After an enforced break, art exhibitions are back with a flurry in 2023. So what are the unmissable exhibitions in 2023 and how do you get the most out of them?
Some artists shy away from exhibitions. They worry of undue influence on their own work. Or they fret about the time, energy (and money) that could be put to better use in the studio. But knowledge of the current trends and interests in the wider Artworld can help you promote and sell your work and even help you grow as an artist. So what’s the best way to view exhibitions, and what’s on in 2023?
Why should you attend exhibitions?
There is a story about Pablo Picasso’s most famous work – Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. It marked a major shift in his work towards what has become known as his African Period (1906 to 1909). Picasso experienced a revelation while viewing African art at the ethnographic museum at the Palais du Trocadéro in Paris.
If that apocryphal story doesn’t inspire you, there are many more reasons to attend an exhibition in 2023. First up, artists must be familiar with what’s happening in the Artworld. The art market is a fickle place, and what billionaire art collectors are buying today, they may sell tomorrow. Current trends can quickly change, but if you know what’s “in,” you might find yourself on-trend.
With large exhibitions of portrait artists comes an interest in portraiture; suddenly, people are googling portrait artists and portraits for sale or by commission.
With sell-out retrospectives of Monet, landscapes are suddenly en vogue. A show of Jackson Pollock’s work will renew interest in abstract expressionism and large-scale non-representational painting. It really can be that simple. And if the work is different from yours? Reviewing an exhibition on your blog can give you essential exposure.
Attending exhibitions at all levels familiarizes you with how work is curated when it is on show. Even small local galleries will offer a wealth of information and access to the gallery directors or owners.
What kind of exhibitions should you attend?
Quite simply, the simple answer to this is any and all. You wouldn’t expect a novelist to read only fiction. It is helpful to treat the visits as a work activity and look at elements beyond the show itself.
Furthermore, get a copy of the catalog to reference later. If you can’t attend the exhibition but want more on the work, go online. Major exhibitions will have catalogs and even books dedicated to the show for sale.
Here’s a few types of exhibits to look out for.
#1 Local and small commercial galleries
Get on the invite list for openings and special events so you can get to know the gallery and its owner, as well as see what local artists are doing.
#2 Open exhibitions in 2023
Of course, these regular shows give you a chance to show your work. But more than that, they offer an opportunity to exhibit alongside artists at a similar level. Open shows run the gamut from recent art school graduates to hobbyists and professional artists. You may meet like-minded artists whom you can exhibit or collaborate with.
#3 Public gallery shows
Often held in public spaces, museums, and buildings, these exhibitions usually have group shows featuring work on a theme. If you work in a similar field, these shows will help you discover how other artists have approached a topic.
#4 Retrospective exhibitions
A retrospective of an artist’s work is curated to show the artist’s development over their career, offering a fascinating insight into the talents and discoveries of global names. Plus, they offer the added thrill of seeing priceless work.
How to attend an exhibition
A silly question? Surely, you simply walk around and look at the artwork. On the contrary, as an artist, you should approach exhibitions as research. In short, you need a clear purpose and you need to follow a few best practices.
When choosing a show, consider what you want to get out of it. Are you interested in the medium, the artist’s style, or inspiration from trends inside or far outside your field? The work doesn’t have to look the same as yours, but if there is common ground in your style or medium, it can help.
It is said that you can tell an artist in a gallery because they will get close up to work. That front-and-center method allows you to break down the elements of the work. If it is painting, examine the brush or knife marks. With sculpture, zoom in to observe the fine texture apart from the subject.
A few things to questions to ask while attending an exhibition in 2023
- What is the medium?
- What’s the surface?
- How is the art laid out and curated? What are its surroundings? Is artwork framed, boxed in, displayed under glass, or on a white wall?
- How does the work present itself in the distant, medium and close-up view? The distant view will show the whole image as it sits in its environment. Alternatively, a medium view allows you to take in the whole image and its subject. Finally, a close-up will reveal the method and medium.
- What is the quality, style and volume of writing on the artworks? Do the artworks’ titles and descriptions enhance your understanding of the work? Do they guide you to a single set of conclusions or leave the work open to your interpretation?
- How do the photography and marketing materials support the show?
During the Covid-19 lockdowns, galleries became adept at offering virtual exhibitions. Fortunately, their early success means that many have continued the practice. You can also find podcasts covering the exhibition, or purchase catalogs and books that coincide with the show. The benefit of online shows is that you can take your time, return when you want, and, best of all, you can do it in your pajamas.
