Art exhibitions and events to look forward to in 2021 — Europe
With the art world hoping for a much-needed revival after a year of uncertainty, we highlight 12 of the most exciting upcoming European museum openings and exhibitions, from Francis Bacon in London to Sophie Taeuber-Arp in Basel
Curated by Francis Bacon’s friend and biographer Michael Peppiatt, the Royal Academy’s show dissects the idea that, for the artist, man was essentially an animal, with violent, carnal instincts.
It’s organised chronologically, starting in 1944 with Bacon’s ghastly, biomorphic creatures based on the Furies from the Greek tragedy Oresteia, and ending in 1991 with the last painting he ever made — of a bull — rediscovered in 2016 and on show in the UK for the first time.
Peppiatt’s argument, however, is most convincing in relation to Head VI from 1949 (above): in one of several reimagined versions of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, Bacon strips the sitter of his divinity and paints him instead with the haunting helplessness of a caged animal.
A magnificent new museum housing part of François Pinault’s extensive collection of contemporary art will open its doors this spring. The 18th-century Bourse de Commerce, restored and transformed by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando — who also designed the Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Pinault’s other museums — features a central rotunda comprising 10 exhibition galleries, grandiose reception and cultural-programming spaces, a 284-seat auditorium, and The Studio, a basement exhibition space suited to the presentation of video and sound installations.
Although details are yet to be announced, the inaugural season of exhibitions and events is set to celebrate the range of artistic practices represented in the collection, from painting, sculpture, video, photography and performance to sound and light installation. It is also expected to explore key themes threading through the collection.
Despite only devoting himself to art wholeheartedly at the age of 41 — in the middle of Nazi-occupied Paris, no less — Jean Dubuffet went on to become one of the most original voices in modern art thanks to the way he built up the surfaces of his works like an alchemist, using glass, charcoal, sponges, vine leaves and butterflies.
He took his unusual inspiration from Outsider Art, which he called ‘Art Brut’ (literally ‘raw’ art). Alongside the 150 Dubuffet works on display at the Barbican are objects from his personal collection made by the psychiatric patient Aloïse Corbaz, the medium Laure Pigeon and Fleury-Joseph Crépin, who claimed that his pictures were communicated to him by the dead.
Through the true stories of 10 individuals, including enslaved Africans, a Dutch sugar merchant and some of those who helped break the shackles of the slave trade, Slavery examines various attitudes to servitude between the 17th and 19th centuries.
Audio guides by narrators who share a personal connection with the people involved, along with music and poetry, bring to life the objects on display, including paintings of African plantation workers and wooden foot stocks. A scale model of a gilded Dutch ship used to transport hundreds of slaves to the Caribbean — shackled cheek-by-jowl for up to three months at sea — is particularly harrowing.
Elsewhere in the Rijksmuseum, 70 objects from its permanent collection are being given a second label to explain their previously hidden connections with slavery, the dehumanising business that made many Dutch people wealthy.
Born in 1889, the Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp pioneered a form of abstraction that fused elements of Dadaism, avant-garde experimentalism and her technical training as a teacher of applied art.
Like many women artists of the 20th century, however, Taeuber-Arp was overshadowed by her more famous artist husband, Jean (Hans) Arp, and her work, which spanned everything from painting and drawing to furniture and architecture, was widely neglected after her death in a tragic accident in 1943.
Featuring more than 250 works, this major retrospective, produced in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate Modern in London, seeks to establish Taeuber-Arp as one of the most important avant-gardists of classic Modernism. In doing so, it will finally give her the recognition she deserves.
The National Gallery says that this is the first exhibition to examine how travelling impacted the career of the pioneering 15th-century German artist Albrecht Dürer — who famously criss-crossed the Alps exporting the Italian Renaissance to northern Europe.
The show offers a chance to get up close to some masterpieces, including Christ among the Doctors (on loan from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid), which was supposedly painted over five days in Venice as a gift for Giovanni Bellini, and the sublime Madonna and Child (from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.), in which Dürer marries Netherlandish devotional imagery with Venetian modelling and colours. The latter has never been on view in the UK before.
Spring sees the long-awaited opening of the Munch Museum, one of the world’s largest institutions dedicated to a single artist. Located in the waterside area of Bjørvika, the new 26,000-square-metre building will house the museum’s collection of around 42,000 works of art and objects bequeathed to Oslo by Edvard Munch on his death in 1944.
There will be more than 220 Munch works on display when it opens, from iconic images such as The Scream, The Sick Child and Vampire to lesser-known drawings, sketches, graphics, sculptures, writings and photographs, exploring his recurrent themes of isolation and self-representation. The museum will also feature works by other Modernist and contemporary artists.
One never has to wait long for the next Picasso exhibition, so there are few aspects or periods of the Spaniard’s career that remain unexplored. One exception, though, is the influence on him of Iberian (ancient Spanish) art, which is the subject of a show coming to the Centro Botín in Santander.
Alas, the most striking manifestation of that influence, 1907’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, isn’t being loaned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. However, numerous other works from across Picasso’s career will be shown alongside Iberian objects that inspired him, ranging from bronze and stone sculptures to painted ceramics.
Vermeer’s painting Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window has had quite a history. It narrowly survived the Allied bombing of Dresden during the Second World War, only to fall into Soviet hands for a decade after it.
In recent years, the canvas has undergone major restoration, with conservators discovering that in the original scene there had been a painting of Cupid hanging on the wall behind the girl (this was erased after Vermeer’s death by another hand).
A new exhibition at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, the masterpiece’s home, will focus on that discovery. Featuring 10 Vermeers in all, it will also consider why so many of the Dutchman’s works include pictures, maps or tapestries in the background.
Curated by the artist Peter Knapp, this exhibition looks at the links in life and art between Alberto Giacometti, his father Giovanni and his cousin Augusto, and his two brothers, Diego and Bruno. It will also explore the enduring influence on their work of Stampa, the family’s home village in a mountainous region of Italian Switzerland.
The show brings together around 30 major sculptures and drawings from the Maeght collection, as well as loaned works, alongside paintings, films and archival objects, to explore the creativity of each member of the artistic family.
‘Of course, everyone knows Alberto,’ said Knapp of his decision to showcase the family’s work, ‘but for once, I hope that the talents of Giovanni, Augusto, Diego and Bruno will also be recognised.’
It has been almost two decades in the planning and is, by some way, the biggest cultural project being undertaken in Europe right now. The Humboldt Forum has cost €660 million and — when it opens its doors at some point in 2021 — will occupy a new building with an area of 30,000 square metres (roughly the same as the V&A in London).
It will be home to the collections of Germany’s Ethnological Museum and Asian Art Museum; a permanent display on the history of Berlin; an open laboratory run by Humboldt University; and, in case that weren’t enough, spaces for standalone exhibitions, concerts and dance performances.
Following his death in 1510, Sandro Botticelli was largely forgotten until the late 19th century. Even today he remains little known compared to fellow Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael.
The curators of a new exhibition devoted to him at Paris’s Musée Jacquemart-André go so far as to call him a ‘mystery’. The show will feature 40 of his religious, mythological and portrait paintings, works that helped Botticelli become one of the most esteemed artists in Italy — before his descent into poverty and isolation late in life.
Also under consideration will be his relationship with both the Medici family and the fanatical friar, Girolamo Savonarola, as well as his role as head of a successful workshop.