28 Vogue-Approved Art Exhibitions For Your Radar In 2021

Whether the new year brings with it the freedom to roam the world as we once did or continued travel restrictions, make sure these highlights are on your calendar.

28 MustSee Exhibitions In 2021

Among the many frustrating losses of this past year was an art world calendar unusually full of exhibitions by women artists. The good news is that this feminist tendency is maintaining momentum throughout 2021, with exceptional shows by women artists in Tokyo, Cape Town, Los Angeles and beyond.

Setting the pace is the year-long Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. “We were interested in the proliferation of women’s ideas, stories, exhibitions and projects that were generated in the wake of [the Me Too movement],” says co-curator Elspeth Pitt. Australian women artists from the past 120 years star in two thematic exhibitions and form the basis for a new online database. It’s a triumphant response to projects such as The Countess Report that have long fought for better gender equality in the cultural sphere.

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Thea Proctor, The Rose, 1927. National Gallery of Australia.


For art world kudos, the name to drop isn’t a hot young painter, but revered political philosopher Hannah Arendt. Arendt — who described “the banality of evil” while reporting on the trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann — is celebrated in a touring exhibition travelling from the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn to Munich in late 2021. In London, the Richard Saltoun Gallery has dedicated a year of programming to themes explored in Arendt’s book, Between Past and Future, with talks and resources also available online.

Read more: How 5 Influential Female Artists Curated Their Wardrobes

In these uncertain times, exhibition dates are prone to shift, opening hours may alter and all gallery visits require advance bookings. With travel limited for now, most of the shows listed below will be accompanied by a rich programme of talks, events and exhibition material online.

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Tracey Moffat, Something More #1, 1989. National Gallery of Australia.


For the best in photography and moving image…

Diana Markosian: ‘Santa Barbara’

Named after the ’80s soap opera she watched as a child in Moscow, Diana Markosian’s powerful Santa Barbara reimagines her mother’s journey to the US as a ‘mail-order bride’ searching for a new life with her children. Casting actors to perform as her family and shooting a photo series on old film stock, Markosian even commissioned a scriptwriter from the original soap opera. The dialogue never made the film, but is included in a monograph published by Aperture.

SFMOMA, San Francisco, US, 13 February to 27 June

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Diana Markosian, The Arrival, 2019, from Santa Barbara (Aperture, 2020).


Tracey Rose: ‘Shooting Down Babylon’

The South African artist’s mid-career survey takes its title from her 2016 audio-visual work Shooting Down Babylon (The Art of War), which reflects on non-western rituals of cleansing and exorcism, and the question of how to heal colonial trauma. The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication on Rose’s 25-year career.

Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, South Africa, 17 February to 29 August

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Tracey Rose, The Kiss, 2001.


Martine Syms

The American artist’s texts, photographs and moving images won’t be restricted to frames or screens, instead, they will be leaping across the walls, floors and furniture. For the prestigious Future Fields Commission, she revisits her character Athena — a professional golfer who first appeared in her short film Capricorn — in a work blending video, music and AI.

Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy, 18 March to 20 June; Philadelphia Museum of Art, US, autumn

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For the prestigious Future Fields Commission, Martine Syms revisits her character, Athena.


James Barnor

In the ’50s, photographer James Barnor’s Ever Young studio was perfectly positioned to capture the citizens of Ghana during a period of transformation. “Every important celebration or procession that goes on in Accra passes in front,” he recalled. Barnor’s cloud-print wallpaper became the backdrop to jubilant lovers, babies, actors, and sportsmen, while out on the street he photographed political rallies and protests. Barnor moved to London on the brink of the ’60s, capturing the intoxicating pop culture of the decade from a diaspora perspective.

Serpentine Galleries, London, UK, 30 March to 30 August

The Serpentine will present a major survey of BritishGhanaian photographer James Barnor.

The Serpentine will present a major survey of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor.


Deana Lawson

The first artist working in photography to win the Guggenheim Museum’s Hugo Boss Prize, Deana Lawson’s staged and stately evocations of intimate daily life will be celebrated in a solo exhibition in the spring. Lawson has said she conceives her beguiling images as “a mirror of everyday life, but also a projection of what I want to happen. It’s about setting a different standard of values and saying that everyday Black lives, everyday experiences, are beautiful, and powerful and intelligent.”

The Guggenheim, New York, US, May to autumn 2021; ICA Boston, US, 27 October to 6 March 2022

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Deana Lawson, Mama Goma, Gemena, DR Congo, 2014.


For performance, interactionand immersion…

Félix González-Torres: ‘The Politics of Relation’

Piles of fortune cookies; stacks of posters; strings of beads. The late Félix González-Torres invited us to relate to his body through objects we could consume, touch, carry away with us: delightful and beautiful things that bore ideas of love, migration, and sickness. The Politics of Relation explores his work in the context of Spanish, Latin American and Caribbean cultures, authoritarianism and desire.

