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Winter Preview: 19 Essential Museum Shows and Biennials to See This Season

Anthony Barboza, 'Kamoinge Portrait', 1973.
Anthony Barboza, Kamoinge Portrait, 1973. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts


“Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop”
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
February 1–June 14

In the 1960s the Kamoinge Workshop, a coalition of black photographers in New York, assembled to think through how their work could address the civil rights movement. The result was photography intended specifically for a black audience. More than 140 of the group’s pioneering photographs, by the likes of Roy DeCarava, Beuford Smith, and Ming Smith, will no doubt provide an eye-opening view of one of art history’s most influential collectives. After its run in Virginia, the show heads to the Whitney Museum in New York.

Bienal de São Paulo
Pavilhão Ciccillo Matarazzi, São Paulo
Opens February 8

Typically, the Bienal de São Paulo, the most important biennial in South America, starts in September and remains on view for only a few months. For its 2020 edition, the biennial is changing things up—exhibitions are starting in February, with programming running throughout the year. Ahead of a group show curated by a Jacopo Crivelli Visconti–led team due to open in September, the biennial is mounting a series of solo presentations, starting with one by Ximena Garrido-Lecca, whose work will meditate on Peru’s complex histories of globalism and colonialism.

Dorothea Lange, 'Richmond, California', 1942.
Dorothea Lange, Richmond, California, 1942. Museum of Modern Art, New York

“Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures”
Museum of Modern Art, New York
February 9–May 2

In 1936 Dorothea Lange produced one of the most iconic photographs of all time: an image of a migrant mother in California anxiously looking off into the distance, her children at her side. Lange’s Depression-era pictures are just one facet of an oeuvre that considers subjects like criminal justice reform and sharecropping. With this survey of some 100 photographs, MoMA brings to light the full range of Lange’s documentary images.

“The Supermarket of Images”
Jeu de Paume, Paris
February 11–June 7

These days, it seems as if no sooner is an image produced than it zips around the world, jet-packed by one or another variety of social media. The Jeu de Paume wants to take the phenomenon further: is it possible in 2020 for an image not to end up being commodified? A philosopher, Peter Szendy, has stepped in to curate.

“Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment”
New Museum, New York
February 11–May 31

Peter Saul has never been one to shy away from politics, and his phantasmagoric, acid-colored paintings have featured references to Abu Ghraib, Angela Y. Davis, Richard Nixon, Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan—the list goes on. All the more appropriate that his biggest-ever museum survey comes during an election year.

Dorothea Tanning, 'Voltage', 1942.
Dorothea Tanning, Voltage, 1942. ©The Estate of Dorothea Tanning/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/Jochen Litkemann, Berlin

“Fantastic Women: Surreal Worlds from Meret Oppenheim to Louise Bourgeois”
Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt
February 13–May 24

The history of Surrealism, like that of most other avant-garde movements, has trended male (think Dalí, Max Ernst, André Breton). This show is out to rectify that, placing the spotlight on female artists like Meret Oppenheim (of the famous fur cup), Leonor Fini, and Kay Sage. Emphasizing their voluminous contributions to the movement is the fact that more than 260 works are included.

“Dawoud Bey: An American Project”
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
February 15–May 25

The winner of a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2017, Dawoud Bey is getting a career-to-date retrospective. Known as much for his lushly shot portraits as for his more conceptual work, Bey is one of the most incisive chroniclers of African-American history, which often shows up in his pictures in unexpected ways. A recent series features dark-toned images of what now look like nondescript landscapes but were once stops on the Underground Railroad.

“Lisa Yuskavage: Wilderness”
Aspen Art Museum, Colorado
February 16–May 31

When Lisa Yuskavage burst onto the scene in the 1990s, her stunning paintings of seminude nymphlike women with extraordinary proportions and come-hither looks rankled some feminists but immediately established her provocative style: Rococo paintings, pornography, and feminist artworks from the 1970s tossed into a blender. She was throwing an entirely different wrench into conversations about the male gaze, and over the course of her career, her paintings have become only more complex and multifaceted. This survey, co-organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art, provides a welcome look at the evolution of her work.

José Clemente Orozco, 'Barricade', 1931.
José Clemente Orozco, Barricade, 1931. Museum of Modern Art, New York/©Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/SOMAAP, Mexico City/Image Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, New York

“Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945”
Whitney Museum, New York
February 17–May 17

At the recently reopened Museum of Modern Art, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaros Siqueiros—all of whom are associated with the museum’s early history—played starring roles. With this 200-work survey, another New York museum, the Whitney, is focusing on those Mexican modernists and their American colleagues, who redefined art history and drew attention to workers.

“Countryside, The Future”
Guggenheim Museum, New York
February 20–August 14

Some 98 percent of the earth qualifies as nonurban. Thanks to global warming, collapsing economies, and unprecedented migration, that part of the world is now under siege. With this enterprising exhibition, Rem Koolhaas, perhaps the most celebrated architect of our time, will team up with AMO, the think tank associated with his firm, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, and various other collaborators from the worlds of architecture and design to mull over what the coming years could mean for the countryside.

The Momentary
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
Opens February 22

The season’s most anticipated museum opening is the Momentary, a satellite space to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art that’s situated in a former 63,000-square-foot Kraft factory. With Lieven Bertels, a Belgian musicologist, at the helm, the space will house performing arts events and site-specific installations. Up first at the Momentary is half of “State of the Art,” an exhibition also on view at Crystal Bridges that surveys emerging American artists.

“Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956–71”
Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada
February 22–May 17

Thanks to its recent purchase of 522 works by Diane Arbus, the Art Gallery of Ontario now has one of the world’s most comprehensive Arbus collections. The museum is showing off its trove with a 150-work selection of photographs that includes her famous images of circus performers and lesser-known ones she took of unusual subjects on the streets of Manhattan.

Faith Ringgold, 'Picasso’s Studio', 1991.
Faith Ringgold, Picasso’s Studio, 1991. Worcester Art Museum/Courtesy ACA Galleries, New York/©Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

“Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modern Tradition”
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
February 29–May 24

Robert Colescott, the painter who recently had a retrospective at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, studied with French modernist Fernand Léger, then abandoned that artist’s style for something more political. “I sometimes represent black people to deal with a problem that applies directly to blacks in culture,” Colescott once said. His work will be shown alongside pieces by Norman Lewis, Carrie Mae Weems, and many in others in this show about African-American artists who have drawn on European modernist traditions.