Museum Stories

15 Must-See Art Exhibitions in 2020

Joanna Kaszubowska 11 January 2020 min Read

If your new year’s resolution is to see more art in 2020, Daily Art Magazine is here to help. Check out our list of 15 Must-See Art Exhibitions of the year. Hand-picked to offer something for everyone, from Renaissance to Prada, to wrapping Arc de Triomphe, and Marina Abramovic. With many more tasty things in between! We’ll follow the chronological order of the exhibition openings, so you can easily plan your year.

Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution – Ghent

The Museum of Fine Arts Ghent (MSK): 01 Feb – 30 Apr 2020

Jan van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece (Annunciation, detail), 1432, St Bavo's Cathedral, Ghent - 15 Must-See Exhibitions in 2020
Jan van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece (Annunciation, detail), 1432, St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent (MSK), Belgium is bringing us a real treat in 2020. Apparently there are only around twenty works by Jan van Eyck left in the world. MSK managed to bring more than half of them together for this exceptional show. The centerpiece of the exhibition is the outer panels of ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’. They were restored in the MSK by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage between 2012 and 2016. In a highly exceptional loan, they will return to the museum and be united with other works by Van Eyck for the very first time. The exhibition focuses on the revolution in the representation of reality that Van Eyck’s mastery triggered. Similarly, with his unmatched technique, scientific knowledge, and unrivaled observational skills, he elevated oil painting to unprecedented heights and determined the future course of Western art.

Steve McQueen – London

Tate Modern: 13 Feb – 11 May 2020

Steve McQueen, Queen and Country, 2007
Steve McQueen, Queen and Country, 2007

You probably know Steve McQueen as a director of films such as 12 Years a Slave, Hunger or Shame. However, he is also an accomplished visual artist. He received the Turner Prize in 1999, the highest award given to a British visual artist. Tate Modern brings us the first major exhibition of his artwork since he won the prize. Spanning two decades of his career, the exhibition will reveal how McQueen’s pioneering approaches to film-making have expanded the ways in which artists work with the medium, creating poignant portraits of time and place. Let’s meet Steve McQueen the artist!

Further, the exhibition coincides with Steve McQueen: Year 3 at Tate Britain, where you can see his latest work. To create it, every year McQueen invited 3 pupils in London to have their photographs taken by a team of specially trained Tate photographers. Brought together in one large-scale installation they will give us a glimpse of the future to be created by the next generation.

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography – London

Barbican Art Gallery: 20 February – 17 May 2020

Sunil Gupta, Untitled 22 from the series Christopher Street, 1976, ©Sunil Gupta - 15 Must-See Art Exhibitions in 2020
Sunil Gupta, Untitled 22 from the series Christopher Street, 1976, ©Sunil Gupta

Barbican, through this show, helps us consider and understand how masculinity has been coded, performed, and socially constructed from the 1960s to the present day. The exhibition brings together over 300 works by over 50 pioneering international artists, photographers and filmmakers such as Richard Avedon, Peter Hujar, Isaac Julien, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Robert Mapplethorpe, Annette Messager, and Catherine Opie. It shows how photography and film have been central to the way masculinity is imagined and understood in contemporary culture.

In the wake of #MeToo the image of masculinity has come into sharper focus. For instance, ideas of toxic and fragile masculinity permeate today’s society. The exhibition looks at the topic from two sides; how many different and often contradictory versions of masculinity have been served to us since the 1960s, and also how significant the role of photography and film are in shaping our perceptions of masculinity. This exhibition is bound to be food for thought, not to mention a visual treat.

Gerhard Richter: Painting After All – New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 4 March – 5 July 2020

Gerhard Richter, Birkenau, 2014 - 15 Must-See Art Exhibitions in 2020
Gerhard Richter, Birkenau, 2014.

