Mark your calendars for the major shows of 2020. If the times are a’ changing—and you know they are—let these museum shows be your guide. C.V.F.
“British Surrealism 1783-1952”, Dulwich Picture Gallery, 26 February-17 May
If you thought Surrealism was born in 1920’s France, think again. Britain might have been a bit-player in the international movement but this fascinating exhibition makes the case for a strong Surrealist spirit in British art stretching right back to “proto-Surrealists” William Blake and Henry Fuseli in the 1780s and then up to some of the biggest names of the 20th century such as Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland and Francis Bacon.
Their works are presented alongside the often-bizarre subconscious visions of British Surrealist artists Eileen Agar, Leonora Carrington and Paul Nash, as well as a number of lesser known figures such as John Banting, Conroy Maddox and Sam Haile—who deserve to be brought in from the margins. Rather than plodding through a conventional chronology the show reflects Surrealism’s emphasis on irrational chance encounters by throwing up unexpected juxtapositions. It encompasses wide-ranging themes of war, dreams, radical politics, the uncanny, sex and desire. L.B.
“Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition”, The Phillips Collection, Washington DC, 29 February-24 May
This show couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Right after the MoMA reopened, making a huge splash by rethinking the canon, including placing work by African American artists in striking juxtaposition with modern masters—like the pairing of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) with Faith Ringgold’s American People Series #20: Die (1967)—the Phillips Collection is organizing a show dedicated to further articulating these often-powerful connections.
Shaking up the narrative of Modern art is no easy task. Guest curator Adrienne Childs explores how artists like Romare Bearden and Robert Colescott reimagined canonical works of European art in their depictions of African American life. Working in the vein of Modern abstractionists, artists Alma Thomas and Martin Puryear are celebrated for creating an aesthetic language for African American artists that challenged the racial politics hounding black art at the time.
And let us not forget that while some African American artists were inspired to tell their own stories in the Modernist tradition, others created work in direct opposition to it. Emma Amos and Faith Ringgold raged against the exploitation of the female form in art history generally, but especially in works by Picasso and Matisse. And these are only a few examples of the African American heavyweights in this show, who are set alongside Modern art luminaries.
As investigations into the true narrative (or narratives) of Modern art continue, this show will provide a much-needed jolt of energy in the rebooting of the canon. M.S.
Frankly, I am not looking forward to the next 12 months in American politics. However, I am proud to be associated with an art world that has come up with the Feminist Art Coalition (FAC)—a coordinated program of exhibitions, performances, talks and symposia from September to November next year, timed to catalyze engagement in the lead-up to the presidential election.
This massive cultural effort—currently with over 60 museums and non-profit institutions from across the country signed on—is designed to “advocate for inclusive and equitable access to social, cultural, and economic resources for people of all genders, sexualities, races, ethnicities, classes, ages, and abilities”.
What will such a program look like? My guess is that it will be as diverse as the branches of feminism that it aims to include. At the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive—the institution that was instrumental in initially convening the FAC—curator Apsara DiQuinzio will mount a survey of recent feminist art practices, titled “New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century”.
In Los Angeles, LAXART curator Catherine Taft will organize “Life on Earth: An Ecofeminist Art Symposium” in the fall, anticipating an exhibition of the same name in spring 2021. In September, the Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, and the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College, Claremont, will partner on an ambitious exhibition of sculpture and installation by Los Angeles-based Alison Saar, titled “Of Aether and Earthe”. Pitzer College Art Galleries, also in Claremont, will host South African photographer Zanele Muholi’s ongoing self-portrait project “Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail the Dark Lioness”.
“Witch Hunt”, Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the Hammer Museum, 27 September 2020—3 January 2021
Especially exciting is the two-venue group show currently being organized between the Hammer Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, by Hammer chief curator Connie Butler, and Anne Ellegood, formerly of the Hammer and now director of the ICA. The brilliantly titled “Witch Hunt” promises to showcase “an art of resistance” from mid-career artists including Leonor Antunes, Yael Bartana and Every Ocean Hughes.
“Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment”, New Museum, 11 February-31 May
Knowingly absurd paintings for a dimwittedly absurd time: that is what’s in store for viewers at the first New York museum survey of the paintings of Peter Saul. Consisting of some 60 canvases spanning the artist’s 50-year career, the aptly subtitled “Crime and Punishment” focuses on greed and corruption, American-style.
