10 Women Artists with Major Museum Shows in 2021

Salomé Gómez-Upegui
Mar 8, 2021 11:52PM

Hilma af Klint, The Ten Largest, Group IV, No. 3, Youth, 1907. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation and The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Lorraine O'Grady, Art Is . . . (Girl Pointing), 1983/2009. © Lorraine O’Grady/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York.

In 1985, the collective of feminist artists Guerrilla Girls asked “How many women had one-person exhibitions at NYC museums last year?” The answer was just one at MoMA and zero at the Guggenheim, the Met, and the Whitney. Over three decades later, the art world continues to be undoubtedly ruled by men. Only 11 percent of all museum acquisitions between 2009 and 2019 were pieces by women, and female artists’ works are still valued less than those of their male peers. Never mind the disparities when it comes to women of color.

And yet, putting this list together to commemorate Women’s History Month provided a small sense of confidence that things are slowly but surely changing for the better. From Sydney to San Francisco, a wide array of women artists from diverse backgrounds are increasingly being recognized for their talents with numerous major female-focused retrospectives and solo shows at museums. The names featured in this list—which is by no means comprehensive—are proof that there are indeed many great women artists who are here to stay. These 2021 museum shows include freshly announced exhibitions, as well as highly anticipated presentations that were originally planned to debut in 2020.

In addition to the following exhibitions, these are several other notable shows that nevertheless deserve honorable mentions: Judy Chicago’s retrospective at the de Young Museum; Cao Fei’s first major solo show in China at the UCCA; Helen Frankenthaler exhibitions at the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the New Britain Museum of American Art; Carmen Herrera’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Lucia Hierro’s first solo museum show at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum; Shara Hughes’s first solo museum show at the Garden Museum; Beatriz Milhazes’s largest solo show to date at the Museu de Art de São Paulo; Alice Neel’s retrospective at the Met; Toyin Ojih Odutola’s solo show at the Hirshhorn; Faith Ringgold’s major survey at the Glenstone Museum; Veronica Ryan’s largest U.K. show to date at Spike Island; Niki de Saint Phalle’s retrospective at MoMA PS1; and Tschabalala Self’s solo show at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Wangechi Mutu

Legion of Honor, San Francisco

May 1–November 7, 2021

Wangechi Mutu, Dream Catcher​, 2016. Photo by David Regen. Courtesy of the artist; Gladstone Gallery; and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Wangechi Mutu, detail of ​Water Woman,​ 2017. Courtesy of the artist; Gladstone Gallery; and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.


Wangechi Mutu creates extraordinary works through sampling disparate imagery from unlikely sources, ranging from fashion or pornographic magazines to anthropological and ethnographic texts. Her fantastical painting, sculpture, and film works reflect the duality of her identity as a Kenyan-American, resulting in unruly compositions unafraid to challenge colonial, sexist, and racist stereotypes, with a particular focus on the experiences of Black women.

Wangechi Mutu
Womangrove, 2018
Victoria Miro

The site-specific exhibition at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor “Wangechi Mutu: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?” has been three years in the making. For this show, the artist will once again create unexpected kinships by merging the histories, conventions, and traditions of her Western background with her East African roots. Encompassing the Court of Honor and the entire first floor of the museum, Mutu’s show will introduce a group of works including sculptures made of bronze and natural elements indigenous to Kenya, as well as new collage and film pieces.

Browse works by Wangechi Mutu on Artsy.

Hilma af Klint

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

June 12–September 19, 2021

Hilma af Klint, Group IX/UW, The Dove No.2, 1915. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation and The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden.

A mystic at heart, Hilma af Klint was relatively unknown until 1986, when—over 40 years after her death—the Los Angeles County Museum of Art showcased her paintings in a group show. Since then, her spiritually inspired oeuvre, teeming with feminine symbology and gorgeous hues, has enraptured a record-breaking number of devotees. The exhibition “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future,” showcased at the Guggenheim in New York in 2019, attracted over 600,000 attendees, becoming the museum’s most visited show in its 60-year history.

“Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings,” on display later this year at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, delves into “The Paintings for the Temple” (1906–15). This cycle of paintings is considered af Klint’s earliest major group of abstract work reflecting her otherworldly connection to the esoteric. The show will be the first survey of the Swedish artist to be shown in the Asia-Pacific region.

Browse works by Hilma af Klint on Artsy.

Anicka Yi

Tate Modern, London

October 12, 2021–January 16, 2022

With a site-specific installation, Korean-American artist Anicka Yi will take over Tate Modern’s iconic Turbine Hall later this year. And though little is known about the details of the installation itself, the museum notes this will be the artist’s largest and most ambitious project to date.

Yi’s groundbreaking art awakens the senses through tactile and fragrant sculptures, paintings, and installations made using eccentric materials such as kombucha leather, tempura-fried flowers, and recalled powdered milk. One of her most famous sculptures, Grabbing at Newer Vegetables (2015), was created with a special microbial paint made from the bacterial samples of 100 women.

