20 Trailblazing Artists with Major Museum Shows in 2020

Christy Kuesel
Jan 20, 2020 1:00PM

In 2020, major art museums are recognizing the role of women in art history more than ever before through exhibitions ranging from a Renaissance master’s first major show to an examination of a sprawling Tuscan sculpture park. At the same time, institutions are still making room to showcase the best up-and-coming photographers, conceptual artists, and filmmakers, while celebrating the long careers of revered modern and contemporary artists, from Donald Judd to Jasper Johns. To ring in the new decade, we share 20 artists with major museum shows in 2020.

Donald Judd

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, March 1–July 11, 2020

Donald Judd, Marfa, Texas, 1993 © Laura Wilson. Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

Donald Judd, Untitled, 1967. © 2020 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.


Despite creating large-scale, three-dimensional abstract forms made from aluminum, steel, and Plexiglas, Donald Judd refused to categorize himself as a sculptor. Judd probed relationships between size and color through working with local fabricators, and helped pioneer the field of Minimalism. MoMA’s full-career retrospective will feature more than just sculpture, incorporating paintings, drawings, and rarely seen works, as well. This will be Judd’s first solo museum exhibition in the U.S. in over 30 years.

Gerhard Richter

Met Breuer, New York, March 4–July 5, 2020

Gerhard Richter. Photo by Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images.


Gerhard Richter’s varied output, ranging from abstract paintings to photorealistic canvases to three-dimensional glassworks, has earned him recognition as one of the greatest living artists. The Met Breuer show will highlight his twin interests in abstract and realist painting, showing more than 100 works from Richter’s career, which spans over six decades. Two series—“Birkenau” (2014), inspired by documentary photographs from the Auschwitz II–Birkenau concentration camp, and “Cage” (2006), a group of abstract paintings—will be shown in the U.S. for the first time.

Huguette Caland

Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar, March 24–August 26, 2020

Portrait of Huguette Caland by Sandy Lajer. Courtesy of Galerie Janine Rubeiz.

The late Lebanese artist Huguette Caland is known for her abstract paintings and sensual line drawings, though she later branched out into magnificently decorated kaftans. Caland, who died last year, flouted traditional expectations of femininity, creating subtly erotic works that questioned the body, beauty, and notions of a woman’s place.

Artemisia Gentileschi

The National Gallery, London, April 4–July 26, 2020

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, ca. 1638-39. © Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019. Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes , ca. 1613-14. © Gabinetto fotografico delle Gallerie degli Uffizi. Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

Artemisia Gentileschi is the world’s best known female Renaissance painter thanks to feminist scholarship in the 1970s and ’80s. Recently, her work has achieved new resonance due to the #MeToo movement and a reassessment of female artists’ roles in art history. For many years, Gentileschi’s depictions of strong heroines and acts of vengeance, like in her seminal workJudith Slaying Holofernes (ca. 1620), were considered reactions to her own sexual assault. However, recent scholarship has portrayed her as not a victim, but as a genius in her own right. The National Gallery of London’s landmark Gentileschi show follows the museum’s 2018 acquisition of her work Self-portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (1615–17), as well as growth in the artist’s market. The exhibition will display around 35 works from public and private collections.

Christina Quarles

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, April 4–August 23, 2020

Portrait of Christina Quarles by Daniel Dorsa for Artsy, 2018.

Christina Quarles, Can Yew Feel? Tha Days Are Gettin’ Shorter, 2018. © Christina Quarles. Courtesy of the artist, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Pilar Corrias Gallery, London.

Christina Quarles’s changing, colliding bodies evoke questions about the subjective self, and how race, gender, and sexuality inform identity. She is also interested in concepts of boundaries and edges, and how we contextualize ourselves in relation to others. The MCA Chicago show is the largest presentation of Quarles’s work to date, encompassing works from the last four years and a new commission exploring the history and illusions of painting.

Yoshitomo Nara

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), April 5–August 2, 2020

Also traveling to: Yuz Museum, Guggenheim Bilbao, and Kunsthal Rotterdam

Portrait of Yoshitomo Nara. Photo by Franke Tsang / South China Morning Post via Getty Images.

Yoshitomo Nara’s upcoming retrospective at LACMA will be one of his largest shows to date, focusing on the artist’s longtime connection to punk and folk music. In addition to showcasing Nara’s iconic paintings of contemplative, sweet, or downright evil-looking girls, the LACMA show will debut Miss Forest (2020), a 26-foot-tall painted bronze sculpture. Nara also has a show of mostly new works opening at Dallas Contemporary in September, and a Phaidon monograph coming out in April.