Starting with Saul’s “Ice Box” paintings from the 1960s, in which he skewers consumerism and pop culture, the exhibition shifts to vernacular caricatures of US politics, the Vietnam War, and howling presidential portraits. These include Ronald Reagan in Grenada (1984), Bush at Abu Ghraib (2006) and Donald Trump in Florida (2017). Olympic-grade misanthropy delivered as high art, these and other works by Saul celebrate the spitegeist with acid-tinged derision. Cut down to size and painted in Day-Glo colors, his POTUSes put the Freud into schadenfreude. C.V.F.
“David Park: A Retrospective”, SFMOMA, San Francisco, 11 April-7 September
Every founder needs a good origin story. Sometime around 1950, David Park, the man largely responsible for ushering in the Bay Area Figurative movement, packed up all of his abstract work and took it to the local dump. This retrospective will show the early social-realist style he dabbled in before experimenting, rather unevenly, with abstraction. The heart of this show, however, will chronicle his nearly decade-long journey—starting right after that day at the dump—making figurative work; canvases sensuously rich in gestural brushstrokes, for which Park took the best parts of his exploration in the abstract and applied them to an object-based practice now synonymous with his legacy.
In 1987, 27 years after his death, Roberta Smith wrote in The New York Times that without a large museum retrospective, David Park’s work “may be doomed for perennial rediscovery”. Two years later, the Whitney had one. And now, 30 years after that, SFMOMA’s show will hopefully make sure Park’s work never again escapes our notice. M.S.
“Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925-1945”, Whitney Museum of American Art, 17 February-17 May
Move over Picasso, Matisse and Duchamp. This exhibition makes the case for Mexican muralists being the major wellspring for American art after the First World War. Starting in 1924, American artists traveled to Mexico in droves, while leading muralists like José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros painted murals, exhibited liberally and tutored artists throughout the US.
Whitney curators convincingly call in America’s major debt to Mexico’s leading muralist troika, while illustrating the persistent influence of lesser known artists like Miguel Covarrubias, María Izquierdo, Frida Kahlo, Mardonio Magaña, Alfredo Ramos Martínez and Rufino Tamayo. That they do so mainly by showing their work alongside American artists—among them, Thomas Hart Benton, Elizabeth Catlett, Aaron Douglas, Marion Greenwood, Philip Guston, Jacob Lawrence, Isamu Noguchi, Jackson Pollock, Ben Shahn, Charles White and Hale Woodruff—puts meat on the bones of a compelling historical argument. C.V.F.
“Mickalene Thomas: Better Nights”, The Bass, Miami, until 27 September
Leave it to Mickalene Thomas to go from paving the way for a renaissance in African American portraiture to expertly navigating the often-tenuous line separating art from silly amusements destined only for Instagram. For Art Basel 2013 Thomas created an “art experience” called Better Days. Made shortly after her mother’s death, Thomas modeled a space after the apartment where her mother lived and partied in the 1970s. Thomas also installed work by artist friends like Lorna Simpson and Wangechi Mutu and set up a slew of artistic programming, including, notably, a performance by Solange.
For her show at The Bass, Thomas’s multi-room installation invites visitors into another wood-paneled room decorated with richly upholstered 1970s style furniture. Lining the walls are works by other artist friends, such as Nina Chanel Abney, Derrick Adams, Lyle Ashton Harris, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya, and Thomas has created a new program of live performances, concerts, and films for the duration of the exhibition.
Better Nights is about “inclusivity—making everyday people feel comfortable coming through the door”, said Thomas, who has made everyday black life the source of her work. The resulting tableau inspires nostalgia, yes, but more urgently, it preserves Thomas’s memory of her mother, the place they called home, and the community that kept it alive. It’s not just a nice place to get lost in. M.S.
“African Cosmologies—Photography, Time, and the Other: Fotofest Biennial 2020”, Citywide, Houston, 8 March-19 April
People are catching on to how easy it is to transform a photo show into a photo sprawl. Curators have placed prints inside shipping containers, wheat-pasted them onto buildings, or displayed them at bus stops.
This biennial is another example of exhibition turned art crawl, with work by 30 artists from Africa and its diaspora, including Zanele Muholi, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, and Samuel Fosso displayed in multiple venues throughout Houston. This is the first time the biennial will focus on artists of African descent, making it one of the largest exhibitions of African photography to date.