Seeking to study the nexus between science and art, Yi—winner of the 2016 Hugo Boss Prize—often collaborates with biologists and chemists to create cutting-edge pieces that draw on associations and memories, investigate ideas of impermanence, and address what she refers to as “a biopolitics of the senses.”

Browse works by Anicka Yi on Artsy.

Lorraine O’Grady

Brooklyn Museum, New York

March 5–July 18, 2021

Lorraine O’Grady, installation view of “Lorraine O’Grady: Both/And” at the Brooklyn Museum, 2021. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

The essential feminist artist Lorraine O’Grady is distinguished for her groundbreaking performance, film, and photography. Yet she only began making art at the age of 45. Mlle Bourgeoise Noire (1980–83), O’Grady’s first public piece, was a guerilla performance held in New York’s downtown art scene, created as a commentary on the racial apartheid of the mainstream art world. O’Grady dressed up as “Miss Black Middle-Class,” a larger-than-life persona and equal-opportunity critic unafraid to speak her mind.

Originally planned to open in 2020, the artist’s first comprehensive retrospective, “Lorraine O’Grady: Both/And,” focuses on her lasting infatuation with diptych ideas and replacing “either/or” trains of thought with “both/and” thinking. In addition to a new installation, the Brooklyn Museum exhibition features 12 significant projects produced by O’Grady throughout her decades-long career devoted to reflecting on the consequences of living within rigid binary structures and exploring subjects such as racial hybridity and Black female subjectivity.

Browse works by Lorraine O’Grady on Artsy.

María Berrío

Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida

January 2–May 9, 2021

Portrait of María Berrío by Bradley Ogbonna, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

Maria Berrio
Knitting the Wind, 2016
Praxis Prints

In María Berrío’s lush canvases, ethereal women set within mythical surroundings gaze directly at the viewer. Mainly using paint, sequins, and patterned paper sourced from South America and Asia—particularly Japan—Berrío crafts intricate large-scale collages influenced by themes such as magical realism, Surrealism, and ecology.

Of the women featured in her often autobiographical work, Berrío has said: “They are embodied ideals of femininity. The ghostly pallor of their skin suggests an otherworldliness; they appear to be more spirit than flesh. These are the women I want to be: strong, vulnerable, compassionate, courageous, and in harmony with themselves and nature.”

María Berrío, Anemochory, 2019. © María Berrío. Courtesy of the artist and the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

The 2021 RAW (Recognition of Art by Women) exhibition by the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida, “María Berrío: Esperando mientras la noche florece (Waiting for the Night to Bloom),” is the first museum survey of the Colombian artist’s work, featuring recent work and two new pieces. Berrío is represented by Victoria Miro.

Browse works by María Berrío on Artsy.

Bisa Butler

Art Institute of Chicago

November 16, 2020–September 6, 2021

Bisa Butler, Southside Sunday Morning, 2018. © Bisa Butler. Photo by Margaret Fox. Courtesy of the artist and the Art Institute of Chicago.

American fiber artist Bisa Butler combines portraiture and intricate quilting to create layered personal and historical narratives of contemporary Black identity in American life. Using textiles—a commonly undervalued medium—her oeuvre questions the historical marginalization of her subjects, and as she has stated before, “proclaims that black people should be seen, regarded and treated as equals.”

Butler’s work focuses on everyday Black Americans and is greatly informed by family photos, Romare Bearden’s collages, Faith Ringgold’s quilts, photographs by Gordon Parks, and the philosophies of AfriCOBRA (the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists).

Bisa Butler, Anaya with Oranges, 2017. © Bisa Butler. Photo by Margaret Fox. Courtesy of the artist and Dimmitt Davies Collection.

“Bisa Butler: Portraits,” originally on show at the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, New York, and now open at the Art Institute of Chicago, is the artist’s first solo museum exhibition, encompassing 22 lively pieces throbbing with color and made from materials such as West African wax printed fabric, kente cloth, and Dutch wax prints.

Browse works by Bisa Butler on Artsy.

Yayoi Kusama

Gropius Bau, Berlin, March 19–August 1, 2021

New York Botanical Garden, April 10–October 31, 2021

Tate Modern, London, spring 2021

Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C., dates TBD

Portrait of Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of the artist and The New York Botanical Garden.

Fascinated with loops, dots, pumpkins, and flowers, as well as ideas of self-obliteration, eternity, and infinity, legendary artist Yayoi Kusama is a globally recognized prodigy who, at 91 years of age, continues to push boundaries. In 2021, the Japanese avant-garde artist will have four solo exhibitions at major institutions.

