The 10 best shows in the EU of 2021


As further closures loom in Austria, the Netherlands and Germany, now is the time to celebrate some of the artists and institutions who, despite the enormous challenges they face, have managed to put on some hard-hitting exhibitions in 2021. Some of them, like “Barzakh” by Lydia Ourahmane and that of Simon Fujiwara Who the Bær ‘, refer directly to the pandemic, while others, including Renée Green’s current retrospective at the KW Institute of Contemporary Art, look to the past to explore “the weight ”, according to the writer Pablo Larios,“ stories inherited from language ”.

Sissel Tolaas, Liquid_Argent_2, 2021, installation view, Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, 2021. Courtesy: the artist and Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo; photograph: Christian-Øen

Sissel Tolaas
Astrup Fearnley Museum
Oslo, Norway

Since the early 1990s, Sissel Tolaas has been creating works that use the sense of smell to trigger emotions and memories in visitors to the exhibition. In this large-scale display at the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Olso, the Berlin-based Norwegian artist filled seven indoor and outdoor spaces with sensory experiences ranging from pleasant to downright antagonistic. In doing so, says Timotheus Vermeulen in his review, Tolaas created “what could be one of the most ambitious and evocative exhibitions” he has ever visited.

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Lydia Ourahmane, ‘Barzakh’, 2021, exhibition view, Triangle – Astrides, Marseille. Courtesy: the artist and Triangle – Astrides, Marseille; photograph: Aurlien Mole

Lydia Ourahmane
Triangle
– Asterides and Kunsthalle Basel,
Marseille, France and Basel, Switzerland

When Algeria closed its borders in the spring of 2020, Lydia Ourahmane found herself trapped in Europe. Invited to mount a joint exhibition at Triangle – Astérides and Kunsthalle Basel in 2021, the artist brought her home, transporting 5,000 objects from her apartment in Algiers to Basel then to Marseille. As Oriane Durand writes in her review: “By circumventing the stop to free movement during the pandemic, Ourahmane perfectly shows the absurdity of the laws and regulations which often mean that goods have more rights than people, making ‘Barzakh’ a form of resistance, and even empowerment. ‘

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Renée Green, Funk import / export office, 1992–1993, installation view, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, 2021. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; photograph: Frank Sperling

Renée Green
KW Institute of Contemporary Art & Daadgalerie
Berlin, Germany

In her critique of Renée Green’s “inevitable distances”, which takes place at the KW Institute of Contemporary Art and Daadgalerie until January 9, 2022, Pablo Larios takes pleasure in revisiting the first piece by the New York artist in temporal mediums, Funk import / export office (1992-1993), which she produced during a daad residency in Berlin in 1993. Larios writes: “There is something great about hearing Green’s voice, off camera, interviewing these men who smoke cigarettes – mostly white European – on hip-hop Neither docile nor hostile, like a good journalist, she lets her subjects do the show.

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Michaela Eichwald, Gibt es denn wirklich nichts Schönes, nichts Schöpfungsbejahendes mehr? (Is There Really Nothing Beautiful, Nothing Creation-affirming Anymore?), 2020, acrylic and lacquer on polyurethane fabric, 135 × 95 cm. Courtesy: The Artist and Maureen Paley, London

Michaela eichwald
Lenbachhaus,
Munich, Germany

Organized in cooperation with Kunsthalle Basel, Michaela Eichwald’s solo exhibition at the Lenbachhaus – made up almost entirely of new paintings and sculptures – showed why she is considered one of the most innovative artists of her generation. ‘Full of observations on tabloid newspapers, pop culture and social media,‘observes Sarah E. James in her artist profile,’ these works are as confident and easy in their conversations and confrontations with genres and giants of art history as they are with their own imaginations materials. ‘

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Bea Schlingelhoff, ‘No River to Cross’, 2021, installation view, Kunstverein München. Courtesy: the artist and Kunstverein München eV; photograph: Constanza Melendez

