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Art exhibitions and events in 2021 — Asia, Africa, Australia, South America and the Middle East

Our pick of this year’s standout exhibitions and openings, from the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza to Hong Kong's spectacular new waterfront arts hub

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  • Opening of GES-2

    GES-2, Moscow
    Opening date to be announced

Over the past few decades, many of Moscow’s 70-plus billionaires have gone abroad to establish art enterprises. Leonid Mikhelson is turning that tide with the opening, a stone’s throw from the Kremlin, of GES-2, a second home for his Venice-based V-A-C Foundation.

The architect Renzo Piano has spent five years transforming a disused 20,000-square-metre power station into V-A-C’s new artistic hub, with gallery spaces and a 420-seat, glass-fronted playhouse as well as a library, learning centre, residency block and restaurant. A former vodka warehouse nearby will become a centre of  ‘experimentation and cultural production’ for the local creative community.

GES-2, Moscow’s new arts centre in a former power station. © RPBW

GES-2, Moscow’s new arts centre in a former power station. © RPBW

For the launch, V-A-C has invited the Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson to take over the entire space for six months. He will debut a body of work called Santa Barbara, named after a 1980s soap opera set in California that proved a smash hit in Russia a decade later — actors, artists and fans will be able to perform original scripts from the show live on camera.

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  • Tracey Rose: Shooting Down Babylon

    Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town
    Opening date to be announced

The South African performance artist Tracey Rose isn’t one to shy away from controversy. Whether pummelling a punch bag naked, or urinating on the West Bank wall that separates Israel and Palestine, her provocative, lo-fi video works are not for the easily offended. In 2001, she shocked crowds at the Venice Biennale by replacing the apostles in Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper  with women such as Josephine Baker, Queen Elizabeth II and Lolita.

Tracey Rose, Lucie’s Fur Version 111 — The Messenger, 2003. Lambda photograph, 80 x 60 cm. Courtesy the artist and Dan Gunn, London

Tracey Rose, Lucie’s Fur Version 1:1:1 — The Messenger, 2003. Lambda photograph, 80 x 60 cm. Courtesy the artist and Dan Gunn, London

The Zeitz MOCAA exhibition will be the artist’s largest retrospective to date, featuring works that span the period 1996-2019 and encompassing film, sculpture, photography, performance, print and paint. The title comes from Rose’s 2016 installation, Shooting Down Babylon (The Art of War), which looks at exorcisms in non-Western communities and the role they play in a modern, post-colonial society.

In the 1950s, the Italian art dealer Pietro Maria Bardi was given the enviable task of building Brazil a world-class public art collection, using the fortune and connections of the country’s media kingpin, Assis Chateaubriand. Among the hundreds of European treasures Bardi acquired for what would become the São Paulo Museum of Art were an incredible 76 works by Edgar Degas.

Installation view of Degas at MASP. Photo Eduardo Ortega

Installation view of Degas at MASP. Photo: Eduardo Ortega

MASP’s latest exhibition is showing all 76 together for the first time in 14 years. The accompanying text pays special attention to the sitter for one of his most famous works, Little Dancer. While the subject is traditionally viewed as a chic young girl, Marie van Goethem was in reality the diligent daughter of a working-class mother striving for social mobility. Marie was later dismissed from the Paris Opéra for missing classes, probably because she was forced into prostitution by her mother — a tragic narrative often overlooked in the history of the artist’s work.

The show also includes a series of photos of Degas’s works in the collection shot by the photographer Sofia Borges. The unnatural angles and hyper-zoomed focuses of the images offer a fresh perspective on what some refer to as ‘the first modern sculptures’.

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  • Age of You: a kaleidoscopic exploration of the extreme self

    Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai
    From 29 January

In 2015, the writers Shumon Basar and Douglas Coupland collaborated with the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist on a book called The Age of Earthquakes, in which they reasoned that prolonged use of the internet (all that time spent down wormholes) makes the future arrive sooner than expected.

Sophia-Al Maria, Mirror Cookie, 2018. Age of You, MOCA Toronto

Sophia-Al Maria, Mirror Cookie, 2018. Age of You, MOCA Toronto

Now they are back with a follow-up, The Extreme Self, and the accompanying exhibition Age of You, in which they promote the theory that humans are the most valuable commodity in the digital world. What we do with that knowledge is up to us. The exhibition features 70 artists and musicians, including the 2019 Turner Prize nominee Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, who have something to say about our age of anxiety.

