Despite everything, 2021 promises to be rich in terms of art events. Is it the hungry for work museum curators or bored visitors who make this year’s exhibition plan so intensive and alluring? Among the numerous gallery projects I selected a few solo shows, both ongoing and upcoming, which guests of honor definitely deserve every bit of attention of the audience. Actually, there are twice as many one-man (let alone, group) exhibitions that have been left behind in the article. But that’s fine, we still have 11 months to catch up.
Please note that exhibitions can be postponed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 restrictions. You will find the latest information on the institutions‘ website. Plan your visit beforehand, and enjoy your time at the museum.
YAYOI KUSAMA (b. 1929)
Gropius Bau, Berlin
March 19—August 01, 2021
It was the midst of the last summer when we promised our readers a Yayoi Kusama retrospective in 2021. Well, nothing has changed, at least, by now. One of the best known Japanese female painters born in Nagano, Japan in 1929 will enjoy her major solo exhibition in life (long live Yayoi!). This year the project will be hosted by Gropius Bau, Berlin, followed by Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2022.
Those acquainted with Kusama by name only might primarily recall her immersive installations with repetitive patterns like ‘Mirror Room’ (Pumpkin) presented at the Venice Biennale 1993 or even an earlier one, ‘Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show’ (1963), which features a boat in the dark grotto overgrown with soft-sculptured phallic pieces. While these are significant and literally groundbreaking works by the artist (Kusama’s male fellows like Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg tried stealing her overwhelming manner of exhibiting the innocuous of incredible size), there is still a lot to say about Yayoi’s creative path. Conquering the art world of the Big Apple in the 1960s, Kusama first positioned herself as a painter with NY art galleries showcasing her canvases, without much success, though. She also organized body performances accompanied by love orgies, protesting against the Vietnam war. And the point is, Yayoi Kusama’s early period was just as interesting as her later works, that’s what the artist’s retrospective at Gropius Bau keeps in focus. A brand-new installation by Kusama ‘Infinity Mirror Room’ will also be on display.
JASPER JOHNS (b. 1930)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania, US
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
September 28, 2021–February 13, 2022
Jasper Johns should rightly be considered another man of the hour. Turning 91 this year, the artist shows no signs of stopping, while continuing to work in his studio in Saint Martin or in New York, (depending on where he currently is). Philadelphia Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of American Art are hosting the mission to showcase the body of works by the artist over his 70-year career with a ‘Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror’ exhibition.
Recognized as one of the most paid living artists, Jasper Johns became famous for his Neo-Dada works, which, though being usually mistaken for pop art, were, actually, meant to oppose the latter. ‘I don’t want my work to be an exposure of my feelings,’ said Johns on the rise of his career. What he implied, was a conscious departure from the individualistic approach, so characteristic of abstract expressionism, which prevailed in the 1950s. Yet going into pop art would be too easy for the ingenious artist. Jasper Johns wanted to release the object, showing it the way it was, purged of any sticky connotations. And the artist did that in his early series featuring some simple items like targets (Target with Four Faces, 1955), numbers (‘0 through 9’, 1961), and, oh yes, flags (‘Flag’, 1954). Oil paint would be further replaced with printmaking techniques, readymades, and even sculpture. However, Jasper Johns has remained true to his concise and ironic manner throughout the career, which you may discover walking across the ‘Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror’ exhibition. The artist’s tender and productive relationship with Robert Rauschenberg as well as his friendship with the inspiring duo of Merce Cunningham and John Cage is another curious aspect of his life and art, highlighted on the display.
JOSEPH BEUYS (1921—1986)
Various venues in Europe throughout 2021
‘Everyone’s an artist,’ said Joseph Beuys, German painter, sculptor, theorist, and just one of the founders of postmodernism. Could he imagine back then, that these words would give rise not only to a catch phrase, but also to an entire approach in arts? Since artists from the whole world have rethought Beuys’ practice over the past few decades, now it’s time to solemnly bring those statements together. ‘Beuys 2021’ is a series of art events taking place in 12 German cities, Warsaw, Poland, Vienna, Austria, and Spain from January 2021 till the beginning of the next year.
