Must-see exhibitions in September 2021

With exhibitions being postponed, extended, and cancelled, we have put together a list of some of the top shows to visit in September. Wherever you are.

2021 proves to be a tough year for arts and culture institutions. On the one hand, new projects and reopenings have raised hopes for a more or less warm restart; on the other hand, fragmentation in terms of restrictions and regulations has generated confusion, often playing against the efforts to restart. Despite that, numerous good exhibitions have opened in recent months; among them, projects scheduled for 2020 and postponed due to the pandemic, such as "Moriyama - Tomatsu: Tokyo" at the European House of Photography in Paris, and exhibitions that were so successful as to be extended, such as "Outsiders/Insiders?" at MACAAL in Marrakech.

This article brings together some of the must-see exhibitions to visit in September, wishing that the infamous "return to normality" could actually represent a new and promising beginning for art and the institutions that promote it.  

CASA BALLA, Via Oslavia, Luce's room detail, Foto M3Studio Courtesy Fondazione MAXXI, © GIACOMO BALLA, by SIAE 2021


To mark the 150th anniversary of Giacomo Balla's birth, MAXXI in Rome is presenting a dedicated programme including the exceptional opening of his Futurist house in Via Oslavia in Rome in the weekends, and an exhibition in the museum space.

Inaugurated on 17 June, the exhibition will be open until 21 November 2021. The project is curated by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, Director of MAXXI Arte, and Domitilla Dardi, Curator of Design at MAXXI. It is the first time that the Futurist house, where Balla lived and worked until his death in 1929, opens to the public. Inside, objects, paintings and drawings made by Balla and his daughters Luce and Elica coexist in a building that represents the full communion between an artist's studio and a house. It represents a work of art that bears witness to the different phases of Balla's artistic research, from the initial figurativist period to the pure representation of reality.

The project is produced and realised by MAXXI in collaboration with the Superintendence for Rome's Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape, with the support of the Ministry of Culture's General Directorate for Contemporary Creativity and the contribution of the Bank of Italy and sponsors Laura Biagiotti, Mastercard and Cassina.

Peter Moore. Photograph of Shigeko Kubota reflected in Three Mountains (1976–79) in her loft on Mercer Street, New York, 1979. Courtesy Shigeko Kubota Video Art Foundation. Photo © 2021 Barbara Moore/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Shown: Shigeko Kubota. Three Mountains. 1976–79. Four-channel standard-definition video (color, sound; approx. 30 min. each), seven cathode-ray tube monitors, plywood, and mirrors, overall dimensions variable. © 2021 Estate of Shigeko Kubota/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

"Shigeko Kubota: Liquid Reality", MOMA, New York, until 1 January 2022

From 21 August to 1 January 2022, The Museum of Modern Art presents "Shigeko Kubota: Liquid Reality", a solo exhibition by New York-based Japanese artist Shigeko Kubota, one of the first to experiment with video technology in the early 1970s.

An eclectic artist, trained as a sculptor, Kubota is known for her contributions in the fields of art, criticism, and curating. The exhibition at MOMA is the artist's first solo show in a US museum in twenty-five years. It includes works that delve into and explore the digital and interconnected universe whose echoes resonate even more strongly in the contemporary world. 

3F Gallery Installation View, © Yayoi Kusama

"Midway Between Mystery and Symbol: Yayoi Kusama's Monochrome", Yayoi Kusama Museum, Tokyo, until 26 December 2021.

From 29 April 2021 to 26 December 2021 the Yayoi Kusama Museum presents "Midway Between Mystery and Symbol: Yayoi Kusama's Monochrome", an exhibition celebrating the Japanese artist's extensive monochrome production.

The project focuses on a body of work that is less familiar to the general public but still significant and omnipresent within the artistic practice of Kusama. Among the works on display, the series of monochromatic paintings "Infinity Nets", that the artist has been working on since the late 1950s - and that has won her the reputation of avant-garde artist - and the soft sculptures in white, gold and silver. Among the many works on show, the exhibition also features one of Kusama's celebrated mirrored rooms, reflecting a variety of colours in their minimal monotone, and the ongoing painting series "My Eternal Soul", as well as "Flower Obsession", an immersive, participatory experience inviting visitors to cover a room with flowers.

Tickets for the exhibition must be purchased in advance from the museum's website; no tickets available at the door.   

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Composition of Circles and Overlapping Angles 1930 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, Department of Imaging and Visual Resources. © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Sophie Taeuber-Arp at Tate Modern, London, until 17 October 2021 

The first UK retrospective dedicated to the painter, architect, designer and writer Sophie Taeuber-Arp is on view at Tate Modern in London until 17 October 2021. One of the most groundbreaking artists of the 20th century, Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943) pushed the boundaries between abstract art, design and craft. Tate Modern presents the first UK retrospective, with over two hundred objects from collections in Europe and America. An eclectic and imaginative personality, her works testify to a time they have constructed, narrated and changed.

