21st Biennale of Sydney
Cockatoo Island, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Museum of Contemporary Art and elsewhere, Sydney
Opens March 16
The richest person in Australia is Gina Rinehart, the chairman of Hancock Prospecting: net worth $17 billion or so. Though her interests have broadened — earlier this decade she bought several newspapers and radio stations — her main business centers on some 200 square miles in the west of the continent, beneath which lies the world’s largest deposit of iron ore. Who buys this stuff? China buys this stuff, and they are in the market for more; Rinehart recently diversified into cattle, raised in Australian prairie and then shipped to and slaughtered on her own island off the coast of Ningbo. Asia has made Rinehart rich, and she is not stopping now, not with another billion consumers set to be born nearby; these days she rails that Asia will leave Australia behind if it doesn’t gut labor laws and scrap environmental regulations (climate change is a hoax, her editorialists write). The nickname “Gina’s butler” stuck for years to Tony Abbott, who surely preferred being called “prime minister”; with enough Asian cash, you can buy much more than a newspaper.
Is Australia becoming Asian? Is it Asian already? After decades of discriminatory immigration policy, Asians now outnumber Europeans among new arrivals; the Chinese account for a full 40% of buyers of new apartments in Melbourne, with Thais and Malaysians making up a healthy fraction too. The coming of an Asian Australia has animated culture as well: Jia Zhangke, China’s greatest living filmmaker, filmed part of his 2015 movie Mountains May Depart in Perth, where he imagined a near future powered by Asian capital and Google Translate. And in the Australian art world, long saddled with a colonial inferiority complex, an Asian orientation has revivified the Sydney Biennale, the world’s oldest after Venice and São Paulo. In the 20th century the biennial badly wanted to win the approbation of the US and Europe, but the landmark 2006 edition, titled “Zones of Contact,” repositioned Sydney as a global entrepôt in an Asian sphere of influence. This year, for the first time, the biennial has an Asian curator at the helm: Mami Kataoka, chief curator of the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, who will bring 27 Asian artists to Sydney, including the Indian painter N.S. Harsha, the Thai sculptor Tawatchai Puntusawasdi, and the Hong Kong sound artist Samson Young.
Foreigners are always shocked to discover that the Sydney Biennale has the highest attendance of any such show besides Documenta: 640,000 visitors at the last edition. (Its organizers made the shrewd decision to move it to March, when many art world capitals remain frozen but Tamarama Beach is sun-soaked.) But other arrivals from Asia get a different welcome; Australia continues to enforce a grotesque border policy that detains refugees on prison islands, which spurred nearly a dozen artists to pull out of the 2014 biennial in protest. Against that backdrop, Kataoka has invited Ai Weiwei to present a new work: a black inflatable lifeboat, 230 feet long, carrying rubber passengers to land. We run hot and cold on Ai’s art and activism, as you’ll know if you read our sprawling cover story in Even no. 8. But his lifeboat in the world’s most beautiful harbor may be a necessary provocation.
Vancouver Art Gallery
Opens March 4
“My button is bigger than yours,” we are informed, and just like that the nightmare of nuclear war has reentered global fears. This terrifyingly relevant group show of art in the nuclear age — featuring paintings by Adolph Gottlieb and Robert Rauschenberg, films by Bruce Conner, and photographs by Miyako Ishiuchi — examines how artists have given form to the unimaginable, from Hiroshima to Fukushima and, we pray, not beyond.
The Magazine and the New Photography
Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
Opens March 6
In 1932, the new magazine Kōga introduced Japanese audiences to an all-star roster of European photographic pioneers, from the Dadaist John Heartfield to the Bauhausler László Moholy-Nagy — and reproduced their work on pricey offset prints. Within two years Kōga has folded, but this deeply researched exhibition reveals its enduring effects on Japanese photography as the country headed to war.
Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires
Opens March 8
The Amsterdam-based Argentine has emerged as one of the leading figures working on the boundary of art and science, and frequent field work — with geologists and marine biologists, on Hawaiian lava fields or the Antarctic coastline — has brought her into intimate contact with biomes in extremis. This first solo show in her home nation will highlight her paintings, drawings, and field notes that give form to the imperceptible yet epic shifts in global climate.
Tate Modern, London
Opens March 14
Triumphant at the US pavilion in Venice three years ago, the pioneer of video art and multimedia at last gets a retrospective as big as her talent. This show will feature Jonas’s early performance with mirrors alongside her recent ecological fugues, and will stretch from the Tate’s principal galleries to the Tanks, the massive underground oil chambers that lie beneath the Switch House. Travels to Munich in November.
Do Ho Suh
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington
Opens March 16
Home is elsewhere for the Korean-born American artist, whose first major East Coast retrospective unites his drawings, small-scale sculptures, and the large walk-in installations known as Hubs. These full-scale replications of houses the artist has lived in consist of gauzy, translucent colored fabrics; modeled with sophisticated software and then sewn with painstaking traditional Korean stitching, they are memory palaces where the present marries the past.
Opens March 16
This is the big one: a full-dress retrospective of an American original who used his own body, cast in wax or filmed in his claustrophobic studio, to expand the definition of sculpture and to map and measure a world. The show has been organized by Kathy Halbreich, MoMA’s outgoing associate director, and it migrates from Basel to New York in October.
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Opens March 29
The largest showcase in 50 years for the Romantic painter who bridges the gap between the revolutionary neoclassicism of David and the realism soon to come from Courbet and Manet. Delacroix lived long and shifted styles often, and alongside the Louvre’s own, miles-over-the-top Death of Sardanapalus, expect more than 180 works that jostle from careful landscapes to histrionic religious imagery. Travels to New York in the fall.
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Opens March 31
She began as an artist and then studied philosophy. In her drawings, videos, and performances where viewers sign legally binding contracts, Piper has always kept one eye trained on the primordial meanings of art and aesthetics. She is known, however, for being inflexible — last year Artforum published two endless letters from her, quibbling about the most picayune points — and the success of this long-awaited show may come down to how well she plays with others.