The Fotofest Biennial’s mission is to provide visibility for photography from around the world. This edition, curated by Mark Sealy—who specializes in photography as an agent for social change—certainly fits the bill. The show aims to investigate how the art of photography behaved within, and in the wake of, colonialism. Looking through specifically African lenses, it aims to re-center the story of modern photography as a whole. M.S.
“Marina Abramović: 50 Years of Pioneering Performance Art”, Royal Academy, 26 September-8 December
Astonishingly no woman artist has ever had a solo exhibition in the main galleries of the Royal Academy. Who better, then, to redress this disgraceful state of affairs than the reigning queen of performance art, Marina Abramović? The grandest of grand dames will be filling the RA’s lofty processional spaces with an immersive journey through her 50-year career, culminating in new pieces conceived for the occasion.
There will be photographs, videos and re-performances of such early classics as Imponderabilia (1977)—which requires visitors to get through a doorway by squeezing between the standing bodies of a naked male and female (originally Abramović and her then-partner, the German artist Ulay). While the 73-year-old Abramović will not be staging any durational marathons herself, the artist will certainly be present, albeit in avatar form: in her most recent work she examines questions of legacy by experimenting with the latest in virtual and mixed-reality technology. L.B.
“Lynette Yiadom-Boakye”, Tate Britain, 19 May-31 August
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s enigmatic oil paintings present a cast of fictitious black characters who exist outside any specific time or place. Her paintings are steeped in art history—often echoing the grand portraits, dark palettes and poses of Goya, Degas, Manet and Singer-Sargent—but are utterly contemporary, and have established Yiadom-Boakye as one of the leading artists of her generation.
Her subjects may be imaginary much of the time but they are painted as distinct and psychologically complex individuals. She usually paints them in a day and the bravura energy of her brushstrokes adds to their immediacy and impact. This year she will have a full retrospective at Tate Britain of more than 80 paintings and works on paper dating from 2003, the year she graduated from the Royal Academy Schools, up to the present day. It promises to be an intense and highly rewarding experience. L.B.
“Judd”, Museum of Modern Art, 1 March-11 July
Long in the making, the mononymously titled exhibition is the first US retrospective in 30 years for the landmark sculptor, furniture-maker, critic and leading ideologue of Minimalism, this last being a role he stridently disavowed.
Besides drawing attention to Judd’s incidental influence on contemporary phenomena like IKEA furniture and luxury loft living, “Judd” surveys the complete evolution of this artist’s production through some 60 works of art: from sketches and paintings to three-dimensional objects and installations. The show aims to explore the work of a gargantuan reputation whose principal aim was to create straightforward objects that assumed physical presence while eschewing grand philosophical pronouncements. C.V.F.
“Gerhard Richter: Painting After All”, Met Breuer, 4 March-5 July
Shortly before vacating Marcel Breuer’s inverted ziggurat on Madison Avenue, the Metropolitan Museum will present a major loan exhibition by the German virtuoso Gerhard Richter. Co-curated by the Met’s Sheena Wagstaff and critic Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, the show brings together more than 100 works of art, including paintings, glass sculptures, prints and photographs. The exhibition includes abstract and realist paintings and brings early works into dialogue with more recent ones to underscore the artist’s reckoning with photography, history and personal memory.
Additionally, the exhibition will highlight two series not previously seen in the US: “Birkenau” (2014) and “Cage” (2006). The first chronicles Richter’s encounter with photographs taken by prisoners inside the Nazi concentration camp; the second serves as an abstract homage to composer John Cage’s romantic embrace of nature as a set of chance operations. C.V.F.
“Lisa Yuskavage: Wilderness”, Aspen Art Museum, 16 February-31 May
A year ago, Lisa Yuskavage described her lurid vision of the United States to The Wall Street Journal: “I think America has become the Wild West again—raping, pillaging.” Art as a wilderness, minus the explicit raping and pillaging, is unsurprisingly the putative subject of her upcoming exhibition of paintings, co-organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art and Aspen Art Museum.
A show that focuses on the varied and increasingly complex ways this unique and original artist has synthesized landscape and the female figure from the 1990s onward, her new thematic survey serves as a revamped Manifest Destiny for artists everywhere. Her fearless example, forged through the thorny dos and don’ts attending the representation of women, could well drive artistic expansion across several aesthetic continents. A provocative show from America’s leading badass painter. C.V.F.