Niki de Saint Phalle

MoMA PS1, New York, April 5–September 7, 2020

Niki de Saint Phalle at Tarot Garden , Garavicchio, Italy, 1980s. Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

Niki de Saint Phalle. Photo de la Hon repeinte. 1979. Photo by Katrin Baumann. © 2019 Niki Charitable Art Foundation. Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

With her colorful, large-scale sculptures, architectural projects, and famous cobalt-blue perfume, Niki de Saint Phalle showed that art could be ridiculous. Her show at MoMA PS1 will feature over 100 works, including her socially engaged activist projects focused on women’s rights, climate change, and HIV/AIDS. The exhibition—the late artist’s first New York museum show—will also examine her landmark project Tarot Garden (1998), a sprawling 14-acre sculpture park in Tuscany, through photographs, drawings, and models.

Tauba Auerbach

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), April 25–September 7, 2020

Tauba Auerbach working on Flow Separation, 2018, New York. Photo by Lele Saveri. © Tauba Auerbach. Courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Tauba Auerbach, Ligature Drawing, 21 October 2018 , 2018. Photo by Steven Probert. © Tauba Auerbach. Courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

By approaching art through science and math, contemporary artist Tauba Auerbach explores space and time, design and semiotics, texture and symmetry. These interests are apparent in works like Auerglass (2009), a pump organ that must be played by two different people, as each participant must pump wind to the other player’s notes. The SFMOMA show is the artist’s first museum survey and will look back on 16 years of her practice through themes including language, flow, and the helix.

Zanele Muholi

Tate Modern, London, April 29–October 18, 2020

Self portrait of Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town.

Zanele Muholi, Ntozakhe II, Parktown, 2016. Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York. © Zanele Muholi.

South African photographer Zanele Muholi garnered widespread acclaim for their moving portraits of the LGBTQ+ community; the artist sought to portray their subjects not as victims of circumstance, but as multifaceted, confident individuals. In recent years, they have been recognized for their self-portraiture, as in Ntozakhe II, Parktown (2016), a black-and-white shot of the artist looking into the distance. Billed as Muholi’s first major mid-career survey, the Tate show will focus on both the artist’s self-portraits and photographs of others.

Otobong Nkanga

Gropius Bau, Berlin, April 30–August 2, 2020

Portrait of Otobong Nkanga by Stefaan Temmerman. Courtesy of the Artist and Mendes Wood DM São Paulo, Brussels, New York.

Otobong Nkanga, Carved to Flow, 2017. Photo by Wim van Dongen. Courtesy of the Artist and Mendes Wood DM São Paulo, Brussels, New York.

Otobong Nkanga combines research, drawing, installation, and performance to explore the interdependent relationship between humans and land. By tracing how minerals, goods, and people move, she examines the varied interpretations of natural resources across different cultures. The Gropius Bau presentation comes out of her year-long residency at the institution, in which she worked on Carved to Flow (2017–present), a project that uses the production of soap to comment on how land and bodies are affected by capitalism.


Museo Jumex, Mexico City, April 30–August 30, 2020

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, October 9, 2020–March 21, 2021

Gego in the Museo de Bellas Artes, 1962. Photo by Jospeh Fabry. © Fundación Gego.

Gertrud Goldschmidt, or Gego, moved from Stuttgart to Caracas at the beginning of World War II and established herself as a leading figure of Venezuelan abstraction. Her multimedia approach, including printmaking, design, and sculpture, draws inspiration from the Bauhaus, as well as her training in architecture and engineering. The show opening at Museo Jumex will focus on her works spanning a variety of media from the mid-1940s to the early 1990s; the iteration at the Guggenheim will be the first major New York museum retrospective dedicated to the Latin American artist.

Senga Nengudi

Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), May 1–August 2, 2020

Senga Nengudi, Performance Piece, 1977. Photo by Harmon Outlaw. © Senga Nengudi 2019.

Senga Nengudi is best known for her sculptures made from secondhand pantyhose, which she twists into abstract shapes and uses to explore the limits placed on women’s bodies. Nengudi often addresses movement in her work through dance, improvisation, and performance art. Japanese theatrical forms and West African rituals also inform her work. The MASP show traveled to São Paulo from the Lenbachhaus in Munich, and features around 50 artworks made over a four-decade span.

Judy Chicago

De Young Museum, San Francisco, May 9–September 6, 2020

Judy Chicago, 2019. Photo © Donald Woodman /Artists Rights Society, New York.

Judy Chicago, Through the Flower 2, 1973. © Judy Chicago / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph. © Donald Woodman / ARS, New York. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Judy Chicago is a trailblazer in American feminist art, and at age 80, she is not slowing down. While she is well-known for The Dinner Party (1974–79), a installation of 39 place settings for pioneering women, her larger oeuvre includes a wide range of media including needlework, bronze reliefs, stained glass, and tapestry, to name a few. Organized around the 40th anniversary of The Dinner Party’s first presentation in San Francisco and the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States, the de Young retrospective will encompass Chicago’s varied career and interests, such as environmental devastation and the patriarchy.

