So here we are. It’s 2022, and you’re looking for a list of the most important must-see art museum exhibitions of the year. You have come to the right place! Here’s a round-up of shows you’ll want to keep an eye on through June.
“Noah Davis” at the Underground Museum, Los Angeles
Opens January 12, 2022
The late Noah Davis (1983–2015), who cofounded the Underground Museum in Los Angeles with his wife, sculptor Karon Davis, before his untimely death at 32, is the subject of this exhibition as the museum reopens its doors to the public after a nearly two-year closure. The show, organized by Helen Molesworth and Justen Leroy, looks at the seemingly quiet, everyday scenes Davis painted, along with other pictures that the museum describes as exercises in “magical realism.”
“Charles Ray: Figure Ground” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
January 31, 2022–June 5, 2022
For more than 50 years, Charles Ray, one of the greatest living Old Masters, has been toying with our perceptions, prejudices, and ideas about abstraction, even as, in the latter part of his career, his focus seems to have been on an unerring—and sometimes unnerving—realism. This show, which will include 19 works made over the course of his entire career, plus photographs by the artist, is his first New York museum show in 25 years and the first anywhere to bring together sculptures from every decade of his working life. Importantly, this one may also generate some controversy: the show marks the New York debut of Ray’s sculpture , which the Whitney Museum commissioned for its plaza and then rejected, ostensibly out of fear that its racially and sexually charged imagery would offend viewers.
“Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation” at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
February 6, 2022–May 15, 2022
Pioneering video artist Ulysses Jenkins gets a major retrospective resulting from three years of research, during which curators digitized his enormous, 50-year archive, and conducted interviews with the artist and his many collaborators. Among his many friends, teachers, and acquaintances were Charles White, Chris Burden, Betye Saar, and Kerry James Marshall, who performed in Jenkins’s video (1979). This is one you won’t want to miss.
“Faith Ringgold: American People” at the New Museum, New York
February 17, 2022–June 5, 2022
Speaking of masters, Faith Ringgold, whose stunning and sometimes startling visions of life in America have flown under the mainstream radar for far too long, is getting the retrospective treatment at the New Museum in February. The show will include her fabric works, paintings, and soft sculptures to draw out her place in the long line leading from the “Harlem Renaissance to the political art of young Black artists working today,” according to the museum.
“Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art
February 19, 2022–May 15, 2022
The ghosts that haunt America are the focus of this traveling group exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which will investigate how paranormal interests have guided more than 100 artists, including Betye Saar and Grant Wood, from the 18th century until today. “You might expect to see images of ghosts in an exhibition exploring the supernatural—and you will,” curator Robert Cozzolino wrote of the show. “But the primary thread that binds these diverse artists across generations leads to contact.”
“Dakota Modern: The Art of Oscar Howe” at the National Museum of the American Indian, New York
March 11, 2022–September 11, 2022
Oscar Howe (1915–1983) spent the prime years of his career exploring how modernism could coexist alongside the aesthetics of his native Yanktonai Dakota culture, creating vibrant works that challenged both the mainstream contemporary art world of his time, and the Sioux traditions in which he developed his craft. The exhibition will trace his earliest works, made in the 1930s, when he was still a high school student, through the 1950s and 1960s, when he came upon the realization that there was no contradiction between tradition and innovation.
“Frédéric Bruly Bouabré: World Unbound” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York
March 13, 2022–August 13, 2022
Ivorian artist Frédéric Bruly Bouabré (1923–2014), according to MoMA, “had a single objective: to record and transmit information about the known universe.” The artist, who began his working life as a clerk for the French Colonial administrators of Senegal, had a prophetic experience in 1948, after which he began to document and record the world around him. And not only that: he also invented a writing system for the Bété people of West Africa, a group to which he belonged. This show is the first survey of his prodigious output.
“Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy” at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
April 16, 2022–September 5, 2022
Billed by the Legion of Honor as “China’s first couturier,” Guo Pei may be best known in the U.S. as the designer of Rihanna’s 2015 Met gala gown. This show, which includes around 80 works from the past 20 years, includes examples from Beijing and Paris runway shows, and illustrates how the designer blends ideas taken from European architecture, Chinese imperial arts, and the botanical world to create grand new designs. “Through her extraordinary fashions,” the museum says, “the exhibition reveals the trajectory of Guo Pei’s career as remarkable yet emblematic of China’s emergence as a leader in the fashion world in the early 21st century.
“Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
April 24, 2022–October 9, 2022
In southern California, the short but enormously influential career of English fashion designer Alexander McQueen (1969–2010) will be the subject of the first such show of his work on the West Coast. The exhibition, which draws from the fashion collection of Regina J. Drucker and LACMA’s own permanent holdings, will look at McQueen’s master craftsmanship and his ability to infuse couture looks with fanciful ideas, his vivid imagination, and bold references to the outside world.
“Philip Guston Now” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
May 1, 2022–September 1, 2022
This long-awaited (and already controversial) exhibition of Philip Guston’s work, which was delayed by the directors of the museums meant to host it, finally opens at the MFA in Boston. Surveying 50-plus years of the artist’s career, it includes around 90 painting and 30 drawings. But the big question is, how will it be received, and how has it been recontextualized by its curators to take into account the turmoil that forced its delay in the first place?
“Cézanne” at the Art Institute of Chicago
May 15, 2022–September 5, 2022
Few artists continue to fascinate museum-goers and scholars alike as much as Paul Cézanne (1839–1906). This full-scale retrospective, the first to look at the artist in the U.S. in more than 25 years, is also the first of his work at the Art Institute in more than 70 years. Through 90 paintings and 40 watercolors and drawings, the curators hope to reintroduce the artist to a new generations of art lovers, and to present new insights into his work based on technical analyses only made possible in recent years.
“The Double: Identity and Difference in Art since 1900” at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
May 15, 2022–September 5, 2022
This important exhibition of 120 artworks, organized by longtime NGA curator James Meyer, is the first to offer a broad survey of repetition, difference, and identity in the art of the past century-plus. With works by 90 artists including Glenn Ligon, Roni Horn, Yinka Shonibare, Nam June Paik, Howardena Pindell, Adrian Piper, and Robert Rauschenberg, the exhibition mines how formal repetitions reflect—or even create—senses of identity that are multiplicitous instead of singular.
“Canova: Sketching in Clay” at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
June 11, 2022–October 9, 2023
The NGA marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova (1757–1822) with a show including 40 of his existing sketches in clay, revealing how the artist modeled his works before executing them in marble. Perhaps most impressively, Canova executed many of his sketches in mere minutes, and used them as marketing tools to find new patrons.