The must-see exhibitions of 2020 — America

The must-see exhibitions of 2020 — America

What happened to all those exhibitions you planned to visit in 2020? As museum doors begin to reopen, our updated guide covers all the extensions and postponements to this year’s must-see art, from Kusama to Rockwell, Nara to Degas

This exhibition (first seen at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam) reveals just how innovative the work of French artist Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) was for his time, as well as its enormous influence on many well-known artists after him, including Vincent van Gogh, Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat and Salvador Dalí.

Now extended until 7 September, it includes paintings, drawings and pastels, as well as works by those who saw Millet and his radical painting technique as an inspiration. Ticket sales are limited to 120 per hour, and the first hour of each day is reserved for senior citizens or visitors with underlying health conditions. It’s also free on Fridays. 

Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners, 1857. Musée d’Orsay, Paris (donation subject to usufruct of Mrs. Pommery)
Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners, 1857. Musée d’Orsay, Paris (donation subject to usufruct of Mrs. Pommery)

Don’t miss… Jean-François Millet’s The Gleaners (1857). This large-scale painting, which caused scandal among the upper classes when it was unveiled, sympathetically depicts three peasant women gleaning a field of stray stalks of wheat after the harvest. 

The National Gallery of Art has now opened its delayed Edgar Degas exhibition, featuring 100 paintings, pastels, drawings and sculptures by history’s most celebrated depicter of dancers. 

Dance, particularly ballet, consumed Degas’ output for nearly four decades. Although many shows have been devoted to his love of dance, this is the first to focus on his fascination with the Paris Opéra, France’s primary ballet company founded by Louis XIV in in 1669. 


Edgar Degas, The Dance Lesson, c. 1879. Oil on canvas. Overall 38 x 88 cm. framed 59.7 x 108.3 x 5.1 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon
Edgar Degas, The Dance Lesson, c. 1879. Oil on canvas. Overall: 38 x 88 cm. framed: 59.7 x 108.3 x 5.1 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

Don’t miss... Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Made out of beeswax, human hair, rope, metal, linen and silk, it’s the only sculpture he exhibited publicly during his lifetime. 

While he remains little known outside of his native Mozambique, to his countrymen, the painter and poet Malangatana Ngwenya (1936-2011) is a national hero.

Hi dark, densely packed allegorical studies of colonial life in Africa came to prominence in tandem with the country’s struggle for a liberated nation. This exhibition brings together more than 40 of his key works spanning from 1959 to 1975, the year Mozambique gained independence from Portugal.

The exhibition, which was postponed by four months because of coronavirus, is now open Thursday-Monday until 16 November. The museum is operating at 25 per cent capacity, and entrance requires a ticket purchased in advance. 

Malangatana Ngwenya, The Fountain of Blood (A fonte de sangue), 1961. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Lloyd H. Ellis Jr.

Malangatana Ngwenya, The Fountain of Blood (A fonte de sangue), 1961. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Lloyd H. Ellis Jr.

Don’t miss... The Fountain of Blood  from 1961 (above), a grizzly scene of decapitated beasts and a skeleton painted three years before the beginning of the armed resistance against the Portuguese.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art reopens on the 29 August with an exhibition dedicated to a little-seen series of paintings by the African-American painter Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000).

Between 1954 and 1956 Lawrence embarked on an ambitious project to paint 60 12-by-16-inch tempera panels depicting what he described as ‘the struggles of a people to create a nation and their attempt to build a democracy.’ The series was intended to span events in the USA from the American Revolution to the First World War. Ultimately, however, he only completed 30 panels, illustrating historical moments from 1775 to 1817. 

For the first time in more than half a century the 26 surviving panels will be reunited. As issues and debates around race and national identity continue to rage, Lawrence’s multi-panelled work is as relevant today as ever.

Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000), We crossed the River at McKonkey’s Ferry 9 miles above Trenton . . . the night was excessively severe . . . which the men bore without the least murmur... — Tench Tilghman, 27 December 1776. Panel 10, 1954, from Struggle From the History of the American People, 1954-56. Egg tempera on hardboard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchase Lila

Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000), We crossed the River at McKonkey’s Ferry 9 miles above Trenton . . . the night was excessively severe . . . which the men bore without the least murmur... — Tench Tilghman, 27 December 1776. Panel 10, 1954, from Struggle: From the History of the American People, 1954-56. Egg tempera on hardboard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchase Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2003.414. © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Don’t miss... We crossed the River at McKonkey’s Ferry 9 miles above Trenton, above, from 1954. It depicts George Washington’s men crossing the choppy water of the Delaware River at Christmas in 1776. 