Gerhard Richter’s work is certainly famous for commanding very high prices at auctions. This, however, is not the reason why he is interesting. What is even more fascinating is his six-decade long career weaving between naturalistic and abstract painting. Richter defies the common misconception that an artist is either a ‘realist’ or ‘abstractionist’ by embracing both extremes in his art. Thereby also asking the question: Are they really extremes? The exhibition will attempt the ambitious task of presenting an overview of Richter’s oeuvre. Highlighting two important recent series at the same time; Birkenau (2014) and Cage (2006), both never shown before in the US.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude – Paris

Centre Pompidou: 18 Mar – 15 Jun 2020

Christo, L’Arc de Triomphe (project for Paris, Place de l’Étoile – Charles de Gaulle)(detail), 2018

Christo and Jeanne-Claude are the power couple of wrapping-as-art. They have wrapped almost everything such as the Reichstag in 1995, and Pont Neuf in 1985. They also created The Umbrellas, which unfortunately proved to be one of the few deadly artworks in history. The exhibition at Centre Pompidou should be entirely safe though. It retraces the couple’s Parisian period, between 1958 and 1964. It is in this foundation period that Christo gradually abandons the surface of the painting in favor of the packaging, starting with everyday objects. The exhibition brings together a set of workshop works, unknown to the public, such as the Craters, materialist paintings influenced by Jean Dubuffet, the Surfaces d’Empaquetage, the Boxes, as well as an exceptional selection of packaged objects, and the very first Showcases and Store Fronts. The second part of the exhibition is devoted to the Pont-Neuf packaging project, carried out in 1985.

The exhibition also alludes to a project that Christo and Jeane-Claude had in mind since 1962 – packaging of the L’Arc de Triomphe. The project is now scheduled to come to fruition on 19 September 2020.

Torlonia Marbles – Rome

Musei Capitolini: Palazzo Caffarelli: 4 Apr 2020 – 10 Jan 2021

Hestia Giustiniani, ca 470 BCE, ©Torlonia Collection - 15 Must-See Art Exhibitions in 2020
Hestia Giustiniani, ca 470 BCE, ©Torlonia Collection

The Torlonia Collection of sculpture comprises 620 marble and alabaster statues and sarcophagi dating back to the Roman Empire. It very possibly might be the most important collection of antique sculpture. So how come you’ve never heard of it? Well, there is a good explanation – it’s been in storage for the last fifty-odd years. Alessandro Torlonia, opened the collection to visitors in the family palace on Via della Lungara, close to the Tiber River, in 1893. In the 1960s, the museum was dismantled and the 77-room palace was then converted into an apartment building. With that the entire collection was put into storage. The Italian government offered to acquire it in 2005, but the offer was declined. The same happened with all other attempts to negotiate at least a temporary loan or exhibition… until now!

Ninety-six marbles from the Torlonia collection will be on view to the public in the new exhibition venue of the Musei Capitolini at Palazzo Caffarelli. This exhibition is the first step to executing an agreement signed between the government and the Torlonia Foundation in 2016. As per the Torlonia Foundation website, the show “is the first stage of a traveling exhibition, for which agreements are in progress with major international museums and which will conclude with the identification of permanent exhibition spaces for the opening of a new Torlonia Museum”. Let’s hope this will come to pass and ongoing public access to this outstanding collection will be possible.

Artemisia – London

National Gallery: 4 Apr – 26 Jul 2020

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, 1615-17, National Gallery, London
Artemisia Gentileschi, Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, 1615-17, National Gallery, London

In a highly competitive art world, Artemisia managed to make a name for herself and became the first woman admitted to Accademia delle Arti del Disegno in Florence. Competing and meeting with the best painters of her time and never doubting herself as an equal. It is an extraordinary feat if you consider that she had been raped as a teenager, had to undergo a long trial where she was tortured, was married off to save her honor, only to become a single mother and survive the death of some of her children.

Now the time has finally come for the first major exhibition of her work in the UK. Around 35 works from both public and private collections around the world come together to give a selective overview of Artemisia’s career: from her training in Rome, where she learned to paint under the guidance of her father Orazio Gentileschi, to her time in Florence, where she established herself both personally and professionally, and the last 25 years of her life, during which she set up a studio in Naples and undertook a brief trip to London.

