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Five Events to Look forward to in 2021


Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 12 February-30 May 2021

Enslaved man working on the fields (around 1850) by an unknown artist

The Rijksmuseum will take on 250 years of colonial history spanning four continents for its forthcoming Slavery exhibition, which considers the slave-trading networks both across the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. It will be organised around the life stories of ten individuals, including enslaved people, slave owners and those who resisted the system. The audio guide will feature oral histories, songs and speakers with a “personal link” to those figures, helping to immerse visitors in the “emotional, human experience” of slavery, according to Valika Smeulders, the Rijksmuseum’s head of history and a specialist in the presentation of slavery in museums. The curators also consulted a diverse panel of external scholars and community leaders because “we are not working on the exhibition from an ivory tower”, Smeulders says. The 140 exhibits will bring together leg cuffs used to shackle enslaved people and tools from the plantations, with luxurious objects associated with those in power, such as Rembrandt’s portraits of a sugar scion and his wife and a Dutch West India Company golden box presented to William IV. (The biggest and best art exhibitions opening in 2021 | The Art Newspaper)

Epic Iran

Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 13 February-30 August 2021

Group of two figures, about 1500 – 1100 BC. © The Sarikhani Collection

Exploring 5,000 years of art, design and culture, Epic Iran will shine a light on one of the greatest historic civilisations, its journey into the 21st century and its monumental artistic achievements, which remain unknown to many.

Epic Iran is organised by the V&A with the Iran Heritage Foundation in association with The Sarikhani Collection.

Literature is an overarching theme of the show, with a section devoted to poetry and its use in manuscripts and another dedicated to Ferdowsi’s 11th-century epic poem Shahnameh (book of kings). The display of these rare illustrated manuscripts—on loan from the Oxfordshire- based Sarikhani Collection and the British Library, among others—is sure to be a highlight. The exhibition will also include recently restored plaster casts of life-sized warrior friezes that adorned the Palace of Darius two millennia ago.(V&A · Epic Iran (

Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective

Gropius Bau, Berlin, 19 March- 1 August 2021

© Yayoi Kusama; Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Victoria Miro & David Zwirner

Eight of Yayoi Kusama’s most important exhibitions, which took place between 1952 and 1983, will be recreated for a retrospective of the Japanese artist’s work in Berlin this spring. The restaging of the shows will illustrate how the artist’s use of space developed and how she harnessed a multitude of mediums in her career, which now spans 70 years. As well as a brand-new Infinity Mirror Room, specially made for the occasion, the show will also look back at lesser-known early works. Among these will be an oil painting on paper, Accumulation of Corpses (Prisoner Surrounded by the Curtain of Depersonalization) (1950), and a collage of fake dollar bills, Untitled (around 1962-63)—reminiscent of the work of her friend Andy Warhol—as well as documentation of nude public performances, such as the naked anti-war happening on Brooklyn Bridge in 1968. The exhibition, which will be the first German retrospective of the artist, will also travel to Tel Aviv in the autumn. Meanwhile, a year-long display of two Infinity Mirror Rooms will finally open at Tate Modern in London after being postponed last year due to the pandemic (29 March- 27 March 2022).

Art Basel

Basel, Switzerland, September 23rd-27th

Due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic and travel restrictions worldwide, Art Basel has announced that it’s June fair will be postponed to September 2021, from the 23rd to the 26th with preview days opening the 21st and the 22nd of the month.

Art Basel will present three Online Viewing Rooms, to which all galleries accepted to Art Basel's shows between 2016 and 2021 will be invited to apply. ‘OVR: Pioneers’, taking place from March 24 to March 27, 2021, will be dedicated to artists who have broken new grounds aesthetically, conceptually, or socio-politically. A second thematic Online Viewing Rooms will take place from June 16 to June 19, 2021, with Art Basel curators determining themes and helping to select the participating galleries. In the beginning of November, ‘OVR:2021’ will exclusively feature artworks created this year. Further details will be announced in the coming months.


NGV International, Melbourne, December 2021 - June 2022

Ponch Hawkes’s No title (Two women embracing, ‘Glad to be gay’) (1973) © Ponch Hawkes, 2018

Touted as the biggest queer-themed show ever staged by an Australian institution, Queer will take around 300 works from the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne “to interpret queer concepts and stories in surprising and thought-provoking ways”, says the NGV’s director Tony Ellwood. Embracing the multifaceted, amorphous boundaries of its subject, there will be no set-in-stone rules for what qualifies as “queer”. Some will be work by queer artists, such as the boundary-pushing late Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery, whose outfit The Metropolitan (around 1988) pairs a floral satin gown with a face covering, a Kaiser helmet and a pair of camouflage print leather gloves. Others will document queer people and histories, such as Ponch Hawkes’s No title (Two women embracing, ‘Glad to be gay’) (1973), which shows two women kissing at a Gay Liberation event. Of course, not all queerness is explicit, as is suggested by the latent homoeroticism of Albrecht Dürer’s 1501 engraving depicting the Christian martyr Saint Sebastian tied to a tree. Differing understandings of queerness throughout the centuries will be examined too. A 540BC Chalkidian black-figure vase will show the Ancient Greek male warriors doing what they did best—fighting and fornicating with each other. (The biggest and best art exhibitions opening in 2021 | The Art Newspaper)


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