Around The World In Art: The Must-See Exhibitions of 2021
As we slowly (but surely) make our way to the light at the end of the tunnel, art makes its presence felt, not just through screens by way of virtual tours, but in reality where exhibition venues come to life yet again. The Sound of Life team puts together our favourite exhibitions of 2021, where art lovers can take a well-needed mental break and escape into the beauty of the unexpected.
RYUICHI SAKAMOTO: SEEING SOUND HEARING TIME
Where: M Woods Hutong, Beijing
When: Now – 8 August 2021
Since the late 1970s, Ryuichi Sakamoto has been a firm advocate of the correlation between sound and art. As a musician, composer, producer and activist, he believes that technology is the key to developing a more comprehensive understanding of the world. From his Oscar- and Grammy-winning cinematic scores, to his influence in electronic music and beyond, Sakamoto continues to radically transform the way we think about the potential of art and music.
For the first time at Beijing’s M Woods Hutong, art lovers will be able to take in a comprehensive collection of Sakamoto’s installations in full, which explores the boundaries between sound and noise, sound and silence, as well as sound and images. Weave your way through eight multi-sensory spaces, which blend audio and visual for a unique experience. LIFE combines the unilateral experience of Sakamoto’s 1999 opera with projections of undulating images through custom-made water tanks suspended in the air.
Speaking about his journey as a cancer survivor, Sakamoto expressed, “Music, work and life have a beginning and an ending. What I want to make now is music freed from the constraints of time.”
YAYOI KUSAMA: A RETROSPECTIVE
Where: Gropius Bau, Berlin
When: Now – 15 August 2021
The undisputed “Queen of Polka Dots”, Yayoi Kusama is known for her psychedelic, otherworldly work. But the source of her inspiration reveals a darker side: since childhood, Kusama has suffered from mental health issues like obsessive compulsive disorder and hallucinations. In an interview with art critic Gordon Brown in 1963, she referenced her hallucinatory episodes: “My nets grew beyond myself and beyond the canvases I was covering them with. They began to cover the walls, the ceiling, and finally the whole universe.” For Kusama, her polka dots act as “art medicine” as a way to relieve the symptoms of her illness, which further explains her prolificness.
This summer, Gropius Bau presents an overview of Kusama’s work over the past 70 years, as well as a new Infinity Mirror Room, a world-famous Kusama signature. From her early paintings and accumulative sculptures, to her immersive environments and lesser-known artistic activity in Germany and Europe, Kusama fans are bound to be awestruck by the sheer expanse of her repertoire.
Since 1977, Kusama has been living voluntarily in a Japanese psychiatric hospital, but emerged briefly last year to share an official statement with the world via one of her galleries, OTA Fine Arts. In her message about the pandemic, she wrote:
Embraced in deep love and the efforts of people all over the world
Now is the time to overcome, to bring peace
We gathered for love and I hope to fulfil that desire
The time has come to fight and overcome our unhappiness
NIKI DE SAINT PHALLE: STRUCTURES FOR LIFE
Where: MoMa PS1, New York
When: Now – 6 September 2021
Visionary feminist artist Niki de Saint Phalle was widely known to be ahead of her time. From the beginning of her career in the 1950s, she pushed against accepted artistic practices, creating “provocative” and “scandalous” works like Tirs, which involved firing a gun at plaster reliefs to release pockets of paint; and Nanas, comprised of a series of brightly-coloured sculptures of voluptuous female figures—a running theme in many of her future pieces.
At MoMa PS1, see over 200 works created from the mid-1960s up until Saint Phalle’s death in 2002, including sculptures, prints, drawings, jewelry and films. One of the key points in this exhibition is the examination of Saint Phalle’s central life project, Tarot Garden, a massive park outside Rome which she began constructing in the 1970s. Opened to the public in 1998, the garden and its structures allow for moments of interaction and reflection, featuring Saint Phalle’s use of art to alter perceptions, and laying down her foundation as an early pioneer of immersive art experiences. Speaking about her traumatic childhood, Saint Phalle once said that she wanted to created a space “where you could have a new kind of life, just to be free”.
ANOTHER ENERGY: POWER TO CONTINUE CHALLENGING
Where: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
When: Now – 26 September 2021
In the past decade or so, more attention has been given to female contemporary artists, showing greater respect towards diversity and equality in terms of gender, race, ethnicity and beliefs. Another Energy focuses on 16 female artists in their 70s or older, who continue to embark on new challenges to pursue their own distinctive creative paths despite turbulent times. With about 130 works in total, this exhibition contemplates the special strength possessed by these determined creators—in other words, “another energy”.