Niki de Saint Phalle – New York

MoMA PS1: 5 Apr – 7 Sep 2020

Niki de Saint Phalle, © Norman Parkinson, Corbis - 15 Must-See Art Exhibitions in 2020
Niki de Saint Phalle, © Norman Parkinson, Corbis

Niki de Saint Phalle is known by and large as one of the few female monumental sculptors. Her most known works are Nanas, the lighthearted, colorful, large-scale sculptures of animals, monsters, and female figures. Meanwhile her most monumental work is, without a doubt, The Tarot Garden, a massive architectural park outside Rome, Italy, which she began constructing in the late 1970s and continued to develop until her death. The garden opened to the public in 1998. Its structures are based on the Major Arcana of the tarot deck. I mention this because it is also the central point of the exhibition at MoMa PS1, which is the first show of her work in New York. It will feature over 100 works that highlight Saint Phalle’s interdisciplinary approach and engagement with pressing social and political issues.

Body and Soul. Sculpture in Italy from Donatello to Michelangelo – Paris

The Louvre: 6 May – 17 Aug 2020

Tullio Lombardo, Young Couple (Bachus and Ariadne), ©Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna
Tullio Lombardo, Young Couple (Bachus and Ariadne), ©Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

If this exhibition was anywhere other than the Louvre it would be a major blockbuster. As it is it obviously won’t be able to compete with the Mona Lisa, and maybe for the better, as it will give you breathing space to see those amazing sculptures. The exhibition is a follow up to Springtime of the Renaissance organized in 2013/14 in cooperation with Castello Sforzesco. In the first two decades of the 16th century, the main themes and ideas developed in Italy during the second half of the Quattrocento culminated in the arrival on the art scene of one of the greatest creators of all time, Michelangelo. This exhibition will allow us to see for ourselves how this came to be.

It discusses three major themes: “Fury and Grace” firstly reveals the interest in complex compositions and the intensification movement; “Affect and Persuasiveness” aims to highlight how emotional states were at the core of artistic practices; and lastly, “From Dionysos to Apollo” brings to light the inexhaustible contemplation of classical antiquity, developing new harmony that transcended the naturalism of gestures and extreme emotions.

About Time: Fashion and Duration – New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 7 May – 7 Sep 2020

David-Bailey, 1980 - 15 Must-See Art Exhibitions in 2020
David-Bailey, 1980

The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is celebrating the Met’s 150th anniversary in style. Fittingly considering the time aspect of fashion. Employing Henri Bergson’s concept of la durée (duration), it will explore how clothes generate temporal associations that conflate past, present, and future. Again fittingly, Virginia Woolf will be the “ghost narrator” of the exhibition. The exhibition will weave time around us through black and white ensembles. The black ones follow chronological order, interspersed with ‘out of time’ white ones. Nonetheless, all the items will connect into a cohesive whole either through chronology or through shape, motif, material, pattern, technique, or decoration. At the end the exhibition will also give a glimpse into the future, discussing themes such as longevity and sustainability. If only one could pick a dress to take home at the end of it, it would be heavenly!

Fantastic Women – Surreal Worlds from Meret Oppenheim to Frida Kahlo – Frankfurt & Copenhagen

Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt: 13 Feb – May 24 2020

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art: 18 Jun – 27 Sep 2020

Meret Oppenheim, Object.Paris, 1936, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Meret Oppenheim, Object.Paris, 1936, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Schirn and Louisiana’s exhibition will focus on the contribution of women artists to Surrealism. While the movement’s male practitioners are widely known and have been celebrated in countless shows, few people are familiar with the female Surrealists – even though many of them were part of the inner circle around André Breton and showed alongside their male colleagues in seminal Surrealist exhibitions of the day.

Featuring around 250 works by 30 female artists – from the US, Mexico and Europe – the exhibition is the first comprehensive presentation of their work. In a fascinating look at their diverse approaches to Surrealist ideas, each artist is represented by distinctive works tracing the outline of their oeuvre and highlighting their singular contribution to the Surrealist vocabulary.

