The best 2021 exhibitions around the world


Because of Covid, 2020 has been a particularly tough year for museums and galleries all around the world, but they withstood the challenge a global pandemic brought on and they gave us a 2021 full of exciting shows and exhibitions. As difficult as it was, we chose 10 of the best 2021 exhibitions around the world, even though so many of them were amazing.

Masterpieces from Buckingham PalaceThe Queen’s Gallery, London

December 4, 2020 – January 31, 2022

The Buckingham Palace’s Picture Gallery has been hosting Italian, Dutch, and Flemish masterpieces since the 1820s, usually held in one-above-another settings, which are accessible to the public for only part of the year. Now that the Picture Gallery is under renovation, there is the unmissable opportunity to view 65 of these exceptional artworks displayed in modern gallery conditions for the first time. The show includes paintings by Vermeer, Canaletto, Rembrandt, Titian, and Van Dyck: a must for any art history lover.

Judith with the Head of Holofernes, Cristofaro Allori – courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust

Georgia O’KeeffeMuseo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Fondation Beyeler, Basel

April 20, 2021 – May 22, 2022

Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the key figures in modern American art, and now her works are conquering Europe as well: her itinerant retrospective has been hosted in Madrid, now it is visitable in Paris, and it will finally move to Basil. The exhibition counts about 80 pieces produced between 1910 and 1920 that made her a pioneer of abstraction. “The opportunity to analyze her at three institutions steeped in the history of European Modernism makes it possible to place her work in a global context,” says the curator Marta Ruiz del Árbol. The paintings offer a complete survey of her career, ranging from her celebrated flower paintings and views of New York to the landscapes of New Mexico. Among them, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 will be exposed, which is the most expensive painting by a woman artist sold at an auction.

Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, Georgia O’Keeffe – courtesy of the Centre Pompidou

Yayoi Kusama: A RetrospectiveGropius Bau, Berlin

April 23, 2021 – June 15, 2021

Eight of Yayoi Kusama’s most famous exhibitions have been recreated for a retrospective of the Japanese artist, and several current works have been exposed as well. Covering almost 3000 m2, the restaging of her works has traced down the development of Kusama’s creative output and has shown how she used a multitude of mediums throughout her career. Together with a new Infinity Mirror Room, the exhibition has shown her less-known pieces, such as the oil painting Accumulation of Corpses (Prisoner Surrounded by the Curtain of Depersonalization) (1950). The visitors have had the chance to explore the pioneering nature of her work, including archival material, and films she made over her career.

The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens, Yayoi Kusama – courtesy of the Gropius Bau

Epic IranVictoria and Albert Museum, London

May 29, 2021 – September 12, 2021

The exhibition explored about 5000 years of Iranian history, from the earliest known writing (32000 b.C.) to the 1979 Revolution and beyond. Epic Iran consisted of ten sections, which introduced the visitor into a proper city, complete with a gatehouse, gardens, a palace, and a library. You could find exposed anything from sculpture, ceramics, carpets, photography, and film: all evidence of the country’s rich historic culture. The last section included Modern and contemporary works by some of the most important Iranian artists, such as Parviz Tanavoli, Monir Farmanfarmaian, and Shirin Neshat. A whole section was dedicated to poetry and its use in manuscripts, which were one of the highlights of the show.

A folio from the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp, Tabriz, Qaran Unhorses Barman – courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance ArtistSuermondt-Ludwig Museum, Aachen; National Gallery, London

July 18, 2021 – February 27, 2022

Albrecht Dürer has probably been the most enterprising traveler in the history of art: from Nuremberg he crossed the Alps, visited Italy and Venice and the Netherlands, exchanging ideas with the artists he met and increasing his fame and influence across Europe. This exhibition wants to bring the visitors closer to the artist on every level, showing not only his paintings, but letters, prints, and sketches as well, bringing to life the people and the places he came in contact with. One of the highlights surely is the striking “Madonna and the Child” (1496/1499) from the National Gallery of Art of Washington, never shown before in Europe.

Madonna and the Child, Albrecht Dürer – courtesy of the National Gallery

Lokame Tharavadu (The World is One Family) Alappuzha, India

April 18, 2021 – December 31, 2021

The Kochi Biennale Foundation, together with the Government of Kerala, presents Lokame Tharavadu, a large-scale contemporary art exhibition, which features the work of 267 artists who trace their roots back to Kerala. The idea at the core of the exhibition, the world is one family, is inspired by a Malayalam poem written by Vallathol Narayana Menon, which appeals to the universal spirit of humanity. The show explores a variety of artistic perspectives, celebrating the diversity of artistic practices. The curator, Bose Krishnamachari, has conceptualized the show asking questions about the conception of home, surroundings, and the world. Furthermore, the Foundation aims to enrich the discourse on contemporary art towards the Indian public.

Part of the exhibition Lokame Tharavadu – courtesy of the Kochi Biennale Foundation

Fragments of Epic MemoryArt Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

September 1, 2021 – February 21, 2022

The exhibition places about 300 photos from the Montgomery Collection of Caribbean (ranging from 19th-century tourist views to posed 20th-century studio portraits) along with the works of modern and contemporary Caribbean artists, such as Frank Bowling, Paul Anthony Smith, Sandra Brewster, and more. The show blends historical and contemporary perspectives, offering a new way of encountering the Caribbean and its diaspora. It also wants to demonstrate how history is constantly revised and reimagined through artistic production over time.

Notebook of No Return, Kelly Sinnapah Mary – courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario

Maurizio Cattelan: The Last JudgmentUCCA, Beijing

November 20, 2021 – February 20, 2022

One of the most controversial and popular figures of the contemporary art world is holding his first solo exhibition in China, presenting about 30 works from his career. Taking its name from the famous Michelangelo painting, the exhibition features an overview of Cattelan’s provocative and irreverent artistic output. The show has a more holistic approach rather than specific, allowing the visitors to reflect on the artist’s vision. His world-famous duct-taped banana, Comedian, is among the exposed pieces as well!

Comedian, Maurizio Cattelan – courtesy of UCCA

Jasper Johns: Mind/MirrorPhiladelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

September 28, 2021 – February 13, 2022

This is the broadest retrospective ever dedicated to the work of Jasper Jones. It takes place across two museums simultaneously: The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, two institutions Johns had long-standing relationships with. Both shows are chronological and feature some of his most celebrated paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints as well as many lesser-known and recent works. This unique double structure echoes Johns’ interest in mirroring and doubles: in fact, each half of the exhibition reflects the other. The show also presents pairs of related galleries that offer different perspectives on the artist’s development, each focusing on a particular aspect of Johns’ work and thought.

Three Flags, Jasper Johns – courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art

Liquid Ground, Para Site, Hong Kong

August 14, 2021 – November 14, 2021

At the core of this exhibition, there were the land reclamation projects undertaken by many Asian cities, including Hong Kong. The most emblematic example is the Lantau Tomorrow Vision, a proposal that seeks to turn Lantau Island, one of the city's untouched natural reserves, into an economic hub.

The allegory of an island covers the whole exhibition as a leitmotif: islands are isolated but open, constantly phase-shifting between solid and liquid. Hosting an eclectic range of perspectives, the show offers fifteen artists’ points of view on the matter: some of them denounced the extraction of natural resources, others offered alternatives to the current predicament, they reimagined urban infrastructures or focused on reconnection to the earth. The exhibition has been accompanied by a range of public programs led by the artists themselves, specialists, and thinkers.

Installation view of 'Liquid Ground' – courtesy of Para Site

Written by
Valentina Ricci