Tate St. Ives, Cornwall
Opens February 10
“Women can’t paint, women can’t write,” says the young philosopher Charles Tansley, the least charming of the guests at the Ramsays’ summer home on the Isle of Skye. It isn’t a declaration so much as a wish, and it gnaws at Lily Briscoe, a young painter and fellow guest, whose insecurities were bad enough without his chauvinism. That summer she has been trying to paint a perfect, eternal portrait of the lady of the house, but she can’t get it right, and she can hear in her head the mocking of men, unanswerable, the confirmation she always expected of her own insufficiency. Escaping that scorn will require a new conception of art, and ten years of her life, by which time a world war will come and go and Mrs. Ramsay will die between parentheses. Lily at last looks out over the Hebrides, and, in a moment of concentrated emotion, she paints a single, solid zip right down the center of her canvas. Only by giving up on an art of permanence she can say, exhaustedly: “I have had my vision.”
To the Lighthouse, published in 1927, remains Virginia Woolf’s most powerful testimony of the struggles and achievements of women in art; and it was in a painter’s voice, rather than her own, that she expressed a new spirit of creation. What she accomplished in words — the fathoming of emotional, psychological, and transcendental depths in outwardly undistinguished lives — serves as the firestarter for “Virginia Woolf,” an intriguing show of more than 70 artists, all women, that will take over the bulk of the Tate’s newly expanded branch in rugged Cornwall. It promises to be as kaleidoscopic and as elastic in duration as To the Lighthouse itself. Alongside contemporaries of Woolf (including her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, who in 1914 beat Malevich to pure geometric abstraction) are midcentury artists such as Louise Bourgeois and Agnes Martin, plus contemporary figures like the South African photographer Zanele Muholi and the Polish-born collagist Anna Ostoya. All gave new form to enduring Woolfian questions of creativity, womanhood, and multiple perspectives.
It’s often said, inexactly but with good intentions, that Woolf wrote as the Cubists painted: she saw Picasso’s art as early as 1912, and in Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, The Waves, and especially the late Between the Acts, Woolf expressed unstable perception through intermixed views of a single object or scene. But this many-sided show (which tours later in 2018 to Chichester and Cambridge) proposes that such analogies miss what makes Woolf so influential, now that literary fiction has abandoned her concentrated interiority for the MFA-approved insipidity of “Cat Person.” What matters above all is the totality of her commitment — so intense and undiluted that terrains previously unknown to art, above all those of women’s inner lives, took on the scale of the universe. It was born here, in fact; Woolf used to holiday in Cornwall as a child, and if you look out from the windows of Tate St. Ives on a clear day, you can see a white totem standing just off of Godrevy Point. It’s the lighthouse, still here, emblem of a vision unsurpassed.
Haus der Kunst, Munich
Opens February 2
In the first years of the AIDS epidemic, Smith’s fragile and deeply humanistic sculptures — of latex or papier-mâché, bronze or glass — gave a nearly holy radiance to the body even as it exposed its weaknesses. More recently, Smith has taken an interest in fairytales and mythical narratives, expressed sometimes in kitschy sculptures, more impressively in jacquard tapestries of bold originality.
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Opens February 4
Born in Nebraska and 50 years a Parisian, Hicks has found endless artistic potential in hemp, wool, jute, and other woven fibers. Overdue but extremely welcome, this retrospective in her adopted hometown will include not only her large-scale, color-saturated installations but also dozens of her cunning “Minimes,” influenced by her professor Josef Albers and the indigenous crafts she saw in Latin America.
More for Less
A4 Foundation, Cape Town
Opens February 8
The two dozen artists in this show — the second at an exciting new museum in South Africa, with a rather more serious orientation than the media-hungry Zeitz MOCAA — supercharge common, even mundane objects with emotional significance and historical import. Commendably, African artists appear in free exchange with Europeans, Americans, and everyone else: expect to see Donna Kukama, Kemang Wa Lehulere, and the Angolan photographer Edson Chagas (winner of Venice's Golden Lion in 2013) alongside Danh Vo and Maurizio Cattelan.
Opens February 9
This young Cypriot artist uses a minimum of means — a mirror, a pot, some gold leaf, a clipping from a picture book—to create affecting, history-haunted installations. Epaminonda is creating all new works for this outing at Vienna’s original home of the avant-garde, and you can expect carefully choreographed juxtapositions of the exotic and the everyday.
Museo Tamayo, Mexico City
Opens February 10
Not to be missed if you’re headed to the art fair Zona Maco, this ambitious exhibition looks at the life and art of the French firebrand who masterminded the last century's “theater of cruelty” — and who found in Mexico a new foundation for his art. Artaud's sojourn among the Rarámuri people of the country's northwest (not to mention the peyote he consumed alongside them) fueled more than a decade of literary and theatrical experimentation; contemporary Mexican artists, in turn, will respond to Artaud's wild dreams of the New World.
Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s
Hirshhorn Museum, Washington
Opens February 14
Barbara Kruger’s bright-red slogans, the Guerrilla Girls’s accusatory billboards, Jeff Koons’s ads for Hennessy and Smirnoff: the 1980s saw American artists move as never before into a language of commerce and publicity. With 66 artists, this ambitious exhibition aims to look past the clichés of big money and big hair, and to reckon with the economic transformations these artists lived through and riffed on.
Opens February 24
This non-collecting institution in the Swiss capital became a radical stronghold under its young director Harald Szeemann, whose 1969 exhibition "When Attitudes Become Form" became such an international scandal that he had to resign his post. This year the Kunsthalle Bern turns 100, and the first of its anniversary exhibitions invites more than a dozen artists — Cosima von Bonin, Tom Burr, Park McArthur — to look once again at Szeemann's enduring questions about sculpture and space.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Opens February 24
One of the most anticipated retrospectives of the season brings together prime examples of Pindell's rich, labor-intensive paintings of the 1970s, bedecked with paper chad and glitter and recalling the light effects of Monet. But in 1979, the artist emerged from a car crash with short-term amnesia; Pindell turned to video to engage with enduring questions of racism and sexism, and to her own body to leave ghostly impressions on her canvases.