Bea Schlingelhoff
Kunstverein Munich
Munich, Germany

Invited to show at Kunstverein München, Bea Schlingelhoff came across a document which showed that the institution banned “non-Aryan” members in 1936. As a result, the Swiss artist encouraged the institution, which was one of the venues for the “Degenerate Art Exhibition” organized by the Nazis in 1937, to recognize his past participation in the Nazi regime. As Carina Buktuts wrote, While many of the city’s buildings have historical ties to the fascist regime, the Kunstverein München bore no sign of its own affiliation until Schlingelhoff installed four permanent plaques on the facade, naming the only female artists included in the ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition: Maria Caspar-Filser, Jacoba van Heemskerck, Marg Moll and Emy Roeder. ‘

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Natalia LL ‘Consumer Art’, 1972-1975, installation view. Courtesy of the artist and CAC – Contemporary Art Center, Vilnius; photograph: Ugnius Gelguda

The Baltic Triennial
Various places
Vilnius, Lithuania

For this edition of the Triennale, curators Valentinas Klimašauskas and João Laia worked with the studio Isora x Lozuraityte to create an exhibition architecture that transformed the brutalist building of the Center for Contemporary Art into a colorful labyrinth. Within this framework, the duo presented a range of contemporary and historical positions which acted as a clear rebuke to the rise of right-wing ideology in Eastern Europe. “In doing so,” writes Yana Foque, “the exhibition offers us a telescopic view of complex issues that go far beyond the porous borders of this geopolitical region.

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Diana Policarpo, Bosch’s Garden, 2020, installation view, Galeria Municipal do Porto. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Dinis Santos / Galeria Municipal do Porto

Diane Policarpo
Porto Municipal Gallery
Porto, Portugal

Entitled “Hyphae nest”, Diana Policarpo’s personal exhibition at the Galeria Municipal do Porto offered “a multiplex physical experience of sounds, lights and esoteric knowledge”, according to Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva. Stemming from the Lisbon artist’s interest in “ergotism”, a disease caused by the consumption of food contaminated by the ergot fungus, the centerpiece of the exhibition Bosch’s garden (2020), is based on Temptation of Saint Anthony (c.1501) by Hieronymus Bosch, who, explains Sanchez-Kozyreva, “symbolically represented his [ergotism’s] horrible torments like the trials of the forces of evil testing the devotion of Saint Anthony ”.

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Dahn Vo, 2021, exhibition view, Secession, Vienna. Courtesy: the artist and Marian Goodman, London, Paris and New York; Photography: Nick Ash

Danh Vo
Secession
Vienna, Austria

Before Dahn Vo’s solo show at Secession, Tom McCarthy visited the artist at his farm and studio in Brandenburg to celebrate the summer solstice. While sipping champagne among the flowers, the author reflects on the meaning of this country ensemble for an artist ‘famous for its reconfigurations of eclectic and culturally charged objects that bring together refrigerators, flags and flagellated christs. ‘

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MaÅ‚gorzata Mirga-Tas, ‘Out of Egypt’, 2021, patchwork. Courtesy: the artist and Galeria Arsenal, Bialystok; photograph: Maciej Zaniewski

Małgorzata Mirga-Tas
Arsenal Gallery
Bialystok, Poland

In many works of “Out of Egypt”, Address of MaÅ‚gorzata Mirga-Tased the “critical tension”, writes Krzysztof KoÅ›ciuczuk, “between objectification and the lived experience of Roma culture”. Showcasing a series of patchworks of patterned fabrics and wax sculptures, this intimate offering by the Polish-Roma artist was an important statement “in a country facing a crisis of mono-ethnicity”.

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Simon Fujiwara, Who is a man? (detail), 2021, installation view, Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy. Courtesy of the artist and Fondazione Prada, Milan

Simon fujiwara
Prada Foundation
Milan, italy

Including a site-specific multimedia installation, ” Who the Bær ‘was Simon Fujiwara’s response to a year and a half of confinement. “Overwhelmed by a time marked not only by the pandemic but also by crucial social change,” wrote Ana Vulkin in her review, “the artist took refuge in drawing and collage, combining her own original characters with photographs and reports from the internet – from Elon Musk’s space launch to the Black Lives Matter protests […] The result is an extremely entertaining and extremely inventive show, which sees viewers embark on a fairytale journey through a cardboard bear-shaped maze.

Main image: Simon Fujiwara, ‘Who the Bær’, 2021, exhibition view, Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy. Courtesy of the artist and Fondazione Prada, Milan

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