Rashid Johnson, The Crisis, 2019. Installation view at Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, 2019.
Photo: Ramiro Chaves

10 Buzzworthy Art Cities to Visit in 2020

Move over London and New York. These cities across the U.S. and beyond are presenting thought-provoking art fairs and biennales that shouldn't be missed

Although Art Basel, which annually presents three premier art fairs worldwide, and the Venice Biennale, which hosts its 17th International Architecture Exhibition this summer, are arguably the art and design world’s major destinations in 2020, traveling to offbeat fairs and biennials in adventurous cultural capitals are where fresh faces and new discoveries are more likely to be found. Here, we have assembled an international directory of ten extraordinary cultural cities not to be missed.

Marian Goodman Gallery at FOG Design+Art 2019. Photo: JKA Photography, Courtesy of FOG Design+Art

1. San Francisco, California

Returning to San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture for its seventh edition on January 16, FOG Art and Design 2020 (January 16-19) presents 48 modern and contemporary art and design galleries, including London’s David Gill Gallery; Kasmin and Tina Kim Gallery from New York; Mexico City’s Kurimanzutto; and SF’s Jessica Silverman Gallery. The fair is also hosting a series of technology-related talks, such as “Collecting in the Digital Age,” and a conversation on “Community Building through Architecture” with Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao, who is working on a project in the city’s Hunters Point neighborhood and has an upcoming show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. While in town for the fair, be sure to catch the critically acclaimed traveling exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963–1983” at the de Young museum and UNTITLED, ART San Francisco, a contending art fair that runs concurrently with FOG at nearby Pier 35.

Installation view of Investec Cape Town Art Fair 2019 Preview. Photo: Nina Lieska

2. Cape Town, South Africa

With guest curators and thematic programming, the eighth edition of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair (February 14—16) seems more like a biennial than a traditional fair. Held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, the fair features an international mix of exhibitors, but the main focus is on art, artists, and galleries from Africa and the diaspora. “Tomorrows/Today,” one of the guest curated sections, will be a particular attraction for collectors of new and overlooked artists. Organized by Nkule Mabaso, who was co-curator of the South African Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, and Luigi Fassi, artistic director of MAN Contemporary Art Museum in Nuoro, Italy, it highlights the practices of emerging and under-represented artists—with solo shows of the Zimbabwe painter Amanda Mushate at First Floor Gallery Harare exemplifying the former and Egyptian calligrapher Fathi Hassan at Lawrie Shabibi being amongst the latter. And to add a touch of contemporary design to the fair, Cape Town’s celebrated Southern Guild will be presenting a special project. Also in February, more than 200 renowned artists and arts leaders from South Africa and around the world will gather at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre Centre on 8 and 9 February to attend the Rolex Arts Weekend where Rolex arts Initiative mentors Sir David Adjaye, Zakir Hussain, Crystal Pite and Colm Tóibín will join their protégés for a series of exciting events.

HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, visiting Art Dubai 2019. Photo: Art Dubai

3. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

One of the liveliest cities in the Middle East, Dubai has been hosting Art Dubai (March 25-28) for the past 13 years. Featuring 90 galleries from 38 countries and taking place at the Madinat Jumeirah, the 14th edition offers contemporary art from such regional standouts as Beirut’s Saleh Barakat Gallery, Athr gallery from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and The Third Line and Gallery Isabelle Van Den Eynde from Dubai. This year’s Modern section showcases solo presentations of current masters, curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, while the third iteration of the Residents sector, curated by Johannesburg-based Kabelo Malatsie, highlights work made specifically for the fair during a UAE-based residency by six African artists. The Global Art Forum and Modern Symposium round out the fair’s programming, but there’s plenty more to see in the galleries of Alserkal Avenue, which also features contemporary design, and such regional art institutions as the Jameel Arts Centre, Sharjah Art Foundation, and Louvre Abu Dhabi.

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Installation view of SP-Arte 2018. Photo: Ênio César, Courtesy of SP-Arte

4. São Paulo, Brazil

There’s no place better to check the pulse of the Brazilian art and design scene than at SP-Arte, São Paulo’s International Art Festival (April 1—5), presented over the past 15 years at the historical Oscar Niemeyer Bienal Pavilion. Last year’s edition attracted 164 international art and design exhibitors from 14 different countries and set a record for the number of visitors—36,000 during the five days of the event. At the 16th edition, look for the Masters sector, where curator Maria do Carmo M. P. de Pontes will bring together the work of selected artists who prematurely passed away at age 40 or less (based on her previous research of more than 160 artists who died young). Beyond the fair, catch the Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980) survey, which explores the Brazilian artist’s relationship to dance, music, and popular culture at Museu de Arte de São Paulo and then hit the streets to explore the city’s many fascinating galleries, including Luciana Brito Galeria, which is chicly located in a 1950s house designed by Brazilian modernist architect Rino Levi.

