18 Must-See Exhibitions in Europe in 2022, From a Duet Between Van Gogh and Etel Adnan to Francis Bacon’s Animal Paintings

Jan 5, 2022

Europe’s art world will be bustling this year with a string of biennial exhibitions in the first half of 2022, beginning with curator Cecilia Alemani’s 59th Venice Biennale, which opens this April after being pushed back a year due to health restrictions. In June, documenta returns to Kassel, this time curated by Indonesian collective ruangrupa. But in and around these two landmark shows are many must-see exhibitions across Europe, from a major Hito Steyerl retrospective in the Netherlands to an exhibition in the U.K. dedicated to the textile works of Louise Bourgeois.


Oriental Poppies (1927), Georgia O’Keeffe. Sammlung des Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Ankauf, 1937. 
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / 2021, ProLitteris, Zurich.

“One rarely takes the time to really see a flower. I have painted it big enough so that others would see what I would see,” said Georgia O’Keeffe in early 1926. Visitors at Fondation Beyeler will have five months to see first-hand what the artist, who died in 1986, saw through an in-depth survey of this key figure of modern American art. The exhibition, the first of its kind in Switzerland in almost two decades, will showcase important works by O’Keeffe spanning six decades.


Hito Steyerl, SocialSim (2020). Courtesy the artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York and Esther Schipper, Berlin. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2021. Film still © Hito Steyerl


“I Will Survive,” Steyerl’s largest-ever retrospective exhibition in the Netherlands, will span the German artist’s career, from her video works made in the early 1990s to her architectural installations that have become predominant in the last decade. Rein Wolfs, director Stedelijk Museum, called it a “sweeping overview” that will bring together 20 major loaned works from “each phase of Hito Steyerl’s artistic practice,” including a few early works that are in the Stedelijk collection.


Francis Bacon, Head VI (1949). Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2021. Photo by Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.

The RA will hold a large-scale exhibition on the 20th-century Irish painter, focused on his visceral works depicting animals. The son of a horse breeder, Francis Bacon’s lifelong fascination with fauna shaped his approach to the human figure. It is sometimes hard to discern whether his abstracted creations—riddled with anxiety and bursting with deep instinctual drive—portray a human or a beast. The exhibition includes 45 paintings spanning 50 years, from his early paintings of biomorphic creatures from the 1930s and ’40s to a trio of works about bullfighting from 1969—the latter are shown together for the first time next to his final work, a study of a bull, painted in 1991.


Louise Bourgeois, The Good Mother (2003). Detail. © The Easton Foundation/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2021. Photo by Christopher Burke.

This major retrospective of the renowned French artist will focus exclusively on Bourgeois’s late career turn to sculptures made using domestic textiles and fabrics. More than 90 works spanning the mid-1990s to her death in 2010 will be presented, revisiting many of the subjects that preoccupied the artist throughout her storied career. Topics including identity, sexuality, and family relationships are explored in “The Woven Child,” as well as her spider motifs and figurative sculptures of female bodies. All told, the survey hopes to address broader themes of reparation and memory, and explore what the artist called “the magic power of the needle… to repair the damage.”


Affiche met opschrift ‘Perlawanan seloeroeh rakjat pokok kemenang revolusi (1945-1949). Museum Bronbeek

Indonesia was one of the trailblazing nations in the fight for decolonisation, and an exhibition in Amsterdam, co-curated by Dutch and Indonesian curators, explores the former Dutch colony’s road to independence between 1945 and 1949. More than 200 objects are on view, threaded throughout experiences shared from 20 individuals who witnessed the revolution in some way, from varying locations and political standpoints.


Rachel Jones, Production Image (2021). Commissioned and produced by Chisenhale Gallery. Courtesy of the artist.

For the rising market star’s first institutional solo, “Say Cheeeeese,” Rachel Jones will present a newly commissioned work at Chisenhale Gallery. Jones is also producing a new body of oil pastels and oil stick paintings on canvas and paper, building on previous work that explore the motif of obscured teeth and mouth parts—these abstracted forms she creates symbolize entry points into the inner self.


Carrie Mae Weems, Constructing History (Mourning), (2008). © Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York


The name of U.S. artist Carrie Mae Weems’s upcoming show in Stuttgart, set to be one of her most comprehensive institutional shows yet in Europe, borrows its title from a book by writer James Baldwin. The exhibition will feature 40 groups of works, including photographs, videos, and an immersive installation that is being conceived for the show. Weems is also creating a new photo series called “Monuments” that deals with the hot-button issue of colonialism and public memorials.


Donatello, Madonna col Bambino (Madonna Pazzi) c.1420-1425. Photo Antje Voigt

Billed as a once-in-a-lifetime show, this exhibition of work by 14th century Renaissance master Donatello seeks to illustrate his legacy and influence. Curated by Francesco Caglioti, the joint presentation between Palazzo Strozzi and the Musei del Bargello will place sculptor’s work in context with other Italian Renaissance masters such as Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Raphael, and Michelangelo.


