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Here Are the 14 U.S. Museum Shows That Matter This Fall, From a Survey of 21st-Century Feminisms in Berkeley to a Radical Art Rediscovery in Atlanta

As museums begin to reopen in the United States, we cast an eye over upcoming exhibitions for those that promise the most urgent and notable art of our time. The resulting list contains a diverse roster of 14 shows—by solo practitioners and groups chosen by keen-eyed curators—coming to museums from coast to coast.

Some exhibitions will introduce you to artists you may not know, like Bani Abidi at the MCA Chicago, Michaela Eichwald at the Walker Art Center, and Nellie Mae Rowe at the High Museum. Others will offer new insight into artists or eras of artistic production you thought you knew, from a spotlight on Georgia O’Keeffe’s photography in Houston to a sweeping feminist art survey in Berkeley. 

Regardless of what city you’re in, this fall’s season of museum programming is bound to open both eyes and minds.


New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)
August 28, 2021–January 30, 2022

Farah Al Qasimi, It’s Not Easy Being Seen 3 (2016). Courtesy the artist; The Third Line, Dubai; and Helena Anrather.

With 140 works by 76 artists and collectives, this exhibition at the U.C. Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is one of the largest to date on contemporary feminist art, and will coincide with a year of public programming focused on feminist theory. Works by the likes of Laura Aguilar, Christina Quarles, Zanele Muholi, Wu Tsang, and Francesca Woodman are included, tackling such topics as the fragmented body, domesticity, female anger, and feminist utopias. 


Raúl de Nieves: The Treasure House of Memory
Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
September 1, 2021–July 24, 2022

Raúl de Nieves, The Fable, which is composed of wonders, moves the more (2021). © Raúl de Nieves.

Multidisciplinary artist Raúl de Nieves is adored for his exuberant works that blend queer club culture, religious iconography, and folklore traditions from his native Mexico. Here, the artist continues his ongoing exploration of his culture and its traditions through a new body of work, created especially for the ICA, that looks at memory and personal transformation.

Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
September 3, 2021–January 9, 2022 

Nellie Mae Rowe, This World is Not My Home (1979). Photo courtesy of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

Born in Georgia in 1900, the daughter of a formerly enslaved man, Rowe achieved fame as a self-taught folk artist. The first major exhibition devoted to Rowe in more than 20 years celebrates the late artist’s notable drawing career, which was only fostered later in her life, after the deaths of her husband and employer, in the 1960s. The museum bills the show as the first to position Rowe’s creative pursuit as a “radical act of self-expression and liberation in the post-civil rights-era South.”


Joan Mitchell
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
September 4, 2021–January 17, 2022

Joan Mitchell, Untitled (1992). Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York.

This highly anticipated retrospective devoted to the queen of gestural abstraction contains over 80 works, encompassing everything from early paintings and drawings, sketchbooks, letters, and photographs to the large, color-drenched, multi-panel works that defined her later output.  


Selena Forever/Siempre Selena
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
September 4, 2021–January 10, 2022

John Dyer, Selena (1992). Courtesy of the artist.

At the height of the beloved Tejano singer’s fame, it was photographer John Dyer whom she entrusted to produce the images of her that were seared into the American pop-culture consciousness. Over the course of two collaborative photoshoots, in 1992 and ‘94, Dyer captured the legendary Selena Quintanilla-Pérez in her signature gemmed bustier and red lip, pictures that became immortal after her tragic death in 1995.


Bani Abidi: The Man Who Talked Until He Disappeared
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
September 4, 2021–June 5, 2022

Bani Abidi, An Unforeseen Situation 4. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

Bani Abidi’s work infuses deadly serious subjects like militarism, nationalism, and memory with humor, holding up a mirror to power structures. The Pakistani artist, who lives in Karachi and Berlin, gets the survey treatment at the MCA, co-organized with the Sharjah Art Foundation, in a show that looks at over 20 years of her career and features new work alongside existing video, photography, and sound installations. 


Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?
Museum of Modern Art, New York
September 18, 2021–January 30, 2022

Adam Pendleton, Untitled (WE ARE NOT) (2021). Image courtesy of the artist.

Pendleton, who has put forth a “Black Dada” framework inspired by Amiri Baraka, ambitiously takes over MoMA’s Marron Atrium with an immersive floor-to-ceiling installation described as a “spatial collage” containing text, image, and sound. All together, the show’s paintings, drawings, textiles, sculptures, and moving images seek to disrupt the 1:1 relationship of words and images, allowing a complex new vision of Blackness to emerge in abstraction.

The Art Institute of Chicago
September 19, 2021–January 24, 2022

Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Your Body is a Battleground) (1989), at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2013. Photo by Susan Broman via Flickr.

