf Architects. This sublet promises an unusual opportunity to see Rembrandts and Fragonards in a Brutalist setting. It will also allow the Frick's curators license to play; works will be organized chronologically and by region, in a departure from its usual collector-centric approach.

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