Yayoi Kusama
The Endless Life of People, 2010
AB Projects
Yayoi Kusama
Dress, 1996
Omer Tiroche Gallery

“Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective,” on show at the Gropius Bau, will be the first comprehensive retrospective of the artist in Germany. Her much-anticipated show at the New York Botanical Garden, “Kusama: Cosmic Nature,” promises a horticultural spectacle that will delve into the artist’s lifelong enchantment with nature. Also opening in spring, “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms” at Tate Modern in London will be entirely devoted to Kusama’s extraordinary installations that create the illusion of a boundless universe. And last but not least, Kusama’s solo exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum is expected to be an intimate tribute to her enthralling career.

Browse works by Yayoi Kusama on Artsy.

Julie Mehretu

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

March 25–August 8, 2021

Julie Mehretu, Mogamma (A Painting in Four Parts) (1 of 4), 2012. © Julie Mehretu. Courtesy of the artist and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

Julie Mehretu, Untitled 2, 1999. © Julie Mehretu. Courtesy of the artist and White Cube.

Enamored by the urban environments of the 21st century, Julie Mehretu creates gargantuan canvases that are replete with layered imagery, narratives, and marks that echo the multifaceted nature of cities, histories, and geopolitics. Through meticulous work that combines a myriad of mediums including paint, pencil, and ink, the Ethiopian-American artist—a recipient of the MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 2005—creates abstract compositions that seek to make sense of a chaotic world.

Julie Mehretu
Haka, 2012
Richard Levy Gallery

The Whitney exhibition, which debuted at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2019 and was supposed to open last year in New York, brings together around 30 paintings and 40 works on paper by the artist from 1996 to the present. This, Mehretu’s first mid-career retrospective, claims to be the most comprehensive overview of the artist’s work, covering over 20 years of her artistic evolution ranging from her early focus on themes such as mapping and iconography to her more recent fascination with figuration.

Browse works by Julie Mehretu on Artsy.

Christina Quarles

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, March 13–August 29, 2021

X Museum, Beijing, March 14–May 30, 2021

South London Gallery, spring 2021

Christina Quarles, When It'll Dawn on Us, Then Will It Dawn on Us, 2018. © Christina Quarles. Courtesy of the artist; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; and Pilar Corrias Gallery, London.

Christina Quarles
Don’t Worry Baby, 2020
New Art Editions

It’s a year of many firsts for Los Angeles–based artist Christina Quarles, who has three important solo exhibitions ahead of her. Her solo show at MCA Chicago will combine pieces made over the last three years and a novel extensive installation focused on illusions and histories of painting. This is expected to be the largest presentation of her work to date. Opening that same week, “Christina Quarles: Dance by tha Light of tha Moon,” at the X Museum in Beijing, will center on Quarles’s fascination with the human body. And her show at South London Gallery, “Christina Quarles: In Likeness,” is set to be her first solo exhibition at a major London institution.

Christina Quarles, Yew've Got Yer Gud Things, n' I've Got Mine (Split), 2018. © Christina Quarles. Courtesy of the artist; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; and Pilar Corrias Gallery, London.

Christina Quarles, Tha Nite Could Last Ferever, 2020. © Christina Quarles. Courtesy of the artist; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; and Pilar Corrias Gallery, London.

Through provocative acrylic works echoing elements of her experiences with race, gender, and sexuality, Quarles features distorted limbs and entwined bodies upon abstracted surroundings to create ambiguous scenarios that, in her words, “challenge the viewer to contend with the disorganized body in a state of excess.”

Browse works by Christina Quarles on Artsy.

Pipilotti Rist

The National Museum of Modern Art (MoMAK), Kyoto

April 6–June 13, 2021

Pipilotti Rist
Peeping Freedom Shutters for Linda Malnati (Apollomat vertical screen PFS_A), 2020
Hauser & Wirth

Pipilotti Rist, still from Multicoloured Ghost, 2020. © Pipilotti Rist. Courtesy of the artist, Hauser & Wirth, and Luhring Augustine.

Pipilotti Rist creates multi-projector video installations that combine intimate sounds, vivid imagery, fantastical lighting, and striking messages, producing surreal, immersive experiences. Her mesmerizing pieces seek to blur the lines between the public and the private and create unique scenarios for escape.

Pipilotti Rist, Enlight My Space 2008. © Pipilotti Rist. Courtesy of the artist, Hauser & Wirth, and Luhring Augustine.

Pipilotti Rist
Blue Eye , 1962

Her MoMAK retrospective “Your Eye Is My Island” promises to be a complete overview of Rist’s three-decade career, featuring works about a myriad of subjects ranging from the body and women to ecology and nature. Roughly 40 of the artist’s pieces will be on display, including an open-air work constructed using recycled materials, a new work that incorporates pieces from the museum’s collection, earlier works such as brief videos about the female body and identity, and her piece Ever Is Over All (1997)—a video in which a young woman shatters car windows with an enormous flower, for which she received a Premio 2000 award at the Venice Biennale.

Browse works by Pipilotti Rist on Artsy.

Salomé Gómez-Upegui

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Guerrilla Girls. The text has been updated to correct this error.