From major retrospectives on Steve McQueen and Andy Warhol to the subversive influence of dancer Michael Clark, and the overlooked women who changed the course of modern art forever
As the world around us appears to be coming apart at the seams and we steel ourselves for the cold embrace of another four years under a Tory government, we need art more than ever. While this is by no means a definitive list – and we will continue to report on inspiring art events and exhibitions around the UK and the world during the year – but here are 20 of the exciting and life-affirming exhibitions happening on our own city-wide doorstep in 2020 to help get you out of the house.
9TH ST. CLUB, GAZELLI ART HOUSE, FROM JANUARY
The legendary 9th Street exhibition, held in New York in 1951, was a groundbreaking moment in modern art. The show brought together the work of a community of artists known as the Downtown Group – a group of painters experimenting in forms of abstract expressionism, against a backdrop of post-war Conservativism. Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Rauschenberg were among the 72 artists whose work was shown in the original ground-breaking show.
A new exhibition focuses on the female painters whose work was also featured in this seminal show. Elaine de Kooning, Perle Fine, Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner, Mercedes Matter, and Joan Mitchell may have been overshadowed by many of their male counterparts, but 9th Street Club concentrates exclusively on their work and legacies.
9th Street Club is showing at Gazelli Art House from 16 January – 4 February 2020
DOROTHEA TANNING: WORLDS IN COLLISON, ALISON JACQUES GALLERY, FROM JANUARY
If you missed Dorothea Tanning’s awe-inspiring retrospective last year at London’s Tate Modern then here is your chance to redeem yourself. Featuring a rarely displayed – and never shown in the UK – body of late work, which dates between 1981 to 1989. The collection includes large scale works on paper which range from graphite, charcoal, crayon, watercolour, gouache, and collage. Much of the works detail a bicycle which fascinated the artist during this period.
Dorothea Tanning: Worlds In Collision is showing at Alison Jacques Gallery from 24 January – 21 March 2020
PICASSO AND PAPER, PABLO PICASSO, ROYAL ACADEMY, FROM JANUARY
You may be most familiar with his iconic paintings, but Pablo Picasso also “invented a universe of art involving paper.” A new exhibition at the Royal Academy devoted entirely to Picasso’s work on and with paper allows a new and unique perspective on the prolific career of this renowned artist. Spanning eight decades-worth of work, Picasso and Paper brings together over 300 artworks by one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th century.
Picasso and Paper runs at the Royal Academy from 25 January – 13 April
MUSHROOMS: THE ART, DESIGN, AND FUTURE OF FUNGI, SOMERSET HOUSE, FROM JANUARY
This new show at Somerset House reveals the extraordinarily universal potential, beauty, and importance of fungi. Curated by Francesca Gavin, Mushrooms: The Art, Design, and Future of Fungi contains work by over 40 artists, designers, and musicians inspired by the poetic, spiritual and psychedelic possibilities of this remarkable and otherworldly organism.
Mushrooms: The Art, Design, and Future of Fungi runs at Somerset House 31 Jan – 26 April 2020
JAMES TURRELL, PACE GALLERY, FROM FEBRUARY
James Turrell’s exploration of light and space continues in his new show at Pace Gallery this year. The show is a sensory experience and will feature four new works from his “Constellation” series – an immersive experience of elliptical and circular frosted glass, illuminated with his signature vivid gradients and viewed in site-specific chambers.
James Turrell is showing at Pace Gallery from 11 February – 27 March 2020
STEVE MCQUEEN, TATE MODERN, FROM FEBRUARY
This major exhibition at Tate Modern will span two decades of Steve McQueen’s career and contain 14 of his most significant works across film, photography, and sculpture. McQueen, a former Turner-Prize winner, went on to make four critically acclaimed films, including the celebrated 12 Years A Slave. This show casts a light on his film-making practice by presenting early forays into film, including Exodus (1992-1997), the first film he shot on a Super 8 camera, along with recent works such as the UK-premier of End Credits (2012 – ongoing) – McQueen’s tribute to Paul Robeson, the African-American singer, actor, and civil-rights activist.
Steve McQueen runs at Tate Modern from 13 Feb – 11 May 2020
RADICAL FIGURES: PAINTING IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM, WHITECHAPEL GALLERY, FROM FEBRUARY
Radical Figures gathers together work by a new generation of painters whose art is charged with political narratives, unconscious desires, and primal drives. Much of the work draws inspiration from current events, such as the migrant crisis, violence in East Africa, and Taliban mythology, and includes work by Michael Armitage, Sanya Kantarovsky, Cecily Brown, and Dana Schutz.
