The Top Museum Shows to See in the US and Canada

18 FEB 2021

This month's round-up focuses on some of the most exciting museum shows in the US and Canada that foreground ideas around 'carceral aesthetics', the visibility of Brown queer bodies and much more. Here are the exhibition highlights from across North America.

‘Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration’
MoMA PS1, New York, USA

‘Mass incarceration’, a phrase that has gained much purchase in the last two decades, features prominently in the title of ‘Marking Time’ and a book published by Harvard University Press. Both are the culmination of more than ten years of effort by Nicole R. Fleetwood, Professor of American Studies and Art History at Rutgers University. Describing a phenomenon that began in the late 1960s – in which the prisons system ballooned exponentially – the term ‘mass incarceration’ is sometimes poorly interpreted, taken to mean that the problem is only one of scale or degree, not of kind. Today, many are convinced that there are too many prisons and too many people in them; far too few are convinced that there should be no prisons at all. — Catherine Damman

Salman Toor: How Will I Know 
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA

I don’t remember precisely when I first saw Salman Toor’s paintings but I do distinctly remember how I felt in that moment: a particular flash of recognition, a momentary illumination that results from seeing and being seen. In his scenes of the lives of queer people of colour, Toor extends this evanescent flash onto the quotidian activities of his androgynous Brown subjects, who gather for parties in cramped apartments and spend evenings at crowded bars or alone in bed. Along with Doron Langberg and Anthony Cudahy, Toor joins a cohort of queer figurative artists negotiating the history of painting and the contemporary developments that condition their subjectivity. — Tausif Noor

Genesis Belanger: Through the Eye of a Needle
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, USA

I’ve never wanted to put an artwork in my mouth more than Genesis Belanger’s stoneware devilled eggs. I think she’d accept that as a compliment – or at least feel that I’d fathomed the spirit of her delicate sculptures of victuals. What is it about the hard candy shell of her unglazed porcelain vegetables that suggests a bubble-gum interior? What is it about the splatter of white marbling on pink haunches, peering out from beneath browned skin, that makes you want to befoul the sweet dinner ham? Belanger’s ceramic smorgasbord presents an inoffensive spread, but it solicits the depraved desire latent within a certain manufactured, tame domesticity. — Will Fenstermaker

Haegue Yang: Emergence
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada

Rather unceremoniously, Haegue Yang’s retrospective, ‘Emergence’, at the Art Gallery of Ontario greets the visitor with a selection of sculptures made in the last decade: goofy monsters crafted from all manner of everyday things, including bells, straw, food-truck ventilation fans, ski jackets and a towel printed with the outsized image of a US$500 bill. But installed here on an elevated platform, rather than on the floor as they usually are, these anthropomorphic and zoomorphic alien forms – The Intermediate – Dragon Conglomerate (2016), a fringy white spheroid à la Nick Cave’s ‘Soundsuits’ (1992–ongoing), is particularly otherworldly – seem too precious. — Charlene K. Lau

Main image: Haegue Yang, 'Haegue Yang: Emergence', 2020–2021, exhibition view, Art Galley of Ontario, Toronto. Courtesy: the artist and Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; photography: Craig Boyko