12 exhibitions of Asian Art coming in 2021

Following our 2021 list of twelve exciting books by Asian authors, we’d love to share some exhibitions that are going to brighten this year’s art calendar.

From Tokyo to New York, from Berlin to Beijing, in these first weeks of the new year we dream of immersing our imagination (and hopefully our bodies!) in 5,000 years of Iranian history, Yayoi Kusama’s double bill across two continents, Gujarati influences in the London scene, a tour of Modern Japanese Lacquers, and amazing new works by contemporary visual artists such as Hito Steyerl, Sutapa Biswas, and many more.

Also, a few special mentions to this year’s international events for which you should mark your calendars – The Gwangju Biennale (26 February-9 May), the 17th Istanbul Biennial (11 September-14 November), and the 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (4 December 2021 -25 April 2022) to whom we wish all the best in this unpredictable year.

Please check the relevant websites for updated information on the exhibitions’ dates.

Yayoi Kusama:
"A Retrospective" &
"Cosmic Nature"

Epic Iran

“Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective”, Gropius Bau, Berlin, 19 March- 1 August & Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2 November 2021-23 April 2022 

“Cosmic Nature”, New York Botanical Garden, NY, Spring-Fall 2021 

In Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective, eight of Kusama’s most important exhibitions, which took place between 1952 and 1983, will be recreated. The restaging of the shows will illustrate how the artist’s use of space developed and how she harnessed a multitude of mediums in her career, which now spans 70 years. The exhibition, which will be the first German retrospective of the artist, will also travel to Tel Aviv in the autumn.

Cosmic Nature is a unique “multisensory presentation” will be on view at the New York Botanical Garden. Yayoi Kusama’s NYBG takeover will feature a variety of installations throughout the 250 acres of landmark landscape and buildings—of which will include floral and vegetal sculptures as well as nature paintings.

Epic Iran, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 13 February-30 August 

Epic by name and epic by nature, this exhibition will cover an ambitious 5,000 years of Iranian history through 350 objects. Split into ten sections, the exhibition will have an “immersive design” that apparently sets it in a city, complete with a gatehouse, gardens, a palace and a library. Starting in 3200BC, the show will explore the ancient Persian Empire; Sassanid rule and Zoroastrianism; the ensuing emergence and establishment of Islam; and the royal Qajar dynasty. The final section will include Modern and contemporary works by some of Iran’s leading artists including Parviz Tanavoli, Monir Farmanfarmaian and Shirin Neshat. Literature is an overarching theme of the show, with a section devoted to poetry and its use in manuscripts and another dedicated to Ferdowsi’s 11th-century epic poem Shahnameh (book of kings). The exhibition will also include recently restored plaster casts of life-sized warrior friezes that adorned the Palace of Darius two millennia ago. 

Modern Japanese

Wang Tuo: Empty-handed into History

Modern Japanese Lacquer, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2 July – 5 September 2021 

There’s something magical about Japanese lacquer art. The decorations are made with exceptional care and skill using dozens of layers of lacquer in a process that takes months if not years. In this exhibition, traditional depictions in gold, silver and black form the departure point for a journey into modernity, creativity and exuberant colours. The almost seventy objects on display trace this development in the early 20th century.

Wang Tuo, UCCA , Beijing, 6 June – 5 September 2021 

Wang Tuo’s works grow from an array of filmmaking strategies and methodologies: spatiotemporal and narrative overlap, inventive restructuring of historical texts, and a gloomy, calm visual language. In his first institutional solo exhibition, UCCA presents a systematic overview of his work, including the premiere of “The Northeast Tetralogy,” a major series produced over the past four years. “The Northeast Tetralogy” stems from the artist’s in-depth field research into the history and practice of shamanistic rituals, reflecting on the history of Northeast Asia and the rupture of modernization as it played out in the region.


Roots and Changes – Gujarati Influences

Chim↑Pom, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 21 October to 30 January 2022

There’s dark humour — and then there’s the work of Chim↑Pom, which occupies a satirical prankster register all its own. Since 2006, this Japanese collective has been capturing poison-resistant ‘super rats’ and painting them like Pikachu. In Black of Death, they mustered a giant flock of live crows in Shibuya. They’ve also installed an inaccessible international exhibition — Don’t Follow the Wind — in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. This solo exhibition offers visitors the opportunity to view Chim↑Pom’s works from the early years to more recent projects and newly-commissioned works for the show, in a world-first attempt to paint, in exhibition format, an overall picture of Chim↑Pom’s practice as they mark their sixteen years of art and activism. 

Roots and Changes, The Exhibition Space, The Library at Willesden Green, London, 13 March 2021 – 22 August 2021 

What have the comedian Parle Patel, the politician Krupesh Hirani, the curator Dr. Sushma Jansari, the choreographer Urja Desai Thakore, the musician Sarathy Korwar and the head of Neasden Temple, Yogvivek Swami got in common?

They all have Gujarati roots which have considerably shaped and influenced the cultural landscape of London. Subrang Arts in collaboration with Brent Museum and Archives presents a multi-dimensional exhibition, with items on loan from the British Museum.

Sutapa Biswas

Ryoji Ikeda

Sutapa Biswas, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, 17 April to 27 June;  Sutapa Biswas: Lumen, Baltic, Gateshead, 8 May to 31 October

Her politically charged Kali painting Housewives With Steak-Knives  stole the British Museum’s recent Tantra show, but there’s much more to Biswas. Two concurrent exhibitions this spring explore her role in the Black Arts Movement in Britain and explore her work in drawing, sculpture, photography and video.

Ryoji Ikeda, 180 The Strand, London, Spring 

Home to the Vinyl Factory, 180 The Strand — also a hub for London Fashion Week — is turning its labyrinthine subterranean spaces over to sound and light artist Ryoji Ikeda, the largest European exhibition of his disorienting, immersive, data-driven art.

Yoshitomo Nara

"Hito Steyerl"

LACMA, Los Angeles, Spring; YUZ Museum, Shanghai, Autumn

The Japanese artist’s studio, complete with a record collection, is recreated as the centrepiece of a show exploring his passion for music. Growing up in northern Japan, Nara first heard American folk through radio broadcasts from the local US airbase. Later, he became entranced by the cover art on his favourite LPs and, according to curator Mika Yoshitake, they had a formative impact.

“Hito Steyerl”, Centre Pompidou, Paris, February 3–June 7

The acclaimed German artist’s largest-ever show in France was pushed back from its original date last summer. The exhibition, which was first presented last fall at K21 in Düsseldorf, includes a best-of of Steyerl’s major works, including her break-out 2013 piece, How not to be seen, and Factory of the Sun from the 2015 Venice Biennale, as well a new production. Part of the show will incorporate the unique architecture of the Centre Pompidou as a point of departure.

Isamu Noguchi: The Sculptor and the Ashtray

Singapore Art Week

The Sculptor and the Ashtray, Noguchi Museum, New York, February 12–May 30, 2021 

This museum dedicated to the prolific Japanese-American sculptor has two forthcoming exhibits portraying his unique ability to make sculptures “everywhere, out of everything.” This exhibit is based on Isamu Noguchi’s attempt to design the “perfect ashtray.”

Various venues, Singapore, 22-30 January 2021

Singapore Art Week is an annual celebration of visual arts which takes place in the month of January. The nine-day celebration offers artists, collectives, organisations and other art intermediaries a visible platform for showcasing a range of quality visual arts projects, discussions, and exhibitions to a local and international audience.

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