This has been a busy year for Steve McQueen by anyone’s standards. A career retrospective at Tate Modern was accompanied by ‘Year 3’ at Tate Britain – a photographic project that saw the ground-floor gallery walls covered with thousands of school portraits, offering a snapshot of contemporary London; for a short time, enlarged versions of these photographs became a superlative form of public art, lining the platforms at the capital’s tube stations. A knighthood at the start of the year recognised the Oscar-winning film-maker’s achievements and McQueen’s most recent project, Small Axe, a series of five films about West Indian experiences in London, started screening on the BBC in November.
At Goodman Gallery back in February, the Iranian-born photographer Shirin Neshat opened her first solo exhibition in London for more than two decades; it followed her major retrospective at the Broad in Los Angeles, which travelled to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth – and included her latest film, Land of Dreams, in which a female photographer from Iran travels through the west of the United States. Neshat was celebrated as ‘Master of Photography’ at Photo London, for her work dedicated ‘to an understanding of the religious and political forces that have shaped Iranian and other Islamic cultures’.
Toyin Ojih Odutola
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s exhibition at the Barbican, which opened in October, has been greeted with widespread acclaim – partly because of the young Nigerian-born artist’s technical skill, but also because of the ambitious nature of her project. Unfolding over a series of 40 drawings, ‘A Countervailing Theory’ imagines an ancient civilisation in central Nigeria, ruled by women warriors. Zadie Smith – whom Ojih Odutola painted in 2019 for the National Portrait Gallery – called her ‘one of the most exciting young artists working today’. A solo exhibition of new works on paper by the artist was presented in September at Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Two years after her retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Howardena Pindell’s solo show at the Shed, New York, features her first video in 25 years. Titled Rope/Fire/Water, the work – a searing indictment of racism and violence in the United States – has, until now, remained unrealised since the 1970s and may be even more powerful today. A recent solo show at Art Omi featured the artist’s photo collages alongside other significant video works – including Pindell’s pivotal Free, White and 21 of 1980, which is currently also showing at the Baltimore Museum of Art. In January, Pindell received a prestigious USA Fellowship.
In September, Gerhard Richter unveiled three stained-glass windows he had designed for (and donated to) Tholey Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Saarland, Germany. Richter, who is now 88, has referred to it as his last major work and it almost seems as if a string of exhibitions has been organised to celebrate his stature as a painter. In March, 100 of his self-portraits – the vast majority of them drawings – were displayed at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur in Switzerland and a show of some 130 of the artist’s landscapes opened at the Vienna Kunstforum in October. The retrospective at the Met Breuer in March was forced to close after only nine days due to Covid-19, but the artist’s series of four Birkenau paintings can still be seen at the Fifth Avenue mothership.
The most comprehensive exhibition to date of Bridget Riley’s oeuvre opened at the Hayward Gallery last October (travelling from the National Galleries of Scotland), tracing 70 years of experiments in paint and perception. This was followed by a revised catalogue raisonné of Riley’s prints from 1962–2020 (co-published by Thames & Hudson in association with the Bridget Riley Art Foundation) that made it possible to discover all kinds of interesting connections between the artist’s prints and her paintings. A group of Riley’s works from the 1980s and ’90s, influenced by Paul Klee, was displayed at David Zwirner, London, in June.
The Shortlists | Acquisition of the Year | Book of the Year | Digital Innovation of the Year | Exhibition of the Year | Museum Opening of the Year