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Apollo Awards 2021

Artist of the Year

12 November 2021

Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey has been making his compelling photographic portraits for five decades. Ranging from images of Harlem in the 1970s to recent work, his first career survey opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art last year before travelling to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and then on to the Whitney in New York. An important new publication focusing on two photographic projects, The Birmingham Project (2012) and Night Coming Tenderly, Black (2017), was also released last year. This autumn the artist’s latest body of work, which includes a video titled Evergreen (2021), was shown at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York.

Dawoud Bey.

Dawoud Bey. Photo: Whitten Sabbatini; courtesy Sean Kelly, New York

Jasper Johns

The most comprehensive survey of Jasper Johns’s work to date opened this September. ‘Mind/Mirror’ is an ambitious project on view concurrently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, conceived as a pair of self-contained yet symmetrical exhibitions. The show was meant to open in summer 2020; the now 91-year-old artist appears to have made the most of the year-long delay, adding brand-new works – notably the painting Slice (2020) – to the line-up. A series of recent drawings relating to Slice went on view at Matthew Marks Gallery in New York this autumn.

Jasper Johns.

Jasper Johns. Photo: John Lund; courtesy Jasper Johns Studio

Barbara Kruger

Although it encompasses more than four decades of Barbara Kruger’s work, don’t call the major exhibition that opened at the Art Institute of Chicago this September (her largest in 20 years) a retrospective. Rather, the artist was heavily involved in designing this experimental ‘reappraisal’ of her work to date, which spans several areas of the museum and various public spaces, including on buses, trains and billboards across the city. It will travel to Los Angeles County Museum of Art and MoMA in New York, where Kruger is also working closely with the organisers to create different iterations of the show.

Untitled (Your body is a battleground) (1989), Barbara Kruger. Courtesy The Broad Art Foundation

Untitled (Your body is a battleground) (1989), Barbara Kruger. Courtesy The Broad Art Foundation

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama’s massive retrospective at the Gropius Bau in Berlin opened in April and featured a series of painstaking recreations of her key exhibitions from the 1960s–80s, as well as more recent works and a newly realised Infinity Mirror Room (the show is now at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art). Two more of the popular mirrored spaces are currently on view at Tate Modern – good luck getting a ticket. In the spring, meanwhile, the New York Botanical Garden held a sell-out exhibition across its indoor and outdoor spaces that explored the artist’s lifelong fascination with the natural world: polka-dot pumpkins galore.

Yayoi Kusama.

Yayoi Kusama. Photo: Yusuke Miyazaki; courtesy Ota Fine Arts, David Zwirner and Victoria Miro; © Yayoi Kusama

Kehinde Wiley

Known for his technicolour, pattern-strewn reinterpretations of Grand Manner portraiture – this year Kehinde Wiley has been commissioned by the Huntington Library to respond to Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy and his work has been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum. This follows a solo show – including a newly acquired film work – at The Box in Plymouth and, in December, he will show new work at the National Gallery in London.

Kehinde Wiley.

Kehinde Wiley. Photo: Kyle Dorosz

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s survey at Tate Britain in London, already delayed due to Covid-19, opened to great acclaim last December before being cut short by another lockdown. It was the largest exhibition to date of her expressive oil paintings depicting fictional Black figures: there were some 70 works on linen and canvas, dating from 2003 to the present day. The show is scheduled to return to the museum for a second run in November next year, after touring to museums in Stockholm, Düsseldorf and Luxembourg.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Photo: Marcus Leith; courtesy the artist

The Shortlists | Acquisition of the Year | Book of the Year | Digital Innovation of the Year | Exhibition of the Year | Museum Opening of the Year