Philip Guston

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., June 7–September 13, 2020

Also traveling to: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Tate Modern; and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Portrait of Philip Guston by Frank Lloyd, 1970. Courtesy of the Guston Foundation.

Philip Guston Painter's Table , 1973. © The Estate of Philip Guston.

Philip Guston rose to prominence for his abstract paintings, but he eventually grew jaded of this practice and turned to figuration. He shocked admirers with representational images in his 1970 show at Marlborough Gallery. The National Gallery of Art show is Guston’s first retrospective in over 15 years, and will encompass 125 paintings and 70 drawings. Highlights from the show include the largest reunion of works from his Marlborough show, satirical drawings of Richard Nixon, and paintings from the 1930s that have never been seen by the public before.

Alice Neel

Centre Pompidou, Paris, June 10–August 24, 2020

Alice Neel in front of a self portrait circa 1980 in New York City. Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/IMAGES/Getty Images.

Alice Neel, Andy Warhol, 1970. © The Estate of Alice Neel. Photo © 2019. Digital Image Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala.

In her contemplative portraits of people from all backgrounds—ranging from a poet to a Communist activist to a dear friend—Alice Neel captured the essence of her sitters, as well as the period in which she lived. The Centre Pompidou show divides her works into themes of class and gender struggle; it opens with a Jenny Holzer work inspired by Neel’s FBI file—her leftist views briefly put her under their surveillance. The exhibition will include roughly 70 paintings and drawings from throughout her life.

Joan Mitchell

Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), September 13–December 13, 2020

Also traveling to: SFMOMA and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Joan Mitchell in her Vétheuil studio, 1983. Photo by Robert Freson Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives.

Joan Mitchell, La ligne de la rupture, 1970–71. © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

Joan Mitchell’s participation in New York’s infamous “Ninth Street Show” vaulted her to the forefront of American Abstract Expressionism, but her retrospective at the BMA seeks to give a more complete view of her life. The show will highlight rarely seen paintings and works on paper while also exploring her diverse influences, ranging from Frank O’Hara and Jacques Dupin to music and 19th-century artists. The BMA retrospective claims to be twice as large as the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2002 retrospective of around 60 Mitchell works.

Cao Fei

UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, September 26–December 27, 2020

Portrait of Cao Fei by 9mouth.

Cao Fei, La Town, 2014. Courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space , and Sprüth Magers.

Emerging as one of the most important Chinese artists since the country’s Cultural Revolution, Cao Fei uses multimedia to address critical issues relating to pop culture, technology, and urban development. Cao blurs fantasy with reality in works like Haze and Fog (2013), a 47-minute film exploring the individual’s alienation from modern society. Her UCCA exhibition is the artist’s first major solo presentation in China, and will show her latest series, “Hongxia” (2019–20), and her piece Asia One (2018) in the country for the first time.

Jasper Johns

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Philadelphia Museum of Art, October 2020–February 2021

Jasper Johns, Painting with Two Balls, 1960. © Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

With a career spanning over 60 years, Jasper Johns, now 89, is considered one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Although he is widely associated with his repeated use of the American flag, he also relies on similarly quotidian imagery, like a tin can imprint, a bullseye, or even a series of numbers. To display the artist’s massive output and highlight his fascination with halves, the Whitney and the Philadelphia Museum of Art will stage an exhibition across the two institutions.

Deana Lawson

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, November 18, 2020–March 14, 2021

Also traveling to: MoMA PS1

Deana Lawson, Self Portrait. Courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Deana Lawson has established herself as a leading voice among contemporary photographers with her portraits of everyday life. Although her photographs of individuals and families are staged, they are often set in her subjects’ homes, providing an intimate, powerful look into black identity today. The ICA Boston exhibition, co-organized with MoMA PS1, marks Lawson’s first museum survey, showcasing her works from 2004 to the present.

Lorraine O’Grady

Brooklyn Museum, New York, November 20, 2020–April 11, 2021

Portrait of Lorraine O'Grady by Ross Collab, 2018. Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York.

Lorraine O'Grady, Art Is . . . (Girl Pointing) , 1983/2009. © Lorraine O’Grady/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

Conceptual artist Lorraine O’Grady primarily uses photographic diptychs to examine issues ranging from diaspora to black female subjectivity. Her interest in duality—whether in explicitly showing two images next to each other, or in implicitly comparing divergent materials like silk and tumbleweed—inspired the name of the exhibition, “Both/And.” O’Grady is interested in shifting the narrative of “either/or” in Western thought to something more inclusive. The Brooklyn Museum exhibition is the artist’s first comprehensive retrospective, and will feature around a dozen of her major projects.

Christy Kuesel