From Austin to Las Vegas, take a look at the Spring 2021 art exhibitions coming to museums throughout the American Southwest.
I could really go for some art right about now. And some (safe, responsible) travel. Over the past year, I’ve seen little in the way of in-person art exhibitions, or, you know, the world outside of my house, so I’ve been particularly uplifted upon seeing that there are a number of excellent major exhibitions coming to art museums throughout the southwest this spring. And while we are in no way out of the woods yet, if you call this region home, a road trip to visit art nearby may be the salve needed to remedy your wanderlust (or general cabin fever).
I’ve compiled a list of the southwest art exhibitions I’m looking forward to throughout the first half of 2021—whether or not I end up being able to see all of them all in person is another question, but many have online viewing or programming components. Please note that museums are still doing the demanding work of adapting to continually changing circumstances and public health orders. Several of these institutions are operating by appointment only, have COVID-safe protocols in place, and have varying open hours. I recommended confirming times and safety practices with each institution before you visit.
April 7–September 26, 2021
Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix
The Phoenix Art Museum will host the traveling fashion exhibition Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich, which was organized by the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Gernreich (1922–1985) was one of the most prominent fashion designers of his time, introducing such items as the “monokini,” the thong, unisex caftans, and pantsuits for women into the fashion of the ’60s and ’70s. This is the first exhibition to focus on the designer’s progressive social and cultural vision, in which people would be free to wear unisex, functional clothing: he worked on skirts for men, pantsuits for women, and his models walked the runways barefoot or in flats rather than stilettos.
May 22–October 3, 2021
Tucson Museum of Art, Tucson
At the Tucson Museum of Art, four artists from southern Arizona are featured in concurrent solo exhibitions. Willie J. Bonner’s multimedia work creates an extended dialogue regarding the culture of African-American people both historically and in contemporary society. Nazafarin Lotfi uses drawing, painting, video, and sculpture to explore the spatial and temporal experience of bodies out of place. Alejandro Macias, born and raised in Brownsville, Texas, along the U.S.–Mexico border, addresses themes of heritage, immigration, and ethnicity, which are set in contrast to his critical engagement with the assimilation and acculturation process, often referred to as “Americanization.” Vietnamese-American artist Anh-Thuy Nguyen investigates conflicting emotions and thoughts about existing between two cultures. Through these distinct bodies of work and media exploration, the works of each of these artists remind us that there is no collective experience of life in contemporary society.
February 4–May 31, 2021
Heard Museum, Phoenix
Mid-century modern artist Leon Polk Smith was a leading figure in the Hard-edge painting movement who rose to prominence in the 1950s and ‘60s with his distinctive shaped canvases. A major survey of his work at the Heard Museum explores the influence of Native American creative expression on the work, pairing Smith’s paintings and works on paper with examples of American Indian beadwork, ribbon appliqué, and painted hides from his native Oklahoma. The show will feature work spanning his seven-decade career.
New Mexico Exhibitions
April 16–September 5, 2021
SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe
Over the last three decades, Mary Weatherford has developed a rich and diverse painting practice, from her early 1990s target paintings based on operatic heroines to her more recent expansive, gestural canvases overlaid with neon glass-tubing that brought attention to Weatherford’s practice in the 2010s. Mary Weatherford: Canyon—Daisy—Eden presents a survey of Weatherford’s career, drawing from several distinct bodies of work made between 1989 and 2017. As continual experiments with color, scale, and materials, these works as a whole reveal Weatherford’s consistent preoccupation with memory and experience, both personal and historical.
Southern California Exhibitions
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, virtual exhibition
Here’s one you can enjoy from the comfort of your couch—a digital exhibition featuring prints produced by Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa, Gego (Gertrud Louise Goldschmid), and Louise Nevelson at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles during the 1960s. Tamarind, now Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, NM, was founded by artist June Wayne in 1960 and was at the forefront of a print renaissance in the US throughout that decade. “The exhibition unearths this important and lesser-studied part of each artist’s body of work,” explained exhibition curator Alana Hernandez. “Some have natural affinities with each other, yet the exhibition shows how dynamic lithography can be. Each artist experimented and created prints utilizing different methods, emphasizing printmaking as a critical medium of experimentation.”
This digital exhibition is complemented by their “Charlas” series of free artist talks on Instagram Live. Upcoming charlas include artists Glendalys Medina, Nicola López, and Felipe Baeza.
March 12–May 16, 2021
various locations, Coachella Valley
The third edition of Desert X offers a safe art-viewing experience that is free (check), outdoors (check), and can be visited at your own pace while meandering through the beautiful desert (check). In this sprawling biennial, site-specific outdoor installations by a group of thirteen international artists dot Coachella Valley. Beginning March 12, visitors will be able to download a guide map to locate each installation. While viewing is self-guided, docents will be on hand on Saturdays to provide additional information. Curated by Neville Wakefield, the installations in this year’s biennial explore the desert landscape as both an amalgamation of natural forms and a terrain forged by people and intends to look deeply into the issues pertaining to desert landscapes from environmental, social, and cultural perspectives.
“As much as the desert is a state of place, it is also a state of mind. Its borders are not singular but multiple, and it is defined as much by social geography as physical boundary,” said Wakefield. “Desert X 2021 seeks to explore this idea of the desert as a place where the marginalized and migratory—whose voices and histories may have struggled to manifest within the dominant discourses of growth and development—can also be heard.”