The prolific Pictures Generation artist has collaborated with the Art Institute to map out a survey of her entire career that takes up the whole of the museum’s 18,000-square-foot gallery space. It’s all here, and squirm-inducingly relevant: her trademark “pasteups,” works on vinyl, animations, and video installations, plus a new site-specific work in the adjoining atrium. On top of this, Kruger has created work for the city at large, making billboards and designs for the Chicago Transit Authority, among other organizations.


Naudline Pierre: What Could Be Has Not Yet Appeared
Dallas Museum of Art
September 26, 2021–May 15, 2022

Naudline Pierre, Lest You Fall (2019). Courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art.

Pierre is known for her colorful canvases that depict ethereal beings and explore power struggles in intimate relationships. The Brooklyn-based painter’s first solo museum exhibition will consist of existing works—one of which was recently acquired by the DMA—as well as new creations, with five major paintings making their debut. 


Greater New York
MoMA PS1, New York
October 7, 2021–April 18, 2022

Robin Graubard, selection from “Peripheral Vision” (1979–2021). Image courtesy the artist and Office Baroque, Antwerp.

One of the hottest survey exhibitions of new art from across New York’s five boroughs is back for its fifth iteration. This latest edition, curated by Ruba Katrib with Serubiri Moses, Kate Fowle, and Inés Katzenstein, was delayed by a year due to the pandemic, but still promises to showcase the best of artists and collectives currently working in the Big Apple, including Carolyn Lazard, Alan Michelson, and BlackMass publishing.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Photographer
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
October 17, 2021–January 17, 2022

Georgia O’Keeffe, Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) (1964–68). © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe.

The artist best known for her paintings of flowers and Southwestern landscapes is recast here in the first exhibition to focus entirely on her photography, with nearly 100 prints from a newly examined archive to go on view. Described as a “Modernist approach” to the art form, O’Keeffe’s pictures document family members, fellow artists, and her travels. 


Soft Water Hard Stone
The New Museum, New York
October 28, 2021–January 23, 2022

Amalie Smith, Clay Theory (2019) (still). Courtesy of the artist.

The latest triennial from the downtown institution draws its title from a Brazilian proverb: “Água mole em pedra dura, tanto bate até que fura,” meaning “soft water on hard stone hits until it bores a hole.” Curators Margot Norton and Jamillah James have translated this idea into an exhibition of 41 international artists focused on how systems we once considered infallible have been, in fact, proven fragile by recent global crises. 


My Barbarian
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
October 29, 2021–February 27, 2022

My Barbarian, Broke People’s Baroque Peoples’ Theater, 2011–15. Studio photograph, courtesy of the artists.

For the occasion of the performance trio’s 20th anniversary, the Whitney has commissioned a new filmic piece, Rose Bird, about California’s first female chief Supreme Court justice, to accompany this two-part survey of My Barbarian’s work. A series of live events—including a play, a festival, a cabaret-style concert, and a “rehearsal-as-performance”―will be enacted alongside an exhibition containing footage of previous performances, in addition to sculptures, paintings, drawings, masks, and puppets.

Michaela Eichwald
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
November 14, 2020–May 16, 2021

Michaela Eichwald, Die Unsrigen sind fortgezogen (The Ours Have Moved Away) (2014). Collection Brian Pietsch and Christopher Hermann.

The Berlin-based artist and writer, who is primarily a painter, marks her first solo exhibition in the United States with a presentation looking back at the past ten years of her career. Her palimpsest-like paintings, sculptures, and collages contain surprising materials like candy and chicken bones, and often allude to her interests in philosophy and literature.

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Cult Art Space Founder Lia Gangitano on Championing Queer Art Outside the Mainstream

New York has had few art nonprofits as dearly beloved as Participant Inc. While predecessors such as Art in General and Exit Art eventually retired, the esteemed Lower East Side institution has only grown stronger in its two decades of programming mainly queer art. And the experimental landmark’s East Houston location has become a kind of unofficial community hub for New York’s avant-garde since it moved to the humble storefront in 2007.

Behind the institution’s cult-like following is founder and director Lia Gangitano, who has unwaveringly championed boundary-pushing art that New York museums still often fail to recognize. Whether photographs of performance artist Ron Athey’s transcendental acts of self-mutilation or the late trans artist Greer Lankton’s poetic dolls, the art on view at Participant’s narrow, dimly-lit space is often provocative. Gangitano, however, operates the space with an ease and compassion that manifests her commitment to a genre of art still deemed too controversial for many larger institutions.

“My career trajectory goes backwards, toward the more alternative and less institutional, but never to a collecting museum or a commercial sector,” she said, as the noise from Participant’s solo show of work by performance artist Keioui Keijaun Thomas filled the space.