In the 1920s Taeuber-Arp experimented in the field of architecture and interior design for private and public buildings. The retrospective presents design objects made during this period together with paintings from the end of the same decade, resulting from her interest in primary colours and abstract forms. The exhibition also features the seventeen puppets realised for the play "King Stag", on view for the first time at the Tate, borrowed from the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich.

Shomei Tomatsu, Chindon Street Musician, 1961, Inkjet print, 59 x 42 cm© Shomei Tomatsu

"Moriyama - Tomatsu: Tokyo", MEP European House of Photography, Paris, until 24 October 2021

"Moriyama - Tomatsu: Tokyo" is the first Parisian retrospective devoted to Japanese photographer Shomei Tomatsu, who passed away in 2012. It is a group exhibition originally conceived by Tomatsu himself together with photographer and friend Daido Moriyama. The project, realised by MEP Paris, is curated in close collaboration with Moriyama and Tomatsu's widow, and stems from an initial list of works compiled by the artists themselves and expanded for the occasion. The Japanese capital had a huge impact on the two photographers and their artistic practice.

To each photographer is dedicated one of the main galleries of the MEP, following a chronological exhibition criterion that does not fail to highlight the contrasts and differences between the photographs and the exhibition choices. The show also presents a wide selection of photographs from one of Tomatsu's most important books, "Oh! Shinjuku", published in 1969, which includes his first series, "Eros" and "Protest".

Maurizio Cattelan, Blind, 2021, Installation view, Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2021, Resin, wood, steel, aluminium, polystyrene, paint, 1695 x 1300 x 1195 cm, Produced by Marian Goodman Gallery and Pirelli, HangarBicocca, Milan Courtesy the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery and Pirelli, HangarBicocca, Milan Photo: Agostino Osio

"Maurizio Cattelan - Breath Ghosts Blind", produced by Pirelli HangarBicocca, until 20 February 2022

From 15 July 2021 to 20 February 2022 Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan presents "Breath Ghosts Blind", a solo show by Maurizio Cattelan. An exhibition project in three acts, "Breath", "Ghosts" and "Blind", whose names give the exhibition its title, marking the return of the acclaimed artist to the city of Milan after ten years.

Curated by Roberta Tenconi and Vicente Todolì, the exhibition is conceived as a "narration in chapters" in the spaces of Pirelli HangarBicocca, metaphorically representing the cycle of life, from creation to death. Contemporary and existential themes are intertwined in an immersive experience capable of staging reality in its rawest and most dramatic aspects.

Kimbel and Cabus (New York, 1863–82). Cabinet-Secretary, circa 1875. Painted cherry,gilding,copper,brass,leather,earthenware, (152.4×88.9×35.6cm).Brooklyn Museum; Bequest of DeLancey Thorn Grant in memory of her mother, Louise Floyd-Jones Thorn, by exchange,1991.126. (Photo: Gavin Ashworth)

"Modern Gothic: The Inventive Furniture of Kimbel and Cabus, 1863-82, at the Brooklyn Museum in New York until 13 February 2022.

Opening on July 2, 2021, "Modern Gothic: The Inventive Furniture of Kimbel and Cabus, 1863-82" is the first exhibition dedicated to the New York City furniture and decorative arts firm Kimbel and Cabus, known for its reinterpretation of modern Gothic design in the context of the post-Civil War aesthetic in the United States. The Brooklyn Museum in New York houses the largest institutional collection of furniture made by the company.

The exhibition is on view until 13 February 2022, and features over sixty objects, including forty pieces of furniture, digitised vintage photographs, books, a painting and personal effects testifying to Kimbel and Cambus' innovative and revolutionary design.

Modern Gothic originated in Europe around 1830 and from 1860 represented a form of resistance to industrialisation in favour of a return to craftsmanship. In the United States, it gained popularity in the post-Civil War period, as people became more interested in innovative and original styles.

Walter Niedermayr Hintertux Glacier, 23/2004 Dittico, 131x211 cm Courtesy Ncontemporary Milano, Galerie Nordenhake Berlin/Stockholm, Galerie Johann Widauer Innsbruck © Walter Niedermayr

"Walter Niedermayr. Transformations", Camera, Turin, until 17 October 2021

"Walter Niedermayr. Transformations" is a solo exhibition by Walter Niedermayr (Bolzano, 1952), one of the most important contemporary Italian photographers, curated by Walter Guadagnini with the collaboration of Claudio Composti and Giangavino Pazzola.

The exhibition opened to the public on 29 July and covers the last twenty years of Niedermayr's artistic research; it focuses on the theme of changes in space. Recurring elements such as alpine landscapes, architecture and the relationship between public and private space highlight an interest in space that does not focus exclusively on the geography of places but delineates a specific social investigation. Physical space is articulated in the "transformative relationship between ecology, architecture and society".

The exhibition is organised in collaboration with the Ncontemporary gallery in Milan, with the support of Ediltecno Restauri, Building S.p.a., Sipal S.p.a, Pro-Tec Milano, GAe Engineering and BMS Progetti.

