Clockwise Shirin Aliabadi, Miss Hybrid #3, 2008. Photograph © Estate of Shirin Aliabadi.
Collection The Farjam Collection. Kara Walker, America 2016, 2018. Kunstmuseum Basel,

Updated: art exhibitions and events from summer 2021 — Europe

Our revised selection of the most exciting openings and exhibitions in Europe, from Paula Rego in London to Kara Walker in Frankfurt

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  • Paula Rego Tate Modern, London
    Until 24 October 2021

Spanning all six decades of her boundary-breaking career, this magnificent survey explores Paula Rego’s remarkable life and examines the wide range of influences behind her deeply personal, highly political art. 

There are more than 100 works on display, from rarely seen early paintings denouncing social injustice under the ‘Estado Novo’, António de Oliveira Salazar’s brutal dictatorship, to large pastels of single female figures from her ‘Dog Woman’ and ‘Abortion’ series. Also on show are the richly layered, staged scenes she has produced over the past two decades.

Paula Rego, The Policeman’s Daughter, 1987. Private collection © Paula Rego
Paula Rego, The Policeman’s Daughter, 1987. Private collection © Paula Rego

Don’t miss The Policeman’s Daughter (1987), above, a seminal work that established Rego’s reputation when it was first exhibited at the Serpentine Gallery in 1988. 

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  • Nero: The Man Behind the Myth British Museum, London
    Until 24 October 2021

Nero is Rome’s most infamous tyrant. He murdered his mother, his brother, his first wife and, allegedly, his second too. By some accounts, he is even said to have started the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD. 

The British Museum’s blockbuster summer show, however, aims to cast the notorious young emperor in a fresh, more favourable light. Bringing together more than 200 objects, it charts Nero’s rise to power and fall from grace, while challenging the biased historical accounts by Tacitus and Suetonius that have shaped his legacy.

Marble bust of Nero. Italy, around 55 AD. Photo by Francesco Piras. With permission of the Ministero della Cultura-Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Cagliari

Marble bust of Nero. Italy, around 55 AD. Photo by Francesco Piras. With permission of the Ministero della Cultura-Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Cagliari

Magnificent sculptures are shown alongside court art, graffiti, manuscripts, jewellery, slave chains from Wales and gladiators’ helmets. These objects prompt the viewer to question established narratives. Was Nero really a merciless, matricidal maniac? The jury’s still out. 

Born in small-town Wisconsin, Georgia O’Keeffe would go on to become one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. Inspired by the works of European Modernists such as Picasso and Braque, O’Keeffe developed her own, distinctly American form of Modernism. 

She has been the subject of solo shows for a century and can be found in important public and private collections around the world. In 2014, she became the most expensive female artist at auction, when Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 (1932), below, sold for $44 million.

Georgia OKeeffe, Jimson WeedWhite Flower No. 1, 1932. Oil on canvas, 121.9 × 101.6 cm. Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Bentonville, Arkansas American. © Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Photography by Edward C. Robison III. © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum  Adagp, Paris, 2021
Georgia O'Keeffe, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, 1932. Oil on canvas, 121.9 × 101.6 cm. Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Bentonville, Arkansas American. © Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Photography by Edward C. Robison III. © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Adagp, Paris, 2021

Her first major retrospective in France considers her practice through more than 100 works from across her career. Highlights include her extraordinary desert landscapes and celebrated paintings of flowers and sun-bleached bones. There’s also a section devoted to 291, the gallery owned by Alfred Stieglitz that staged her first solo show in 1917.

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  • Kara Walker: A Black Hole Is Everything a Star Longs to Be Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt
    From 15 October 2021

The art of Kara Walker, which includes nightmarish drawings, prints, shadow puppets and murals, has been addressing contemporary issues, from race relations and gender roles to sexuality and violence, since she graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. 

Now, she is widely regarded as one of the most important artists working in the United States. First seen at the Kunstmuseum Basel, this major solo show, which will continue at the De Pont Museum in Tilburg, explores the central role of drawing in Walker’s practice.

Kara Walker, America 2016, 2018. Kunstmuseum Basel, Kupferstich-Kabinett © Kara Walker
Kara Walker, America 2016, 2018. Kunstmuseum Basel, Kupferstich-Kabinett © Kara Walker

More than 600 works on paper from her personal archive will be shown alongside more recent drawings, diary notes, typewritten reflections and dream journals. It will be a chance to see the scope of Walker’s creative process and to celebrate an artist of fabulous talent.

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  • The Bourse de Commerce — Pinault Collection Bourse de Commerce, Paris
    Opened 22 May 2021

A magnificent new museum housing part of François Pinault’s extensive collection of contemporary art opened 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, Pinault’s museums in Venice — features a central rotunda comprising 10 galleries, grand spaces for receptions and cultural events, a 284-seat auditorium, and The Studio, a basement exhibition area suited to the presentation of video and sound installations.

Paris’s Bourse de Commerce, restored and transformed by Tadao Ando. © Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, Niney et Marca Architectes, Agence Pierre-Antoine Gatier. Photo Patrick Tourneboeuf

Paris’s Bourse de Commerce, restored and transformed by Tadao Ando. © Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, Niney et Marca Architectes, Agence Pierre-Antoine Gatier. Photo: Patrick Tourneboeuf

Inaugural exhibition highlights include a series of portraits by the Italian painter Rudolf Stingel, Tarek Atoui’s sound installation inspired by China’s Pearl River Delta, and a wax replica of Giambologna’s The Abduction of the Sabine Women  by Urs Fischer.

