Spring Preview: The Most Promising Museum Shows and Biennials Around the World

Adrian Piper, Everything #2.8, 2003. Museum of Modern Art, New York.


“One reason for making and exhibiting a work,” Adrian Piper once said, “is to induce a reaction or change in the viewer.” Certainly this is the aim of a forthcoming retrospective of Piper’s career at the Museum of Modern Art in New York—one of this year’s most anticipated institutional exhibitions—but it could also be said for many other shows opening this spring, including an inaugural display at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Institute of Contemporary Art, a Mami Kataoka–curated Biennale of Sydney, and a survey of Tony Conrad. Below, have a look at the new season’s finest offerings.




Grant Wood, Spring in Town, 1941. Whitney Museum, New York.


“Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables”
Whitney Museum, New York
Through June 10

It has been 35 years since the Whitney gave a retrospective to the inimitable Iowan painter, who died in 1942 at age 50, and the present one could not come at a timelier moment. Figurative painting burns brightly in the contemporary art scene, and everyone is trying to ascertain what defines America today—an issue central to Wood’s art. Wood’s most famous picture, 1930’s American Gothic, is here, on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago, but so too are around 120 other pieces, including his design objects and early Impressionist experiments, and the museum has not shied away from his life as a closeted gay man. —Andrew Russeth

Sally Mann
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Through May 28

Born in Lexington, Virginia, in 1951, Mann is best known for black-and-white photographs of her children and family, as well as pictures of landscapes in the American South imbued with a sense of disquiet due to centuries of political tensions. “Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings” brings together an impressive 110 photographs organized in five sections: “Family,” “The Land,” “Last Measure,” “Abide with Me,” and “What Remains.” The exhibition also includes works that, until now, have not been published or shown. —Claire Selvin

“Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective”
University of Buffalo Art Gallery Center for the Arts and Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Through May 26; Through May 27

Best known for his contributions to minimalist music (especially his droning violin sounds) and structural film (his stroboscopic 1966 movie The Flicker), Conrad worked in numerous other realms with as much idiosyncrasy and imagination. This retrospective—touted as the first large-scale survey of Conrad’s work presented in museum and gallery settings—draws on his legacy in the evolution of Fluxus and the Pictures Generation, with a focus on his familiar mediums as well as painting, sculpture, video, performance, and installations. Opening in Conrad’s longtime hometown, it will travel later in the year to Harvard University and the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Boston and then to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia in 2019. —Andy Battaglia

Allen Ruppersberg, Untitled (Canvas Aquarium), 1968. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.


“Allen Ruppersberg: Intellectual Property 1968–2018”
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
March 17–July 29

In 1969, Ruppersberg staged a piece called Al’s Café, which involved creating a functioning restaurant in downtown Los Angeles where one could order such things as rocks, pine needles, and assemblages. It was a preview of the pesky work Ruppersberg would make in the next half-century, much of which deals with mass media, advertising, and the nature of images. This retrospective will showcase the underappreciated New York–based artist’s work, and the fun doesn’t end within the exhibition—the museum will also reconstruct You & Me, originally made for New York’s High Line and featuring the words “you” and “me” arranged in various combinations with colorful designs, in a nearby project space. —Alex Greenberger

“Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body”
Met Breuer, New York
March 21–July 22

In 2016, the Met Breuer surveyed incomplete works in the museum’s holdings, suggesting in the process that art history is never finished being written. This season, the museum will continue working with that idea in a wide-ranging survey of sculptures of bodies throughout the ages. The usual suspects figure in—Donatello, Antonio Canova, and Edgar Degas—but so will some more unlikely artists. The Met has boldly teased the show with juxtaposed sculptures—one from the 16th century, the other from the 20th—by Willem Danielsz van Tetrode and Greer Lankton, the latter of whom died at age 38 and whose work has only recently been reappraised as some of the most essential art to come out of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. —A.G.

Norman Bel Geddes, “Skyscraper” cocktail shaker, eight glasses, and serving tray, designed 1934, manufactured 1935. “Cult of the Machine” at De Young Museum, San Francisco.


“Cult of the Machine”
De Young Museum, San Francisco
March 24–August 12

Borne out of early twentieth-century anxieties and uncertainties created by an industrial boom, the Precisionism movement merged European formal styles, like Cubism and Futurism, with distinctly American subject matter. With their work, the movement’s most notable artists—Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth among them—took stock of the economic, social, and technological changes facing America at the time. Foregrounding Precisionist artists’ relationships with the European avant-garde and the medium of photography, this survey presents over 100 works by artists such as Sheeler, Georgia O’Keefe, Demuth, Edmund Lewandowski, and Imogen Cunningham. —C.S.

“Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World”
Getty Museum, Los Angeles
March 27–September 9

Boasting almost 200 objects, many on view in the U.S. for the first time, “Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World” looks at connections between ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, from the Bronze Age to late antiquity. The exhibition will emphasize the role of international trade in facilitating a cross-cultural exchange, while considering the transfer of ideas and images during periods of Greek and Roman rule in Egypt. Among the biggest works included is a granite obelisk from the first century that will be situated at the Getty Center’s entrance. Borrowed from the Museo del Sannio in Benevento, Italy, the 15-foot-tall obelisk was dedicated to the goddess Isis and the emperor Domitian. —C.S.

Adrian Piper, Safe #1–4 (detail), 1990. MoMA, New York.


“Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions, 1965–2016”
Museum of Modern Art, New York
March 31–July 22

Many know who Piper is, but nobody really knows. This has been the very subject of Piper’s work: the slipperiness of identity. In her installations, videos, and drawings, she has braided together strands of institutional critique and Conceptualism, exploring the ways in which certain aspects of people’s identities get hidden or stamped out by history. (In one conceptual work, for example, Piper would hand out cards to unsuspecting people on the street, alerting them to the fact that, though they may not have realized it, she is black.) For the first time ever, MoMA will turn over its entire sixth floor to one show with this 280- work retrospective, which will travel to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. —A.G.

“Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again”
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
March 31–September 9

“I consider storytelling not as an end of a journey but as a continual process that ripples and affects our way of looking at the world,” the Nigerian-born, Antwerp-based artist, who was born in 1974, once told an interviewer. Otobong Nkanga’s work is similarly manifold, flowing in diffuse, unexpected ways through numerous mediums—it has taken the form of stunning tapestries, photography, and soap-making (as in last year’s Documenta 14, in Athens and Kassel, Germany) as it examines the interplay between colonialism and the people, lands, and resources it mines and dominates. This will be her first survey in the United States. —A.R.


Mel Chin, Unauthorized Collaboration: Dominance and Affection, 2012.


“Mel Chin: All Over the Place”
Queens Museum, New York
April 8–August 12

This career survey, spanning four decades of work, is probably best summed up by the exhibition’s subtitle, as the conceptual artist will stage several off-site installations, including at the Broadway-Lafayette subway station and in Times Square, where he’ll present a newly commissioned augmented-reality piece. Chin’s work often reflects on current events—this time around, his concerns include the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and rising sea levels brought on by climate change—while also seeking ways to bring art to a broader audience. (In the 1990s, under the alias of his organization, the GALA Corporation, he worked props into the TV show Melrose Place in collaboration with the series’ writers, as a conceptual work about how ideas get disseminated.) The Queens Museum’s 70-work exhibition will highlight the collaborative nature of many of Chin’s works. —Maximilíano Durón

Institute of Contemporary Art, Richmond, Virginia
Opens April 21

At long last, the Institute of Contemporary Art at Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University will open this season. Its inaugural show is this broad survey of contemporary art produced with the intention of creating social change. (And the offerings won’t be contained only in the museum—the ICA has promised some will also be exhibited around the city of Richmond, too.) Among the exhibition’s 30 participants are Cassils, Cheryl Pope, Betty Tompkins, and CHIM↑POM. —A.G.

“Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963–2017”
Baltimore Museum of Art
April 22–July 29

When he died earlier this year at age 78, Jack Whitten was mourned by many as a pioneer of abstract painting. But, as this show aims to prove, Whitten was a formidable sculptor, too. Featuring 40 examples of his sculptures, the show features examples of works made using materials including wood, marble, copper, and bone; some contain Whitten’s personal belongings, as part of an investigation of the connection between art and life. Also included in the show, which travels to the Metropolitan Museum of Art later this year, are works from Whitten’s “Black Monoliths” paintings series, which pay homage to Ralph Ellison, W. E. B. DuBois, and others through abstract portraits. —A.G.

William Cordova, can’t stop, won’t stop (whipala or KRS1), 2016–17. Pérez Art Museum Miami.


“William Cordova: now’s the time: narratives of southern alchemy”
Pérez Art Museum Miami
April 27–October 7

Cordova was born in Lima, Peru, moved to Miami when he was 8 years old, and now splits his time between those two cities and New York, when he isn’t participating in artist residencies around the world. He is constantly on the move, and his work reflects that. A range of influences, from hip-hop culture to ancient Incan history, combine in his practice and offer a sense of what displacement might feel like. This exhibition, the artist’s first major museum survey, will include some 25 sculptures, collages, works on paper, and videos, including documentation of Silent Parade . . . or the Soul Rebels Band vs. Robert E. Lee (2014), his commission for the third edition of the Prospect New Orleans triennial. —M.D.


