Top 10 art exhibitions to see in 2020

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on January 23, 2020.
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The remarkable thing about major museum shows is that they can transcend the objects themselves to become global cultural phenomena. You might not be in Paris for the Louvre’s record-breaking Leonardo da Vinci show (on now through Feb 24), but you will certainly have heard of the waiting list, not to mention the multiple controversies.

So while you may not be in New York in March, Paris in May, or Madrid in October, we have compiled a list of what should be the biggest and/or most influential shows of the year.

Check them out in chronological order. Or wait a few months, and they will be clogging your social media feeds on their own. — Bloomberg



‘Furusiyya: The art of chivalry between east and west’ at the Louvre Abu Dhabi
Feb 19-May 30

In a textbook example of what the two-year-old Louvre Abu Dhabi set out to achieve, a sweeping show of more than 130 historic objects from France, Iraq, Spain, and Syria will tell the story of knighthood in the medieval ages. The artworks have been culled from a series of French museums including France’s national museum of the Middle Ages in Paris, the Musée de Cluny, and they combine objects in the permanent collection of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Expect lots of swords.uvre

Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi


‘Gerhard Richter: Painting after all’ at the Met Breuer
March 4-July 5

Richter is a fantastically interesting artist who, through no fault of his own, has principally become known for the prices his art achieves at auction. In 2015, a very large abstract work he painted in 1986 sold for US$46.3 million at Sotheby’s in New York. But once you move past the prices (the highest of which, not incidentally, go to some of his most boring paintings), you will discover one of the 20th century’s most interesting painters. His art manages to blur the lines between photography and painting to evoke memory, loss, and repression. Now, 100 works, which comprise Richter’s first major US show in more than 20 years, will allow viewers to see his genius for themselves.

The Met Breuer, New York


‘Niki de Saint Phalle’ at MoMA PS1
April 5–Sept 7

Saint Phalle, who was born in 1930 and died in 2002, was something of a late bloomer. She did not start to make art professionally until she was in her 30s, after her first career as a model ended. She quickly became famous for her ebullient sculptures of flying women, Gaudi-esque architectural monuments, books, paintings, jewellery, and women’s rights activism. This show, her first in New York, will include 100 objects that convincingly make the case for her continuing relevance and visual potency.

MoMA PS1, New York


‘The Princely Collections, Liechtenstein: Five centuries of painting and sculpture’ at the National Gallery of Canada
June 5–Sept 7

Even royal families can fall on hard times, and the Princely House of Liechtenstein is no exception. After the Second World War, the Soviets annexed their vast landholdings in then-Czechoslovakia. In an effort to make themselves whole, the family sold off a trove of artworks including a painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Now these and other works will be reunited in a travelling exhibition comprised of 86 paintings and sculptures. Masterpieces in themselves, the exhibition will be particularly fascinating as seen through the lens of a single collecting family.

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa


‘Marina Abramovic: After life’ at the Royal Academy of Arts
Sept 26–Dec 8

This solo exhibition will be Abramovic’s first major survey in the UK and, more astounding, the Royal Academy’s first female solo show in its 250-year history. Most people know Abramovic for her endurance-style performance art, and understandably so. When someone spends more than 730 hours staring at strangers in the Museum of Modern Art, it is hard to forget. But Abramovic’s 50-year-career has entailed much more than mere endurance, and the survey will include photographs, video, and work she has made specifically for the exhibition that have nothing to do with performance. Do not worry, though, there will be plenty of performances, too.

Royal Academy of Arts, London


‘Raphael’ at the National Gallery
March 5–June 14

Next year will mark the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death at age 37. There will be multiple exhibitions to honour the painter, who created a spectacular amount of paintings, drawings, and frescoes in a relatively short period. Among others, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin has already opened a show of five of the artist’s paintings of the Virgin Mary, and the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome will put on a sweeping exhibition in the spring. In the fall the National Gallery will put on its own major show, with its 10 Raphaels augmented by loans from the Vatican, Louvre and Uffizi.

The National Gallery, London


‘Gego’ at the Guggenheim
Oct 9–March 21, 2021

Gertrud Goldschmidt (1912-1994), who went by the name Gego, is famous for her hanging wire sculptures. At the work’s best, its spidery lines and disorienting asymmetry give viewers the impression of having tripped and stumbled into a computer simulation. She produced much more than sculpture, and the Guggenheim’s retrospective, which will include about 200 artworks from her very long, storied career, should have something for everyone.

The Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation, New York


‘The Morozov Collection’ at the Fondation Louis Vuitton
Oct 13–March 15, 2021

Four years ago, the Fondation Louis Vuitton put together an unprecedented exhibition of modern masterworks that once belonged to the industrialist Sergei Shchukin, a man whose fortune (and art) were confiscated by the Russian state after the revolution. Now, in a sequel of sorts, The Fondation is resurrecting another pre-war collection assembled by Moscow philanthropists Mikhail and Ivan Morozov, with work lent from museums, including the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. The Morozov brothers amassed a spectacular impressionist and modern collection with art by Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse, and Picasso, all of which was dispersed into the aforementioned Russian museums. For anyone unwilling or unable to schlep to see individual works in those individual museums, this exhibition is a rare treat.

The Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris


‘Body and Soul: Sculpture in Italy from Donatello to Michelangelo’ at the Louvre
May 6–Aug 17

Once the dust has settled from the Louvre’s Leonardo show, visitors will be able to turn their sights onto a new exhibition of Italian masterworks, assembled in collaboration with the Castello Sforzesco museum in Milan. The exhibition is a sequel, of sorts, to the 2013 show “Springtime in the Renaissance,” which outlined the genesis of arguably the most important sculptural period of the last 1,000 years. The show will be more triumphant than its predecessor, with an emphasis on sculptures that highlight bodily movement and contortions and others that demonstrate sculptors’ ability to evoke heightened emotion. It might not get the crowds that the Mona Lisa does, but that means you will be left alone with one of the most interesting exhibitions in recent memory.

The Louvre, Paris


‘The Magritte Machine’ at the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum
Oct 27–Feb 28, 2021

In 1950, the surrealist painter Rene Magritte wrote out a thought experiment where he conceived of a “universal machine for making paintings” in an attempt to automatise artistic creation. Now the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum is taking Magritte at face value with an exhibition that attempts to connect the artist’s work to the so-called Magritte Machine. Shaky as the exhibition’s premise might sound, the organisers have stacked the deck with about 65 canvases in an effort to ensure the execution is a slam dunk.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, Madrid