Participating artists include Zahrah Alghamdi, Ghada Amer, Felipe Baeza, Judy Chicago, Serge Attukwei Clottey, Nicholas Galanin, Alicja Kwade, Oscar Murillo, Christopher Myers, Eduardo Sarabia, Xaviera Simmons, Kim Stringfellow, and Vivian Suter.
May 23–August 22, 2021
Denver Art Museum, Denver
Each/Other presents two leading Indigenous contemporary artists whose processes both focus on collaborative artmaking. Exploring the collective process of creation, Each/Other will feature mixed-media sculptures, wall hangings, and large-scale installation works by Marie Watt (Seneca, Scottish, German) and Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota and European), along with a new monumental artist-guided community artwork.
Watt’s work draws primarily from history, biography, Iroquois proto-feminism, and Indigenous principles. Her small works are often personal meditations and her larger works are made in community, notably in “sewing circles,” public events in which the fellowship and storytelling that takes place can be more important than the resulting object.
Using social collaboration in response to timely and site-specific topics, Luger produces multi-pronged projects that take many forms. Through monumental installations that incorporate ceramics, video, sound, fiber, steel, and repurposed materials, Luger interweaves performance and political action to communicate stories about 21st-century Indigeneity.
June 13–September 12, 2021
Denver Art Museum, Denver
Later in June, the DAM presents Simphiwe Ndzube: Oracles of the Pink Universe, the South African artist’s first solo exhibition in a U.S. museum. The works in the show will invite viewers into Ndzube’s “Pink Universe,” an imaginative world constructed by the artist which combines fantasy with the history of post-apartheid South Africa. Drawing on magical realism, art history, and his own experiences, the artist integrates themes related to power, conflict, and the search for freedom in this alternate universe and his imaginative visual language.
February 12–August 21, 2021
Colorado Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs
To Bind or To Burn presents recent works by Colorado-based multi-media and performance artist Anna Tsouhlarakis (Navajo, Creek, and Greek). Tsouhlarakis was the 2019-20 Andrew W. Mellon artist in residence at the Fine Arts Center, and during her time in the studio she explored projects that questioned how to Indigenize contemporary art practice. This exhibition combines artworks from those explorations with her earlier works to show her continued engagement with the connections between Native American Art and Minimalism. The starting point for this project was Sol Lewitt’s project of studies of incomplete cubes and his search for the fundamental building blocks of form. Tsouhlarakis wanted to understand how she could interrupt this “vocabulary” and insert Native art into the conversation. A recorded artist talk between Tsouhlarakis and curator Polly Nordstrand is available to view on the FAC website.
February 1–April 2, 2021
Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, UNLV, Las Vegas
PROOF, a solo show by Las Vegas-based artist Tiffany Lin, examines displaced sites of learning through an interactive installation that invites visitors to respond to an ever-changing series of questions written on a classroom chalkboard. Through a surrealist mise-en-scene that connects the onsite presentation to the online world of social media, PROOF addresses newfound constraints of remote study and instruction—which are both collapsed and expanded in the digital sphere. Lin’s installation focuses on the multitude of ways in which COVID-19 has forced educators to radically reimagine sites of learning and as interactions become increasingly facilitated by screen-based media. PROOF invites viewers to solve and propose new solutions to this conundrum of digital media through poetic equations that will rotate biweekly. Submissions can be made in person at the Marjorie Barrick Museum or via social media (@unlvmuseum).
February 28–May 16, 2021
Fort Worth Modern, Forth Worth
This massive survey of 30 years of Neshat’s video works and photography takes its name from a poem by the Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad (1934–1967). The exhibition journeys from works that address specific events in contemporary Iran, both before and after the Islamic Revolution, to works that increasingly use metaphor and ancient Persian history and literature to reflect on universal concerns of gender, political borders, and rootedness.
Throughout her career, Neshat has constructed symbolic worlds in which women and men assume cultural gestures and poses, often assembling and giving voice to real people who have lived through seismic events of recent history, including the Green Movement in Iran and the Arab Spring in Egypt. An online conversation between Neshat and curator Ed Schad (the Broad, Los Angeles) will take place on February 23, 7:00 pm CST (free with registration).
February 21–May 16, 2021
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
If you’ve been looking for a light in the darkness, MFA Houston presents an exhibition celebrating the field of lighting design over the last 100 years. The exhibition examines lighting as a transforming force in daily life and in major design movements. From the first electric light in the early 1800s to energy-efficient bulbs in the 21st century, lighting technology has fascinated engineers, scientists, architects, and designers worldwide.
Rare and limited-production examples by the world’s leading designers are presented in three sections, organized by theme rather than chronologically. “Typologies” focuses on different types of lighting, from desk lamps to chandeliers, “The Bulb” addresses the importance and design of the lightbulb, from basic to whimsical, and “Quality of Light” considers the manipulation of light effects, including reflection, diffusion, and light-filled sculpture.
January 23–August 15, 2021
The Contemporary Austin, Austin
For the Austin-based artist’s first solo museum exhibition in Texas, Deborah Roberts: I’m features all new work including collages, paintings, sound and video installation, and text works. Roberts critiques notions of beauty, the body, race, and identity in contemporary society. For her mixed-media paintings and works on paper, the artist sources found material from photographs, magazines, literature, and the internet, collaging and reassembling these with hand-painted details into her reimagined figures. Black children, historically among the most vulnerable members of our population, are protagonists in Roberts’s work, often based on historical figures. Playful and serious, heroic and insecure, these youths are given complex portrayals that highlight the fraught assumptions and perceptions around them.