Siamak Filizadeh, Anis al-Daula, from the series “Underground,” 2014. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


“In the Field of Empty Days: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art”
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
May 6–September 9

The 125 works in this survey of Iranian contemporary art allude to various historical objects and events, from 14th-century epics to the martyrdom of Shi’ite imams. Among the works included are examples from Newsha Tavakolian’s affecting 2006 series “Mothers of Martyrs,” for which the artist photographed family matriarchs holding pictures of their sons, who died in a decades-long war between Iran and Iraq. —John Chiaverina

Amy Sherald
Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis
May 11–August 19

Can’t make it to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. to see Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama? Perhaps you’ll be able to visit this show, the artist’s first solo museum exhibition. Sherald’s paintings engage the lives of her subjects through representational likeness but also through the use of props and costumes—a camera aimed at the viewer, for example, or a dress with a significant floral print. “My paintings hold up a mirror to the present and reflect real experiences of blackness today and historically,” Sherald has said. —Grace Halio

“Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer”
Denver Art Museum
May 13–August 12

For Gibson’s first major institutional exhibition, the Choctaw-Cherokee painter and sculptor will show work made between 2011 and the present—a period in which the artist’s practice began to allude to his Native American roots. Take the show’s titular sculpture, for example, which is made with, among other materials, elk hide, glass beads, and a wool blanket. Its rich patterning is at once totemic and psychedelic, recalling everything from indigenous craft objects to the defunct Rhode Island collective Forcefield. The 65-work show will bring together sculptures, videos, and installations that reflect on the legacy of colonialism, in ways both darkly ironic and not. —J.C.



Sondra Perry, Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation (still), 2016. Serpentine Galleries, London.


Sondra Perry
Serpentine Galleries, London
Through May 20

Warping artifacts, machines burbling with clay, couches smeared with Vaseline, and rowing machines with attached videos have all figured in Perry’s work, which typically explores the way digital technology has exploited African-Americans. After memorable showings in New York, Perry is having her first solo exhibition in Europe. Her Serpentine Galleries exhibition will incorporate recent works such as Graft and Ash for a Three-Monitor Workstation (2016), in which a black woman’s avatar questions its own existence. —A.G.

Joan Jonas
Tate Modern, London
Through August 5

In the 1960s and ’70s, Jonas’s videos, performances, and installations broke new ground by exploring how movement—and, by extension, moving images—could express identity, particularly for women in relation to the male gaze. Her shamanistic work will be on full display in this survey, which comes complete with a retrospective of her experimental films. A ten-day performance program includes reenactments of her 1968–71 “Mirror Pieces,” for which Jonas had performers carry mirrors that were used to reflect their viewers’ bodies. —A.G.

N. S. Harsha, Study models for Reclaiming the inner space, 2017. Biennale of Sydney.


Biennale of Sydney
Various venues
March 16–June 11

Biennial titles are often esoteric, and the moniker for this year’s Biennale of Sydney, the 21st edition of the festival, is a case in point: “Superposition: Equilibrium & Engagement.” Organized by Mami Kataoka, chief curator at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum, the show will focus on conflicting ideas, cultures, peoples, and histories—all things that have relevance to the politically tense times in which we live. Among the 70 artists participating are Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Suzanne Lacy, Haegue Yang, and Samson Young. —A.G.

“Zineb Sedira: Air Affairs and Maritime NonSense”
Sharjah Art Foundation, United Arab Emirates
March 16–June 16

Dispersed throughout three galleries in Sharjah’s Al Mureijah Square, this survey of work by Sedira—born in Paris and active there as well as in London and Algiers—focuses on her stark, minimalist videos, photographs, and installations, all made during the past two decades in response to geopolitical turmoil and change. Three new commissions will feature in an exhibition curated by Sharjah Art Foundation president and director Hoor Al Qasimi, with allusions to trade in the Arabian Gulf, an imperial air route that connected London and Karachi, and a brand of dark humor that emerged during a recent Algerian war. —A.B.

Zineb Sedira, Sugar Silo I, 2014. Sharjarh Art Foundation.


“Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts”
Schaulager, Münchenstein, Switzerland
March 17–August 26

For the past 50 years, Nauman has been making drily humorous videos, installations, sculptures, performances, and drawings that have involved gestures like the artist walking back and forth in a contrapposto pose, creating too-thin corridors, pretending to be a fountain, and having a clown repeatedly shout “No!” His work has long focused on bodies and the ways in which they relate to structures and environments, sometimes with a political edge. Nauman has won numerous awards, including the Golden Lion for his U.S. Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale, and has been monumentally influential for younger artists; this retrospective, which travels to the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 in New York, will showcase why. The last Nauman retrospective at MoMA, in 1995, required only one venue; it’s telling that this one needs two. —A.G.