Yayoi Kusama – Berlin

Gropius Bau: 4 Sep 2020 – 17 Jan 2021

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field, 1965
Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field, 1965

Yayoi Kusama achieved global recognition for her exploration of repetitive patterns and structures, her signature polka dots and mirrored spaces; in her works, she confronts viewers with realms appearing to extend limitlessly outward and traces the disintegration of the subject in infinity. The Gropius Bau will devote the first comprehensive retrospective in Germany to Kusama’s work, offering an overview of every creative period from the last seventy years and featuring current paintings as well as a new Infinity Mirrored Room and installation by the artist.

Slavery, an exhibition – Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum: 25 Sep 2020- 17 Jan 2021

Gerrit Schouten, Diorama of a slave dance, 1830, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Gerrit Schouten, Diorama of a slave dance, 1830, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Slavery has existed in many cultures, places and times. The Rijksmuseum’s exhibition will focus on slavery in the Dutch colonial period, spanning from the 17th to the 19th century. This exhibition testifies to the fact that slavery is an integral part of our history, not a dark page that can be simply turned and forgotten about. Also that the history is more recent than many people realize: going back just four or five generations you will find enslaved people and their enslavers. It will center on ten individuals, some of them well-known, others less so. This emphasis on the personal will enable the museum to give a ‘face’ to slavery and make the universal and perpetual relevance of this history tangible.

Marina Abramovic: After Life – London

Royal Academy of Arts: 26 Sep – 8 Dec 2020

Marina Abramović, Artist Portrait with a Candle (A), from the series With Eyes Closed I see Happiness, 2012
Marina Abramović, Artist Portrait with a Candle (A), from the series With Eyes Closed I see Happiness, 2012

Over the past 50 years, Marina Abramović has earned worldwide acclaim as a pioneer of performance art. For example, she has consistently tested the limits of her own physical and mental endurance in her work – and invited audiences to encounter it with her. In Abramović’s first major exhibition in the UK, the Royal Academy of Arts bring together works spanning her 50-year career, along with new works conceived especially for these galleries. As she approaches her mid-70s, her new work reflects on changes to the artist’s body, and explores her perception of the transition between life and death.

You will also have a chance to engage with the ongoing debate that Abramović explores throughout the exhibition: can performance art outlive the moment of performance? ​Abramović examines the question of legacy through photographs, videos, installations and re-performances by younger performers.

Raphael – Rome & London

Scuderie del Quirinale: 5 Mar – 2 Jun 2020

National Gallery: 3 Oct 2020 – 24 Jan 2021

Raphael, The Garvagh Madonna, 1510, National Gallery London
Raphael, The Garvagh Madonna, 1510, National Gallery London

I don’t think we need to explain here who Raphael was, the National Gallery’s website summarizes is succinctly.

His life was short, his work prolific, and his legacy immortal.

A painter, draftsman, architect, archaeologist, and poet, Raphael captured in his art the human and the divine, love and friendship, learning and power.

I also don’t think anyone needs much encouragement to see this exhibition. With loans from the Louvre, Vatican Museum, Uffizi Museum, National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Prado Museum, this is an unprecedented opportunity.

A bonus! Klimt. Inspired by Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse… – Amsterdam

Van Gogh Museum: 2 Oct 2020 – 10 Jan 2021

Vincent van Gogh, The Plain of Auvers, 1890, Belvedere, Vienna.

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) is world famous for his gold-colored and decorative works, for the landscapes with colors that blend into each other like a carpet, and his powerful drawings of voluptuous women. But what inspired this versatile artist? This unique exhibition examines the influence of the international avant-garde on Klimt’s work. It is the first time for such a wide array of works by Klimt to be exhibited in the Netherlands: from the soft pastel-like paintings to his lavish and monumental portraits of women.

The exhibition is a result of close collaboration between Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Belvedere in Vienna. Since 2015, these institutions have been working together on an extensive research project to confirm which works by relevant artists Klimt encountered in his lifetime. In 2020 the resulting exhibition will take place in the Van Gogh Museum. Keep an eye on this one, it will be worth it!


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