Undercover 2 by Phyllida Barlow (born in 1944) is a notable sculpture made from timber, plywood, cement, plaster and steel. Growing up in London as the city recovered from WWII, Barlow became concerned not only with the beauty of surfaces and forms of materials, but also with their condition. Her works often feature a mixture of industrial materials, arranged in a tense state of transformation, appearing seemingly on the verge of collapse, yet miraculously managing to stand upright.
BIENNALE ARCHITETTURA 2021
Where: Various locations around Venice
When: Now – 21 November 2021
Originally scheduled for May 2020, the 17th International Architecture Exhibition was postponed an entire year, kicking off just recently amidst strict safety measures. The curatorial theme, “How will we live together?” is a direct reference to the core issues mankind faces at present, as we spend more hours staying indoors and sharing spaces. Curator Hashim Sarkis shared, “The current global pandemic has no doubt made the question that this Biennale Architettura is asking all the more relevant and timely, even if somehow ironically, given the imposed situation. It may indeed be a coincidence that the theme was proposed a few months before the pandemic. We can no longer wait for politicians to propose a path towards a better future, but we can offer alternative ways of living together through architecture.”
In the face of ever-increasing differences, the disparity between the rich and the poor is further accentuated. The organisers hope that participating architects will be able to reimagine a space where people can co-exist together to create a better way of life. Spanning six months, this exhibition sees a total of 113 participants from 46 countries showcasing their ideas, set against the beautiful backdrop of Venice.
BADU GILI: WONDER WOMEN
Where: Sydney Opera House
When: Now – 31 December 2021
To celebrate the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ 150th anniversary and in collaboration with Sydney Opera House, Badu Gili: Wonder Women takes art appreciation up a notch. Every day after sunset, the sails of the Opera House are illuminated with artworks by six female First Nations artists across Australia: Marlene Gilson, Judith Inkamala, Sally M. Nangala Mulda, Marlene Rubuntja, Elaine Russell and Kaylene Whiskey. Badu Gili means “water light” in the language of the indigenous Gadigal people, the traditional owners of Bennelong Point where the Opera House now stands.
In June, a supporting outdoor event called Badu Gili Winter Nights will also be held on the Opera House’s Monumental Steps, with live music, talks and poetry readings in celebration of the nightly illumination. This will also include a pop-up bar curated by a First Nations chef, featuring menu items inspired by native ingredients.
Where: Tate Britain, London
When: 7 July – 24 October 2021
Inspired by Walt Disney and the stories her father read to her, Paula Rego started painting at the age of four. Since then, she has become one of the most influential visual artists of her time. Influenced by Spanish painter Joan Miró, Rego’s early works revolved around surrealism, often highlighting her personal experiences about love, life and loss. Over time, Rego’s style evolved from abstract towards representational, favouring pastels over oils when creating her art, describing it “like painting with your fingers”. She also spent much of her career focusing on women’s rights and abortion rights, as evidently expressed in a series of ten pastels known as Untitled: The Abortion Pastels (1998). In 1990, Rego became the first artist-in-residence at the National Gallery in London.
Though born in Portugal, Rego spent most of her life in the UK, and is currently based in London. The exhibition at Tate is the largest and most comprehensive retrospective of her work to date, featuring over 100 works, including collages, paintings, large-scale pastels, ink and pencil drawings, etchings and sculptures. If you are in London, this is the best chance to survey Rego’s full range of work in the city that she calls home.
Where: Lafayette Anticipations, Paris
When: 20 October 2021 – 02 January 2022
Elusive and mysterious, not much is known about fashion’s invisible superstar, Martin Margiela. And yet, the world is familiar with the Belgian designer’s signature style, which often involves deconstruction, trompe l'oeil and/or unconventional materials to a certain extent. Since the 1980s, Margiela has changed the way we look at things: under his magic touch, the forgotten and overlooked get a new lease of life, emerging as something new, unique and unexpected.
Lafayette Anticipations brings us Martin Margiela, the icon’s first solo show, carrying on his obsession with transformation. Focusing more on the artist than the fashion designer, this exhibition will showcase drawings, sculptures and collages, as well as numerous previously-unseen works, on themes that stay dear to Margiela himself: the passage of time, disappearance, chance, mystery and aura. Truly a golden opportunity for Margiela fans to get to know the man behind the brand.
Cover Credit: Adam Berry / Getty Images
Writer | Michelle Tan
Lover of all things bizarre, Michelle has a soft spot for dinosaurs, animal videos and a strong G&T. Her lifelong dream is to become an urban hermit.