MACBA, Barcelona, Spain, March

Lorraine O’Grady: ‘Both/And’

Back in the early ’80s, O’Grady invaded New York’s forbidding art spaces in character as Mlle Bourgeoise Noire — a Black ’50s beauty queen dressed in a gown stitched from 180 pairs of white gloves — and shouted critical poetry while beating herself with white cat-o’-nine tails. As part of the retrospective Both/And, O’Grady has also been invited to extend her critical stance to the museum’s collection galleries.

Brooklyn Museum, New York, US, 5 March to 18 July

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Lorraine O’Grady, Girl Pointing, 1983/2009.


Ryoji Ikeda

Home to the Vinyl Factory, 180 The Strand — also a hub for London Fashion Week — is turning its labyrinthine subterranean spaces over to sound and light artist Ryoji Ikeda, the largest European exhibition of his disorienting, immersive, data-driven art.

180 Studios, London, UK, spring

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Ryoji Ikeda, test pattern [nº12] site-specific installation, 2017.


Anne Imhof: ‘Natures Mortes’

One of the most influential artists of the moment, Anne Imhof — who collaborated with Burberry’s Riccardo Tisci for spring/summer 2021 — confects charged and disorienting performances on an operatic scale. Working with a large cast of collaborators, led by painter and musician Eliza Douglas, Imhof’s recent works Sex (at the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art in Turin, Italy, from 15 March until 30 May) and her three-act opera Angst have ricocheted between ennui, sexual frisson, and violent moodiness. For her ‘carte blanche’ at Palais de Tokyo, Imhof has stripped back the building’s interior for a show combining performance, painting, music, and installation. 

Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France, April


There’s dark humour — and then there’s the work of Chim↑Pom, which occupies a satirical prankster register all its own. Since 2006, this Japanese collective has been capturing poison-resistant ‘super rats’ and painting them like Pikachu. In Black of Death, they mustered a giant flock of live crows in Shibuya. They’ve also installed an inaccessible international exhibition — Don’t Follow the Wind — in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone.

Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan, 21 October to 30 January 2022

For paintings and works on paper across multiple themes…

Michael Armitage: ‘Paradise Edict’

One of Britain’s most exciting young painters, Kenyan-born Michael Armitage draws art history, fantasy, folklore, and political commentary together into intoxicating compositions painted on the bark of the ficus tree, known as lubugo bark, from Uganda. This major exhibition comes only 10 years after Armitage graduated from the Royal Academy Schools: 15 large-scale paintings will show alongside his selection of late 20th-century works by East African artists.

Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany until 14 February; Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 13 March to 6 June; then touring to Nairobi Contemporary Art Institute, Kenya

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Michael Armitage, The Paradise Edict, 2019.


Kara Walker

Following the success of her monumental sculpture Fons Americanus at Tate Modern, Kara Walker is the subject of two major exhibitions. Historically engaged, and elegantly, devastatingly, barbed, Walker’s work is compelling whether she’s performing at scale — panoramic silhouettes and sculpture — or in the intimate immediacy of drawing. Her European touring show A Black Hole is Everything a Star Longs to Be is accompanied by a new book published by Cornerhouse.

Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland, May to September; Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Germany, autumn; De Pont Museum, Tilburg, Netherlands; The Broad, Los Angeles, US, date TBC

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Kara Walker, Barack Obama as Othello “The Moor” With the Severed Head of Iago in a New and Revised Ending, 2019.


Paula Rego

The Portuguese-born artist’s dramatic paintings mine fantasy for the truth it reveals about love, loss, and human relations. Now 86, she’s moved away from abstract painting to explore the depths of the human psyche, often using storybook characters as proxies for human drama. As well as exploring the brutality of marital relationships, love and grief, Rego has tackled politically sensitive issues, including reproductive rights in her devastating Abortion series.

Tate Britain, London, UK, 16 June to 24 October

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Paula Rego, The Dance, 1988.


Alma Thomas

In 1972, aged 81, Alma Thomas became the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum. Thomas’s early ambition was to be an architect — a career not then open to women — she instead worked for 35 years as a teacher. On retirement, she commenced the experiments in abstract painting for which she became known. This landmark show will include Thomas’s rarely seen theatre sets, textiles, and fashion designs, as well as her late-career paintings.

The Chrysler Museum of Art, Virginia, US, 9 July to 3 October; The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, US, autumn 2021; Frist Art Museum, Tennessee, US, spring 2022; The Columbus Museum, Georgia, US, summer 2022

Jadé Fadojutimi

British abstract painter Jadé Fadojutimi has won international acclaim for the spiralling complexity and depth of her work. The emotional landscapes of her paintings “question the existence of feelings and reactions to daily experiences,” Fadojutimi has said. “They question our perceptions and perspectives while manifesting struggles. They recognise a lack of self, caused by automatically thinking that my identity is already defined, and also a frustration that paint can accept these characteristics better than myself.”

The Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire, UK, 20 November to May 2022; ICA Miami, 30 November to 1 May 2022

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Artwork by Jadé Fadojutimi.


For bridging the gap between art and design…

Yoshitomo Nara

The Japanese artist’s studio, complete with a record collection, is recreated as the centrepiece of a show exploring his passion for music. Growing up in northern Japan, Nara first heard American folk through radio broadcasts from the local US airbase. Later, he became entranced by the cover art on his favourite LPs and, according to curator Mika Yoshitake, they had a formative impact. Visit LACMA’s YouTube channel for talks and videos.

