Your Guide to This Fall’s Top Museum Exhibitions


To say that this year’s exhibition schedule didn’t go as planned would be an understatement. Across the world, museums have been faced with a series of agonizing choices. Push their spring shows into fall? Cancel their summer shows altogether? Scrap their 2020 programs and rely on permanent collections?

As a consequence, many of this year’s most promising exhibitions, in particular Marina Abromovic’s retrospective at the Royal Academy and the Raphael show at London’s National Gallery, have been postponed. Other major shows were closed, then reopened, even as thousands of art lovers realized they wouldn’t be able to travel to see them.

Amid all the disappointments, a series of bright lights appears on the immediate horizon, as museums dig deep into their considerable resources to argue for the continuing relevance of great art. Below are 10 of this season’s must-sees, although certainly not all of them. All you have to do now is figure out how to get there.

Your Guide to This Fall’s Top Museum Exhibitions

Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration at MoMA PS1

As the U.S. grapples with ongoing issues of race, policing, justice, and incarceration, a perfectly timed show of work by 35 artists, who are either in prison or whose work centers on America’s prison-industrial complex, is set to fill PS1’s first-floor galleries. The art itself is occasionally literal and often conceptual, and ranges from abstract paintings to detailed sculpture.

Sept. 17, 2020–April 4, 2021
MoMA PS1, Queens, N.Y.

Your Guide to This Fall’s Top Museum Exhibitions

Decadence and Dark Dreams: Belgian Symbolism at the Alte Nationalgalerie

The decadence of fin de siècle Europe will be on full view in this lush exhibition dedicated to a group of Belgian artists whose “main characteristics were sensuality, fascination for magic, profound signification, as well as irrationality,” the exhibition text informs us, adding that “peculiar to Belgian symbolism is a predilection for morbid and decadent subject matter.” This is not the whimsical embrace of nature you see from Impressionists, or the gritty depictions of modernism that German expressionists produced soon after. This is fantasy, pure and simple.

Sept. 18, 2020–Jan. 17, 2021
Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Your Guide to This Fall’s Top Museum Exhibitions

Artemisia at the National Gallery

The 17th century Italian portraitist Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1654, or later) was never exactly a hidden gem in her lifetime. She was commissioned by Philip IV of Spain, among several other noble patrons; after her death, her exquisite Baroque portraits and Biblical tableaus made their way into royal collections across Europe. Even so, her reputation flagged over the centuries, and ionly recently has her fame revived. This show, the first major exhibition of her work in the U.K., was scheduled for April and then delayed. It will surely be worth the wait.

Oct. 2, 2020–Jan. 24, 2021
National Gallery, London

Your Guide to This Fall’s Top Museum Exhibitions

Anupama Kundoo: Taking Time at the Louisiana Museum

In its fourth edition of the Architects Studio series, Denmark’s Louisiana Museum has commissioned the dazzlingly inventive Kundoo to examine the role of time as a forgotten resource in architecture. Kundoo has built some very real structures, but she’s also a noted theorist. This show, constructed as a “journey through time,” should prove to be a seamless fusion of the two. 

Oct. 8, 2020–Jan. 31, 2021
Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark 

Your Guide to This Fall’s Top Museum Exhibitions

Jo Ractliffe: Drives at the Art Institute of Chicago

Ractliffe was born in South Africa in 1961 and came of age as the country was convulsing amid the tail end of apartheid. But instead of straightforward photographs of injustice or violence, Ractliffe created indirect documentation of her government’s violence and racism. Now, in the first survey ever of Ractliffe, the Art Institute has organized more than 100 photos from her career. Many remind us that the past is not so distant, nor so different, than the present.

Oct. 17, 2020–April 26, 2021
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

Your Guide to This Fall’s Top Museum Exhibitions

About Time: Fashion and Duration at the Met Fifth Avenue

Time is clearly in the air this fall, as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute mounts a blockbuster show dedicated to fashion through the ages. With two massive (Instagram-ready) clock faces as backdrops, there will be 120 dresses—one for each minute. The cherry on top? Garments will be black or white. That’s it.

Oct. 29, 2020–Feb. 7, 2021
The Met Fifth Avenue, New York

Your Guide to This Fall’s Top Museum Exhibitions

Girault de Prangey: Photographer at the Musée d’Orsay

Anyone who missed the Met’s 2019 exhibition of work by Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (1804-1892) will have a second chance to comb through this mountain of exquisite documentation of a lost world. De Prangey, an amateur explorer and archeologist, pioneered the use of the daguerreotype and used it to document his trip through Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jerusalem, Palestine, and Egypt. In unsurprising contrast with the Met’s show, this presentation at the Musee d’Orsay will place greater emphasis on de Prangey’s connection to France and French culture.

Nov. 3, 2020–Feb. 7, 2021
Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Your Guide to This Fall’s Top Museum Exhibitions

Mondrian and De Stijl at the Reina Sofia

The Reina Sofia knows how to put on a blockbuster. In room after room, the museum’s excellent curatorial team consistently presents exhaustive (and, depending on the size, occasionally exhausting), jaw-dropping shows. The most recent subject caught in the museum’s floodlights is Piet Mondrian and a circle of his peers and occasional acolytes that revolved around critic Theo van Doesburg’s magazine De Stijl. The show will include a large number of works by Mondrian (1872-1944), and an even larger number from his contemporaries.

Nov. 11, 2020–March 1, 2021
Reina Sofia, Madrid

Your Guide to This Fall’s Top Museum Exhibitions

Ulay Was Here at the Stedelijk Museum

Performance artist Marina Abramovic has a household name; that of her onetime partner and collaborator Ulay (né Frank Uwe Laysiepen, who died this year at 76) is more on the margin. A new show at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk hopes to change that. Drawing on many works from its own collection, the museum will break Ulay’s work into four main categories: performance, his research into gender identity, his social and political engagement, and finally, his relationship with Amsterdam. 

Nov. 21,  2020–April 18, 2021
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Your Guide to This Fall’s Top Museum Exhibitions

Emil Pirchan: Universal Artist at the Leopold Museum

With the exception of so-called “brand collaborations,” today’s artists are expected to remain apart from the world of commerce—except, you know, the commerce of making and selling art. But the inimitable Pirchan (1884–1957) was living proof that an alternative is possible, one in which originality in art, design, and craftsmanship can be applied to fine art and commercial work in equal measure. In this sweeping show, visitors will be able to experience Pirchan’s genius for stage design, book illustration, graphic design, and advertising art.

Nov. 27,2020–April 4, 2021
Leopold Museum, Vienna

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