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  • Yoshitomo Nara LACMA, Los Angeles
    Autumn, 2020

‘My work is always linked to recognisable punk album covers, but folk-music record covers are really important,’ Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara told the Financial Times in 2014. ‘There was no museum where I grew up so my exposure to art came from the album covers.’

Spanning more than three decades, this major solo show explores the work of the celebrated ‘Superflat’ artist through the lens of one of his primary passions: music. Paintings, drawings, sculpture, ceramics, immersive installations and never-seen-before preparatory sketches will be presented alongside album covers that Nara began collecting as a teenager. 

Although LACMA remains closed, it has plans to reopen by the autumn, subject to local guidance, and will extend Yoshitomo Nara ‘into next year’.

Yoshitomo Nara, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, 2017. © Yoshitomo Nara 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist
Yoshitomo Nara, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, 2017. © Yoshitomo Nara 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist

Don’t miss... Miss Forest, a 26-foot-high painted bronze sculpture which has already been installed on Wilshire Boulevard, outside LACMA. Inspired by the 2011 Fukushima earthquake, it reimagines Nara’s child-character as a Shinto earth-protecting spirit.

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  • Norman Rockwell: Imagining Freedom Denver Art Museum, Denver,
    Until 7 September, 2020

Norman Rockwell is best remembered for his images of an idealised America. This exhibition, however, focuses on the 1940s and the artist’s depictions of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s concept of the Four Freedoms — Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear — which encouraged Americans to support the war effort and defend public freedom.

Rockwell was among a large group of creatives who took on the challenge of illustrating Roosevelt’s message. The results were depictions of everyday community and domestic life that reinforced the positive message of Americans coming together for the common good. 

The exhibition has now been extended until 7 September. Timed tickets for the Denver Art Museum must be booked before visiting and are released two weeks in advance at 10am each morning. 

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), Freedom from Fear, 1943. Oil on canvas. 45¾ x 35½ in. Illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, March 13, 1943. Collection of Norman Rockwell Museum. © SEPS Curtis Licensing, Indianapolis, IN. All rights reserved. www.curtislicensing.com
Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), Freedom from Fear, 1943. Oil on canvas. 45¾ x 35½ in. Illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, March 13, 1943. Collection of Norman Rockwell Museum. © SEPS: Curtis Licensing, Indianapolis, IN. All rights reserved. www.curtislicensing.com

Don’t miss... Rockwell’s iconic 1961 Golden Rule, which was reimagined as a giant mosaic, and gifted to the United Nations in 1985 on behalf of the United States by then First Lady Nancy Reagan. 

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Presented across New York’s splendid Botanical Gardens, Yayoi Kusama’s multi-sensory exhibition was set to open in May 2020. The NYBG, however, announced it was to be postponed until spring 2021 with a statement from Kusama that read: ‘The passion that I and those at The New York Botanical Garden have poured into this exhibition is still burning... I hope you can wait. With all my heart.’

On display will be the artist’s signature mirrored environments, organic forms, colossal polka-dotted sculptures of flora, nature-based paintings and works on paper, as well as a body of new work — to include Kusama’s first immersive greenhouse installation.

Yayoi Kusama, Kusama with Pumpkin, 2010. © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo  Singapore  Shanghai; Victoria Miro, London; David Zwirner, New York
Yayoi Kusama, Kusama with Pumpkin, 2010. © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore / Shanghai; Victoria Miro, London; David Zwirner, New York

Don’t miss... Dancing Pumpkin (2020), a monumental, brand new Kusama sculpture.

Born in 1925 in Chicago, Joan Mitchell is widely regarded as a key figure of the American Abstract Expressionist movement. This major retrospective, organised in collaboration with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, presents paintings, drawings and prints from across Mitchell’s career, exploring the full arc of her creative process. Originally planned for September 2020, the opening has been pushed back to 21 March 2021 as a result of the current pandemic. 

Hanging alongside her masterworks based on landscape imagery and flowers, including Mon Paysage (1967) and No Rain (1976), below, will be rarely seen small paintings, pastels and works on paper. For the occasion, The Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives will loan a selection of the artists’s sketchbooks and archival photographs.

Joan Mitchell, No Rain, 1976. Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). © Estate of Joan Mitchell
Joan Mitchell, No Rain, 1976. Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). © Estate of Joan Mitchell

Don’t miss… Bracket (1989), a monumental three-panel painting that exemplifies Mitchell’s late painterly aesthetic.