LACMA, Los Angeles, US, spring; YUZ Museum, Shanghai, China, autumn

Sophie Taeuber-Arp: ‘Living Abstraction’

Throughout her short career, that spanned the ’20s and ’30s, Sophie Taeuber-Arp participated energetically in avant-garde movements, often working with her husband Jean (Hans) Arp to create Dadaist objects, abstract paintings and designs that confounded the hierarchy between art and craft. As well as a catalogue, Google Arts and Culture brings some of the exhibition online.
Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland, 19 March to 20 June; Tate Modern, London, 15 July to 17 October; MoMA, New York, US, 21 November to 12 March 2022

For lessons in art ‘herstory’…

‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’

In the ’20s, the ‘new woman’ represented an ideal of modern empowerment. This global survey looks at how this dynamic figure saw the world through the camera lens, whether engaged in studio portraiture, advertising, documentary, or art. Many of these brilliant women exploited their new-won freedoms to the maximum — among them Lola Álvarez Bravo, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, Dora Maar and Tina Modotti — their lives every bit as compelling as their photographs.

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, US, 14 February to 31 May; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, US, 12 July to 7 November

‘Another Energy: Power to Continue Challenging — 16 Women Artists from around the World’

In an excellent retort to our cultural obsession with youth, Mori Art Museum’s Another Energy is dedicated to women artists aged over 70 (including the magnificent Carmen Herrera, now 105). The curators hope these artists will offer an alternative vision of the past half-century, its turbulence and social transformations. A catalogue will be produced during the run of the show. 
Mori Art Museum, Japan, 22 April to 26 September

‘Witch Hunt’

From the witches of yore to the bitches of today: forthright independent women have sustained their share of insults. Originally scheduled to run during the US election last autumn, the punchy Witch Hunt features 15 artists including Yael Bartana, Candice Breitz and Otobong Nkanga. Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, US, autumn

For a much-needed seaside escape…

‘The Imaginary Sea’ 

Set on the island of Porquerolles, France, the Villa Carmignac is a dreamer’s paradise. In the spring, Mexico-city based curator Chris Sharp reimagines the foundation as an underwater natural history museum. The exhibition “will not only consider how artists are re-evaluating our relationship with nature,” says Sharp, it will also “examine how nature, particularly the sea, sparks our imagination.” 

Villa Carmignac, Porquerolles Island, France, spring

‘Sun & Sea (Marina)’ 

An eco-art-opera performed on a sandy beach, complete with dogs and playing children, Sun & Sea (Marina) caused a sensation at the 2019 Venice Biennale. Despite the formidable logistics involved, this summer the opera by Lithuanian artists and composers Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė and Lina Lapelytė will go on tour. 

Malmö Konsthall, Sweden, May; E-WERK Luckenwalde, Germany, May; NET Festival, Russia, November

Sun amp Sea .

Sun & Sea (Marina).


‘Cristina Iglesias: The Lighthouse of Santa Clara Island’

In the bay of her home city of San Sebastián, sculptor Cristina Iglesias is constructing an extraordinary work in the old lighthouse of Santa Clara Island. A huge cast-bronze vessel sunk into the ground has been sculpted in the echo of the seabed and will fill and empty with the tides in a meditative installation combining sculpture, light and sound. 
San Sebastián, Spain, April

For a piece of history…


In an exceptional piece of institutional soul-searching the Rijksmuseum’s spring exhibition — Slavery — tells the story of 10 people whose lives were bound up in the slave trade during the Dutch colonial era. Using objects from the collection — some never shown before — it exposes a history of wealth and violent exploitation. 

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 12 February to 30 May

An ancient llama figurine made of gold.

An ancient llama figurine made of gold. 


‘Ancient Peru’

Ancient Peru brings together textiles, jewellery, ceramics, and feathered objects from Andean civilisations dating back to 2,000 BCE. The exhibition includes extraordinarily well-preserved artefacts, many on show for the first time, which provide new insights into gender, power and belief systems in the ancient world. 

British Museum, London, UK, 11 November to 20 February 2022

For something totally new and surprising…

Bourse de Commerce Pinault Collection, Paris, France

Late January should see the spectacular Bourse de Commerce — redesigned by Japanese architect Tadao Ando — open as a long-awaited Paris home for François Pinault’s formidable art collection, which includes works by the likes of Agnes Martin, Cindy Sherman and Takashi Murakami.

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Tthe spectacular Bourse de Commerce.


Superblue, Miami, US

Blame selfie culture if you will: few things draw a queue faster than a spectacular immersive (and photogenic) art installation. Gallerists Marc Glimcher (of Pace Gallery) and Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst have taken note, and are opening a warehouse-sized venture in Miami dubbed Superblue in the spring. The inaugural round of mega exhibitors features light artist James Turrell, digital wizards teamLab and the prima donna of theatrical spectaculars, Es Devlin.

Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Guarene, Italy

In the summer, the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo will open a new sculpture park adjacent to their historic Palazzo in the Roero hills of the Piedmont region, with a commission by French artist Marguerite Humeau.

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