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  • Another Energy: Power to Continue Challenging — 16 Women Artists from around the World

    Mori Art Museum, Tokyo From 22 April

The 16 women artists celebrated in Another Energy  started working in the post-war decades of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s — a time when men led the art-world charge. But they all stuck immovably to their chosen paths, and now each of these pioneering females has a successful career spanning more than 50 years.

Phyllida Barlow, untitled canvasracks; 2018-2019. Concrete, cotton-duck canvas, hardboard, paint, plastic, plywood, steel, tape, timber. Dimensions variable. Courtesy Cross Steele Collection. Installation view of cul-de-sac, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2019. Photo Damian Griffiths

Phyllida Barlow, untitled: canvasracks; 2018-2019. Concrete, cotton-duck canvas, hardboard, paint, plastic, plywood, steel, tape, timber. Dimensions variable. Courtesy Cross Steele Collection. Installation view of cul-de-sac, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2019. Photo: Damian Griffiths

There will be works on show by the Beirut-born poet, writer and painter Etel Adnan, the Cuban-American sculptor Carmen Herrera and the South Korean video artist Kim Soun-Gui. The English artist Phyllida Barlow, who represented Great Britain at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017, is also lending her monumental concrete and canvas sculpture untitled: canvasracks; 2018-2019 — one of the standout works of her 2019 solo show at London’s Royal Academy.

The Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi suffered a lifelong struggle with his identity. ‘With my double nationality and double upbringing, where was my home? Where were my affections? Where is my identity?’ he once wrote.

The same could be said of his art. Caught between two cultures, it reflects the harmonious proportions and natural materials found in Japanese art, with a sense of abstraction and modernity deeply influenced by Brancusi, with whom he apprenticed in Paris.

Isamu Noguchi, Black Sun, 1967-69. Swedish granite. The National Museum of Art, Osaka ©2021 The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden MuseumARS, NYJASPAR, Tokyo E3713

Isamu Noguchi, Black Sun, 1967-69. Swedish granite. The National Museum of Art, Osaka ©2021 The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum/ARS, NY/JASPAR, Tokyo E3713

Originally planned for 2020, this exhibition retraces Noguchi’s path of discovery by bringing together key monumental works lent by the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum in New York, the National Museum of Art in Osaka, the Museum of Modern Art in Wakayama, the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands, and more.

The French multidisciplinary artist Camille Henrot is best known for her 13-minute video Grosse Fatigue (2013), in which she retells the story of the creation of the universe in pop-up windows on a computer desktop. It won her the Silver Lion at the 55th Venice Biennale.

Camille Henrot, The Pale Fox, 2014 (installation view). Mixed media, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist, New York. © Courtesy of the artist and Kamel Mennour, ParisLondon; König Galerie, Berlin; Metro Pictures, New York. Photo Anders Sune Berg

Camille Henrot, The Pale Fox, 2014 (installation view). Mixed media, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist, New York. © Courtesy of the artist and Kamel Mennour, Paris/London; König Galerie, Berlin; Metro Pictures, New York. Photo: Anders Sune Berg

Although Grosse Fatigue  isn’t included in Henrot’s upcoming NGV show, its companion installation,The Pale Fox, is. The latter was made a year later and is an assemblage of more than 500 books, photos, drawings and objects bought from eBay, which examines the human desire to understand our world — or what the artist describes as ‘cataloguing psychosis’.

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  • Daniel Arsham

    UCCA Dune, Qinhuangdao, China
    From 10 July

In late 2018, the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing opened an outpost in the Chinese beachside resort of Beidaihe in Qinhuangdao, 300km east of the capital. UCCA Dune resembles a string of igloos dug into the beach, and its first solo show is dedicated to the American sculptor Daniel Arsham.

Arsham, who has been described in the media as a ‘fictional archaeologist’ because of the way he erodes his artworks to make them look like relics, has responded to the invitation by creating an entirely new body of work made from the moulds of some of history’s greatest sculptures.

Daniel Arsham, Bronze Eroded Venus de Milo, 2020. Bronze. 401 x 123 x 129 cm. Edition 1 of 3. Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art

Daniel Arsham, Bronze Eroded Venus de Milo, 2020. Bronze. 401 x 123 x 129 cm. Edition 1 of 3. Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art

Granted unprecedented access to the workshops of the Grand Palais, which house some 12,000 moulds of artworks held in the collections of the Vatican, the Louvre and more, Arsham has been able to make exact replicas of classical marbles and Renaissance masterpieces — including Michelangelo’s sculpture of Lorenzo de’ Medici ­— before decaying them with his signature crystal-growth forms. His Bronze Eroded Venus de Milo (above) will also be unveiled as a public artwork in nearby Aranya.