Gaudì Mirror. Courtesy Musée d’Orsay

This exhibition, a rare celebration of the iconic Spanish architect and designer, takes a deep dive into what he and his workshop produced out of Catalonia at a time of great upheaval in Spain. Using the lens of space and colour and including drawings, models, and furniture, the show will guide the visitor through his amazing creations—from parks to churches and, of course, the Sagrada Familia church.


Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Forever) (2017). Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, 2017–18. Amorepacific Museum of Art (APMA), Seoul. Photo by Timo Ohler and courtesy of Sprüth Magers.

The newly reopened Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, an exquisite museum of contemporary and modern art designed by Mies van der Rohe that will now be headed up by Klaus Biesenbach, will see Kruger install a new text installation for its main floor. Out of respect for the design of van der Rohe, Kruger will leave key parts of the building untouched (which is not her usual way). From outside the glassed-in museum, passersby might not even see the show, which only becomes fully revealed once inside the space.


Meriem Bennani, Party on the CAPS (still), 2018–19, eight-channel video installation, 30 min. Courtesy the artist and Clearing, New York & Brussels.

For the Moroccan artist’s largest solo exhibition in the U.K. to date, Bennani will show her eight-channel video installation Party on the CAPS (2018/19) alongside a newly-commissioned sequel. The films track the movements of inhabitants of a fictional island called CAPS in the middle of the Atlantic ocean across three generations—it is an internment camp for refugees and migrants hoping to head to Europe or North America, an isolated island that has become a bustling megalopolis. A new work will be premiered during the show, a sequel to this earlier piece, moving forward the artist’s fascination with displacement and biotechnology, and unpacking themes of privacy, protest, and public gathering.

“Le poids du monde” exhibition from 2016 by Etel Adnan at the Serpentine Gallery. Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Serpentine Galleries.

The Van Gogh Museum will present the first retrospective of work by Etel Adnan since her death at age 96 in November 2021, as well as her first major exhibition ever in the Netherlands. The acclaimed, Beirut-born artist and writer was known for her vivid abstracted landscapes. The Dutch exhibition will consider the overlap in Adnan and van Gogh’s art practices—their mutual fascination with color and nature, but also poetic language—by showing paintings and literary works by both artists side-by-side.


Lisa Brice Untitled (2019). Courtesy © Lisa Brice Courtesy the artist; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; Salon 94, New York; and Goodman Gallery, South Africa. Katrin Bellinger Collection

The artists’ studio is an endless source of fascination. A Century of the Artist’s Studio follows three years of research led by outgoing Whitechapel Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick. This ambitious show will chart the history of the studio and include 100 works by 80 artists across the globe, with art by Francis Bacon, Louise Bourgeois, Pablo Picasso, Lisa Brice, and Kerry James Marshall to be included.


Anish Kapoor Black Within Me (2021). Photo Dave Morgan © Anish Kapoor. All rights reserved SIAE, 2021

Curated by director of the Rijksmuseum Taco Dibbits, this retrospective of Kapoor promises to be one of 2022’s blockbusters. “It is a huge honour to be invited to engage with the collections at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice; perhaps one of the finest collections of classical painting anywhere in the world,” said Kapoor. “All art must engage with what went before.” His unmistakable works will sit alongside the existing collection.


Venice’s Basilica of San Maria de Salute and a gondolier at sunset. Photo by Michel Baret/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

We have waited long enough! The postponed Venice Biennale of 2020 looks like it is finally happening. “Under the increasingly invasive pressure of technology, the boundaries between bodies and objects have been utterly transformed, bringing about profound mutations that remap subjectivities, hierarchies, and anatomies,” reads the statement from curator Cecelia Alemani. The central exhibition will be based around The Milk of Dreams, a book by surrealist artist Leonora Carrington.


Tony Cokes. Photo: Stan Narten

Tony Cokes will have his first solo exhibition at Munich’s historic Haus der Kunst this summer, in a collaboration with Kunstverein München nearby. Cokes plans to present newly commissioned works called ”Some Munich Moments 1937-1972″ that will be presented at both institutions and in the public spaces between them. Cokes’s video essays, which are often text-based, focus on the African American experience, racism, and capitalism.


Oslo’s new National Museum. Photo: Borre Hostland.

The National Museum in Oslo is set to be Scandinavia’s biggest art institution when it opens this June. Featuring more than 150 artists and collectives, “I Call It Art” is one of the inaugural exhibitions of the long-awaited Norwegian institution. The show takes stock of contemporary art in Norway, while asking the age-old question of “What is good art?”. It answers this by featuring recent works from Norway, ranging from paintings and installations to video works that were selected via open call.


© documenta fifteen 2022

Documenta will be helmed by ruangrupa, a collective of artists and creatives from Jakarta, Indonesia. The concept of lumbung, meaning “rice barn” in Indonesian and referring to crops stored as a common resource for future use, drives the exhibition. “For documenta fifteen, we will focus on art practices that depend on accumulations of value in time, knowledge, and dissemination. How can we invest in those types of practices? What does investment mean?” Already, the curators are thinking differently about what an exhibition should do for the public: they announced their first artist list in a local magazine that benefits the homeless.