With her signature chunky-framed glasses and sleek black hair, Gangitano is an unmistakable fixture in the New York art scene, and one who possesses a unique duality of a bygone DIY sensibility and a transgressive sense of the new. She radiates a calming energy with her careful selection of words.

What many would consider recent directions in art has long come innately to Gangitano. “Many artists are assumed to be just having a moment, but I was working on shows with Lorraine O’Grady, Howardena Pindell, or Lyle Ashton Harris at ICA Boston back in the 1990s.”

While working under an institutional roof, she engaged with organizations fighting against the era’s urgent health crises, including ACT UP and the Women’s Action Coalition. “A whole generation of artists was being wiped out, so remaining outside that political context was not an option.”

Founding Principles

“Queer Communion: Ron Athey,” 2021, curated by Amelia Jones, installation view at Participant Inc, New York. Photo: Daniel Kukla.

Gangitano started Participant with a similar commitment to ideals, which, at the time, weren’t necessarily fashionable. Despite the space’s well-known engagement with artists working around various gender representations, its categorization as a queer art space is far from intentional. Gangitano thinks lumping queer artists together under a singular umbrella is a reductive approach to a broad network of philosophies, mediums, and experiences. “The power lies in the fact that it’s not premeditated,” she said. “I have a hard time considering queer art as a monolithic thing.”

For Gangitano, the attachment of “underrepresented” or “overlooked” labels to artists whose careers are seeing delayed recognition makes her wonder whether justice is actually being done to their legacy. Institutions often water down their presentation of artists’ works in order to appeal to broader audiences, she said. “It feels worrisome when the volume is turned down. If the exhibitor mutes the anger in David Wojnarowicz, or the sarcasm in Mark Morrisroe, the intention is not passed on.”

When Ron Athey’s recent survey, “Queer Communion,” premiered at Participant last February, the modestly-sized gallery was brimming with memorabilia, documentation, video, photography, and sculpture dedicated to the L.A.-based performance artist’s three-decade work. But the show, despite Athey’s pioneering status in endurance art, a 456-page publication, and art historian Amelia Jones attached as the curator, initially did not find an originating institution. “I can speculate that this was related to Ron’s work being inherently anti-institutional, or not privileging the institution per se—and that makes no sense,” Gangitano said.

Rethinking the ‘Museum-Worthy’ Ideal

Greer Lankton, LOVE ME (2015), installation view at Participant Inc, New York. Photo: Marti Wilkerson.

Gangitano questions the tendency in the art world to uphold museums as the highest arbiter of acclaim. The overwhelmingly positive response that her Greer Lankton survey, “Love Me,” received in 2014 made her question the classification between alternative institutions and mainstream ones. “I took a pause when I realized that the best compliment for a show could be that it was ‘museum level’—why is that good?” she asked. “Part of my recent thinking agrees that museums might in fact be broken.”

Lankton’s meticulous, years-long work with dolls made her a local star in the East Village of the 1980s. But her work had always remained on a periphery occupied by many other trans artists. “Adjusting a canon to finally include Greer was not the show’s goal,” she said. “Rather, it was to understand why a transgender woman working within the context of the East Village scene didn’t fit that generational lifestyle.”

Participant operates on an annual budget of $350,000 and has a 17-member board, predominantly composed of artists. Berlin-based American artist Vaginal Davis recently became its president, while artists Jeffrey Gibson, Justin Vivian Bond, and Derrick Adams have newly joined its ranks.

Although the past year was precarious for Participant, and many other arts organizations of its size, it also had some advantages. “Organizations with modest infrastructures are better equipped with working around small budgets—vulnerability is in our daily existence,” Gangitano said, noting that it was inspiring to watch her grassroots art community turn to mutual aid campaigns and collective organizing in response to both the pandemic and social injustice.

But for now, Participant’s famously packed performances and talks are currently memories of the past. “For the first time in 14 years, the human presence was cleansed and even the ghosts in the basement are gone,” she said. With live performance suddenly shut down, she turned to the digital realm, including launching the online program Participant After Dark,

She remains determined to lean more heavily on virtual programming in the future, too. “Putting 150 people into this tiny space is no longer the best viewing condition for a performance,” she said. “I look forward to pursuing a hybrid of real audience and livestream to broaden the access.”

And, after 14 years on East Houston, Participant will likely move to another space when the current lease ends next year. Gangitano is exploring neighborhoods around downtown Manhattan for its next phase. Change has been brewing in the future of the organization’s programming, too. “At this point, I want to spend my energy to support other curators and artists,” she said. “I am not that compelled to put forward a curatorial platform that is primary mine.”

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