Kunstakademie Düsseldorf pays tribute to the late master through the ‘Mataré + Beuys + Immendorff’ exhibition to be launched in March. Other dialogues between the artist and his colleagues will be presented by the Kunstmuseen Krefeld (‘Beuys + Duchamp’), and Bundeskunsthalle Bonn (‘Beuys + Lehmbruck’), let alone the rich program of festivals, discussions, book presentations, and concerts (see the full range of activities on the ‘Beuys 2021’ website). The choice of the venues is not accidental: the great German artist was born in Krefeld in 1921 and died in Düsseldorf in 1986. For those whose interest in Joseph Beuys’ life and arts goes beyond an amateur’s curiosity, Museum Schloss Moyland has introduced a special competition. Young scholars in the fields of science, law, economy, humanities, and other social studies are welcomed to submit their theses, dissertations, essays, as well as exhibition and educational projects related to the figure of Beuys until June 30th, 2021. The award ceremony of Joseph Beuys Research Prize will be hosted on May 14, 2022.
PAULA REGO (b. 1935)
Tate Britain, June 16–October 24, 2021
Even if the name of Paula Rego sounds a bit less familiar to some of the readers, it doesn’t depreciate her artistic talent and contribution to culture. Portuguese artist with a strong English background, she knew how to marry up the traditional (elements from folktales she would often hear from her grandma as a child) with personal experience in her body of works. ‘The largest and most comprehensive retrospective of Paula Rego’s work to date’ is held by Tate Britain this spring, featuring over 100 works by the artist.
Vivid imagination of Paula Rego might be admired and feared: her surreal pastels hide suspense behind the mundane images, her characters are extremely grotesque like in a child nightmare. The artist’s newlywed looks like a weary mature woman (‘Bride’, 1994), while a huge white hair has a killer’s face (‘War’, 2003). Above all, Rego is quite a consistent painter: she prefers pastels to oil paint and often depicts herself on the canvas, rather as an observer. Paula Rego focuses on the topics of war trauma and women rights exploring violence and animal nature of humankind. She also chooses figurative painting to be ‘closer’ to socio-political reality she constantly refers to. The artist’s pieces exhibited at Tate include not only her large-scale paintings, but also collage, ink and pencil drawings, etchings, and sculpture. Since Paula Rego has always loved London calling it home, Tate Britain seems to be a perfect place for her life’s biggest show.
HELEN FRANKENTHALER (1928—2011)
Dulwich Picture Gallery, May 27–November 28, 2021
One of the first public art museums in London, the Dulwich Picture Gallery is famous for its fine collections of Old Master paintings like Italian and Spanish baroque, and British portraits from Tudor times. However, the Gallery is also open to some newer currents in art, such as postmodern painting. Helen Frankenthaler’s first major UK exhibition run by the Dulwich Picture Gallery during the coming summer and autumn seasons vividly illustrates that. ‘Helen Frankenthaler: Radical Beauty’ features around 30 works from the artist’s foundation, including both her early woodcuts and final pieces.
Frankenthaler was a true feminist. No, she neither organized any protests at the streets, nor directly implemented any feminist statements in her artistic practice. And yet she exhibited along with the men artists (remember, the art world of the 1950s was a heavily male-dominated industry) and is widely recognized as one of the pioneers of the Color Field movement. Having created her first influential painting ‘Mountains and Sea’ (1953) at the young age of 23, the painter discovered her signature technique, which she called a ‘soak stain’. Frankenhalter studied under the architect Wallace Harrison and abstract expressionist artist Hans Hoffman, naturally being influenced by them, let alone her admiration for Jackson Pollock, and despite it all, she succeeded in elaborating her own unique artistic manner. In 1964 the great and good Clement Greenberg invited Helen Frankenthaler and a few other artists such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, to take part in the ‘Post-painterly abstraction’ exhibition, which Greenberg curated at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
On the cover: Artist Jasper Johns. Photo_ Jack Mitchell