Radical Figures: Painting in the New Millennium runs at the Whitechapel Gallery from 6 Feb – 10 May 2020
MASCULINITIES: LIBERATION THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY, BARBICAN, FROM FEBRUARY
Concepts of masculinity have come under increased scrutiny in the wake of #MeToo. This exhibition gathers together photography and film by over 50 international artists whose work speaks of male identity and the varied, shifting notions of masculinity. The show explores ideas of patriarchy, queerness, female perceptions of men, power, masculine realms, family and hypermasculine stereotypes, as viewed through the lens’ of artists such as Laurie Anderson, Catherine Opie, Isaac Julien, Sunil Gupta among many more.
Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography runs at Barbican from 20 Feb – 17 May 2020
THE YELLOW WALLPAPER, KEHINDE WILEY, WILLIAM MORRIS GALLERY, FROM FEBRUARY
Los Angeles-born artist Kehinde Wiley is known for his portraits which touch on the intersection of black experience with cultural history. His exhibition Trickster (2017), was inspired by Francisco Goya’s notorious Black Paintings and featured Wiley’s portraits of black contemporary artists, including Derrick Adams, Sanford Biggers, Rashid Johnson, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. In 2017 he became the first African–American artist commissioned to paint an official presidential portrait for the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery when he was invited to paint Obama’s portrait.
Wiley’s upcoming exhibition at the William Morris Gallery features portraits of real black women the artist encountered on the streets Dalston, entwined in the intricate floral wallpaper created by 19th-century British textile designer and social activist William Morris. The show takes its title from the acclaimed 1892 novel by American writer Charlotte Perkins, a claustrophobic story that charts a woman’s domestic imprisonment and her deterioration into psychosis. “The Yellow Wallpaper is a work of literary fiction that explores the contours of femininity and insanity,” explained Wiley. “This exhibition seeks to use the language of the decorative to reconcile blackness, gender, and a beautiful and terrible past.”
The Yellow Wallpaper by Kehinde Wiley runs at the William Morris Gallery from 22 February – 26 May 2020
CUNNINGHAM (IN 3D), VARIOUS CINEMAS ACROSS THE UK, FROM MARCH
A “3D cinematic experience” detailing the life of seminal choreographer Merce Cunningham. Directed by Alla Kovagan (Dogwoof), Cunningham traces three decades (1944 – 1972) as the visionary moves from a struggling dancer in postwar New York to one of the most influential choreographers in the history of the world, and a contemporary and collaborator of artists John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg. The film is presented in 3D to allows viewers to “step inside the dance”.
Cunningham is released in cinemas around the UK from March 2020
BLUEPRINTS, CAO FEI, SERPENTINE GALLERY, FROM MARCH
Cao Fei’s first large-scale solo exhibition brings together new and existing works drawing on virtual reality and installation. The Hon Kong-born artist described her relationship with virtuality as “a means to express myself, to understand reality, which is what I’m interested in. I use writing and film too, but we are living in an age of rapid technology and in this context, we need to know that virtuality has changed the way reality works. And to do this we need to be part of it.”
“The Eternal Wave”, a new site-specific installation features as the focal point of Blueprints, and her recent work, “Nova” (2019) will be shown alongside some of Fei’s previous celebrated films.
Blueprints runs at Serpentine Gallery 4 March – 17 May
ANDY WARHOL, TATE MODERN, FROM MARCH
Pop art superstar Andy Warhol will be the subject of a major retrospective at Tate Modern this year. Alongside his most famous artworks – including the Marilyn Monroe and Coca-Cola and Campbell’s soup cans – the exhibition will also include lesser-known work, such as 25 images from “Ladies and Gentlemen”, his series of portraits of black and Latinx drag queens and trans women.
There’ll also be an opportunity to wander amongst his “Silver Clouds”, a dreamy environment envisioned by Warhol and created from floating metallic “pillows” (aka balloons), and experience his psychedelic multimedia environment, Exploding Plastic Inevitable.
Andy Warhol will be showing at Tate Modern from 12 March – 6 September 2020
ZANELE MUHOLI, TATE MODERN, FROM APRIL
Zanele Muholi’s moving photographic portraits challenge the hetero-patriarch ideology. The South African-born artist and visual activist is known for creating powerful images of black lesbian, queer, gay, trans, and intersex individuals and for portraying her subjects as confident and beautiful figures, rather than victims or deviants or any other of the derogatory roles they’re so often cast in. This exhibition surveys the Muholi’s career so far, encompassing her work as a photographer and activist.
Zanele Muholi runs at Tate Modern from 29 April – 18 Oct 2020
SNEAKERS UNBOXED: STUDIO TO STREET, THE DESIGN MUSEUM, FROM MAY
Take a look at the history, design, semiotics, and future of trainers. This exhibition explores the cultural significance of this most ubiquitous footwear, from utilitarian to high-fashion. There will also be a chance to design your own fantasy kicks in a unique interactive exhibit!
Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street runs at The Design Museum from 6 May
LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, TATE BRITAIN, FROM MAY
Famous for her compelling portraits of imaginary black characters, the fictitious figures depicted by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye are assembled from her own memories, photographs, and drawings rather than real-life subjects. “Although they are not real, I think of them as people known to me. They are imbued with a power of their own; they have a resonance – something emphatic and otherworldly,” she explained to the Tate.
The first major career-spanning survey of work by the Britsh artist and writer opens at Tate Britain in May and will bring together over 80 paintings and works on paper ranging from 2003 to the present day.
Lynette Yiado-Boakye runs at Tate Britain from 19 May – 31 August 2020
BACK TO EARTH_, THE SERPENTINE, FROM JUNE
The Serpentine is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020 with an epic amount of programming. In June, 50 artists, architects, designers, and thinkers – including Judy Chicago, Yoko Ono, Jane Fonda, Vivienne Westwood, and Ed Ruscha – will come together to “look ahead and imagine” and create new works and campaigns that respond to the climate crisis. Titled _Back to Earth_, the project will run until September.
_Back To Earth_ is showing at the Serpentine from June – September
ART NIGHT, VARIOUS LOCATIONS IN LONDON, JUNE
The annual Art Night festival returns in June for its fifth edition. This year the event – which transforms nighttime spaces of the city into a series of exhibitions, performances, and installations – will take place on The Strand on the North Bank of the Thames.
Beginning at 6 pm in the evening and carrying on into the early hours, The Strand as you know it will be reimagined for one summer night only. Entitled Nothing Compares 2 U, this year the programme will “take inspiration from defiance in small acts, personal gestures and moments of self-determination.”
Art Night will take place on the night of 20 June, across a number of different venues along The Strand. Follow Art Night’s Instagram to keep to date with information
MICHAEL CLARK, BARBICAN, FROM JUNE
Once the darling of London’s Royal Ballet School, Michael Clark shook the dance world by turning his back on classical ballet in the 1980s to follow his interest in the avant-garde. A chronic non-conformist, he founded the Michael Clark Company, exchanged traditional ballet attire for the conceptual costumes he created with experimental fashion designers Bodymap, and, rather than classical music, chose to dance to music by the likes of Bowie, Iggy Pop and the Velvet Underground.
Known for his unlikely but inspired collaborations with artists and musicians, Clark has worked with a variety of figures from other disciplines, including Leigh Bowery, The Fall, Sarah Lucas, Jarvis Cocker, and Wolfgang Tillmans.
This exhibition offers a comprehensive vision of Clark’s career to date, tracing the lineage and effect of his influences, and how his “radical presence”, his distinctive choreography, and his unique aesthetic have touched the worlds of fashion, art, dance, and music.
Michael Clark runs at Barbican from 12 June – 30 August 2020
LONDON DESIGN BIENNALE, SOMERSET HOUSE, SEPTEMBER
This year’s London-wide design festival is inspired by the theme of ‘Resonance’. Designers, curators and design institutions from over 50 nations will respond to this concept in a series of installations and presentations.
London Design Biennale runs at Somerset House from 8 September – 27 September 2020
AFTER LIFE, MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ, ROYAL ACADEMY, FROM SEPTEMBER
The first-ever UK exhibition dedicated to the life’s work of Marina Abramović – arguably one of the most important performances artists in the world – has been announced as part of the Royal Academy’s 2020 programme. The show, which has been curated in close-collaboration with Abramović herself, will feature live re-performances of some of her most renowned work from the past 50 years, whilst premiering new pieces created especially for the space of the RA, and including a programme of talks and events which Abramović’ will participate in.
The Serbian-born artist, whose practice has “consistently tested the limits of her own physical and mental endurance”, is known for performance pieces that often invite the audience to participate in some way. “The Artist is Present” (2010), staged in the Museum of Modern Art, famously involved Abramović sitting in silent contemplation for 736-hour and 30-minutes, as visitors were invited to come and sit opposite her. The controversial work “Rythm 0” (1974) explored the human desire to inflict pain or pleasure, and involved the artist selecting a series of objects – from benign items such as a feather to more sinister articles such a scalpel – and invited the general public to use these objects on her body in any way they chose, consequence-free.
As she approaches her mid-70s, After Life sees Abramović exploring the concept of legacy, bringing together photographs, videos, installations and re-enactments by younger performers, to ask the crucial question, “Can performance art outlive the moment of performance?”
After Life by Marina Abramović will show at the Royal Academy from 26 September – 8 December