Be inspired: The most anticipated exhibitions of 2023
1. Edward Hopper’s New York
A single Edward Hopper painting tells more story than an entire film noir movie. He was the great painter of the loneliness and existential resonance of modern city life. His gaze is passive and non-moralistic. What better city to showcase those skills than New York, the hub of 20th century bustle and malaise?
This show highlights New York through the eyes of Hopper, himself a New Yorker for nearly six decades. The exhibition of around 200 portraits and panoramas explores the themes of his work from his enduring New York City era. Works include the famous Automat, 1927 featuring a lone woman staring into a cup of coffee in a diner. Screenwriters take note.
Whitney Museum of American Art New York City
On view: through March 5, 2023
2. Henry Taylor: B Side
This retrospective of the celebrated L.A. painter features 150 works, including portraits, self-portraits, and still lifes depicting Black life in America. Be inspired by the variety of surfaces he uses, including cigarette packs, cereal boxes, and other found objects.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
On view: through April 30, 2023
3. Hockney: Bigger and Closer
David Hockney is, without doubt, the greatest draftsman since Pablo Picasso. Hockney could draw anything in any style and on any medium he wished (including fax machines and iPads). As if one superlative were not enough, he is also the greatest colorist since Henri Mattise. And his work sits side by side with those two behemoths of 20th century art. At 86, he shows no signs of slowing down, and we eagerly anticipate his next project.
On view: January 25–April 23, 2023
This show of the artist behind Girl with a Pearl Earring features 28 of his 34 attributed paintings. Kudos to the Rijksmuseum for begging and borrowing so many of his universally attributed works for us to enjoy side by side.
On view: February 10–June 4, 2023
5. Paula Rego: Crivelli’s Garden
The late, great figurative painter is known for her mildy surreal, and supremely disquieting work. Before her death, London’s Gallery appointed her its first associate artist. There, she created a playful mural inspired by the National Gallery collection. An easy show to enjoy online.
National Gallery, London
On view: July 20–October 29, 2023
6. Wolfgang Tillmans: To Look Without Fear
The German-born and British art school-educated Tillmans began work in fashion and lifestyle magazines, but he made his true mark in art photography. Not just in the images he took, and the means by which he took it (sometimes using photocopiers), but in the way he curated and hung his work in gallery spaces. Tillmans doesn’t believe in a hierarchy of images, as this retrospective shows. If you are unsure about photography’s place in the canon of art mediums, go see this show.
Museum of Modern Art, New York
On view: September 12–January 1, 2023
On view: from April 2023
7. Bridget Riley Drawings: From the Artist’s Studio
Writing as an artist lucky enough to have a work share a wall with this iconic Brit op-artist, and having studied at an art school where she was a professor of painting, I can’t possibly ignore this exhibition of works by Bridget Riley. Enjoy the visual feast of her crafty, colored patterns in their seemingly vibrating whole and get up close to dismantle her technique.
Art Institute of Chicago
On view: September 17, 2022–January 16, 2023
8. Mark Rothko: Paintings on Paper
Get away from canvas and explore painting on paper with this master colorist. Best known for his large-scale canvases, Rothko also created hundreds of paintings on paper. This exhibition picks out a hundred of his best work, which includes the too-rarely-seen figurative work of his early years as well as the famous abstractions in color. Unadulterated joy will follow.
On view: November 19, 2023–March 31, 2024
A few more unusual exhibitions to consider…
9. Nick Cave: Furthermore
This exhibition explores the famed wearable sculptures of musician Nick Cave. Explore his renditions of the faux and the mythic.
Guggenheim Museum, New York City
On view: through April 10, 2023
10. Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty
As flamboyant as the late Chanel creative director, this show turns fashion into art. The show launches with the Met Gala and is expected to feature 150 dresses designed by Lagerfeld, capturing a fascinating career and his unique work methods.
Metropolitan Museum of Art New York City
On view: May 5–July 16, 2023
Now in its fourth millennia, tartan is one of the world’s most instantly recognizable patterns. This Scottish exhibition tells the global story of the ubiquitous woven woolen cloth, and how it has influenced art, architecture, product design, fashion, film, and performance around the world. You’ll never look at tartan the same.
V&A Dundee, Scotland
Apri 1, 2023–January 14, 2024
Want more exhibits in 2023?
Try the New York Times bucket list of 90 shows to visit in 2023.
Organize your exhibition
After all that research, it’s time to organize your exhibition. Have a look at our series of blogs focusing on How to exhibit your own work
Alternatively, maybe those exhibits inspired you to make your own art more visible in 2023. Check out our tips for marketing and publicizing your art.