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The Most Important Museums Opening This Year

There’s no sign of a slowdown in building new institutions

Liu Ye's The Past of Broadway (2006) is held in the collection of the soon to open He Art Museum in China. ©HEM

BY Jane Morris
writer and editor

In Other Insights

Despite frequent proclamations on its collapse, the museum building boom that began in the early 2000s continues apace. There are even more large-scale museum openings in 2020 than in 2019, with projects ranging from the massive €644m ($713m) Humboldt Forum in Berlin (see below) and Vienna’s €50m ($55m) Albertina Modern, to smaller projects such as the £2.4m ($3.1m) renovation of grassroots gallery-cum-workspace Studio Voltaire near London’s Clapham Common. Here is our pick of the major new projects expected to open around the world this year—and a few that look like missing the mark.


The Momentary, Bentonville, Arkansas, US

“State of the Art 2020” is the debut exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s brand new Momentary building. Pictured above is a work from the show, Su Su’s Darwin (2018). Courtesy of the artist. “State of the Art 2020”, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Momentary

It is impossible to ignore the impact of the Walton family—the heirs to the Walmart fortune—in the town of Bentonville and its environs, from educational and environmental projects to economic developments (including a new cookery school). In 1992, the family funded the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville; in 2011 Alice Walton opened the spectacular Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Now two of her nephews, Tom and Steuert Walton, are spearheading The Momentary, a cutting-edge contemporary art museum in a former Kraft Foods cheese factory. The 63,000-square-foot space will operate as a satellite to Crystal Bridges, with edgier and more experimental programming.The opening exhibition, “State of the Art 2020“, features 59 emerging artists from across the US including Chicago-based painter Alex Bradley Cohen and sculptor-and-digital artist Tabitha Nikolai, based in Portland, Oregon, as well as more established artists such as conceptualist Sama Alshaibi, based in Tucson.


HEM (He Art Museum), Shunde, Foshan, Guangdong Province, China

Zao Wou-Ki’s La Mer (2004) in the HEM permanent collection © HEM

Five years in the planning, the $31m, 16,000-square-meter, Tadao Ando-designed museum in landscaped gardens is scheduled to open in March. Half of the museum’s space will be given over to art exhibitions, under the direction of Shao Shu, who was formerly a curator at Shanghai’s Long Museum. Like many museums in China, HEM is privately funded, this time by a scion of the He family; He Jianfeng, who runs a financial firm, Infore Investment Group, and is the son of He Xiangjian, one of China’s richest men and owner of Midea, a giant manufacturer of white goods and air-conditioning units.

The museum is being built in the He family’s home city, and will show work from the family’s collection of around 400 Chinese and international modern and contemporary art. As well as the usual names (Damien Hirst, Olafur Eliasson, Anish Kapoor, Yayoi Kusama), the museum says it will be “a gateway to Cantonese cultural heritage”. It will include a focus on the Lingnan School of painting, a bold, experimental style that emerged in the region in the late 19th century, influenced by Impressionism. 


Munchmuseet, Oslo

The 13-story, 26,000-square-meter glass-and-concrete building has been designed by Spanish architect Juan Herreros. Photo credit: Vidar Kvaal.

After years of planning, political setbacks and even protests by artists, the $300m Munch Museum is scheduled to open in the early summer on Oslo’s eastern waterfront. The 13-story, 26,000-square-meter glass-and-concrete building has been designed by Spanish architect Juan Herreros. Eleven galleries will be spread over seven floors, housing the collection of 28,000 paintings, sketches, photographs, sculptures and notebooks that the artist Edvard Munch bequeathed to the city on his death in 1944.

Objections have focused on the cost, the height of the building, its size (some considered it too impersonal for Munch’s intimate work) and its damp, harbor-front location, where it is part of a growing cultural quarter including the Oslo Opera House and forthcoming national library. Ironically, the old building—a modest 19th-century building in need of renovation—was far from ideal: in 2004 thieves broke in and stole a version of The Scream (1910), and Madonna (1894), though they were subsequently recovered. The old museum is staying open right up to the collection transfer, unlike the Norwegian National Gallery, which closed in January 2019 before it too reopens in a new building near the harbor in 2021.


Bourse de Commerce—Pinault Collection, Paris

François Pinault has taken a 50-year lease on the historic, iron-domed, circular Bourse de Commerce in Les Halles. Photo courtesy Bourse de Commerce

Fourteen years after his plans to build a contemporary art museum on Paris’s Ile Seguin collapsed, François Pinault—billionaire owner of Christie’s and luxury brands including Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent—is back. This time he has taken a 50-year lease on the historic, iron-domed, circular Bourse de Commerce in Les Halles, close to the Pompidou Centre and the Louvre.

