8 exceptional art exhibitions that will make 2021 memorable


Each year, this section provides comments on dozens of museum exhibitions around the world. While some are best forgotten, others continue to stimulate and inspire long after the works have been packed and shipped. As the year draws to a close, here are eight 2021 exhibitions that still resonate. Read excerpts from my Forbes essays below, or click on the titles of the shows to read my original essays in full.

Jenny saville

Novecento Museum

“… Saville’s closeness to the immortal Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo is not only physical. All of them have tried to find out who and what a person can be by observing and recording the bodily traces of an invisible psychic state. Saville was able to begin where her ancestors left off, unconstrained by their impulse to transpose into the tradition of classical tropes or for the sake of biblical accounts. With pots of liquid flesh and unrepentant repentance, she is uniquely able to surface what people understand about themselves today: the rejuvenated Renaissance. “

The day before yesterday, we could fly: an Afrofuturist period room

The Metropolitan Art Museum

“… One of the most notable objects in the room is a transistor radio found in a Nairobi landfill by Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru, modified with shiny beads and fitted with several antennas, as if tuned to receive news from all possible worlds. Kabiru’s Afrofuturist radio broadcasts the promise of Afrofuturism: the potential to take back possession of history, and to transmit the past that could have been in the present for the future Most period rooms are problematic because they romanticize the periods they represent, putting the dens of imperialism and colonialism in the ambitious language of Beautiful House. Maybe everyone could benefit from an afrofuturist treatment … “

Joan mitchell

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

“… The enduring appeal of Mitchell’s paintings cannot be attributed to easy virtuosity, nor the distinctiveness of his work to physical prowess. If the first impulse is to compare Mitchell’s spectacular paintings to a triple axis, the most lasting impression is that they read like sonnets … “

Dream monuments: drawing in the 1960s and 1970s

The Ménil drawing institute

“… As Christo and Jeanne-Claude understood, monumental plans do not need to be self-negating to be successful in the absence of physical manifestation. Preparatory drawings have a monumental presence because they retain their potential. In the right hands, their power can even be concentrated when compressed into two dimensions. And as Robert Smithson once pointed out, the unrealized monument remains dialectically unconstrained … “

Shigeko Kubota: Liquid Reality

The modern art museum

“… Like an echo, or the roar of an ocean, Kubota’s video is everywhere and nowhere. Perhaps this can be seen as a premonition of our time, in which people are attached to technology motives which are supposed to regulate them. More optimistically, his work can be seen as an escape that we could still make by privileging the experiments to the mechanisms which deliver them. “

The Medici: Portraits & Politics, 1512-1570

The Metropolitan Art Museum

“When Cosimo I de Medici became the second Duke of Florence, the problems he inherited almost guaranteed that he would be the last. Cosimo rose to the challenge by evoking the Renaissance and placing Florence at the center of the cultural renaissance. This supreme act of socio-political propaganda is the central theme of The Medici: Portraits & Politics, 1512-1570, offering a stimulating balance of spectacular artistry and behind-the-scenes machination that played an equal role in defining one of history’s most celebrated periods … “

All That Wasn’t White: Lonnie Holley at the Elaine de Kooning House

The parish art museum

Lonnie Holley: Tangled in De Kooning’s Fence

The South Etna Montauk Foundation

“… The relationship between materials and memories goes back and forth in Holley’s art. Materials revive memories and memories redeem materials. These movements can be heavy in the hands of a less skilled artist. and engaged than Holley. By allowing cohesion being primarily aesthetic, he avoids the schematic and didactic. The meaning of the material world is made without being frozen. Memories hold their spirit.

Aby Warburg: Bilderatlas Mnemosyne

The Bundeskunsthalle

“… In a way, Warburg was lucky not to have the chance to complete his Bilderatlas, and perhaps even luckier that the original panels were lost for nearly a century. His claims about universality were worryingly overrated, and research focused on classical Greece and Renaissance Italy dissipated into apophenia when applied to popular culture. Warburg was lucky because the relative invisibility of a relatively rudimentary masterpiece made it mythical. Warburg himself might have appreciated this situation more vividly than most, for memory was the guiding principle of his atlas. Mnemosyne was his muse and he appreciated her as much for her elusiveness as for her lingering presence … “


William E. Bennett