Eugène Delacroix
Musée du Louvre, Paris
March 29–July 23

For the first time in over 50 years, a Delacroix retrospective will come to Paris. Organized in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the exhibition will feature 180 works, almost all of them paintings. The revolutionary French Romantic painter took his cues from Flemish and Venetian masters before him, yet he forged his own way as a writer, painter, and illustrator, adopting an influential style that made use of dramatic compositions and bold colors. From classic works like Liberty Leading the People to the more mysterious, religious works later in his life, the exhibition promises an encompassing view of Delacroix’s work. –G.H.


Artists Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment members: Alice Maher, Rachel Fallon, Áine Phillips, and Breda Mayock. EVA International, Limerick, Ireland.


EVA International
Various venues, Limerick, Ireland
April 14–July 9

Ireland’s contemporary art biennial returns this year for its 38th edition, which will feature 50 artists in five venues, with an additional program at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. This edition has been curated by Inti Guerrero, an adjunct curator of Latin American art at Tate Modern; a title has yet to be revealed, but the show will focus on identity and globalism. Included will be works by Bruce Conner, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Alejandro González-Iñárritu, Marlon T. Riggs, and Liu Xiaodong, among others. —G.H.

“Haegue Yang: ETA 1994–2018”
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
April 18–August 12

The indefatigably inventive 46-year-old South Korean artist, who lives between Seoul and Berlin, will offer more than 100 of her works from the past quarter-century; the show is occasioned by her winning the museum’s coveted Wolfgang Hahn Prize. It presents the perfect opportunity to take in the full breadth of her diverse output, from her witty, effervescent sculptures of blinds and lights, in which she dips a toe into the adjacent disciplines of architecture and design, to her recent assemblages (of bells and artificial straw) and her lesser-known forays into other mediums. Prepare to swoon. —A.R.

Ando Tadao, Chapel on the Water (Hoshino Resort Tomamu), 1988, Hokkaido, Japan. Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.


“Japan in Architecture: Genealogies of Its Transformation”
Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
April 25–September 17

This survey of Japanese building design spans ancient times to the present—and, with a number of interactive exhibits, the future, too. Architecture will be regarded alongside notions of nature and everyday life, which is integral to the discipline in Japan, and it will ponder why Western designers remain so taken with Japanese design. Highlights will include a model of the oldest teahouse in Japan, designs by Tange Kenzo, and a new video installation by the firm Rhizomatiks Architecture. —A.B.


“Luigi Ghirri: Map and Territory”
Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany
May 4–July 22

In a 1980 photograph by Ghirri, the seaside in Tellaro, Italy, appears with the word “MARE” in front of it. A closer look reveals that the word is part of a sign advertising ocean views. This is nothing like the images of Mediterranean conjured by Roman wall paintings, and this was Ghirri’s point—to shoot pictures of an Italy forever altered by industrialism and expansion. This survey, which is titled “The Map and the Territory” and will later travel to the Reina Sofia Museum and the Jeu de Paume, will be one of the biggest Ghirri shows to date. —A.G.

Tacita Dean, Prisoner Pair (location photograph), 2008.


Tacita Dean
National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, and Royal Academy of Art, London
May 19–August 12 (Royal Academy); March 15–May 28 (National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery)

For Dean, who is often considered a part of the Young British Artists generation and was nominated for the Tuner Prize in 1998, the term “landscape” can mean anything from natural found objects to clouds made with chalk. The roles nature and time play in modern society is fittingly the focus of this three-part exhibition. Each show focuses on one aspect of Dean’s oeuvre—landscapes, portraits, and still lifes. At the Royal Academy, which will host the landscapes show, Dean will debut a new 35mm film that stars writer/poet Anne Carson and actor Stephen Dillane. Titled Antigone, it makes use of the masking technique, which Dean uses to fuse together multiple locations and seasons into a singular image. —J.C.

Günther Förg
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
May 31–January 2

The late German artist Günther Förg was known for his abstract canvases rooted in the histories of abstract and modernist art. But his allusions to Barnett Newman, Ellsworth Kelly, and the like weren’t tender homages—they focused a critical eye on the stifling influence that modernist masters have had on today’s art. This survey, which will travel later this year to the Dallas Museum of Art, promises to showcase the depth of the Förg’s body of work. Spanning four decades, the show will include photography, sculpture, and a large sampling of his monochromatic paintings. —J.C.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of ARTnews on page 38 under the title “Editors’ Picks.”

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