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  • Opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum

    Giza, Cairo
    Opening mid-2021

Delayed by coronavirus, the long-anticipated Grand Egyptian Museum is finally set to open this year. This vast project has cost $1 billion and taken eight years to complete, but the result is spectacular. Situated on the edge of Cairo on the Giza Plateau and near to the Pyramids, GEM is set to be the largest archaeological museum in the world.

The gold death mask of Tutankhamen, one of some 4,000 artefacts from the pharaoh’s tomb on display at the Grand Egyptian Museum. Photo © Andrea Jemolo  Bridgeman Images

The gold death mask of Tutankhamen, one of some 4,000 artefacts from the pharaoh’s tomb on display at the Grand Egyptian Museum. Photo: © Andrea Jemolo / Bridgeman Images

Visitors to the state-of-the-art glass and concrete construction will be greeted by a colossal statue of the great Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramses II, also known as Ozymandias. Inside, the grand staircase is lined with 87 statues of gods and kings. The museum contains some 100,000 artefacts, more than 4,000 of which were once preserved in the famous tomb of King Tutankhamen.

In 2011, developers began work on an ambitious masterplan for West Kowloon, transforming a 40-hectare site of reclaimed land on Hong Kong’s waterfront into a multibillion-dollar arts and performance hub. This year sees the opening of the key attraction in this cultural utopia: the new museum of visual culture known as M+.

A digital rendering of the M+ building, viewed from the Art Park. Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron and the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority. © Herzog & de Meuron

A digital rendering of the M+ building, viewed from the Art Park. Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron and the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority. © Herzog & de Meuron

Designed by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, also responsible for Tate Modern in London, the diaphanous upside-down T-structure is quite a landmark, hovering over the city’s harbour and incorporating the underground Airport Express railway line within its foundations. Inside, the museum houses exhibition areas, a skylit gallery and roof terrace, artists’ studios and performance spaces.

The Californian multimedia artist Doug Aitken came to prominence in the mid-1990s with sinewy video installations that raised questions about technology and its dehumanising effect on society. 

Early works were enchanting, hyper-real odysseys through faceless deadlands of inter-urban sprawl. Later he turned to live performance, notably in 2013 with the ambitious Station to Station, in which artists and musicians jumped aboard a train heading to San Francisco, stopping at stations en route to hold music festivals.

Doug Aitken, NEW ERA, 2018, installation view, 303 Gallery, New York, 2018, courtesy of the artist; 303 Gallery, New York, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles © the artist. Photograph John Berens
Doug Aitken, NEW ERA, 2018, installation view, 303 Gallery, New York, 2018, courtesy of the artist; 303 Gallery, New York, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles © the artist. Photograph: John Berens

Now the artist has arrived in Sydney with a series of immersive installations. Among them is the mesmerising NEW ERA, 2018, which charts the history of the mobile phone and features the American engineer Martin Cooper, the first man ever to make a call on one.

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  • Maurizio Cattelan: The Last Judgment

    UCCA, Beijing
    From 20 November

Love it or hate it, the most talked about artwork of 2019 was a banana duct-taped to the wall of Perrotin gallery’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach. By the end of the fair, it had made the front page of the New York Post, sold out in all three editions for between $120,000 and $150,000, and had to be guarded by four police officers after somebody ate one.

Titled Comedian, the viral sensation wasn’t Maurizio Cattelan’s first irreverent swipe at the contemporary art world. In 2016, he came out of early retirement to replace a toilet in New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum with an 18-carat gold, fully-functioning replica called America. Three years later, it was stolen from Winston Churchill’s former bathroom in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, just days after a solo show by the artist opened there.

Maurizio Cattelan, Comedian, 2019. Banana, tape. Photograph by Zeno Zotti. Courtesy the artist

Maurizio Cattelan, Comedian, 2019. Banana, tape. Photograph by Zeno Zotti. Courtesy the artist

In November 2021, UCCA Beijing is mounting Cattelan’s first solo show in China, which promises to make visitors laugh and cry with more than 30 of the artist’s most important satirical works. Comedian  will be included, and tantalisingly UCCA has hinted that America  might also reappear.