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  • Picasso Ibero Centro Botín, Santander
    Until 12 September 2021

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, however, is the influence on him of Iberian (ancient Spanish) art, which is the subject of a show at the Centro Botín in Santander.

Iberian limestone sculpture of a man’s head, 3rd century BC. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre)  Franck Raux

Iberian limestone sculpture of a man’s head, 3rd century BC. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Franck Raux

Pablo Picasso, Self-portrait, 1906. © Sucesión Pablo Picasso. VEGAP, Madrid, 2020. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris)  Mathieu Rabeau
Pablo Picasso, Self-portrait, 1906. © Sucesión Pablo Picasso. VEGAP, Madrid, 2020. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau

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 are shown alongside Iberian objects that inspired him, ranging from bronze and stone sculptures to painted ceramics.

  • 7
  • Opening of the Munch Museum Munch Museum, Oslo
    22 October 2021

October 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.

Oslo’s new waterside Munch Museum will be one of the world’s largest institutions devoted to a single artist. Photo @Munchmuseet

Oslo’s new waterside Munch Museum will be one of the world’s largest institutions devoted to a single artist. Photo: @Munchmuseet

There will be more than 220 Munch works on display, 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.

  • 8
  • Epic Iran V&A, London
    Until 12 September 2021

As present-day Iran and its citizens seem beset by difficulties on many fronts, the British Museum’s reminder of its epic contribution to human culture could hardly be more timely. Its presentation of more than 300 objects, ranging from sculpture, ceramics and carpets to textiles, photography and film, is a distillation of 5,000 years of relatively little-known Iranian art, thought, design and tradition.

Horoscope of Iskandar Sultan, 1411. Courtesy Wellcome Collection
Horoscope of Iskandar Sultan, 1411. Courtesy Wellcome Collection

The ten sections of the exhibition are intended to convey the notion of a journey through a city, complete with gatehouse, gardens, palace, and library. Visitors will discover the impact on Iranian civilization of its dramatic landscapes, the earliest known writing, its poetry, trade, lavish architecture, and the military power that established the most extensive empire of the pre-Roman world.

A number of exquisite Qur'ans and manuscript illuminations feature, alongside a prayer rug, battle and parade armour, a celestial globe, and the magnificent Horoscope of Iskandar Sultan, above, on loan from the Wellcome Collection.

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  • The Giacometti: A Family of Creators Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence
    Until 14 November 2021

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 also explores the enduring influence on their work of Stampa, the family’s home village in a mountainous region of Italian Switzerland.

Diego Giacometti, Chat maître d’hôtel  Cat butler, Bronze. 29 x 21 x 12 cm. © Adagp Paris 2021
Diego Giacometti, Chat maître d’hôtel / Cat butler, Bronze. 29 x 21 x 12 cm. © Adagp Paris 2021
Alberto Giacometti, Portrait of Marguerite Maeght, 1961. Oil on canvas. 130 x 96.5 cm. Photo Galerie Maeght, Paris. © Succession Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Giacometti Paris + Adagp Paris) 2021
Alberto Giacometti, Portrait of Marguerite Maeght, 1961. Oil on canvas. 130 x 96.5 cm. Photo Galerie Maeght, Paris. © Succession Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Giacometti Paris + Adagp Paris) 2021

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.’

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.

Johannes Vermeer, Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, circa 1659. Oil on canvas. Intermediate state of the restoration on 16 January 2020. Photo © SKD. Photographer Wolfgang Kreische
Johannes Vermeer, Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, circa 1659. Oil on canvas. Intermediate state of the restoration on 16 January 2020. Photo: © SKD. Photographer: Wolfgang Kreische

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 by another hand after Vermeer’s death). 

A new exhibition at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, the home of the masterpiece, 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.

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.

Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510), The Return of Judith to Bethulia, 1469-70. Tempera on wood. 29.2 x 21.6 cm. Cincinnati Art Museum, John J. Emery Fund, 1954.463
Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510), The Return of Judith to Bethulia, 1469-70. Tempera on wood. 29.2 x 21.6 cm. Cincinnati Art Museum, John J. Emery Fund, 1954.463
Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510), Portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici, 1478-80. Tempera and oil on wood. 59.5 x 39.3 cm. Fondazione Accademia Carrara, Bergamo. Photo © Fondazione Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510), Portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici, 1478-80. Tempera and oil on wood. 59.5 x 39.3 cm. Fondazione Accademia Carrara, Bergamo. Photo: © Fondazione Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

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.

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  • Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist National Gallery, London
    From 20 November 2021

According to the National Gallery, this is the first exhibition to examine how travel 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.

Albrecht Dürer, Christ among the Doctors, 1506. Oil on panel. 64.3 x 80.3 cm. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (1934.38). Photo © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Albrecht Dürer, Christ among the Doctors, 1506Oil on panel. 64.3 x 80.3 cm. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (1934.38). Photo: © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

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 the course of 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.