After June 2020, almost all institutions said they would implement changes to become more inclusive. Their promises posed an interesting question: What if museums made it a priority to show works by more artists of color and fill in the gaps in art history? In other words, what would it be like for museums to do what they were supposed to do from the start?
The good news is that the history of art is changing. The bad news is, it’s slowly changing. In 2021, for every survey devoted to a buried giant of the past century, there was, it seems, another, even larger, devoted to one of the most revered white male artists in the history of art. This is currently the case this winter at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, for example, where an exhibition of Etel Adnan is awkwardly made to share space with an investigation by Wassily Kandinsky. Since 2010 alone, the Guggenheim has organized seven Kandinsky exhibitions in its various museums. Until 2021, Adnan, who died this year, had never had an exhibition in a New York museum.
Yet there were some overlooked personalities who finally got their due in 2021 as museums began to change their ways. With each of these showcases, whether in the form of landmark exhibitions in group shows or long-awaited retrospectives, these artists have shone again and earned their place in the annals of art history.
Below, a look at 10 artists who have emerged from the shadows of art history, thanks to major presentations this year.