Installation view, Formafantasma. Cambio, Luigi Pecci Centre for Contemporary Art, 2021. Photo ©Ela Bialkowska

"Formafantasma. Cambio" - Pecci Centre for Contemporary Art, Prato, until 24 October 2021

"Cambio" is a multidisciplinary exhibition that focuses on design and its role in raising awareness on environmental issues and emergencies.

The exhibition project was conceived by Studio Formafantasma, a duo of Italian designers based in Amsterdam, and it started in London at the Serpentine Gallery, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Rebecca Lewin; it now continues at the Pecci Centre for Contemporary Art in Prato, curated by Cristiana Perrella.

The exhibition focuses on the wood industry, and its layout recalls the rings of a tree trunk. Surveys, data and case studies are displayed together with two videos created by Formafantasma and developed in collaboration with experts in the fields of science, engineering, environmental policy and philosophy. The exhibition and a dedicated book published by Nero Editions are produced with the support of the Embassy and Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Sheila Legge as Surrealist ‘Phantom’, TrafalgarSquare, London, 11 June 1936Photograph attributed to Claude CahunCourtesy Jersey Heritage Collections

"Phantoms of Surrealism" at the Whitechapel Gallery in London until 12 December 2021

From 19 May until 12 December 2021, Gallery 4 at Whitechapel Gallery in London presents “Phantoms of Surrealism”, an archival group exhibition including artworks, photo albums, newspaper cuttings and original correspondence from the International Surrealist Exhibition held in London in 1936.

“Phantoms of Surrealism” focuses on women and their indispensable role in the Surrealist movement in Britain. The exhibition includes eleven women artists such as Ruth Adams (1893-1949), Eileen Agar (1899-1991), Elizabeth Andrews (1882-1977), Diana Brinton Lee (deceased 1982), Claude Cahun (1894-1954), Ithell Colquhoun (1906-1988), Sheila Legge, Grace Pailthorpe (1883-1971), Elizabeth Raikes (1907-1942), Edith Rimmington (1902-1986) and Stella Snead (1910-2006).

The show also features works produced for an exhibition held at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1939 by the International Association of Artists, celebrating the "Artists' Unity for Peace, Democracy and Cultural Development".

Outsiders Insiders, MACAAL, 2021 - C. Ayoub El Bardii

"Outsiders/Insiders? Artists of Essaouira from the Alliances Foundation and The Yannick and Ben Jakober Foundation Collections" - MACAAL, Marrakech, until 14 November 2021

The exhibition "Outsiders/Insiders? Artists of Essaouira from the Alliances Foundation and The Yannick and Ben Jakober Foundation Collections" at the Museum of Contemporary African Art Al Maaden in Marrakech has been extended until 14 November 2021.

The show presents a selection of archival and unpublished works by Essaouira artists from the collection of the Yannick and Ben Jakober Foundation/Sa Bassa Blanca Museum and the Alliances Foundation. Among the artists on show are Mohamed Tabal, Ali Maimoun, Regragui Bouslai and Abdelmalek Berhiss. The exhibition tells the story of the small port city of Essaouira and the numerous influences that made it a crossroads of different civilisations and a flourishing creative centre. Arab, Jewish, Berber and sub-Saharan influences have made Essaouira a propulsive laboratory of artistic energies, which are expressed in the works of the exhibiting artists.

Serpentine Pavilion 2021 designed by Counterspace, Exterior View © Counterspace Photo: Iwan Baan

Serpentine Pavilion 2021, designed by Counterspace, in London until 17 October 2021

Every year in the summer, the Serpentine Gallery in London commissions architects and studios that have never built in Britain to design the Serpentine Pavilion, a temporary pavilion in the heart of Kensington Gardens that can be visited over three months.

The “Serpentine Pavilion 2021” is designed by Johannesburg-based studio Counterspace, directed by Sumayya Vally. Vally, a member of the TIME100 Next List, is the youngest architect commissioned by the Serpentine Gallery's internationally renowned architecture programme.

Constructed from reclaimed steel, cork, wood and micro-cement, the pavilion's design is inspired by past and present meeting places significant to London's diasporic and intercultural communities, particularly from the areas of Brixton, Hoxton, Tower Hamlets, Edgware Road, Barking and Dagenham and Peckham.

“Daniel Arsham: Sands of Time”, Courtesy: UCCA Center for Contemporary Art

"Daniel Arsham: Sands of Time", UCCA Dune, Qinhuangdao, China, until 10 October 2021

"Daniel Arsham: Sands of Time" is the artist's first solo exhibition at UCCA Dune, where it will be on view until 10 October 2021. Opening on 11 July, one year after the unveiling of the sculpture "Bronze Eroded Venus de Milo" (2020) in Aranya, the exhibition features new sculptures and drawings that tell of Arsham's passion for history, the relics of the past, and the concept of "fictional archaeology".

Arsham was given access to the moulds from the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, France, created for classical Greek and Roman sculptural masterpieces from the collections of the Louvre and the Vatican Museums; using these, the artist created works in different materials including bronze and eroded crystal, recontextualising them as if they had come to light in the future.

This selection of works blends in with the museum's evocative underground environment and gives rise to unprecedented interactions with the surrounding natural landscape.

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