Alex Baczynski-Jenkins, Until a thousand roses bloom (with Warsaw in the background), 2018. Performance view, Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, 2018. Photo: Spyros Rennt, Courtesy of the artist and Foksal Gallery Foundation

5. Riga, Latvia

Following its critically acclaimed first iteration, the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (May 16–October 11) is back with the exhibition exhibition “and suddenly it all blossoms,” which takes the notion of re-enchantment as a point of departure for understanding the present and a path to planning a better future. Borrowing its title from the Latvian poet Māra Zālīte, the exhibition takes its inspiration from the history of Riga, Latvia, and the Baltic States, which have been occupied and drawn into other people’s conflicts countless times. Curated by Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel, director of the Foundation Lafayette Anticipations and former curator at Palais de Tokyo, the exhibition features more than 50 international artists, with a majority of them being lesser-known European and regional practitioners, which makes this event a great place for discovering new talent. And considering that 85 percent of the the projects will be new commissions, produced in close relationship with local communities, this biennial offers a chance to experience the new while learning about the past in the Baltic’s biggest metropolis, where the historical city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rashid Johnson, The Crisis, 2019. Installation view at Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, 2019. Photo: Ramiro Chaves

6. Liverpool, England

The 11th edition of the Liverpool Biennial (July 11 – October 25) also has a theme related to the city’s environment, but in this case, curator Manuela Moscoso, who joined the biennial from the Tamayo Museum in Mexico City, has commissioned more than 50 established and emerging artists to use the historical port city as a metaphor for how our bodies are connected to the world. Titled “The Stomach and the Port,” the exhibition asks such diverse artists as Judy Chicago, Sonia Gomes, Rashid Johnson, Linder, and Ebony G. Patterson to create work that interprets the body as an organism continuously shaped by and shaping its environment. In a time of Brexit and nationalism, a look at our relationship to the outer world will hopefully prove to be healthy, both visually and philosophically.

Mike Nelson, Mirror reverb (the blinding of a building, a notation for another), 2018, site-specific installation. Photo: Courtesy the artist, 303 Gallery, Galleria Franco Noero, Matt's Gallery, Neugerriemschneider, and Gwangju Biennale Foundation

7. Gwangju, South Korea

The Korean city of Gwangju welcomes the 13th Gwangju Biennale (September 4–November 29), where Artistic Directors Defne Ayas and Natasha Ginwala are taking another philosophical approach in their thematic exhibition, “Minds Rising, Spirits Tuning”. Tapping into the multimedia moment that we currently inhabit, the artistic directors have put together a multidimensional program that includes an exhibition, performance program, online publishing platform, and a series of talks that bring together artists, theoretical scientists, and systems thinkers. Examining corporeal, technological, and spiritual intelligence, the exhibition features work by an innovative group of international artists, including Korakrit Arunanondchai, Gözde Ilkin, Candice Lin, and Jacolby Satterwhite. If you visit after the preview, be sure to catch the nearby Busan Biennale, which opens later in the month and is just three hours away by train.

Kara Walker, The Katastwóf Karavan, 2018. Arrival at Algiers Point, New Orleans. Photo: Ari Marcopoulos, Courtesy of Prospect New Orleans

8. New Orleans, Louisiana 

A citywide contemporary art triennial, Prospect.5 (October 24—January 24) presents artwork by local, national, and international artists in both traditional and unexpected environments. When visiting the show, you not only get a sense of what’s currently happening in contemporary art, but a chance to see and experience New Orleans at its best. Initiated by mega-curator Dan Cameron, who organized the first two editions, Prospect has since seen Franklin Sirmans and Trevor Schoonmaker curate the show. This year, however, the triennial has invited two women, California African American Museum deputy director and chief curator Naima J. Keith and Los Angeles-based independent curator Diana Nawi, who was previously a curator at Pérez Art Museum Miami, to organize the exhibition. Knowing their track records for showing rising talents before they’ve become household names, Prospect.5 is on our must-see list. Make sure to stop by the newly renovated Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Recommended: 12 Must-See Art and Design Exhibitions in 2020

Praz-Delavallade at Artissima 2019. Photo: Edoardo Piva, Courtesy of Artissima

9. Turin, Italy

The only art fair in Italy exclusively devoted to contemporary art, Artissima (November 6—8) is widely considered to be one of the world’s top ten art fairs. Returning for its 27th edition at Turin’s Oval, which was built for skating events in the 2006 Winter Olympics, the annual fair features nearly 200 galleries from around the world. Directed by curator and art historian Ilaria Bonacossa, who worked as research assistant for the 2003 Whitney Biennial and curator at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo until 2012, when she became the artistic director of the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Villa Croce in Genova, the fair is celebrated for championing pioneering practices and launching up-and-coming artists and galleries. With the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Carol Rama Studio, and the nearby Castello di Rivoli, Turin is an art destination that’s not to be missed.

Pace Gallery at West Bund Art & Design 2018. Photo: Courtesy of West Bund Art & Design

10. Shanghai, China

Presenting more than 100 leading galleries from Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania offering modern and contemporary art and design, West Bund Art & Design (November 11 – 15) has grown in stature with every passing year since its inception in 2014. Taking place at the West Bund Art Center, the 2019 edition featured such high profile galleries as Massimo De Carlo, Gagosian, Kukje, Lisson, Pace, Eva Presenhuber, and David Zwirner, as well as regional favorites like Beijing’s INK Studio and Shanghai’s MadeIn. Two other features that make the fair a standout are the Dream Video exhibition, which showcases recent experiments and developments in the medium by contemporary artists from China and abroad, and the Xiàn Chǎng showing of public art works in the inner and outer areas of the West Bund Art Center. While in town, be sure to visit the city’s many fine galleries and dynamically designed museums, and catch the rival 021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair at the Shanghai Exhibition Center.

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