After June 2020, almost every institution made a declaration that they would implement changes to become more inclusive. Their promises posed an interesting question: What would happen if museums made a priority of showing works by more artists of color and addressing art history’s lacunae? In other words, would what it look like for museums to do what they were supposed to be doing all along?
The good news is the art history is changing. The bad news is that it’s changing slowly. In 2021, for every survey devoted to a buried giant of the past century, there was, it seemed, another, even bigger one given over to one of art history’s most revered white male artists. This is currently the case this winter at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, for example, where an Etel Adnan show is awkwardly made to share space with a Wassily Kandinsky survey. Since 2010 alone, the Guggenheim has held seven Kandinsky exhibitions across its various museums. Until 2021, Adnan, who died this year, had never had a New York museum show.
Still, there were overlooked figures who, at long last, got their due in 2021 as museums began to alter their ways. With each of these showcases, whether in the form of standout displays in group shows or as long-overdue retrospectives, these artists shined anew and earned their place in the annals of art history.
Below, a look at 10 artists who emerged from art history’s shadows, thanks to major presentations this year.