Pinault is once again working with architect Tadao Ando, who designed the ill-fated 2005 project on the site of a former Renault factory. Ando later adapted Venice’s Punta della Dogana into a second gallery for Pinault after the success of the Palazzo Grassi which the collector launched in the same city in 2006.

What will be on show is firmly under wraps (The New York Times reports that at least one show of a “significant male artist” will be a joint production with the Pompidou in 2020), but it will draw from Pinault’s collection of around 4,000 works by fashionable contemporary artists. The total project cost is reportedly $170m.





Dia: Chelsea, New York City

A rendering of what the renovated Dia: Chelsea location, designed by Architecture Research Office, will look like in September. Image courtesy Dia Art Foundation

Dia pioneered the use of industrial space to show art, resembling the kind of warehouses that New York’s artists used to make their work in the 1960s and 1970s. On September 19 it will reopen its Chelsea space—two single story warehouses joined to a six-story brick building. It is close to Dia’s much-missed former home on West 22nd street, sold in 2007 because of the enormous estimated cost of renovation.

The New York firm Architecture Research Office is renovating the current 32,500 square-foot spaces, which will include 20,000 square feet of street-level galleries and a bookshop. The opening show will feature work by the American artist Lucy Raven.

Dia: Chelsea is part of a $90m project to spruce up Dia’s permanent Walter de Maria rooms, reclaim and renovate a former Dia space on Wooster Street, expand Dia: Beacon’s basement space, introduce free entry to its New York city sites and increase its endowment. Jessica Morgan, Dia’s director, says that free entry was important because “it is vital that arts and culture are accessible to all”.

GES-2, V-A-C Foundation, Moscow

Rendering of the V–A–C Foundation, Moscow, which is being transformed into a 40,000-square-meter arts center. Photo: Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

One of the year’s biggest projects, GES-2 is the name of an enormous decommissioned power plant on an artificially created island in the Moskva river opposite the Kremlin. It is being transformed into a 40,000-square-meter arts center including galleries, artists’ studios, a “laboratory for the culinary arts”, a lecture theatre and large amounts of flexible public space, which architect Renzo Piano describes as indoor and outdoor “piazzas”.

The $300m project is being funded by the Russian gas billionaire Leonid Mikhelson, who opened a smaller exhibition space in a palazzo in Dorsoduro, Venice, in 2017. The opening exhibition in Moscow will be a single, massive, live work by Ragnar Kjartansson, based on an American soap opera, Santa Barbara, which was hugely popular in Russia in the early 1990s as it entered the post-Soviet era. Kjartansson describes GES-2 as “an epic, colossal project, of a truly Tolstoyan scale”.

Humboldt Forum, Berlin

Only one project dwarfs GES-2: the massive, €644m ($715m) Humboldt Forum. Courtesy SHF Architect Franco Stella

Only one project dwarfs GES-2: the massive, €644m ($715m) Humboldt Forum, which should have opened in 2019 to coincide with the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The museum brings together the city’s world class collection of Asian, American, African and Oceanic art and artefacts, collections telling the story of Berlin, as well as natural and industrial history. It will start opening in stages from September, beginning with the basement, ground floor and first floor, and including exhibitions about the history of the site—the subject of its first controversy.

The forum is on the site of (and partly recreates) the former Berliner Schloss, the historic royal and imperial palace which was torn down by the East German government in the 1950s and replaced by the modernist Palast der Republik. That was in turn demolished in 2006. Former East Berliners have since argued that the palatial style of the new museum is part of an ongoing erasure of East German history.

Now, that row has been overshadowed by protesters claiming that the museum’s colonial-era history has not been properly researched and that many objects should be restituted, particularly its collection of Benin bronzes to Nigeria and human skulls to Tanzania. Nevertheless, it remains the most anticipated of 2020’s projects.

Delayed to 2021?

The Humboldt Forum is not the only project to have fallen behind schedule—in its case following problems with its air conditioning and ventilation systems. M+, the enormous art museum under construction in Hong Kong, was expected to open in early 2020, after its original 2017 launch slipped. It is now expected to open in 2021. The $600m Norwegian National Gallery in Oslo shut in January 2019 and was expected to open at the end of this year: it has now been pushed back into 2021. The €100m ($111m) renovation of Mies van der Rohe’s starkly elegant Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin began in 2016. The museum was expected to reopen this year, but the absence of a response to requests for information from the State Museums of Berlin suggests that it too is behind schedule.

Finally, Luma Arles—the project set up in 2004 by collector Maja Hoffmann with a 56-meter-tall twisted tower by Frank Gehry as its centerpiece—is now scheduled for completion in 2021 (the site is partially open, with a new phase opening in May).

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